In Memory of Kermit Wick

Our elders have taught us silence speaks volumes. Conversely, novels could be written from the spoken words of a man who has lived for more than a century--especially if that man had a passion for hunting and fishing from his youth until the day he died. Minnesota's Kermit Wick--who celebrated his 101st birthday on December 16, 2010 by ice fishing on Sweeny Lake near Minneapolis--was one such man. This story's original intent was to talk with Wick himself about his passion for the outdoors and his opinions on the changes he had experienced in hunting and fishing throughout his 10 decades. But the one inevitable of life caught up with him, and on Sunday, February 6, 2011, Kermit Wick passed away. Fortunately, Wick passed his enthusiasm for the outdoors on to his two children: son Chuck Wick (at right in photo) and daughter Geri Nelson--along with documented stories, vintage photographs and impressive personal drawings. In a way, this is a tribute to Wick as well as a small glimpse into his many decades as an avid angler, hunter, taxidermist, cook and artist told through photos and the recollections of his children. It is a testament to the trials and tribulations outdoorsmen of his era endured to just enjoy the very sports we sometimes take for granted today, as well as the simple pleasures the outdoors can provide later in life.
Wick's earliest memories of fishing were when he was four or five years old--hopping streetcars with his father to small lakes around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, where they'd fish and fill gunny sacks with panfish and pike for dinner. It wasn't until he graduated high school in 1928 that he was able to document his travels with photography. In this photo, a young Wick poses with a large northern pike, more than likely taken from one of the inland lakes of the Twin Cities area. By this time, he had heard stories of the wilderness north of Ely, Minnesota from a friend who had been there, and yearned to experience the area for himself.
In 1929, at age 19, Wick took his first fishing excursion away from the Twin Cities area, north to Ely to canoe and fish the waterways now known as the Boundary Waters/Quetico Park. Along with friend, Paul Frykman, and cousin, Marvin Ullberg, they acquired a 1919 Model-T Ford and hit the road. With the Model-T topping out at 30 mph, the trip to Duluth should have taken about nine hours. "The flat tires, however, made it dreadfully longer," Geri says. In this photo you see Wick changing one of the 18 flats the trio endured along the way. "One of the three would sit in the back seat, continuously patching tire tubes the entire time, just to be ready for the next one," Geri added. While in Duluth, they stopped and bought a cloth map of the waterway, which is a family heirloom to this day.
Here's Wick standing atop a boulder on what is thought to be that first trip, during which he and his two companions fished and lived off the land for several weeks. "Dad knew how to fish, but was a greenhorn at canoeing. He didn't know the difference between the bow and stern," Geri says. Wick befriended Sigurd F. Olson--famed American author, environmentalist and advocate for wilderness protection--who ran an outfitter post in Ely. This was during the Great Depression, so no one had a penny to spare. Olson was worried about the young men and supplied them with leftover food packets from groups prior that couldn't be re-sold, just to make sure the boys had enough to eat. Afterward, Olson and Wick became lifelong friends.
The three men made the same trip to Ely the following year. Frustrated by all the flat tires the year before, Wick chose to hitchhike this time and let the others drive separately. His wife, Lordean, says he dressed all in white so as to look dapper, which helped him acquire rides. He only had to thumb two rides: one from the Twin Cities to Duluth, the other from there to Ely. The crew of young men made one last trip to Ely in 1931, which is when this photo was taken. It shows Paul at the stern, Wick at the bow, and the knapsack with 20-plus day's worth of supplies. According to a journal Wick kept the previous year, the crew didn't see another human for 19 of their 21 days afloat.
By the late 1930's Wick (fourth from left) was traveling with family as well as co-workers and associates from the dental lab where he'd been working since age 15. This vintage snapshot is from that era, taken during a trip to Saganaga Lake within the Boundary Waters area. It shows a six-man limit of lake trout, as well as what look to be a few northern pike. Lake trout trips were planned for spring, when the fish were in the shallows and easily targeted. The men's American Indian guides were tipped with the extra fish the party could not consume.
Here, Wick posses with three lake trout and a northern pike, "on one of his many trips to the Boundary Waters area", says son Chuck. In 1939, Kermit married his wife of 71 years, Lordean, and the two honeymooned at Peterson's Fishing Camp on Hoist Bay of Basswood Lake. They spent 25 more years vacationing there, even after the resort was acquired by the park in 1958. Chuck and Geri where born in 1942 and 1946, respectively. "When I first married Kermit, he told me hunting and fishing meant everything to him and nothing was going to stop him from going," Lordean says. "Later in life, however, he admitted to me he was selfish when he hunted and fished so much back then."
Here, Wick holds a large musky in one hand and the steel rod and level-wind reel he caught it with in the other. "Kermit lived in the years when you only had one rod and reel, and you fished everything with it," says Chuck. "And he really only liked to catch fish that were good to eat and muskie were not his thing. In fact, this might be the only one he ever caught. I've caught a few and really enjoyed the fight."
By the 1950's, bluegill and sunfish, like the ones filling this stringer, as well crappie, became Wick's targets. "During the years the panfish populations were down...my dad would target largemouth bass," says Geri. "And no matter the species, he'd catch just enough to eat and then quit for the day. He did not catch and release fish for the sport of it. If he caught a carp, it [would] be buried in the family garden for fertilizer. We had great corn on the cob because of it." By this time, Wick had a fly rod that he would use primarily during vacations. This photo, more than likely, was from one of his many family vacations. The steel rod and level-wind reel is thought to be the same one used to land the muskie in the previous photo.
