By Starrla Cray
WAVERLY, WINSTED, MN “I kissed a fish once.”
“Look! A turtle.”
“Fishing is the best sport.”
As fourth-graders from Winsted and Humphrey elementary schools gathered Wednesday to catch and release fish, bits of conversation floated over the shores of Waverly Lake.
The annual field trip, known as Woitalla Day, has been an end-of-the-school-year treat for the past 17 years.
“Well over 1,000 fourth-grade students have been given this opportunity over the years, and we hear from so many that this is their first time learning about and experiencing fishing,” noted Mary Pettit of Waverly.
The event began in honor of Waverly’s Joe Woitalla, who passed away from a heart attack in 1996.
Joe’s mother, Irene Woitalla, said her son always adored fishing.
“His first fishing pole was a stick with a string on it,” she recalled.
Neighbors later gave Joe a cane pole with a bobber, and by first grade, he had upgraded to a rod and reel.
At Woitalla Day, students each receive their own fishing pole to take home as well as a day of happy memories.
Jan Fitzpatrick, former Humphrey Elementary School secretary, will never forget the children’s smiles after Woitalla day.
“Every single year, those kids would come back like they were really someone, now that they knew how to fish,” Fitzpatrick recalled.
According to Irene, Woitalla Day wouldn’t be possible without the community’s support.
“It takes a ton of volunteers,” she said, explaining that people help with pontoon rides, lunch, bait, and casting lessons.
Before students leave, they’re given a cookie and pop, and a few of them get to ride back to school on a fire truck.
“You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day. It’s perfect,” one community member commented Wednesday. She may have been referring to the sunshine and soft breeze or, perhaps, the “perfect” spring tradition of Woitalla Day.