The answer came to me after “Coop” left the office on Friday. And Dr. Kehr. And after getting off the phone with “Mr. Walleye” later in the day.
In these parts, and with these folks and many more like them in the Brainerd lakes area, farewell isn’t in their vocabulary. There is no need to say good-bye.
So I won’t.
Friday was my last day at the Dispatch — I’ve taken a job in South Dakota. In the two weeks since I gave notice, I figured something would come to me in the form of fodder for a good-bye column. But until Friday ...
Then came visits with George Cooper, Roland Kehr and Gary Roach. Cooper — “Coop” — is a longtime area fishing guide and northern pike aficionado, Kehr a prominent dentist and a former co-owner of Lindy-Little Joe and Roach — “Mr. Walleye” — is, well, Mr. Walleye. All have fishing in common and are well-known in the area.
But like the many, many other well-known fishing personalities in these parts — Al and Ron Lindner, Marv Koep, Jim Kalkofen, Dan “Walleyedan” Eigen, the list goes on and on and on — Cooper, Kehr and Roach are just as well-known for what they do for the various causes in the Brainerd area. And that, more than anything, is what I will take from my experience as outdoors editor at the Dispatch.
Big-name outdoors personalities give back big time here.
“Coop” has been battling cancer for about 15 years, but for the most part, you wouldn’t know it. He had planned to fish in last weekend’s Fishing Classic to benefit the Confidence Learning Center, but had a major health setback just before the event and had to skip it. Well, sort of.
While he couldn’t fish Gull Lake for the event, he was in contact via cellphone with replacement guide Aaron Schroeder and teammates Gene Debusk and Lance Diekman, helping direct them to the big pike — he said he pre-fished and prepared hard for the Fishing Classic. The result was a third-place finish in the northern pike division for the team.
Just home after a stay in the emergency room, “Coop” made it to the festivities afterward, mostly to apologize for not being able to participate. And on Friday, after a visit to the Dispatch offices, he was excited about taking a child fishing later that day. Almost a week after the Classic, the disappointment of not being able to fish the event lingered.
Kehr is probably best-known as a Brainerd dentist, and during my nearly five years in Brainerd, he was my dentist. I figured with a name like Kehr (pronounced “Care”), how could I go wrong?
And Kehr does care. An owner of Lindy-Little Joe for nearly 30 years before its sale in 2008, no one was more disappointed than Kehr when it was announced in April 2009 that PRADCO, the company that bought Lindy-Little Joe, announced it was going to move the well-known Brainerd-based fishing tackle operation to Arkansas. About two-dozen workers here lost their jobs and Brainerd lost a piece of its fishing heritage.
But Kehr, an admitted tinkerer, moved on, and in November, his Bait Puck Plus ice-fishing bait storage unit for wax worms and/or larvae hit the marketplace. Marketed by StrikeMaster ice augers, it has sold 5,000 units, with an order of 20,000 on tap for this next year, he said.
The first year was good for $406 in royalties. But Kehr doesn’t see any of that. Instead, it goes straight to the Patricia Ann Kehr Memorial Endowment at Central Lakes College, which provides scholarships to aspiring nurses. Patricia Kehr, Roland’s late wife, got her nursing degree later in life from Bemidji State after attending CLC. Through royalties, donations, etc., the fund has grown to about $28,000.
“The high point in her life was getting that degree, so I decided to set up the scholarships,” said Roland, who has another fishing-related invention in the works. Should it get marketed, royalties from that, too, would go toward the endowment.
In recent years, Roach has been best known for his line of “Mr. Walleye” everything, from fishing rods to fish breading. And when he’s not busy with his Gary Roach Walleye Classic in Ontario, he’s out on Lake Mille Lacs with kids who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to fish. Or he’s taking a disabled war veteran out fishing, then back to his place near Merrifield, where wife Beverly whipped up the patented Mr. and Mrs. Walleye fish fry. In recent years, pink Mrs. Walleye fishing rods have helped raise funds for women with cancer — Beverly lost a sister to cancer. And last weekend, Mr. Walleye joined Al Lindner, Walleyedan and many more in the 28th annual Fishing Classic, which helped raise $60,000 for Camp Confidence.
I’ve ice-fished with Roach, but have yet to hit the open water with him. Next time I’m in town, he said. The walleyes are biting on Mille Lacs, he added.
And, as always, “Coop” knows where to find the monster pike.
“Call me,” “Coop” said as he left the office. “You don’t even need a reason to call.
BRIAN S. PETERSON served as the outdoors editor at the Dispatch for nearly four years and worked at the Dispatch for almost five years. He will take with him many memories of the people and places that make the Brainerd lakes area a truly unique outdoors experience.