MINOT, N.D. | He started the club with the lengthy name, has stayed the course for several years, and has inspired countless other dedicated volunteers to do the same.
Percy Ottmar of Minot is one of the founders of the Souris River Basin Longbeards, an organization affiliated with the National Turkey Federation. Under his leadership the group has become one of the leading outdoor organizations in the Minot area.
"I've been with it since the beginning. I'm thinking 17 years or so," Ottmar said. "There (were) four of us in 2001 or 2002. I'm the only one left."
Ottmar's persistence through the years has energized others to volunteer for club activities, many of whom have done so almost as long as Ottmar. Today the SRBL are involved in a number of worthwhile causes that get a nod of approval from the outdoor community. Admittedly, says Ottmar, he took a few chances in taking on new projects during those early years. Now though, it has made the club stronger than ever.
"I guess I stuck with it the longest and got more things going than we probably should have gotten into," said Ottmar during this winter's annual ice fishing derby sponsored by SRBL. "This fishing derby wasn't on the agenda when we started. We kind of fell into it by mistake. We helped some people out and wound up taking it over and we're still doing it."
Getting enough volunteers to run the ice fishing derby, and enough fishermen to fill it, wasn't always easy. However, under Ottmar's leadership and convincing manner, the annual derby held at Lake Darling now boasts plenty of volunteers and eager fishermen.
"Every year there is more enthusiasm," said Ottmar when asked about both fishermen and volunteers. "We get more volunteers every year. That's something that you really don't hear nowadays, getting more people on board that want to actually do it."
Ottmar is a big reason why volunteers feel good about what they do and why they are doing it, year after year, including the club's big open water fishing tournament held each May.
"There's a lot of clubs that start up and someone quits doing it and they fold. I don't want that to happen to us," remarked Ottmar.
Among the many worthwhile projects the Longbeards have supported under Ottmar's leadership is the annual awarding of high school scholarships, donating turkeys to needy families during the holiday season, and dedicating a percentage of fishing tournament fees to improvements at the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge.
"Ten percent of what we take in for tournament fees goes to the refuge," explained Ottmar. "Our last notable project was a handicap loading station."
The Longbeards donated extra dollars to ensure the completion of the project in 2018. The loading station allows handicapped persons to enter a boat with ease. It was dedicated to long-time SRBL member Marlin Lenton, who passed away before the loading station was put in place near the spillway boat ramp at Lake Darling.
"He was a member of ours pretty much since the beginning," said Ottmar.
SRBL volunteers, led by Ottmar, have a strong presence every year at the "special needs" fishing derby held at the Outlet Fishing Area below Lake Darling. The event usually attracts more than 100 participants. Volunteers help with baiting hooks, cleaning fish and cooking an outdoor meal.
"We help out with that," said Ottmar. "That's another thing that we enjoy doing."
In recent years the Longbeards have been hosting shooting events for youth and women. This year's event for youth will be held the first Saturday in August. The women's event is set for the first Saturday in September. Both will be held at the Velva Sportsman's Club.
"We're really, really working on our youth and women's programs," said Ottmar. "We really want to get more numbers involved there."
The club's annual banquet has become a "don't miss" evening for many sportsmen in the area. Not only is it an important fundraiser, but Ottmar makes sure it is used to showcase the many ways that volunteers and sportsmen support various club projects that benefit the community.
The dedicated volunteer, who retired from the Tractor Supply Company after a 20-year career and has built up a painting business, has begun the process of handing over the reins of some of his activities to volunteers who are eager to continue what Ottmar started years ago.
Ottmar, who considers himself semi-retired, has been cutting back on his painting projects. He has also laid the groundwork for others willing to step into his many roles with the SRBL.
"I don't know how many more years I'll be doing it. I've got guys that I call derby officials in training," laughed Ottmar at the recent SRBL ice fishing derby. "They've got ideas, things to change, and they want to help."
Those who know him, either through volunteering for or participating in SRBL events, don't expect Ottmar to disappear from the SRBL scene entirely. A big reason why is that his long-time association with area sportsmen is too special to give up.
"I'm involved with some of the other clubs too," said Ottmar. "I've made so many friends. These guys are the real deal."