BY BILL KENNEDY
On the eve of the 17th annual Hackensack Children’s Fishing Contest, Robert (Bob) William Kennedy, who was one of the original founders and the “father” of the Hackensack Children’s Fishing Contest (HCFC), passed away Sunday, April 28, 2013. As Bob would tell the story, “A bunch of us old farts were sitting around the Legion…” and they were discussing the lack of anything for the kids to do. The beer and brainstorming ran freely that day and the germ of an idea was born on a napkin at the bar.
The first contest day in 1997, there were seven volunteers as they gathered at the Hackensack Fishing Dock. “Not one kid showed up! We just made an error in calculations. Schools were still going so…” as Bob explained it to the Star Tribune in 2010.
Regardless of how that first day went, the event has grown since its inception in 1997. There were 337 kids the first year and it has grown to more than 1,000 kids every summer.
More than 15,000 fish have been caught off the docks in Hackensack. The catch-and-release contest returns most of the fish to the lake unharmed to be caught over and over.
“Kids keep coming back and we get to watch them grow up through their life cycles and now they are coming back with their own children,” Bob said. “We have many kids who are too old to participate in the contest anymore come back and become volunteers. We never have to go looking for volunteers, they just show up in droves.”
Families come from all over to the HCFC. We’ve had people from Germany, Australia and other faraway lands on vacation in the area come visit us. We know families who plan their vacations around the contest to make sure they don’t miss out.
And in 16 years, we’ve only been rained out about a half dozen times. We made buttons one year that said “88-1” signifying the 88 contests that had been held every Tuesday for 12 weeks every summer, until finally we were rained out.
The running joke was that you should always plan to do outdoor activities on Tuesday because you knew for at least the two hours of the contest, you were going to have sunny weather. And it’s no joke that come 11 a.m., Mother Nature would cease all rain, open up the sky and let the sunshine down. And some days at about 1:30-2 p.m., when we just finished packing up the site, she would dump relentless rainfall on the ground.
Every year, Robert would spend countless hours planning, gathering gear and finding sponsors, and calling local, regional and national companies and requesting donations.
For the first 10 years, from about April until late August, the basement of his house was a veritable fishing rod, reel and tackle shop.
He is survived by his wife, Sherrie Kennedy, who has stood by him and helped him every year. One year she said, “I want my basement living room back!” and we moved the gear to a rental storage unit in Hackensack.
Every year there is “tacklebox” party where volunteers get together and load up the tackle boxes with the tackle that had been donated or purchased. These are prizes for various events such as the minnow races and grand prize winner.
Then on the last contest day we have the end-of-the-year volunteer and sponsor thank you party with hamburgers, brats, hot dogs and other picnic items. Certificates are handed out to all the volunteers and leftover prizes are had by all. Drinks, merriment and reminiscing round out the evening.
The contest runs every Tuesday. This year the dates are June 18 through Aug. 20. The contest was reduced by two weeks starting last year to give the volunteers a break and allow them time to enjoy their own summer vacations.
Each day, kids ages 0-15 (and yes, we’ve had newborns “win” the whole thing) will come and gather around the Hackensack Dock and fish. Hot dogs are provided by various area supporting organization, businesses and personal sponsors. Soda is generously donated by area vendors. Both are free to fishing participants and their families.
There is a minnow race and casting contest open to all. Free bait is provided in the form of night crawlers. Participants are asked to bring a fishing pole and all must wear a life jacket. If they show up without either one, we will provide some loaners from our inventory.
The entire event is completely free. Please feel free to bring your kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, nieces, nephews, friends and even your friends’ kids to the contest. It starts at 11 a.m. sharp, so get there early to get registered before we yell “Start!” or you won’t have a chance to catch the “first” fish. That opportunity is gone within the first few seconds.
You can still win most, largest or smallest fish in each of the age categories, 0-5, 6-9 and 10-15.
Even if you don’t catch a fish, win the minnow race or are the weekly casting champion, don’t run away too quickly. Every week, each registered youth receives a valuable coupon book in a Dairy Queen bag (with a coupon for a free treat) with candy and fishing tackle. They also receive a ticket. We draw out one ticket from a bucket and if your number matches, you are that week’s grand prize winner and will take home a brand new rod and reel and a tackle box full of tackle.
If you’ve never checked out this event, do yourself a favor and plan to make it to one or even all 10 weeks this summer; you will not regret it. Others who have been there every year, we can’t wait to see you again.
This year will be the 17th annual Hackensack Children’s Fishing Contest and will be dedicated to Robert Kennedy. The communities of Hackensack, Longville, Walker, Akeley and the world in general will dearly miss a great man who amongst many things in his life will forever be remembered as the “Father of the Children’s Fishing Contest.”
Memorial Services will be held on Saturday, May 4, 2013, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church with visitation at noon, services at 1 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made out to the Hackensack Children’s Fishing Contest (or HCFC) and sent to: Hackensack Children’s Fishing Contest, 516 Highway 371 S., Hackensack, MN 56452.
(Bill Kennedy is Bob Kennedy’s son.)