Mick Niles’ wife Karen was a little disturbed last Saturday when he wore his best golf shirt to take me fishing on the Missouri River near Chamberlain.
“I don’t fish with my shirt on,” he told her, before starting his last day as a fishing guide.
Mick, a young man of almost 83, does not like to be called a guide.
“I just take people fishing,” he said.
This is something he has done for many years to help his favorite organization – the South Dakota Hall of Fame.
Last fall I bought the Fishing Adventure at the Hall’s annual silent auction fundraiser. I had no idea my fishing trip would be my last as a boat owner. On Sunday, he gave his boat to his daughter, who lives on a ranch near Platte.
It was time for her and her three grandchildren to enjoy the boat.
“Besides,” he said, “I’m getting too old for that.
Mick doesn’t need fancy boats or expensive electronics, which is very common in Missouri. But his boat and motor were pretty big, and who needs electronics when you have Mick’s special spots and secret techniques?
We regularly caught fish for two days, landing six different species, from small to large, sometimes at a breakneck pace.
Giving of his time to take people fishing, while also raising money, comes naturally to Mick, who served for six years on the board of directors of the South Dakota Hall of Fame. Fishing with Mick is like dating a celebrity. A native of Peever, he was a long-time principal of Chamberlain Elementary School. His wife Karen, who grew up in Sisseton, was an elementary school teacher there.
“I think I have reached over 10,000 students in my teaching career,” he said on the boat.
Everywhere we went people said hello.
“She was one of my students,” he said of a restaurant waiter.
The owners of a bait shop immediately knew him.
“If you fish with Mick,” said one, “you’re guaranteed to catch fish.”
It is a community that has a deep respect for Mick and his wife.
“Mick is a great example of living his passion,” said Greta Chapman, Executive Director of the Hall of Fame.
His fishing trips have raised thousands of dollars over the years.
The hall is doing better financially than when Mick was on the board, when he fought hard to keep it from shutting down.
Chapman credited Mick with a large part of the venue’s success.
“I continue to be amazed at the foresight of those who see the mission of honoring the South Dakotas for their achievements as role models,” Chapman said.
Mick, like those he helped select to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, represents the “culture of excellence exemplified by those in South Dakota who endured trials, tribulations and used sweat and pain. tears to make our state stronger, ”Chapman said.
Mick’s gift of his time and fishing skills helped the Hall of Fame create a living history of South Dakota.
“Every state has a unique culture,” Chapman said. “What has always impressed me about South Dakota is a paradox that keeps us very historically viable during turbulent times – individualism and community.
“Our individualism is our foundation and our community is our strength. Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile everything when you are talking about these two opposing concepts. South Dakotas seem to do it better than most. “
The Hall of Fame’s mission, she said, is “to emulate this attractive lifestyle, and more importantly, to emulate it among average South Dakotas like Mick.”
“So many people in this state either started from nothing or left under very difficult circumstances. It is the role of role model that is important – that you can pursue your dreams and that you don’t have to do it alone. “
Mick and other board members, she said, were instrumental in telling this story.
“I hope people like Mick will feel rewarded for weathering the storms with this organization. Our gratitude to them is everlasting, ”Chapman said.
As for his good golf shirt, it looked appropriate in this photo of him taken on his last day as captain of his boat.
Brad Johnson is a Watertown businessman and journalist who is active in national and local affairs.