May 14, 2007

HLWW fourth graders hope to leave lake with a fish story

By Jenni Sebora

Rain or shine, on a day in May, fourth graders from Howard Lake-Waverly Winsted School make their way to the Waterfront Park in Waverly for a day of fun, fishing, and outdoor education.

This year that special day will be May 16. The first Wednesday after the fishing opener has been the “official” day set aside for this fourth grade day of fishing and fun.

Eleven years ago, this field trip was started by Irene and the late Ed Woitalla in honor and memory of their son, Joe, who died in 1996 at the age of 35.

The Woitallas, along with their other two sons, Jim and John, other relatives and friends wanted to do something in memory of Joe.

“We wanted to do something, but we didn’t know what,” Irene said.

Through brainstorming efforts by many, a fishing day for children seemed so fitting.

“Joe was a sports guy. His favorite activity was fishing. He loved to fish,” Irene said. And he also liked to do things for others, especially children, Irene added.

“When Joe would see a kid (by the lake), he would get what the kid needed (to fish). He liked to help kids out,” Irene said.

“He was just that kind of a kid,” Irene said of her son, Joe.

“He was helped out along the way too – brought fishing. He appreciated that,” Irene added.

So the Woitallas wanted to pass the same love of the outdoors and fishing on to children. And they wanted to do something for children regardless of their ability.

“All or nothing,” is how Irene put it.

“We thought it would be fun to take children fishing,” Irene said. And fishing it was and continues to be.

The Woitallas approached the school with the fishing field day concept, and it blossomed from there – with the help and donations of many different people, including Joe’s good friend, Brad Koenen. Koenen works with the Department of Natural Resources and has brought that expertise to the field trip year after year.

“He has been there every year,” Irene said of Koenen’s help and work with the annual field trip.

In fact, it was Koenen and Joe’s other friends who helped raise money to supplement the memorial fund for the field trip event the initial year.

The Woitallas thought the field trip would go on for an approximate five years, but year after year, this special event is part of the HLWW fourth graders’ school experience.

Different people step in and donate time and money each year to keep the event going.

“Every dollar helps,” Irene said, who is so appreciative of everyone’s kind generosity that has helped make this event happen each year.

‘If it wouldn’t be for the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s the volunteers that keep it going,” Irene said.

The field trip’s agenda is now down to a science, Irene noted. Each person has their job, including Irene, Jim and John.

On that special day in May, the fourth graders, along with staff, head down to the Waterfront Park. The day begins with an introduction by Irene and her family explaining the importance of the day and why it was started.

Then the outdoor education begins.

The students are shown a slide presentation by Koenen regarding fishing topics. The students and staff learn about the types of fish that live in the waters in Minnesota, the jobs and duties of the DNR, and the type of equipment the DNR uses, among other outdoor education facts.

“He (Koenen) will show the kids various nets that are used for fishing for DNR purposes,” HLWW fourth grade teacher Pam Halverson said.

Students also get the opportunity to study fish scales under magnifying equipment to learn about the fish, Halverson explained.

With poles in hand, which the students get to keep, students learn about various bait and practice casting their lines.

After lunch, the afternoon is spent fishing with poles, bait and tackle. Everything is provided, Halverson noted.

Students rotate between fishing on a pontoon boat and fishing from shore and the dock, with much supervision, Halverson emphasized.

Prizes and other fishing-related items are also given away throughout the day.

When the day is done, the students go away with a pole, fishing tips, outdoor education and memories.

And in the summer, Irene will see the kids walking with their fishing poles.

So, as teacher Halverson put it, “I’ve been on a lot of field trips. This is the best ever,” – so it seems, for everyone involved.

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