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Willmar volunteer Don Weiske, center, led many groups on to local waters. The camaraderie is as important to many as the opportunity to fish again and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and water. Submitted photo

Let's Go Fishing still big hit

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WILLMAR -- Fishing greats like Ted Takasaki and Ron and Al Lindner were among the first to offer their voices in support of Let's Go Fishing with Seniors.

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These days, some of the equally compelling endorsements are coming from people whose skills with a fishing pole are not quite so legendary.

They include Linda Dilley, activities director for Bethesda Pleasant View Nursing Home in Willmar. She's been so moved by how the program has benefited residents there that she considers one of her proudest moments an incident at a care conference. As introductions were made, a resident's eyes lit up and a smile grew quickly as she pointed to Dilley and said: "She's the one that took me fishing," said Dilley of the event.

Joe Holm, founder and president of the organization, said he's hearing from a wide range of care providers, including medical doctors, who are touting the benefits of Let's Go Fishing to the well-being of older adults.

Among those who have contacted Holm is Dr. Gerard David Spoelhof, M.D., of Duluth. He is trained in geriatrics and serves as medical director for a nursing home in Duluth. One of the greatest challenges to senior citizens is the isolation and loss of social interaction that can occur. He credits Let's Go Fishing with helping break the cycle and offering the physical and intellectual stimulation that is so important to maintaining good health.

"It's a true asset to our seniors in communities throughout the state," wrote the Duluth physician in a letter to Holm.

The growing recognition of Let's Go Fishing's benefits comes as the organization reaches more seniors than ever before. It is concluding its ninth season by once again posting double-digit growth.

Volunteers with Let's Go Fishing have taken over 14,000 people on boating and fishing excursions this season, according to numbers tallied by the organization's chapters. That brings to over 40,000 the number of people served since the organization was launched with its Willmar chapter in 2002.

There are now 28 active chapters across Minnesota, with more than 2,100 volunteers.

Holm said Let's Go Fishing added eight chapters in the past year, and interest is only growing. He's even had inquiries from a state on the eastern seaboard asking about the possibility of organizing chapters.

Holm's focus remains on the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The organization is moving toward its goal of fiscal sustainability, but there remains a ways to go. State funding has provided about 40 percent of the budget. Holm believes that if state support can be continued for two more years, the organization will reach the critical mass needed for sustainability.

Volunteer help and support from so many supporters makes it possible to offer the services that mean so much to senior citizens in a very efficient manner. Last year the average cost of an outing averaged $13.71 per guest.

Holm said the organization is also growing in ways that go well beyond the numbers. Let's Go Fishing is expanding its intergenerational approach as it realizes the benefits of bringing young people together with older adults.

This year the organization brought Mike Frisch on board to promote its intergenerational programs. He brings 20 years of experience as a high school teacher and coach.

The focus on providing intergenerational mentoring and other opportunities is one of the areas that has generated some of the greatest excitement, said Holm.

And yes, fishing still matters and so does the support of those who know it best. The Lindner Network is currently producing a new video aimed at introducing the benefits of Let's Go Fishing to more communities, said Holm.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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