It was during a brief intermission that I saw I had my chance. As he stood there amongst several others, telling his story as he had done countless times before, it was my hope that he would have the time and desire to tell it once more. When I saw his current audience disperse, I walked over to pay homage to one of the men that pulled this whole thing together. “Mr. Neumann,” I said intently, “it is an honor to meet you and I want to thank you for your dedication for starting this great organization.” Thank you he said politely,” in a way only a 92 year old man could do. He had a peaceful aged smile on his face and I knew it would not be an issue to ask my next question…“How did this all start?”
Art Neumann is one of TU’s founding members. He along with several other conservationist minded fly fishers first sat along the banks of the Au Sable River in Grayling, Michigan and formulated the design which would make up Trout Unlimited. Art was a local rod builder and saw the need of an organization which could protect trout and ensure their sustainability for future generations. It was also Art who became TUs first paid National Director. This was in 1962. He was a tool maker at the time and his employer gave him a two year leave of absence so he could dedicate his time toward growing this newly formed organization. With a staff of one, he toured Michigan recruiting new members and then taking the cause outside of Michigan growing the organization to 30 chapters by 1965. (Trout Unlimited currently has a membership of over 140,000 members in 400 Chapters nationwide) It was Art who coined the phrase, “If we take care of the fish, the fishing will take care of itself.”
I listened to him tell his story as others joined in around me to hear the details. This went on for about twenty minutes and I could have spent an entire afternoon taking in the details of whatever memories he could share. It was at about this time his wife indicated it was time for them to move on. He was kind enough to take a picture with me and he quietly walked away.
This short time with him made me reflect on what it is we all do. Why we dedicate our time, time spent away from family, time spent cleaning rivers, time spent tearing down dams and time spent attending so many meetings. I realized as I have done so many times before, it is for the trout and it is for me. It is to insure that in 50 years from now, another generation of TU members will have the same opportunity to experience a trout caught on a dry fly on some remote river. It is to continue the philosophy that “if we take care of the fish, the fishing will take care of itself.”
I met Art this past August during Trout Unlimited’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in Traverse City, MI.