KeepHealthCare.ORG – 88-year-old gets to relive childhood days spent fishing
The sun is blazing. The worms are wriggling. The competition is on.
“Are we doing biggest or the most?” asks 88-year-old lifelong fisherman Roy R. Dahl as he readies his hook with a juicy night crawler for the first time in years.
“How about both?” fires back Carrie Bellamy, 29, the resident care manager at Alexian Village in Elk Grove Village, where the pair bonded over their fish stories.
“I’ve always talked about fishing,” says Bellamy, who grew up fishing, lives next to Bode Lake in Streamwood and found a fishing soul mate in Dahl, who lives in the senior complex and got hooked on fishing as a boy during visits to Kewaunee, Wisconsin, the childhood home of his mother, Vivian. “He heard about camp and challenged me to a fish-off.”
Camp VIVA! is a series of daylong outdoor events organized by Pathway to Living, which runs senior communities in Elk Grove Village, Bartlett, Vernon Hills, Lake Zurich, Westmont, Round Lake Beach, Prospect Heights and elsewhere in the city and suburbs.
“It’s just pure excitement, that true gleam in the eye, that smile ear to ear,” Billy Blake, director of Pathway to Living, says of the camps designed to give older people “purpose and meaning” with a chance to try something new or revisit an old passion.
Last week, more than 100 older residents got to fish, swim, paddleboat and enjoy the outdoors at Bartlett’s Sunrise Lake Outdoor Education Center, part of the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization, says Andi Rothenberg, the Alexian Village community life coordinator, who dons a cowboy hat as she welcomes guests.
“When you can go fishing again or get on a horse for the first time at 85, it doesn’t get any better than that,” says Maria Oliva, chief operating officer at Pathway to Living.
Dahl went fishing every summer, generally off a bridge in Kewaunee, from as soon as he could walk until he turned 18. “Then I went into the Navy and saved the world,” he says, noting that he spent time at Great Lakes Naval Station before landing a job as an operating room technician at the Navy hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.
At 19 he married June Schwartz, a girl he met in high school in Chicago, and the couple reared eight kids in Addison and Elk Grove Village. They were married 64 years before she died in 2004. His wife didn’t fish, but Dahl has good memories of fishing with his dad, Roy, and his two brothers while his two sisters tagged along and read books.
“Carrie, do you give up?” Dahl asks Bellamy after he hauls in a fish that only qualifies as a small fry. That reminds him of the time his dad won a fishing competition with a puny perch that wasn’t more than 6 inches long.
“He was the only one who caught a fish. He won a prize,” Dahl says.
Then there’s the story about the biggest fish Dahl ever caught, while fishing with his brother, Robert, on Sturgeon Bay in Door County, Wisconsin.
“My brother said it was 25 pounds,” Dahl says, noting that claim was impossible to prove after their boat’s propeller cut the stringer and freed the whopper. “It was probably 15 or 16 pounds.”
Dahl is not as modest when Bellamy hauls in her first fish. “Mine was bigger,” he assures her. Asked if he could tell a good story if he hooks an 8-pound bass, Dahl says, “I could tell you that story now.”
Dahl and Bellamy alternate between using worms and canned corn as bait.
“I’m getting lots of nibbles, but no bites,” Bellamy says. Even if her crew members aren’t catching bass, they are reeling in the memories.
“This is nostalgic,” says Julia Harty, a life enrichment aide at Alexian Village, for whom freeing Dahl’s hook from some pond weeds reminds her of fishing adventures with her grandparents.
Fishing reminds Bellamy of her father, Matthew Bellamy, who died three years ago. “He was the one who taught me how to fish,” she says. Her ankle tattoo in memory of her dad features a heart made from a fishing hook and an angel’s wing. She bought matching T-shirts for Dahl and her that read, “Lucky Fishing Shirt. Do Not Wash.”
“Beautiful day with beautiful people,” Dahl says wistfully. He soaks it in for a bit before quipping, “Same time tomorrow?”
It doesn’t matter if he’s 88 or 8.
“I just like having the fish bite and the feel of it. The larger the fish the better the bite,” Dahl says. But just holding a fishing pole again and sharing fish stories with Bellamy is what he is trolling for. Coming home from a fishing outing with an empty bin isn’t the worst thing.
“That never bothered me because I was out in the fresh air,” Dahl says. “I usually had a brother or two or my dad with me. It was good company.”
All the fish he and Bellamy add to the holding tank on the dock get thrown back in the pond at day’s end. The memories, however, those are keepers.