Army of volunteers keeps vets outing afloat

Port’s Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing continues to treat participants to a day on the water thanks to the hundreds of people who make it happen

A GROUP OF Port Washington High School athletes helped load veteran Harold Schutt on board a boat for the Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing in Port Washington last week (right). Volunteers surrounded veteran George Balus as he posed for a photograph with the salmon he caught during the outing (top left). Port Washington boat owner Bill Driscoll (left in bottom left photo) was among the crew helping a veteran onto a boat for the 45th annual Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing, aka “The Nicest Day in Port Washington,” on Wednesday, June 20. Photos by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press Staff

The third Wednesday in June is a special day in Port Washington — but it’s one that goes largely unnoticed in the community.

Unnoticed, that is, by everyone but the legions of volunteers who come together to stage the annual Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing — commonly referred to as “The Nicest Day in Port Washington.”

It takes a community to make the day one for the veterans to remember, said Mary Schuknecht, who has worked at the outing for 41 of its 45 years and is chairman of the organizing committee.

It takes about 200 volunteers from throughout the region —everyone from elementary schoolchildren who make table decorations to high school athletes who help load wheelchair-bound veterans onto boats to fellow veterans —to put on the fishing outing, Schuknecht said.

That doesn’t include the many businesses who support the outing with services and donations, she said.

Last week, they came together to provide a free morning of fishing for 74 veterans, most of whom are at the Veterans Hospital in Wood or receiving services through the hospital, Schuknecht said.

The veterans are male and female, and they span all age groups, Schuknecht said. They have a variety of disabilities, and they’ve served from World War II to the current war on terrorism.

The committee isn’t sure until the outing just how many veterans will participate, she added, noting that about 30 cancelled the day of the event this year for reasons that ranged from the cool weather to illness.

The veterans went out on 41 boats, she said, and they caught 74 fish. Each veteran is photographed with the fish he or she caught, then the fish are taken to Ewig Bros., where they are smoked.

After they’re smoked, volunteers deliver the fish to the hospital, where they’re served to everyone there, Schuknecht said.

“That way even the people who didn’t get to go on the outing get a share of the fish,” she said.

The vets receive awards for the largest lake trout, rainbow trout, coho salmon and king salmon caught.

 “There are bragging rights at stake,” Schuknecht said.

But fishing is just one aspect of the outing. The veterans are also treated to lunch at the Van Ells-Schanen American Legion Hall, aka Inventor’s BrewPub, where they have their choice of a fish boil, which is always made by members of the Jim Poull family, Schuknecht said, or a cookout.

“It’s so easy,” she said. “They (the veterans) are so thankful, and it’s just a wonderful day.”

“When the vets are happy, we’re happy,” her husband Gerry, who has helped with the outing for about 20 years, said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing was founded by Tom McQuaid, a Port fishing captain who was seriously burned in an explosion on his boat. The community rallied around him as he recuperated at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, and McQuaid vowed he would host his fellow veterans for a fishing outing.

That next year, in 1973, with help from Charlie Graham and Wayne Horman, McQuaid took out a handful of veterans and it quickly grew from there.

Niederkorn, who knew McQuaid, said he would be pleased to see how the event has grown and become a day everyone, volunteers and veterans alike, looks forward to each year.

“I think he would be real happy,” Niederkorn said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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