There was a common theme that crossed over from the Academy Awards to the annual Conservation Awards given out by the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs this past weekend – water. While “The Shape of Water” was the big winner with four Oscars, it was the Lake Erie Chapter of Fly Fishers International that walked away with a big share of trophy hardware at the local awards banquet -- followed closely by the WNY Chapter of Trout Unlimited. What a cast … and a lot of dedicated people who cast.
Recognizing the people in the trenches who are getting the job done is an important function that takes place year after year. More often than not, while the award is a nice gesture, it’s not something the recipient is striving for. The people who earn these awards are not doing it for anything more than it’s important to our natural resources, it’s important to our conservation legacy or it’s important to the future of hunting and fishing. It’s a passion that burns inside and drives them to protect and pass along our outdoor heritage.
Spotlighting this year’s banquet, held at Kloc’s Grove in West Seneca, was the Stan Spisiak Conservationist Award winner, Chuck Godfrey – current president of the WNY Chapter of Trout Unlimited. However, he can’t hang his hat on just one coat rack or with just one organization. Godfrey had held multiple positions, primarily in a leadership capacity, with at least 15 organizations.
“I consider this our top award,” said Frank Miskey, Sr. of Elma. “Stan Spisiak epitomizes the meaning of conservation and Godfrey comes from the same mold.”
He has spent most of his life preserving and enhancing our natural resources – especially the water. You could say he has shaped the water, one rock at a time, through his club’s stream habitat work.
The Club of the Year (which could be compared to film of the year) was the Lake Erie Chapter of Fly Fishers International. While they have been around as a group for only just over a decade, the angling club has accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time. They have instructional programs directed at youth, veterans and scouting. They certainly live up to their mission statement of promoting and enhancing the art of fly fishing. In 2015, the group received the ‘McKenzie Cup,” symbolic of Club of the Year with the parent Fly Fishers International organization.
It’s only appropriate that the current president of the fishing group, Joan Rosner of West Seneca, was also named the recipient of the Valerie E. Gonnello Sportswoman of the Year. Let’s go with top female actor – she deserves it.
The Youth of the Year was another chapter member of Fly Fishers International, Cole Alexander. The 11- year-old at Mill Middle School is an active member of the club, demonstrating a unique leadership quality rarely seen at such a young age. He’s always willing to help teach kids his own age or younger.
Sportsman of the Year Goes to Tom Ryion, an anchor with the West Falls Conservation Club. His work on area archery courses, helping with kids fishing events for physically challenged youngsters and assistance with pheasant stocking are just a few of the activities he’s been involved with.
Top Environmentalist for 2017 was Lake Erie Unit Leader Don Einhouse with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). He’s spent a career in Dunkirk as a fisheries biologist, starting in 1981. Einhouse has been the Unit Leader for Lake Erie for over a decade – professional, thorough and knowledgeable.
Public Servant of the Year was State Senator Patrick Gallivan. After serving with the State Police and as the Erie County Sheriff, he decided to run in the 59th District back in 2011. After being elected, he has supported sportsmen and sportswomen as it relates to fishing, hunting, crossbow usage, archery and general outdoor sports issues, a true champion for the conservation cause.
Public Service of the Year was given to DEC’s Environmental Conservation Officer Mark Mazurkiewicz of Holland, working in Region 9 for over 26 years. He is the “go-to guy” for advice on cases and is also actively involved with Hunter Education assignments. He also handles the highest volume of complaints in the field according to awards chairman Miskey, enforcing our fish and game laws and protecting our natural resources.
Volunteer of the Year went to Dave Bollman, an active member with the WNY Chapter of Trout Unlimited. He is the Buffalo program lead for “Project Healing Waters,” which teaches disabled veterans how to tie flies and how to fly fish. He does this at VA Hospital facilities in Buffalo and Batavia and recently started up a similar program at Niagara University. Bollman also assists with the Erie County Fair, National Hunting and Fishing Day and at the WNY Sport and Travel Expo in Hamburg.
The Public Relations Award and top sponsor went to S & S Taxidermy of Springville. Brian and Jerry Stedman do an outstanding job with supporting Federation activities such as hunter safety training, National Hunting and Fishing Day and the Youth Archery Summer Camp.
The President’s Award, handed out by Joe McAdams ( the 2017 president), went to long-time Federation delegate Paul Stoos of Buffalo. He was able to attend the dinner despite dealing with health issues and his award announcement resulted in a standing ovation.
Past president McAdams also presented a special recognition award to Gary and Hope Melnyk of Buffalo. They are active in many clubs and whenever there is work to be done, they always seem to be there to lend a helping hand for Federation events.
This is a “who’s who” of conservation icons in the county. Remember that this happens every year. Appreciate the work that goes on behind the scenes and be sure to thank them for their service to our natural resources, our outdoor heritage ... and for their own methods of shaping the waters.
An earlier version of this story identified as Dave Bollman as chairman of Project Healing Waters. He is program lead for Buffalo.