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Freedom found through fishing

Elmer Tysver, a resident at Windmill Ponds, holds up a bass that he caught during a Let’s Go Fishing outing on Lake L’Homme Dieu on July 15.1 / 2
Helen Howie, a resident at Nelson Gables shares her story of how much it meant to her to get back on the water during a banquet last Wednesday to recognize the local chapter on surpassing 10,000 guests on their boats. Alexandria LGF chapter president Ron Fenelon listens in the back. 2 / 2

There was a time in Helen Howie’s younger years when she, like a lot of people, probably took the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon on the lake for granted.

That’s not the case anymore. Not after coming to appreciate those days so much with her husband and knowing how it felt to have it taken away by the one thing nobody can slow down – time.

Howie didn’t have a choice when it came to how she and her husband, Bob Howie, were going to spend their time together as a young couple in Faribault.

“My husband was a very avid fisherman,” she said, now 88 years old and living at Nelson Gables assisted living in Alexandria after spending 57 years in Faribault. “He was president of the fishermen’s club down there at one time. He loved to fish since he was a kid, so if I wanted to see my boyfriend before I was married...I had never fished in my life. I learned to fish. It was never right for my husband, but I enjoyed it.”

Howie broke into a laugh as she told that story. It was similar to the smile she had as she told of how much it meant to her to get back on the water with the help of the Let’s Go Fishing (LGF) organization this summer.

Howie was one of three senior citizens from the Alexandria area who shared those kinds of stories in front of volunteers and guests at a banquet to recognize the local chapter of LGF for surpassing 10,000 guests on their pontoons since 2007.

“I can’t explain the joy,” Howie said of getting on the water after a few trips were cancelled because of the weather this summer. “Just seeing God’s beautiful creation – the sky and the water and the shoreline and the beautiful homes, and the feeling that I used to get when I was living in Faribault and got on the lake after a long winter. This was a long winter here, so I especially appreciated it so much.”

That’s why the Alexandria chapter and the 29 others around the state do what they do. Chapters rely entirely on volunteers, and the Alexandria area is full of them.

The local chapter currently has more than 120 people on its active volunteers list. In the chapter’s eighth year of existence, it has never had to cancel a trip because of a lack of people willing to help.

“People serving people is what we aim at, trying to improve their lives,” Alexandria chapter president Ron Fenelon said. “We know for a fact that an awful lot of people in this area grew up fishing, with mom and dad or grandpa and grandma.”

The local group has found that the willingness to give is not just limited to volunteers on the boat. They rely almost solely on donations from local individuals, sportsmen’s groups and businesses to fund these outings. Much of that comes by selling advertising on the side of their two 25-foot pontoons.

That has helped the Alexandria chapter reach people as effectively as almost any chapter in the state. Since LGF got its start in Willmar in 2002, the whole organization has served approximately 110,000 guests. The Alexandria organization has hosted more than 9 percent of those.

“The cooperation from this community is outstanding,” Fenelon said. “I’m not a native from this area. My wife and I moved here eight years ago. She’s from Minnesota, but I have lived all over, and I tell everyone this town is the nicest place to live in the United States because of the people and the atmosphere.”

Let’s Go Fishing is tailored toward getting senior citizens back on the water for a fishing trip or just a ride around the lake at no cost to them. The local chapter, along with other chapters in Minnesota, has expanded on that in recent years to include trips for children, disabled persons, veterans and smaller groups.

Anglers get to enjoy all of the fun and none of the work on the water. The volunteers take care of everything from the time they show up to the time they leave, hopefully with a few fish caught.

“I have to tell you,” Howie said as the smile came back to her face. “They walked us onto the boat, set up a chair to sit on, gave me a rod and reel, baited it with a worm, threw it out for me. I got a fish, a little one, they brought it in, took the fish off and put another worm on and threw it out again. I didn’t have to do anything. We all had a wonderful time and the air is so fresh on the lake.”

Fresh air, a sunset over a lake, just being on the water – it’s easy to assume they will always be there to enjoy. Let’s Go Fishing is doing what it can to make sure it always will be for those like Howie who can’t wait to get back on the water.

“If the darn weather is in our favor,” Howie said, “I’ll be there with the help of the volunteers.”

Let’s Go Fishing plans veterans’ day

Let’s Go Fishing will offer a boating experience for veterans on Wednesday, September 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Veterans can choose between fishing or a leisure trip on a pontoon. A bag lunch will be provided on board.

Entertainment, refreshments and sweets will be provided from 2 to 3 p.m. at Knute Nelson Gables in the governor’s room in Alexandria. Veterans must provide their own transportation to this event. To register, contact Roy Kramer by September 1 at (320) 808-8080 or (320) 762-1445.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229