The annual Game Fair in Ramsey, Minn., draws tens of thousands of visitors each year, including many union members. For the 13th year running, the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, and participating unions are hosting a booth.
The 36th annual Game Fair runs two weekends, Friday-Sunday, Aug. 11-13, and Friday-Sunday, Aug. 18-20. The setting is the beautiful woods and lakeshore of Armstrong Kennel Ranch in Ramsey. Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Fair offers seminars and demonstrations by hunting and fishing experts, exhibitors including commercial vendors and nonprofit conservation organizations, competitions, and hands-on activities for all ages.
Our Minnesota hunting and fishing traditions are important to many families, including many union families in particular.
Kids grow up accompanying a parent or grandparent into the woods or fields for a first hunt, or learning from parent or grandparent just what to do to land that fish — and cook it up just right.
A working life as a union member helps support hunting and fishing lifestyles, thanks to good wages to afford gear and trips, paid vacations, and pensions to continue enjoying outdoor activities in retirement.
Three union members shared a glimpse of their hunting and fishing lives with the Labor Review: Jim Thomas, IBEW retiree; Scott Lindquist, current IBEW member; and Grace Baltich, current AFSCME Local 34 member.
Here are their stories:
IBEW Local 292 retiree
“Getting out to enjoy the outdoors is probably the most relaxing and healthy thing you can do,” says Jim Thomas, age 85.
The IBEW Local 292 retiree reports: “I bagged turkey number 39 on April 19 this spring. It was a 27-pound bird with a 9-1/2 inch beard and 1-1/2 inch spurs.”
He shot his turkey with a 12-guage Winchester 870 shotgun. But… he was a mile away from his truck. “I had to slog through a field with Bluestem Prairie Grass about 2-1/2 feet high… When I finally got back — after several stops — one of my hunting buddies said, ‘what is an 85-year-old guy doing way out there?’ I said, ’cus that is where they were gobbling at 5:15 a.m.”
“I’ve been hunting turkeys since 1979 when they had the first season here,” Thomas says. “You don’t get a turkey every year.”
Thomas hunts with bow and firearm, for turkey and deer. “When you’re scouting for turkey, you find out where the deer trails are, too,” he observes.
“It’s always fun to hunt and get the meat,” Thomas says. That turkey he shot this April? “Smoked him.” He continues: “What I do is slice it up and bring some to the IBEW retirees meeting and some to the hunting buddies. Everybody gets a free sample and a taste of all the work that goes into it.”
Thomas now lives in St Paul but “I was born and raised in Brainerd,” he relates. “Back in the Depression days, we had to live on wild game; Squirrels and rabbits and fish were our protein diet at the time… My dad took us out. We hunted pretty regularly.”
Thomas moved with his family to Maple Grove in the early 1940s and graduated from Osseo High School. He then went to Dunwoody for four years to become a journeyman electrician.
He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean conflict and later in the Air Force Reserve.
Thomas joined the electrical trade, he says, because “it just kind of interested me to do electrical work and do a trade rather than going on to do higher education.”
Now a 60-plus year member of IBEW Local 292, Thomas served over the years as financial secretary, business representative, and — during the late 1970s— business manager. He retired in 1996.
For 21 years, Thomas notes, he has collected both Social Security retirement benefits and his union pensions. “All these benefits make it pretty comfortable being retired,” he says.
In retirement, “I work at the [Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation’s] Game Fair booth,” Thomas reports. “You run nto a lot of people from the building and construction trades.”
Thomas and his wife Katherine raised three children and now have five grandchildren.
“One of my grandsons finished his gun safety training,” Thomas reports. “The next weekend he went out and got his first pheasant — he was pretty proud of that.”
Grandpa is proud, too, no doubt. The tradition continues.
IBEW Local 292 member
For IBEW Local 292 member Scott Lindquist, as for many pheasant hunters, the sport is all about the dogs. “I just love watching the dogs work. I just enjoy the happy expression on their face and the amazement at how they can sniff something out… point something out.”
