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Ken Stout helps his grandson Zachary Jividen, 7, learn how to cast during the Fort Wayne Community Fishing Club’s derby June 8.

Derby reels in big crowd

Club goes beyond event to help get people involved in fishing

Photos by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Omari McMillan, right, 8, and Taeyon Harper, 9, were among the 253 fishing enthusiasts at the Fort Wayne Community Fishing Club’s derby June 8 at Ivan Lebamoff Reservoir Park.

– He chuckles a little now, when you ask him about it. This is not because Willie Jordan thinks the question is amusing. It’s because … well, you’ve taken him back a ways.

“Man, I went fishing for the first time when I was, I think, in junior high school,” says Jordan, who’s a retired schoolteacher.

“My aunt and uncle went fishing one time, and I decided to go with them. And I really enjoyed it.”

To be sure, it was the start of a love affair Jordan resumed after high school and college, then carried on through 36 years as a teacher at Geyer and Portage middle schools. And now he and a few similarly smitten friends are passing on the virus, so to speak, through the Fort Wayne Community Fishing Club, whose annual fishing derby at Ivan Lebamoff Reservoir Park Pond has become quite the going concern.

A record 253 fishing enthusiasts of all ages showed up last year for the 15th renewal. The 16th annual derby was last week.

“They get a chance to get mentorships from our club members as well as get chance for a family outing with Mom and Dad or whatever,” Jordan says. “Most of the kids come to the derby from the area, the community, so they can walk there without having to bum a ride to get there. And they can actually catch fish and win prizes.”

The derby, or at least the idea of it, was born – where else? – on a fishing trip. One year Jordan and a couple of people he taught with took some kids to fish in Minnesota. They got to talking about what a great experience it was for the kids, and the next year they launched a two-day fishing derby.

That was about a year after they’d formed the Fort Wayne Community Fishing Club.

“(Ephraim) Smiley and I, we both had fishing clubs at our individual schools, and it just went from there,” Jordan says.

Jordan’s now the president and Smiley’s the gardening coordinator, and if the latter hints that the club’s influence extends beyond the act of wetting a line on idyllic afternoons, it’s not a false hint. Among other things, the club sponsors the Angel Community Garden, which over the years has drawn support from Young’s Greenhouse and Flower Shop, Stuckey’s Greenhouse, Main’s Flower Garden, Henderson Reed Garden Center Inc., Healthvisions of Fort Wayne, Reanetta Williams Broadview Landscaping and Nursery and Rev. Anthony and Sandy Payton and Come As You Are Church.

The Derby list of supporters are VFW Post 148, American Legion Post 8147, DAC of Allen County, Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Fort Wayne NAACP, Snider High School Afro-Heritage Club, INC, EZ Car Credit, Alpha Rae Personnel, Youth As Resources, SAVE Fort Wayne, Lafayette Bait and Tackle and Jordan Lebamoff.

For all of its work, the club won the 2004 Indiana Youth Institute Investment Award.

Not a bad legacy for a spur-of-the-moment decision to go fishing with the relatives all those years ago.

“It’s fun. It’s relaxation,” Jordan says when asked what the kids get out of reeling in the big ones.

“And as well, we have a fishing component to that where we take kids fishing all through the spring and summer and fall. The derby’s just part of it.”