Veterans Heal and Hammer Walleyes at Annual Pay It Forward Event

Category: article

 Sep 10th, 2021 by Keith Worrall 

Modified Sep 10th, 2021 at 1:56 PM

It started out as an idea to “give back” to those who have given and still give so much. The name we chose for the Lake of the Woods Area veteran’s event was “Pay It Forward”. We thought it was appropriate for many reasons. This past week, for the seventh year, 70 veterans converged on Lake of the Woods for a 3 night, 2 day all expenses paid fishing trip.

They arrived from all over the U.S., but mainly neighboring states and all across MN. When it’s all said and done, veterans of all types, male and female, various branches of the military, some in the heart of conflicts overseas, many with a physical and/or psychological ailments such as PTSD or TBI come together and rub elbows with other veterans. Veterans spending time with other veterans on and around Lake of the Woods in a loving and supportive environment. This recipe is what makes the Pay It Forward event so magical.

There are so many touching stories. Some are happy stories. And honestly, some are not so happy. Like many veterans discuss, for many, even though back home, the “battle” is still real, maybe just in a different form. Like one veteran put it, “I may have left Vietnam, but Vietnam has not left me.” This quote is deep and resonates with many veterans regardless of when they were in and what they were involved with.

Pay It Forward allows veterans to forget about challenges, at least for a few days. Hand picked speakers help shed light on a variety if issues, resources and solutions affecting our veterans. How to peruse the VA medical system? Where can I go for a job? Who can I reach out to if I feel like I am falling through the cracks? What does a veteran’s service officer do and how can I reach one? Are their support groups? How can I receive help for my specific struggles? What is my purpose in life? In many cases, there are resources or groups that can be helpful in some way to veterans.

One of the guest speakers this year was Melony Butler of Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre, MN. On the first night, Butler explained more about the “Nest”.

We are a non-profit organization committed to meeting the needs of our veterans, service members and their families who suffer from the invisible wounds of war. Our entire team is committed to meeting those needs.

A promise to one and a need of many was what created the vision of “Eagle’s Healing Nest”. The “Eagle” represents the past, present and future military strength, independence, pride and honor. The “Nest” is full of meaning such as home, family, brotherhood, safety and security. The “Hands” cradling the nest represents the many that will wrap their support and give services to the veterans and military members to help reintegrate them back to their families and into their communities.

Many of our military are struggling and need programs with a caring hand to assist them. Eagle’s Healing Nest will help foster purpose and direction. Our service member’s families, who also serve our Country, deserve the resources, support, and best treatment available. Eagle’s Healing Nest provide this.

Night two, we heard from a variety of leadership representing various veteran organizations. Tom Goodrich of Fishing For Life, Todd Tanhoff with MN Elks Veterans Service, and Bobby Edwards from For His Glory Outdoors. Mel Butler finished up the evening with some suicide prevention training.

The final evening was a time to award the top prize for longest walleye and pike. Top walleye honors went to Joe Bistodeau with a 28.5 inch walleye, beautiful fish. The top pike is awarded despite everyone walleye fishing and a pike catch is normally accidental. Nonetheless, we normally get some big ones. Vern Schwalbe took pike honors with a 28 inch pike. There was video of a 40 plus inch pike that literally got away at the boat.

And finally, some great entertainment. The first performer was Mike from Eagle’s Healing Nest. Mike would be the first to tell you he isn’t a pro, but nobody could tell as he played a short set of some of his own songs written about veterans.

And the headliner. Bobby Vandell has been awarded 5 gold records and is a 9 time inductee in the Midwest Rock and Country Hall of Fame. He spent almost 50 years drumming for a whos who list of performers such as Prince, Bonnie Rait, Chuck Berry and Lipps, Inc. Normally, this event doesn’t attract this kind of talent, but through a relationship with Eagle’s Healing Nest, Bobby was gracious enough to come up for an evening and entertain this years veterans.

Roughly 20 veterans commit suicide every day. Many veterans believe that number is understated greatly with the number closer to 100. Any number is too high. A number of caring veterans, people, volunteers and folks working with organizations who help veterans are part of the Pay It Forward event. There are a number of key ingredients that come together to make a good recipe. Everyone of those ingredients are important and in this case, it is no different.

This year, and since the outset, Fishing For Life has assisted as a partner of Pay It Forward. They are a group based out of the Twin Cities but reaching out to folks throughout the region helping tremendously with bringing veterans together, identifying issues and providing solutions, creating veterans events that are key to fostering support and so much more.

Pay It Forward is made possible through the generosity and giving nature of sponsors. This includes resorts who donate lodging, charters and meals, small businesses and veteran organizations who believe in helping veterans enjoy a fishing trip aboard a charter boat in this loving, caring environment along with the positive outcomes we see year in and year out. Thank you to all sponsors who make this event happen.

This past week’s event, like every event, brought very special people who happen to be veterans to Lake of the Woods. And once again, magic happened.



If you are interested in yourself or perhaps a company being a sponsor or if you are a veteran or know of a veteran who may be interested, check out www.payitforwardlow.org or our Pay it Forward page. You can also email Joe Henry at [email protected] or give a call to 320-260-7727.

Thank you to all veterans and all who protect and serve!

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