I have been donating my time to conservation clubs for almost 25 years. The south central U.P. is home to the highest concentration of fund raising banquets that promote hunting, fishing and other natural resources conservation venues, and I've been emceeing a lot of them since 1988.
Every one of them has a purpose and positive goals. They are run by a core group that represents the general memberships and quite often do not receive the recognition they deserve.
Fred Nordman of the National Wild Turkey Federation presents a Monty Salmon/Bob Miller memorial scholarship to Eugene Fletcher at the Bays de Noc Gobblers Annual Banquet Saturday
My only requirement to the format of each program is that we join to offer thanks, salute our flag and most importantly, honor our veterans who are present, be they active or retired. If not for them, we very well could not have the opportunity to assemble in fellowship wherever and whenever we desire.
There has been one additional prelude to the programs that is catching on and I will now consider it to be a standard for all, especially after what I witnessed last Saturday night as the Bays de Noc Gobblers Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation held their event.
It's the kids!
Most of the conservation organizations are manned by members who have been around for quite some time. In fact I would venture to say that the average age of officers and committee people hovers around fifty years old. To enhance the participation of youth, many have developed packages that either offer exclusive membership or acknowledgment of their presence at the banquets.
Ducks Unlimited (DU) has their "Green Wing" program and is set up for youth 17 years old and younger.
The Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen (BDN/GLSF) hold several events throughout the year that focus on youth, including their banquet. Fishing derbies and programs recognize the importance of mentoring and the benefits of time spent along side a youngster with hook and line.
U.P. Whitetails Association, Inc. (UPW), sponsors programs for youth that expand beyond hunting deer. They work closely with Big Brothers and Big Sisters and their mission to mentor youth. UPW also supports Hunter Safety Education and has contributed to the construction of shooting ranges, like the archery and pellet gun ranges at the MDNR Pocket Park on the UP State Fairgrounds.
The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) has a program called "JAKES", which stands for Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship. They carry the program forward with special events and are closely tied with other clubs in promoting the shooting sports.
The NWTF also pioneered the "Wheelin' Sportsmen" (WS) program that re-opens and re-creates the opportunities outdoors that some have lost due to illness or injury, or have never had a chance to participate due to some disability that made them feel they couldn't participate. Wheelin' Sportsmen has seen cross over support from many of the other conservation organizations which has certainly bolstered their success.
Almost every one of these fine organizations present annual scholarships to student that are graduating and will be following a conservation affiliated curriculum as they go on to attend college. Wildlife Unlimited (WU) of Delta County has set a benchmark in awarding scholarships locally.
With all these features becoming so common, what made last Saturday night special? Here's the rest of the story.
One of the most civic minded and charitable friends I have is Ken Buchholtz. Ken is the president of the Bay de Noc Gobblers and state board member for the Michigan NWTF. He also chairs their annual banquet so you can imagine his evening and that of the volunteer committee workers is quite hectic.
During the formal program, five youth were awarded scholarships. Four of them, Erin Gregory, Hallie Bernson, Heather Sanderson and Jake Biagna, could not make it as the night was in direct competition with their high school proms. One recipient did and he is an outstanding individual.
Eugene Fletcher is a true Wheelin' Sportsman. He has cerebral palsy but is very intelligent and energetic. He is moving forward with his education and isn't going to let being in a wheelchair get in his way.
Eugene participated with WS in his deer hunt last season and took his first deer, a doe, with one shot. What's most exciting is that he had a window of opportunity of about one minute to decide to aim and fire to collect his deer. That's pretty exciting in anyone's book. In fact it made the awarding of his scholarship even more special as he beamed with pride when his success story was told.
What really put the night over the top was a youngster by the name of Logan Borchert. Just prior to the start of the program, this young man approached Buchholtz, held out his hand and without fanfare, informed him that he had saved some money for the purpose of making a donation to the Wheelin' Sportsmen.
Given a few seconds to regain his composure, Ken informed me of what had happened and we then felt an obligation to let the 300 plus patrons in attendance know that their efforts are paying off. An emotional applause followed, something this fine young man did not anticipate. His smile afterwards is irreplaceable.
It illustrated that the initial spark (involving youth) has grown to an ember. It will continue to grow into a flame. We just need to keep fanning it.
That folks is one of the reasons why we do what we do, and why we do it.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.