Area sportsmen clubs celebrate anniversaries
Outdoor enthusiasts had cause to celebrate Saturday night at the Ellsworth Rod and Gun Club.
An estimated 400 people were on hand to observe the Ellsworth club's 75 years of existence and the Trimbelle Rod and Gun Club's 50th anniversary.
"I love the (Ellsworth) Rod and Gun Club for what it has done and what it is doing now," said Jack Hines, a member of the club for the last 46 years.
Over 50 area individuals started the Ellsworth club in 1933. It was intended, according to the August 3, 1933 issue of the Herald, "as a recreation ground for members of the club and their families, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs and similar organizations."
A year later the club settled on 80 acres along the Rush River. The club is still there, although the site now has 130 acres. To reach the club from Ellsworth, go two miles east on Hwy. 63, then four miles east on Hwy. 72 in the town of El Paso.
One of the popular activities at the club for over 60 years has been its chicken dinners, held twice a month on Thursdays except for May and October. Averages of 350-450 people stop in and enjoy "one of the best home-cooked chicken meals anywhere," according to Hines.
He credits the cooks, Gary Allyn, (a.k.a. Fonzo), Ken Hines (a.k.a. Boston) and Chad Hines, Ken's son, for the popularity.
"Before they took over, we're lucky to get 150 people," Jack Hines said. He said they have served over 550 people for a dinner .
However, that's far from all that the club -- now made up of 80 members -- does.
For the last 50 years, the club has raised 4,000 pheasant chicks in the spring to release in the fall. Since the 1980s, members have held a banquet each fall celebrating the occasion.
They are also actively working with the DNR on forestry programs in the area, have held various conservation programs throughout the years and hold a turkey shoot and dinner the last Saturday in October .
Hines said weddings, anniversaries, class reunions and family reunions have been held throughout the years as the club expanded its building. The view of the Rush River is a draw for those occasions.
Even 75 years ago, members of the club appreciated the view. According to the Oct. 1, 1936, issue of the Herald, "It is planned to add a large porch to the rear of the lodge, which will be a shady and pleasant spot for loungers as a beautiful view of the river is found there."
Hines' opinion about the club must be shared by his fellow members as 11 of them are honorary lifetime. (To become eligible, one has to be a member for 25 years and be at least 65 years of age. Ray Huppert has the longest tenure at the club at 48 years.)
Brad Johnson is the current president of the club, with Jeff Farris as the vice-president. Ross Christopherson is secretary, and Dennis Langer is treasurer. Bill Koller is chairman of the board, while Troy Graetz is the director.
Hines added, that the El Paso Commercial Club announced that the Rod and Gun Club will be the theme for the El Paso Days, which will be held Aug. 15-17.
Meanwhile, as Ellsworth was celebrating its 25th anniversary in 1958, a group of sportsmen met at the Trimbelle Town Hall to form a club to focus on conservation work on Trimbelle Creek.
Besides conservation work, the club also wanted to, according to its objectives, secure legislation safeguarding natural resources and to remain interested in preserving and extending those resources.
In its first year, the club had 140 members. Two that were actively involved then were Ralph and Kathryn Schommer, who are still members today. Ralph was secretary-treasurer from 1958-1992 and is president today. Kathryn is the current secretary-treasurer. Other board members consist of vice president Dick Madsen and director Jim Klaas.
"We hope to preserve our land and make it better for our future," Kathryn said about their involvement in the club.
In 1960, the club purchased the old Trimbelle School on County Road O and turned it into a clubhouse. The same building is still used.
Besides overall work on Trimbelle Creek, the club has held an annual turkey shoot at Hilltop Bowl for over 30 years, has observed Earth Day by cleaning the clubhouse grounds and the picnic area, and since 1973 has distributed National Wildlife Week education kits to area public schools, home schools and private schools.
"It's been a lot of hands-on work over the years," Ralph said. He estimated membership is now about 60.
Additional activity consists of sponsoring over 100 area students since 1970 to a natural resources camp for youngsters who are interested in conservation careers.
Club members' work has paid off. In 1971 the Trimbelle Rod and Gun Club won the National Wildlife Federation President's award for "outstanding contributions to conservation at the local level" and in 1970, 1977 and 1988 the club won the award for Best Sportsmen Club in the nine-county West Central District in Wisconsin.
Trimbelle has also cooperated with the Ellsworth Rod and Gun Club on pheasant pen repairs and chick raising over the years.
"Both clubs do a lot of conservation work together," Kathryn said, adding that a lot of members belong to both groups.
Anyone interested in becoming a member, may call the Schommers at (715) 448-2903.