“I’m more into it for the dog,” he says. “If I get a bird, that’s a bonus.”
“I started out with an English Springer — Barney. I liked the way he hopped and ran and jumped,” he says. Everybody brags about their dogs, Lindquist says, but Barney was best. “He lasted with me for 12 years.”
His current hunting dog is Stella, an English Setter 4-1/2 years old. “She needs training,” he hastens to add. “Still need to do some work on ‘come to me, please!’”
Lindquist today hunts public lands around Buffalo and Pelican Lake and on family land in the Willmar area. “I have an uncle who has a farm. There’s always pheasants there.”
Last fall, Lindquist and a hunting buddy hunted near his Maple Grove home in Elm Creek Park Reserve. Lindquist got a doe and his buddy got a buck. By 8:00 a.m., they were done hunting — although it took them two hours to get the deer carcasses out of the woods.
Lindquist, 62, grew up on a dairy farm south of Willmar and went to high school there. “We always had guns,” he says. “You get a BB gun when you’re a little kid.” He began deer hunting with his dad at age 12. “The first year out deer hunting, I got a doe.”
After working in a machine shop in Willmar, Lindquist moved to the Twin Cities in 1983. “I said, ‘what the heck am I going to do?’”
He entered the electrical construction program at then Minneapolis Technical College.
This fall, Lindquist will mark 32 years as an IBEW Local 292 member, recently serving the local in a second term as vice president.
“I’ve been in the low voltage field for 31 years,” he says. “I like working with my hands. I like seeing things getting built. I like when I’m making the fire alarm system work — it’s life safety, very much needed.”
“The brotherhood we have here at Local 292 is fantastic,” Lindquist adds. “We help each other out” — just like hunting buddies working together in the field.
AFSCME Local 34 member
“I was just up in the Boundary Waters,” reports AFSCME Local 34 member Grace Baltich. “I love it because it is so serene. You can really calm your mind and your spirit — and there’s good fishing up there, too!”
“I love to fish for walleye and northern but sometimes I think its funner to fish for pan fish, because you can catch more of those,” she says.
“My family, we always went up to Leech Lake,” Baltich says. Her parents, uncle and aunt started this tradition as young couples. “It was always a ton of fun,” Baltich says of her growing-up years spent on family fishing trips. They made a contest of “who could catch the first fish, who could catch the first walleye or northern.”
“Now, we’re starting the tradition with my kids, too,” Baltich says. Her daughter, age 6, and her son, age 3, proudly caught their first fish.
And, she adds, her parents “absolutely” enjoy a thrill fishing with their grandchildren.
Her father, Larry Molenaar, is a retired CWA member. Her mother, Joan Molenaar, was briefly a UFCW member.
“I think that fishing is a great opportunity for kids and adults to be outdoors together and to explore nature,” Baltich says. “There’s a lot of lessons that can be learned abut the environment and biology and stewardship of our resources through fishing.”
She adds, “it’s really exciting when you catch the biggest fish you’ve ever caught. My biggest fish was a 29-inch northern and it was a lot of fun to reel it in.”
Baltich, Champlin, has bought the house where she was raised. “I’ve lived here 30 out of my 40 years,” she notes.
She graduated from Champlin Park High, then earned an undergraduate degree from St. Benedict’s and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota.
She worked 10 years in social services for Wright County, where she served as president of AFSCME Local 2865 and president of AFSCME Council 65.
Three years ago, Baltich went to work for Hennepin County’s social services department and currently is vice president of AFSCME Local 34.
Baltich also is a longtime member of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation’s executive board — currently the reading clerk — and co-chairs the MRLF’s North Suburban Advisory Council.
“Labor is very supportive of hunting and fishing and things we have a history of in Minnesota,” she says. “The ability to have that vacation — because the union fought for it — that’s so you can go fishing!”