By Hope Good
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Montana at 68.8% had the highest rates of informal helping in 2021. This concept of “paying it forward” is a simple but powerful way of doing good deeds for others, by creating a ripple effect of making a positive change in other’s lives.

Making a difference in the Great Falls community through volunteer work, has been a life-long mission for Pat Volkmar, a North Middle School Instructor. Over the past twenty-two years, Pat has volunteered his free time to “Camp Walleye,” an annual event which took place each year the third weekend of August. Pat and his wife Jenn decided in 2022 to step away for a much-deserved retirement.

Camp Walleye was concepted to teach children water safety, fish conservation and the value of the outdoor activity of fishing. Over the years, the camp has helped countless kids experience the Great Outdoors, ensuring that “no child was left inside” and with the motto “Hooked on Fishing not on Drugs.”

We thank Pat and Jenn Volkmar for their commitment of helping the kids in our community and for the many positive ways they helped make so many have memories and milestones that could be carried throughout their lives. With this tribute to Camp Walleye and our appreciation, lets hope others will carry on.

Camp Walleye began in the winter of 1999-2000 by Lance Bethel who had an idea to start a camp to build relationships with youth and adults to get kids fishing. Lance talked to Pat Volkmar and the then President of Walleyes Unlimited, Jim Varaday and a small passionate group was formed.

In August 2000 the first Camp Walleye took place at Holter Reservoir The non-profit program was made available to Montana Middle School Students with clubs at their schools. By the second year the event was moved to Tiber Reservoir where it remained.

Camp Walleye provided programs and fishing opportunities for students and included training and curriculum for teachers and in-class assistance from Walleyes Unlimited members and other volunteers. The first five years, the boat captains headed up by Barry Munns helped with the cooking. This transferred to Tiber Marina owners Sara and Herb. After the Marina closed for a period, Rob and Deb Haney took over cooking followed by Cliff and Nancy Nelson when they took over the Marina. The camp was truly a labor of love with many hands at work. Camp Walleye relied on volunteers and contributions from many who donated their weekend to assist.

Annually around fifty youth 11-15 years old spent a weekend on the water learning about fish identification, conservation, sportsmanship, water safety, and fishing techniques. Every camper had an opportunity to fish on both the shore and from a boat, and got one-on-one instructions and advice from dozens of volunteers, leaving with fishing knowledge, experience, a t-shirt, and memories.

Alex Ferguson joined Camp Walleye in the spring of 2000. He stayed enthusiastically involved until 2018. Through his active years he brought a lot to the table, from getting boat captains, to teaching campers the art of lure making and jig painting as well as other tutorials that were heard at camp under the pavilion. The lures Alex demonstrated making for campers consisted of colored powder adhered to a lead weighted hook with a heat gun. Many of the adults as well as kids that attended Camp Walleye can say they learned many skills and how to tie knots from Alex Ferguson. His expertise in lure and jig making made the Camp what it was.

Over the years tournament and non-competitive fishermen alike also gathered and taught campers various fishing techniques. People came and went and Jake and Jesse Schrock took over the lure making and jig painting after Alex Ferguson. In recent years Ruthann and Shawn Norick, who now run Tiber Marina, took over the cooking and were a great help along with many volunteers who helped, from Red spoon helpers to last minute wives that happened to show up and got enlisted to serve all the people who wanted a meal during Camp Walleye. The camp had some unbelievable meals.

In 2012, as part of her wedding vows to Pat, Jenn Volkmar had to volunteer at Camp Walleye for anything that needed to be done. This was a tall order for a girl-friend turned bride. Jenn proved integral and was especially helpful when COVID hit, and the camp was still held, not missing a beat.

Another thing that set Camp Walleye apart from other camps was that they had a full-time doctor for most of their camps. Dr. Aimee Hachigian-Gould was present to take care of all injuries (anything from heat exhaustion to cuts, bruises and hook removal).

In 2020 Dick Headley, Marlin Cross and Bim Johnson took over lining up the boat captains. Over the years, many fish were caught, ranging from a high of 834 and averaging around 600 which included several nice Walleye and more than a few 30-inchers.

It takes an army of volunteers and Pat Volkmar had a knack for coordinating the annual event and pulling together the needed sponsor contributions, tents, food and other amenities and the many who helped from boat captains, co-captains, cooks, chaperones, servers, and others totaling over 100 volunteers from all over the state of Montana each year.

The mission went full circle as campers came back to be boat captains in their own boat with their own kids to attend the camp as well. Three generations served in this sustainability. In 2016 the camp was renamed for the year, the Colten Rohlf Memorial Camp. Colton was a participant in the camp for many years and later became a chaperone. This lifelong fisherman exemplified what the camp was about and he truly loved the sport of fishing and giving back to the camp.

Camp Walleye happened at a perfect place and time for the Camp to go on for twenty-two years. The message from Pat to future fishermen and volunteers, is to enjoy much deserved time with family and friends engaging in and enjoying the great outdoors Montana has to offer. Pat and Jenn want to let you know they enjoyed the years of service to the youth of this community and state with Camp Walleye. They could not have done this without the volunteers and they appreciate those commitments.

Making a difference in your community through volunteer work can be an incredibly enriching experience. Not only are you helping others, but you will also enjoy the feel-good benefits.

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