Quincy News

Fishing for Freedom casts its lines

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 2, 2018 5:55 pm

QUINCY -- Erine Sutterfield and Gavin Janes had a system when it came to fishing Saturday in Lake Illinois on the Illinois Veterans Home campus.

"I set the hook and he reels them in," Janes said.

The system worked for the 16-year-old Janes and Sutterfield, an Army veteran from the Vietnam War and Veterans Home resident, as they easily caught three small blue gill, though one gave them quite a fight.

"I had this rod doubling over," Janes said. "We thought it was a monster."

Janes was volunteering as part of Fishing for Freedom's fishing tournament at the Illinois Veterans Home.

During the summer, Sutterfield can be found every morning fishing at the lake. He recently caught a 5-pound catfish.

"I love this place, and I love to fish," Sutterfield said.

Janes used to ride his bike to the Veterans Home to fish during the summer. He now volunteers each year with Fishing for Freedom.

"It's just nice to come out here and take these guys fishing, too," he said.

Morning thunderstorms cut fishing time by about an hour, but Larry Sheffler, who coordinates the Veterans Home fishing contest for Fishing for Freedom, said about 40 residents participated with the support of dozens of volunteers.

"They call me to volunteer," Sheffler said. "That's something you don't hear too often."

Around 300 veterans, including those fishing at the Veterans Home, 230 warriors fishing representing 20 different states and 52 volunteer boaters, who are also veterans, are participating in Fishing for Freedom.

Randy Gengenbacher, who coordinates Fishing for Freedom, said sponsors in the community and the volunteer boaters have helped make the event larger each year.

"Without the boaters, we can't do it," Gengenbacher said. "One couple I was just talking to and I believe they said it was a 15-hour drive for them. I think that says a lot about our event, and they've already said they'll be back every year."

Bob Havermale, who started the local Fishing for Freedom event in 2011, after seeing a similar event in Warsaw, Mo., knew that the Quincy community would easily support it.

"They had about 190 different soldiers, and I saw what it meant to them," Havermale said. "I said ‘Quincy can do this in a heartbeat.'"

Havermale knew the event was important when he saw Vietnam War veterans honored for their service in 2012.

One of those veterans was LaGrange, Mo., resident Bob Blessing, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

Blessing is now in his seventh year as a volunteer boater for Fishing for Freedom. He was initially hesitant to volunteer when he was first approached by Havermale, but he now looks forward to it each year.

"It has turned things around for me," Blessing said. "Being a Vietnam veteran, we were not welcomed home, and the first Fishing for Freedom banquet that I attended, the Vietnam veterans were recognized.

"Myself, along with the other Vietnam vets that were recognized, it was like a long time coming, and it has really meant a lot."

The volunteer boaters and the veterans will start fishing at 6 a.m. Sunday, ending at noon. They fish in various locations in the Mississippi River and the Mark Twain Lake.

Gengenbacher said the weigh-in festivities at Clat Adams Bicentennial Park will start at 11:45 a.m., and the public is invited to attend.

"Our Quincy people will start trickling in about noon, and normally about 45 minutes later, Hamilton will come in, and then Mark Twain Lake will come in after Hamilton," he said.