Special Bear Hunt for Special Men

Posted on December 5, 2011

Cory Benoit of Huber Heights, Ohio scores first
at LEEK during the Bear Season

By Dick Vargeson

Tuesday November 22nd marked an extra special bear hunt in the hills between Galeton, Germania, and Gaines at the Ron Andrus property on Leetonia Road. This was a combined effort between Andrus and the LEEK organization. This hunt was set up for 3 disabled veterans, DJ Martin from Maine, Mike Clark, Pittsburgh, & Cory Benoit from Huber Heights, OH. There was supposed to be two more but they had to cancel for unknown reasons. LEEK Hunting and Mountain Preserve located in Oswayo, PA offers disabled veterans opportunities to participate in outdoor recreational activities in a completely accessible and supportive environment.

Andrus started working on this special hunt months ago and worked through the LEEK organization to make it happen. They had the ability to invite disabled veterans and Andrus had the ability to use acres of his own land, ask his neighbor land owners, Rich Eichelberger & Mitchell Tree Farms for permission to use their land, recruit many volunteers to be drivers, guides, fix meals, or whatever else needed to be done. Three of the drivers were high school students and received permission from their respective schools (all different ones) and were not counted as absent for the day. Although the bears didn’t cooperate as no one got a bear it was still considered a great success. Andrus said, “ Without the efforts put forth by the LEEK organization, the volunteers, District Game Protector, Rodney Mee who put a lot of concern and effort into the hunt, DCNR District Forester, Roy Siefert who also put a lot of thought and effort into the hunt, Canyon Motor Sports owner John McCarthy who loaned the group a new Crew Cab Ranger, Commander Bob Denlinger & Don Skutski of the Galeton VFW Post 6611 who purchased the food, the Ladies Auxiliary who prepared and served the food, and Tom Shattoe who gave the blessing before the noon meal, none of this would have been possible.” All together there were approximately 40 volunteers.

Disable vet, DJ Martin can walk with the use of a cane on level ground but for this day he got to use a “Track Chair” provided by LEEK. It’s a motorized wheel chair with tracks and this enabled him to get to the woods using only his hands to run the controls. When asked how he felt about being there for the hunt he said, “ We (he and his Dad) came down on Thursday the 17th to LEEK and I hunted over there on Friday and Saturday. I also got to tour the Ontario Knife Factory, which was an awesome tour. Now I’m here and it’s not about the bear, it’s about meeting other veterans that are going through the same thing I am, about the camaraderie that pulls a community together. Look how many people have shown up for us.” Martin was a part of the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines and was injured in Iraq. Mike Clark is from Pittsburg and is still serving in the PA National Guard. He was wounded during a tour of duty in Afganistan where he served for 18 months. He was asked about this experience and said, “ It’s a great experience and an opportunity to see and talk with others that are going through the same issues. We’re all on the same page.” He had hunted before going into the service, but had never been bear hunting. He added, “ I’d like to thank LEEK for giving me this great opportunity.” Cory Benoit the 3rd member of this group was a little luckier than the other two, as he shot a bear at Oswayo during his first bear hunt on the previous day. He’s from Huber Heights, OH and served 12 1/2 years in the Army. He was wounded in Baghdad, Iraq and got out of the service as a Sgt 1st class on April 23,2011. He was asked how he found out about the LEEK organization and his answer was, “ Another wounded veteran had been to the LEEK facility and he told me about it so I did some checking and filled out all the papers needed and they called me with an invitation to this hunt. The organization is great because it helps one wounded soldier meet up with other wounded soldiers that are going through the same things and that creates more of a bond between us.”

Brothers Ed & Lew Fisher and their wives Kate and Elaine founded LEEK preserve. They took the first letter from each ones name to come up with LEEK. The Fisher family purchased land in scenic Potter County, PA specifically to establish LEEK a charitable, tax-exempt 501(c) (3) all volunteer organization that specializes in guided hunts, fishing outings, and outdoor experiences for disabled veterans. I got to sit down and talk with Lew after he introduced himself as the “L” in LEEK. I asked him if LEEK found the disabled veterans or do the veterans find you. He said, “ At this point it’s about 50-50. When we first started we were getting veterans from Walter Reed Hospital and then from Bethesda Hospital. Now a lot of the ones that come have come because another veteran that has visited our facility tells some one else about us and soon they are also filling out the necessary paperwork.” I told Lew that I thought it was a great thing they were doing and his response put it in perspective, “ This is a small thing when you compare it to what these wounded warriors have gone through for us.” The volunteers of LEEK, which include dozens of war veterans, believe in giving back to our disabled warriors, to ensure they feel appreciated and honored for their service and sacrifice. LEEK believes in providing a safe and friendly environment where wounded U.S. service members can assist each other through the healing process, both mentally and physically. We offer recreational opportunities specifically geared to each wounded veterans’ needs and abilities.

If you want to know more about the LEEK organization visit their web site where some of this information was obtained. www.leekpreserve.org and while you are there you will see that they are currently accepting applications for the 2012 spring gobbler season May 9-13th and also at that time is when they hold their annual Open House fund raising event on May 11th & 12th at the preserve.

I told Andrus what an admirable and successful event he had put in place and he also said, “ It’s a small thing compared to what the warriors do. I served in Viet Nam and when we came home most everyone ignored us. This country has changed and at least now we recognize our veterans especially those that are wounded.”