Clarence and Gertrude Sleeper, of Littleton, loved nature and the outdoors.
During their lives, they traveled, hiked, enjoyed the wildlife of New England, and stayed physically active.
On Dec. 15, 2019, their lives ended tragically in what state prosecutors determined was a murder-suicide, which came after both had incurred health issues and limited mobility.
Though gone, their generosity endures.
On March 24, the New Hampshire Executive Council authorized New Hampshire Fish and Game to accept $144,000 in total donations from the estate of Clarence W. Sleeper to serve NFHG’s K-9 program and endangered wildlife program.
Without contributions from generous donors, neither program could survive.
“That was a substantial donation and a complete surprise to us,” said NHFG Col. Kevin Jordan, Fish and Game’s top law enforcement officer.
NHFG K-9 teams - with a new puppy brought into the fold, there are now four teams in the state, made up of a human handler and a canine with a keen nose - serve a vital function.
They save lives during search-and-rescue missions and find missing persons, from stranded hikers to elderly people with dementia, and also assist in criminal investigations.
State police and local police departments depend on NHFG K-9s.
“These dogs have been responsible for finding people,” said Jordan. “Everybody uses them.”
The NHFG K-9 program runs entirely on corporate and private donations, which pay for training, care, and food as well as the specialized equipment installed in a truck to safely accommodate a dog.
“We have two new K-9 cruisers coming and you have to outfit those cruisers with equipment that is very expensive,” said Jordan. “I’m adamant about putting the money where donors want it and this came at just the right time to help us cover that cost.”
Called a “hot dog” unit, the equipment turns on the air condition during summers and the heat on during winters, and those activations can take place remotely on a cell phone by a K-9 handler who might be away from the truck, but who can receive a message from a temperature monitor inside the truck indicating the temperature for the canine has hit the danger point in either direction.
“If a guy’s held up and can’t get back to the truck, it sends an alert on a cell phone,” said Jordan. “It’s a very sophisticated piece of equipment that guarantees your dog will be safe even when you’re held up … Outfitting those two cruisers with systems like that costs a substantial amount of money and that donation will help us greatly in doing that. This is very generous.”
Most donors Jordan is able to thank personally, but he said it saddens him that he is unable to do so in the case of donations from an estate, especially when it’s among the higher donations, as is the Sleeper contribution, which is among the largest donations NHFG received for its K-9 program.
“We will make sure that whatever money is left over is used for the K-9 program,” he said.
Of the total Sleeper donation, $84,00 was dedicated to NHFG’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, established in 1988 to monitor and manage more than 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians not hunted, trapped or fish, as well as monitor and manage thousands of insect species.
The program also provides outreach and education and works with other state agencies on conservation strategies.
“For the Nongame Program, donations are a critical source of our annual budget and help fuel all of our programs and conservation efforts,” said Michael Marchand, supervisor for the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. “Private donations are also needed to match and acquire additional sources of state and federal funds. The Sleeper Estate was one of our largest Nongame Program donations to date and will be extremely helpful in implementing priority conservation efforts across the state and implementing the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan.”
The wildlife action plan, first available in 2005 and updated in 2015, guides conservation efforts for species of greatest conservation need.
The Sleepers’ contribution was not targeted to a specific project, and so will be used to support all of the different functions and conservation projects implemented by the non-game program, he said.
“A few of our ongoing projects include monitoring and management of threatened and endangered species, including piping plover, Karner blue butterfly, and New England cottontail, working with private landowners to implement conservation actions for Blanding’s turtles, spotted turtles, and wood turtles, and development of a statewide wildlife corridors map,” said Marchand.
The Sleepers earmarked their donation to both the K-9 program and endangered wildlife program specifically and had knowledge of them.
“These programs definitely make a difference in people’s lives and we wouldn’t have them without the generous donations,” he said.
Clarence Webster “Web” Sleeper, who was 85, and Gertrude Sleeper, who was 84, were New Hampshire natives who were married in Littleton in 1957.
Clarence served in the military, was deployed to Korea, and became an expert in Morse Code.
After returning to New Hampshire, both Clarence and Gertrude began careers with the New England Tel. and Tel. Co.
According to their obituary, “Throughout the years, one did not see Web and Gert without one of their three beloved dogs. They had a passion for nature, gardening and travel. Web was an avid skier, and he and Gert enjoyed cross-country skiing together. In retirement, they traveled from Littleton through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and many other states taking in the history of each state together with the beauty of our national parks and forests on their way to Alaska. Their trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island was a highlight to their travel experiences … Their gardens kept them busy with canning and freezing fruits and vegetables for the winter. The deer and wildlife in their backyard always made the day more beautiful.”
A neighbor of the Sleepers is Ruth Taylor, who lives in the Hilltop Manor Mobile Home Park and who called them a very friendly and devoted couple.
On Thursday, Taylor, who once ran Littleton Main Street Inc., said their donation to NHFG is “wonderful.”
“They were very well-liked and were thoughtful of other people,” she said. “When I did the Main Street program, I ran into them because they cared very much about what was going on in the community.”