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Levy made indelible mark with outdoors reporting

Another page, chapter, and perhaps tome of chronicling Western New York outdoors has been completed with the passing of Michael Bela Levy on March 2.

Many obituaries and tributes have been written on Mike. Robert J. McCarthy offered a great summation with a reference to him as "an official newsroom character." No doubt, that phrasing would have resulted in Levy's patented impish grin.

Born and raised in Connecticut, he started working in publishing in New York City and began news reporting at The Buffalo Evening News in 1969. But it was after he took over the outdoors/recreation beat after Bob Feeney retired that his reportage established an identity with a vast segment of readership.

A keen interviewer and gifted writer, his columns often took state, regional and national honors. His work with Outdoor Writers of America (OWAA) increased each year and eventually resulted in a term as president in 1993. Bill Hilts Sr., another past OWAA president, recalls that Levy ascended to that office more quickly after joining as a member than any president before or after his tenure.

He helped found outdoors clubs and continuously assisted area clubs in promoting their outdoors programs.

Kevin Horn of Lancaster writes, "He was instrumental in helping Pheasants Forever organize its WNY Chapter in the early '80s. His media coverage and his humor were greatly appreciated. I got the feeling he grew into the outdoors in Western New York, even though he came from an urban background. We all will miss him and his outdoor episodes."

Steve Mooradian, retired DEC Region 9 Fisheries supervisor, had similar recollections of Mike's introduction to reporting area outdoors events.

"At first I thought he would be just another city guy who would miss a lot of things, but a year after he started he was on top of everything," Mooradian recalled of Levy after he ended his career with The Buffalo News.

Fred Skrabucha was one of many outdoors guys Levy met up with along the way. Skrabucha writes, "I met Mike when he first took over the outdoor column from Bob Feeney. Mike was a sportsman's friend who always was interested in what organizations were doing and how he could help out. I had the pleasure of taking Mike turkey hunting, where he killed his first and only turkey. I believe he still has it mounted at his house. I also took him on many photo outings. He will be missed."

Levy expanded outdoors coverage to include activities beyond hook-and-bullet reports. He would seek out participants in nature, hiking, biking and other outdoors pursuits and come up with interesting stories about things seen and done along the way.

He had a flair for getting newsworthy responses from whomever he interviewed. Jerry Bastedo, executive director at Hamburg Natural History Society's Penn Dixie Center, recalls Levy once asking him why they were involved in the same nature activities as Audubon, Sierra Club and other clubs. "Clearly, he was trying to find out more about what makes our program different from others."

Bastedo also noted Levy's persistence in getting details on background, ongoing and future functions of things and people. "When we were off on outings he would drive the wives nuts with questions about how things were going."

He did the same in his hook-and-bullet reporting. While I did not share hunting time with Mike, we got out with rod and reel occasionally, and enjoyed Western New York's bountiful waters.

One trip had us headed to Chautauqua Lake with our boys to get in on the spring calico (crappie) run. Fishing for calicos 25 years ago took more drive and filleting time than actual hours on the water. Throughout that outing, he made sure Seth -- his son -- got to catch the big one.

Lake Erie's bass run was another source of fun. He would bring out every new lure that just hit the market and try each one, no matter how deep or shallow the water.

Levy's news gathering and focusing skills showed best in 1990 when Red Man staged the first of a two-year bass competition in Buffalo. On the first day, he filed all his copy and was about to walk out when Norm Warner, copy editor, said he did not finish his recreation column, which Levy presumed was the Red Man story.

He walked back to his desk, typed out a column on ways to waylay walleyes and was out the door in minutes. His finished page was an enjoyable read for bass and walleye anglers alike.

Ill health through more than a decade, especially the past four years, kept him from active outdoors pursuits. But he did some insightful freelance pieces and last year accepted the Ham Brown Award, the highest lifetime-achievement honor OWAA presents to a member.

Mike Levy will be missed and remembered.

e-mail: odrswill@gmail.com

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