The fourth annual Walking on Water Outdoors ice fishing event for veterans moved to Fish Hook Lake Saturday. The move came after a Bobcat fell through the ice on Big Mantrap Lake while plowing snow for the faith-based event.
Last year, at least, Big Mantrap was the "secret location" for the event in which volunteers and donors provide an opportunity for armed forces veterans and service people to go fishing. Everything is provided, from hot cocoa and a catered meal to heated fish houses, bait and fishing tackle.
Walking on Water founder Tim Schmid talked about the ministry Saturday with Roger Wiebesick, commander of the local Disabled American Veterans (DAV) chapter; Paul Pedersen with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV); Hubbard County Veterans Service Officer Jerry Bjerke; and the press.
Schmid and Bjerke estimated that there were at least 50 volunteers and 85 veterans on the ice as the day's event got rolling - besides family members who came along and fish house owners who donated their sheds for the day.
"I think we could hit 180 to 200 today," said Schmid, who started WOWO six or seven years ago. Four years ago, they inaugurated the annual ice fishing event with a total of 27 people (half of them veterans) in four fish houses on a 27-below-zero day.
"The second year, I think we had 65 vets and about 150 people," he said.
"Last year, we were close to 75 (veterans). We've grown every year," said Bjerke, recalling that Schmid approached him four years ago with the idea of taking veterans ice fishing. "I don't believe anyone had ever did that before. From humble beginnings, this is where we're at right now. We want to continue to do it."
Bjerke added, "We've been to good lakes and we've caught good fish, but I don't think it's about catching fish anymore. I think it's about the camaraderie, about getting together and getting veterans out."
Wiebesick noted that the DAV, which also has a statewide outdoor activity program, contributed some of its resources to the Walking on Water event.
"This isn't about catching fish," he said. "It's getting veterans opening up and talking about the issues."
Wiebesick said the program has reached veterans who were homebound and "just lost."
"We're just here to be supportive of this incredible community event," said Pedersen, whose organization's mission is to end veteran homelessness. "It's going to be about making friends, sharing stories. It's the friendships and the people you meet that are priceless."
"Our original goal," said Schmid, "was to get veterans out of the house, back out living life, to help them battle depression, PTSD. I fish with a lot of these guys individually, outside of here - usually to the tune of about 20 to 25 different guys every year. We just try to come alongside of them and help them make friends, make relationships."
Often, these smaller fishing trips bring three, four or five veterans together, he said. "It's grown into this, and I think that it's a beautiful partnership. We're trying to change lives. That's our goal."
Schmid recognized the partnership and contributions of MCAV, DAV and Veterans Services.
"We're going to try to change lives. We're going to bring fishermen together. We're going to fish and have a great time. If somebody is in need, that's why they're here."
"Out of 85 vets who are here, if we help one, we're successful," said Bjerke.
Schmid said about 40 percent of the veterans at last year's event didn't even have fishing lines in the water. "They were just here to have hot chocolate, coffee and brownies, and socialize. The majority of people here, helpers and veterans, all return year after year. A lot of them have been here from the very beginning."
Schmid also acknowledged the contributions of local organizations and businesses without which the event could not have happened, including DAV Local Chapter 38, Assembly of God Church, Stacked High Deli, Gladen Construction, Century Concrete and Masonry, North Country Bait, Potty Shacks, Delaney's Sports, Smokey Hills Outdoor Store, T&M Express, L&M Fleet of Detroit Lakes, and all the people in the community who donated their fish houses, time and support.