Warriors & Walleyes to host fundraising event in November

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Granite Falls Advocate Tribune

In 2015, Lance and Tammy Peterson of Wood Lake began discussing the idea of forming a non-profit group to give back to Veterans. “It all started one night because I was watching the stars and I was wondering how many Veterans were looking at the same stars I was,” says Lance. “I came back to the camper and told my wife we’re going to take a couple of Veterans fishing.” After taking many steps to form a group, and tossing around many ideas, the couple began by forming a board. “We talked about who we could ask that would dedicate everything to it with us. The first one I asked was Art Milner. Then we went on to Corey Ludwig and later brought on Amanda Ludwig and Mark Patterson,” Lance said. “That first year’s trip we were only going to take a couple of Veterans, and then a couple ended up being 20, and the next year was 30, and the next year was 40,” Lance says. 

The Warriors & Walleyes board (left to right) Lance and Tammy Peterson, Corey and Amanda Ludwig, Mark Patterson, Art Milner.

The group, named Warriors & Walleyes, was able to work with Robert Danielowski, a Granite Falls CPA to obtain their 501c3 nonprofit status, and has been fundraising and taking Veterans on an annual fishing trip at the Lake of the Woods each July since. To raise funds, Warriors & Walleyes solicits funds and raffle prize donations from businesses in all of the surrounding communities, holds an annual raffle ticket sale, and hosts a turkey dinner each November in the Wood Lake Community Center. All of those funds raised are utilized to provide the opportunity for a free fishing weekend for Veterans. Warriors & Walleyes reserves cabins at a resort in the Lake of the Woods, and provides all of the food, boats, and a structured experience for Veterans and a guest of their choosing. “We’ve had Veterans from California, Ohio, Nebraska, but our main demographic is Minnesota,” says Peterson. The event is free, as long as the Veterans can find their own transportation to the Lake of the Woods resort. Volunteer boat drivers travel from the surrounding five states to take the Veterans fishing. “We take roughly sixty Veterans up there for three nights, four days, with two days of fishing,” says Corey Ludwig. Those who have participated one year are invited to return a second year but must pay their own cabin fee. For this coming July’s fishing trip from the 21st to the 24th, the group has 28 cabins booked. How many Veterans are invited on the trip each year depends on how many returning Veterans are participating in the second-year trip, and how many applications come in. “In the first part of the year, we take the applications that come in from the Facebook page. People can nominate somebody, and in January we’ll go through and pick names out of the hat,” says Lance. Amanda Ludwig says, “We’d like to take them all, but we just can’t. However, they can always apply again next year.”

The fishing trip provides the Veterans with not only the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in one of the State’s most visited wooded lake areas, but also provides them with the opportunity for fellowship with those who have had similar life experiences. That was one of the reasons why it was important to the Petersons to make sure there were two experienced members of the military on the board. Mark Patterson is a First Sergeant, retired from Active Duty who jumped out of an airplane 73 times in his 20 years of duty. Corey Ludwig spent 20 years in the reserves, doing two tours during his time. “We like to follow the protocols, and there’s going to be things we don’t understand because we didn’t serve,” says Tammy. “I think a lot of the Veterans really enjoy and appreciate the trip because they’re there with other Veterans and they can open up more and tell their stories and that really helps them decompress and relax,” says Patterson. “The relationships that you create there, that’s pretty neat,” says Lance. “And the stories that you hear. You have no idea what someone’s been through and then all of a sudden someone will start talking about being a door gunner or a pilot.” The group gathers each evening under a 40x60 tent for mealtime. “It’s so loud under there you can hardly hear yourself think. You hear a lot of fish stories” says Lance. While it can be hard for Veterans to open up about their service, Amanda says the group has experienced comments from those who feel the trip has given them a sense of belonging. “A lot of the older Veterans, like those from Vietnam, to them it was almost like they felt like what they did over there was good because they were shunned when they came home, but several of them have said that they kind of felt like this was their welcome home,” she says. 

Warriors & Walleyes has also been working to add in additional opportunities to provide for Veterans as well as those entering the military from High School. “We also give an award to a couple of Lakeview students and a YME student called the stipend award,” says Corey. “There’s a lot of kids who go into the military and what good is a scholarship for them if they go in the military?” Lance says. “We thought, if you’re going into the military we’re going to give you a hundred bucks so at least when you go to Basic training you have a hundred bucks in your pocket.” The group also has, for the last two years, presented a Salute to Service award. Last year’s recipient was Arik Matson, and this year’s recipient was Neil Blume.

The dinner that raises funds for these activities will be held this year on November 6th from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wood Lake Community Center. The menu includes turkey donated by Jennie-O in Montevideo, smoked by Art Milner. A volunteer from Cottonwood makes all of the stuffing, volunteers from Fairfax make the gravy, Lance donates ten gallons of corn. The group also purchases potatoes for mashed potatoes, and some pies, while the Wood Lake Legion Auxiliary will be baking a dozen pumpkin pies for this year’s dinner as well. Take-out will be available by calling 507-215-5747 to reserve a time for pick-up, and there will be a booth set up to purchase Warriors & Walleyes outdoor gear. Two speakers will be in attendance to share stories, including Dan Roman, a two-time Purple Heart recipient who taught History in the Belview School system for many years, and David One who will explain what the boat drivers do on the annual fishing trip. What the group is most excited about for the event is that they have raised enough funds that this year they will be able to offer the dinner free to any Veterans who show their ID card. “We’re excited for that because that’s what it’s about. It’s for the Veterans,” says Lance.  They are hoping to have raffle tickets available for purchase at the event, but will for sure have them available for purchase by the end of November. The drawing for the raffle tickets will be held on August 1st.  “Come for supper! There's over 200 pounds of turkey meat, so I hope people are hungry,” says Lance.

The Warriors & Walleyes annual fishing trip will also be featured in a 2002 episode of a popular PBS series. To find out more about the air date of the episode, the dinner, or anything else involved with the organization, follow their Facebook page, Warriors & Walleyes.