After more than 50 years as outdoors writer for the Niagara Gazette, Joe Ognibene, 83, penned his last "Outdoor Scene" column Sunday, Sept. 28.
Begun in 1957, Ognibene's reports came directly from the many sites Western New York offers for outdoor storytelling. An inveterate outdoorsman, his beat continually has been the woods, fields and waters where hunters, anglers, trappers, shooters and all outdoors enthusiasts participated.
"It's a good thing there are guys like Bill," he often said of Bill Hilts Sr., life-long fellow outdoor writer from Niagara County. "He [Hilts] would attend the [club and governmental] meetings and I could get out fishing or hunting," he would often boast.
Ognibene kept in touch with writers across New York State, but his membership in the New York State Outdoor Writers Association (NYSOWA) was only a brief tenure. His circle of friends and contacts spanned the Long Island, Catskills, Adirondacks, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions. His reports on issues and field doings kept readers informed and very often sparked interests in taking up activities and in checking out destinations so well chronicled in his columns.
But he took particular pride in his Niagara River Anglers Association (NRAA) membership. He wrote in his final column: "I am quite proud of plunking down $5 to become the first charter member of NRAA when Mark and Joan Dahl told me about it. This is the organization that did what many said could not be done, restocking the Niagara River with walleye that many are catching today. Thanks to the late John Long, who donated the rearing ponds. [NRAA's efforts] became the model for other clubs throughout the state."
Great Lakes water quality, legalization of the crossbow in New York State, legislative alerts on outdoors-related issues such as rifle-hunting areas, mandatory hunter orange and other concerns often entered his discussions on where the fish are biting, what gear to get and use, how, where and when to hunt and so many other aspects of the outdoor scene.
The recent passing of his wife, Mary, on Jan. 12 this year has left him with what he called "My too-big-of-a house with a lot of memories on west Grand Island." After knee surgery at Kenmore Mercy Hospital on Monday, he said, "I'm looking forward to heading south and staying with my daughter in Florida."
His recuperation should take about a month and he plans to go south with hopes of "sending back a few reports on Western New York snowbirders."
After an appeal to remain alert and to stay active about the "many problems in our outdoor world," he ended his column: "That's what I think I'll miss most, no longer rocking the boat. To all my readers, thank you, it was one helluva ride."