When F&G Board Chairman George “Gige” Darey (of Lenox) entered the Lenox Sportsmen’s Club last Saturday afternoon, he thought it was going to be a fund raiser for the National Archery in the School (NAIS) program as well as a plug for the Massachusetts Heritage Foundation, which helped to fund it. There he saw 75 friends from the Berkshires and beyond including Lenox town officials, friends, local sportsmen and women, Steve Williams former head of USFWS and now a national director of Wildlife Management Institute, Walter Bickford and Dan Peters both past commissioners of F&G, Mary Griffin current Commissioner, Representative George Peterson, Deputy Whip of Mass House of Representatives, Bob Durand, former Mass Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Wayne MacCallum, Director of Mass Fish & Wildlife, fellow F&G Board members and others.
Berkshire County League of Sportsmen President Mark Jester began the program by explaining NAIS. First developed in 2002, it is a program which teaches kids the fundamentals of archery from grades 4 thru 12. It is a two week program which is part of the school physical education programs. Currently there are five NAIC programs in schools here in Berkshire County and it is hoped to expand to all local schools.
He mentioned that NAIS has reached over 2,000,000 kids in over 11,000 schools in 47 states. By 2017 over 9 ½ million kids will have participated in this program. Statistics show that a large percentage will continue in outdoor activity. In 31 states there are more than 100 schools participating in this program and with no accidents.
He then asked 7 young boys and girls to shoot at targets in the indoor range. The attendees were amazed as these kids fired their volleys, all hitting the bulls eyes. They took a couple more shots and the room was full with applause and words such as “Amazing! Wow! Unbelievable!
DFW Director Wayne MacCallum spoke about how the Mass Heritage Foundation was established a number of years ago. He, Darey and F&G Board member Mike Roche, of Orange, MA learned about the program in Kansas and brought it back to Massachusetts. It is a non-profit (501c3). The funds are used for such projects as wild brook trout restoration, and other worthy projects.
Then the focus of the meeting shifted when Scott MacWilliams of Lee took the floor. A month ago he was visiting Gige and his partner Ginny Akabane when he learned that their young bird dog passed away unexpectedly. Gige told Scotty confidentially that he not only lost a great companion but also a way of life, for he had been hunting dogs since he was a young teenager. This really affected Scotty and he called Andrew Madden, DFW Western District Manager about getting a dog for Gige. Madden put him in touch with MacCallum, who put him in touch Mike Roche. They all liked the idea.
Roche then took the floor and said that he goes back a long ways with Gige and relayed a story of how, when he was 6 years old, his father and Gige took him hunting with them after school and how Darey carried him out of the woods sound asleep. Upon receiving MacWilliams’s call, he searched across the nation for an “old man’s” dog. “I was selfish”, said Roche,” because my world depends upon Gige going bird hunting, and now we are going to do something about that”. When word got out about the plan and the need to raise $3,000 to buy and ship the dog, people rushed to make contributions. Roche found the 3 year old Brittany Spaniel, named Éclair, in South Dakota and, “ like Gige”, he said,” her mother came from Brittany, France”.
The dog was then brought in the room and presented to Gige. “George”, said Roche, “Meet Éclair”.
Following a huge round of applause, Gige looked at the floor and was silent for several seconds. He was obviously overwhelmed and had been taken completely off guard. “I really don’t know what to say. I had no idea this would be happening.” said Darey. He recounted how he grew up and spent his whole life hunting and fishing in this area and how the Lenox Sportsmen’s Club ended up being where it currently is. (Incidentally, it is across the railroad tracks from the 818 acre George L.Darey Housatonic Valley Wildlife Management Area).