Wick was not only an avid angler, but a successful deer hunter and an equally triumphant waterfowler. This is Wick's first whitetail deer, which he took at age 26. It was a 4X4 shot in 1937 in the Stony River area of Minnesota. "Dad was a walking hunter, was very good at stalking, thus took more deer than any of his friends and family," Geri says. During this time period, the forests from the Twin Cities north were freshly logged and spotting game up to 200 yards away was not uncommon. Wick could stalk close enough to deer to take them with his .30-30 Winchester, which Chuck still owns.
This was the result of the camp's five-day hunt at Stony River in 1936. "Kermit loved these cars. You could put several deer on them. One on each on fender, bumper, hood and roof, and drive home," remarked Chuck. Members of the camp were Wick's coworkers and associates from the dental lab.
One of Wick's most memorable hunts was when he and his cousin, Clifton Carson (left)--who traveled 1,700 miles round-trip from southern Illinois to hunt with Kermit and his colleagues along the Gun Flint Trail--harvested the majority of their camp's permit quota two days before anyone else arrived. The others in the party were waylaid by the Armistice Day Blizzard--which wreaked havoc throughout the Midwest on Nov. 11 and 12, 1940. Many hunters, especially duck hunters, perished in this storm due to the sudden 50-degree plummet in temperature, 30 inches of snow and 80 mph winds. Carlson bagged the trophy in the center of the deer pole, which made his $50.25 out-of-state hunting license worth the rigorous trip. The rifle Wick is holding in this photo is a Model 54 Winchester .30-06, which is still in the family.
Once the Armistice Day Blizzard subsided, the others in the party were able to make it to camp. Here they pose along with Carlson (far left) and Wick (fifth from left).
Wick was successful at harvesting ducks, especially divers. He often hunted Minnesota's Lake Christina--a famous stopping point for migrating canvasbacks and redheads. The area is now a wildlife refuge. Wick also traveled west to the state border to hunt Marsh Lake for mallards. "Kermit was a very good shot, and his favorite waterfowl shotgun was a Model 12 Winchester skeet grade," Chuck says.
Again, cars from the 1930's were perfect for showing off a successful harvest.
Canada geese, too, were rarely missed by Wick's (third from left) shot. This photo was probably taken in the late 1930's during a trip with coworkers. "In the 1970's, Kermit and I would make trips to Saskatchewan to hunt geese and mallards. I remember bringing back limits of birds on dry ice in a homemade cooler made from a kitchen stove cardboard box lined with Styrofoam," says Chuck.
Although upland bird hunting was not Wick's forte, he had his moments of glory. Here you see him with a limit of cock pheasants, taken somewhere near Minneapolis. The family has no recollection of the double-barreled shotgun in this photo.
Grouse roamed the highlands of Chisago County, northwest of the Twin Cities, and Wick would occasionally try his luck there.
Wick took hunting and fishing vacations throughout United States and Canada from the 1940s into the early 1970s, until he retired in 1974 at age 64. Beginning in 1970, he visited Scandinavia, Norway, Sweden, and other countries. He always had his rod with him. He stopped deer hunting in 1984 when his eyesight started giving him fits and he had to sit in a blind rather than walk. By the late 1970's, after retirement, he'd turned his basement into a workshop, and started doing taxidermy as a hobby rather than a business. "He just hated having to take money for doing it," says Geri.
Here are two examples of Wick taxidermy work - a smallmouth bass (top) and an Arctic grayling.
Wick's taxidermy claim to fame was the 1,500-plus hats he sold, which were adorned with small panfish and saltwater fish he mounted.
Wick was always an artist, not only designing dental pieces and creating advertising for the lab he worked at for 50 years, but in his spare time he would draw scenes from the outdoors he loved so much. Here's a sketch he did of whitetail deer.
By the time Wick reached his 90's, the majority of fishing was done on Sweeny Lake, across the street from his and Lordean's home. He fished nearly every day from a 12-foot rowboat he purchased new from Montgomery Wards in the early 1950's. He paid $53 for it. He never owned a motor. The boat is still in perfect condition today. He fished from the boat until he was 99 years old--when he moved into assisted living housing.
Well into his 90's, Wick's favorite species to catch and eat was still panfish. He'd fish off the neighbor's dock when the fish were in the area, catching plenty for the table. And he would still often use only one rod at a time. Usually, when fishing off the dock, he'd use his fiberglass ice rod--no reel, just pegs to wrap the line on. In the last photo, you'll see him using the ice rod on his last day fishing.
"Dad cooked panfish to perfection," says Geri. Wick was known for his oven-baked panfish, which were dipped in an egg and milk solution and rolled in crumbled corn flakes. "We scaled every fish, sometimes leaving them whole, but filleting them more often than not," Chuck added. This catch is the result of a few hours of fishing for Wick off the neighbor's dock before being fried in oil.
Wick didn't only catch panfish from the dock, but bass as well, like this nice largemouth. Large fish like this were released. Wick is 99 in this photo.
In-between fishing and gardening, beginning at age 94 until his eyesight started giving out at 100 due to glaucoma, Wick dabbled in drawing wildlife, including song birds, waterfowl and, as seen here, fish.
The last couple years Wick lived on his own, the weight of his fishing rods gave him some trouble when casting. "But he would still get me out in the boat, insist on rowing, while I cast," says Chuck. In this photo, Wick holds a 5-plus-pound largemouth Chuck caught on a spinnerbait while his father guided him on Sweeny Lake. "Casting spinnerbaits was his favorite."
This is Wick, age 100, sitting on the dock, catching bluegills with his vintage ice-fishing rod.
Kermit Wick saw himself as "a simple man who loved to hunt and fish," and here you see him fishing for the last time on his 101st birthday, with the ice rod he liked to use off the dock in open water. Besides Lordean and children Chuck and Geri, Kermit is survived by three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, and another great-grandchild on the way to follow in Wick's many footsteps.