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Volunteers keep Let's Go Fishing on steady course

Let's Go Fishing volunteer Ray Oie, from left, 'Ole' Hovey of Atwater and Sunnyview activities director Tammy Moll enjoy some final words as they leave a pontoon after an excursion on Green Lake. Let's Go Fishing boating excursions on Green Lake offer an opportunity to cast a line or simply take in the sights. Tommy Thompson, below left, also participated. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

In terms of weather, the absolute, most perfect day of the summer happened to arrive on Tommy Tho-mpson's 86th birthday. That was last Monday, and Thompson and friends knew how to enjoy it.

After a lunch at Melvin's on the Lake in Spicer, Thompson and friends boarded a pontoon boat and enjoyed the sparkling sunshine and scenery as they cruised along the shoreline of Green Lake.

They were guests of the Willmar chapter of Let's Go Fishing.

What attracted Thompson and his friends to Let's Go Fishing was easy to explain.

"Getting out, and doing some of the things they've done in the past,'' said Tammy Moll, activities director at Sunnyview Assisted Living, Atwater.

Moll accompanied Thompson and his friend 'Ole' Hovey, 82, both residents of Sunnyview, and their friend Glen Grahn, 86, a participant in the Atwater Block Nurse program.

The three have always enjoyed getting on the water, and Let's Go Fishing continues to make it possible for them and many others to continue to do so, noted Moll.

"A gorgeous day,'' said Roger Benson as he welcomed the guests.

This cruise was like many he and fellow volunteer Ray Oie have led this summer but for one thing. There were a few empty seats on the pontoon. Four female guests from Atwater were unable to join the cruise as they had hoped. Thanks to volunteers and financial support from many, the Willmar chapter of Let's Go Fishing keeps two pontoon boats on the go through the summer, their seats almost invariably filled with smiling guests.

Let's Go Fishing's mission is to give back to seniors, and doesn't charge its guests a fee.

Benson said the local chapter set a record last year by hosting some 1,500 guests through the season.

This year, it is on track to count upwards of 1,800 guests, he said.

That's despite the fact that perfect, summer days were not so easy to come by this year. The wet, and stormy weather of June was followed by extremely humid days in July, which forced the cancellation of a number of planned outings for seniors, he pointed out.

Many of those guests come for the chance to tangle with fish, and Oie and Benson love nothing more than stalking the finned prey with the diligence of bloodhounds on the trail.

Other guests are happier to leave the fishing rods untouched and just take in the scenery.

They couldn't have found better guides for this purpose, either. The two Let's Go Fishing volunteers have amassed an encyclopedia-like collection of facts and tidbits on Green Lake, its history and the stories behind many of the cabins and homes with all the big-eyed windows looking over the water.

"You can always find a job as a window washer on Green Lake,'' said Benson, laughing and pointing to one home that looked to be more glass than structure.

It's the stories about the people behind the windows that held the attention. He shared the tale about one man who was so enthusiastic about building a cabin on the lake that it nearly busted him. He had to sell the finished structure to pay the bills he accumulated building it and never got to spend one night in it.

Another, long-ago resident of Green Lake succeeded in building a far larger mansion as his home, and never ran out of luck. One story tells that John Spicer of the Spicer Castle fame nearly sailed on the Titanic.

An account by one of Spicer's grandsons, Allen Latham, tells that when John and Jessie were returning from Europe they had tentatively planned on sailing aboard the splendid new ship but changed their plans, according to information from the Kandiyohi County Historical Society.

Benson is retired from a teaching career in Atwater, and was able to point out to his Atwater guests the Green Lake homes of former students whom he claimed were smart enough to take the advice he had offered them in the classroom.

"They have all the stories,'' said Moll as the pontoon glided along, cutting a wake of sun splashed, silver ribbons in the water. There were friendly waves of the hand to return to people enjoying the day on the shore or in fishing boats, and at trip's end at Saulsbury Beach, a belly laugh. It came at the expense of teenage girls swimming out to the floating raft.

As they climbed on to it, a loud "yuk'' was heard as they discovered the seagull guano coating its top and obvious to see from the pontoon.

Oie and Benson have seen an influx of seagulls to the lake in recent days, a sure sign of the changing season and reminder why gorgeous, sunny and mild days are to be savored.

There are still plenty of Let's Go Fishing outings ahead this month, and hopefully for years to come if people continue to see the importance of giving back to seniors.

The state's financial woes have meant the end of $150,000 in funding it had provided the non-profit organization. Let's Go Fishing is working hard to enlist support from individuals -- through contributions of $20 or so -- to keep this all possible.

The first annual walk to raise funds for Let's Go Fishing was held one week ago at Lion's Park in Spicer, and got things off to a very good start. The organization is optimistic that similar support will continue.

As they left the pontoon, the smiles belonging to Tommy Thompson and his friends told their own story as to why that support is so important.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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