by Cori Hilsgen
St. Joseph resident Ken Hiemenz is a man who has served on several organizations for long periods of time. One of those organizations is the St. Joseph Rod and Gun Club.
Hiemenz, 79, has been with the club since 1961 and has spent 40 of those years serving as president and other positions on the board of directors. At one time, he was asked to return to help the club get re-organized again. Hiemenz has also been the firearm safety instructor for the club since 1987.
The club was formed after 58 citizens met to form a sportsman’s club in 1954. Three citizens — Cyril Schneider, Frederick J. Reber and Elmer Reber — executed articles of incorporation Aug. 12, 1954.
Hiemenz became the club president in 1961 after he returned from active duty in the U.S. Army. He had been stationed in Germany and was sent on tours to France. He has been with the club for 52 years.
Hiemenz said he was able to help organize the club. When he first became a member, club membership included 35 people. Membership has grown to 600-650 and now includes females and families.
Other things that were accomplished while Hiemenz was president include paying for property on Kraemer Lake, purchasing property for an access on Watab (Long) Lake and building club funds through fundraisers.
The club has been and still is active in many areas of environmental conservation and area events. Some of them include maintaining the lake accesses at Kraemer and Watab lakes and helping stock both lakes with walleyes since 1991. The club also offers free birdhouse-building classes, and sponsors a boys/girls fishing clinic and firearms safety training.
For more than 30 years the club has sponsored up to four children, ages 12-15, to the Long Lake Conservation Camp. It also supports Girl Scouts’ Camp, the Dark House Association with its Big Brothers Big Sisters winter fishing contest, sponsors an ice-fishing contest, has sponsor memberships in the Thunder’n Toms Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever and is an affiliate of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, which is the official state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.
It’s also taken care of northern rearing ponds, purchased and helped the Department of Natural Resources obtain Big Watab Lake access, done carp removal on Kraemer Lake and on the Watab River where it runs out of Watab Lake, fed deer and pheasants in the winter months, offered a swimming program and built a handicapped-accessible fishing pier on Kraemer Lake, worked with developers of some of the Kraemer Lake homes and assisted St. Wendel Township during development of some of the Pleasant Acres homes regarding lakeshore issues.
Because the club serves on the annual DNR Round Table, it has input on fishing, camping, snowmobiling, skiing, ATVs, parks and trails, statewide hunting, and many other biological and environmental activities.
Fundraising efforts for the club have included life memberships, fish fries, raffle-ticket sales, silent auctions, breakfasts, summer picnics, sales of jackets and other apparel, and more.
In March 1989, the club received a certificate of commendation from Gov. Rudy Perpich for its endorsement and support of the Environmental and National Resources Trust Fund; in Sept. 1989, the club received the MCF President’s Award for outstanding membership; and in 1990, the club was honored by the NWF for its contributions to environmental conservation.
The club’s membership conservation pledge is:
“I give my pledge as an American to save and faithfully defend from waste the natural resources of my country – its air, soil and minerals, its forests, waters and wildlife.”
Hiemenz said during his membership with the club it’s met and voted to remove a few members due to unsportsmanlike conduct.
When new members join the club, Hiemenz said he offers helpful advice.
“We appreciate the fact they support the club and our programs,” Hiemenz said. “If they’ve never fished the lakes before I also give them ideas of where they can start fishing on the lakes.”
Because his wife’s health now requires more care, Hiemenz has decided it’s time for him to reduce his hours spent volunteering. He decided not to submit his name for president but is the current treasurer of the club.
Hiemenz has lived in St. Joseph most of his life, except for a year spent working in Montana and the time he spent in the Army.
Various jobs Hiemenz has held include working as an appraiser and realty specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, as a supply technician and recruiting supervisor for the U.S. Army, and as a nursing assistant at the St. Cloud Veterans Administration.
He met his wife, Aloisia (Luise), while he was in the Army, and they were married in Germany. They have three sons and seven grandchildren.
Other organizations Hiemenz has volunteered with include serving as mayor of St. Joseph, serving on the St. Joseph City Council planning and zoning committee, serving as the Commander of the American Legion of St. Joseph, co-founding and serving as president and treasurer of the Central Minnesota Emergency Chaplaincy Service, serving as treasurer of the Reserve Officer Association, co-founding and serving on the board of the Minnesota Environmental Fund, serving as president of the Minnesota Conservation Federation Association, helping with the articles of incorporation for the St. Joseph Food Shelf and the St. Joseph Area Historical Museum, and others.
His role with many of those organizations included helping to pay off debts, growing funding budgets and often helping the organizations get back on their feet.
The club’s current president, John Melancon, has been a member of the club for seven years.
“I love to hunt and fish,” Melancon said. “I had never belonged to a conservation club before and I have found this to be a good outlet and have enjoyed it.”
He said he didn’t realize he was on the ballot last year when he was voted in. Melancon has served on the board for the past six years and as president since last April.
The current president usually conducts an annual meeting to update members. After the meeting, the new president takes office. The offices of president, first- and second- vice president, treasurer and secretary are one-year terms and the other directors are three-year terms.
Melancon said he has not made many changes as president because the program has a lot of wonderful members who organize and plan club events and they continue to run the programs that are successful.
One change the club has made is to develop a website. A club member was able to set up the website and Melancon said it has been working well. They have had several people sign up to become members through the website.
“We are kind of going modern and getting into high-tech,” Melancon said.
Melancon, 70, is a retired veterinarian who earned his degree in veterinarian medicine from the University of Minnesota. He lives in Pleasant Acres.
Because Melancon is retired and travels extensively around the United States, Europe and other locations, he does not plan to run for president this year.
“My wife, Nancy, and I love to travel and we want to do it while we can,” Melancon said.
Melancon’s wife, Nancy Gilbert, formerly owned Nathan B’s restaurant in St. Cloud.
“We have five children and grandchildren scattered from Toronto, Canada to Denver,” Melancon said.
The fee for joining the St. Joseph Rod and Gun club is $18. People who want to join can pick up applications at both of the lake accesses, at SpeedStop Bait shop, or contact any board member. The website is www.stjoerodandgun.org and the mailing address is St. Joseph Rod and Gun Club, P.O. Box 374, St. Joseph, MN 56374.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
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