Olney-Bissell honors longtime volunteer for introducing students to fishing

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Teacher Shianne Schmidt, right, thanks Leonard Howke for volunteering at Olney-Bissell School, while Tracy Christian looks on following a ceremony in Howke’s honor last week in the school’s library. Howke has volunteering in the school for decades with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Hooked on Fishing program. He will take his last fishing trip with students in May. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Photos of students smiling while holding up their prize catch pulled from a frozen lake and students working diligently in the classroom dissecting fish.

In many of the photos is volunteer Leonard Howke assisting those students from Olney-Bissell School during the winter and spring, and at the school. The slideshow was part of a ceremony at the school last week honoring Howke for his decades of service to the school and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Hooked on Fishing program.

Current and former students, along with educators and community members gathered in the school’s library to surprise Howke by paying homage to his service.

“We wanted to show our appreciation for all he’s done for our school and our community,” Principal Trevor Dahlman said. “There’s a lot of good memories that have come from those fishing trips. He has affected our kids, the teaching community and the community here.”

Hooked on Fishing uses both classroom and outdoor activities to get youth interested in fishing.

Howke says volunteering is all about the students, and he tries to select fishing spots that will ensure they catch fish.

“I enjoy the kids,” he said. “As long as they have fun that’s what’s important. For many of them it’s their first fish and they’re excited no matter the size of the fish.”

Olney-Bissell paraeducator Tracy Christian has worked with Howke for roughly two decades. Howke not only takes students fishing, but also visits the school to help third- and fourth-grade students dissect fish and also teaches them to make fishing lures.

“We wanted to thank him for everything he has done for us,” she said. “He is kind-hearted and so good to us.”

Howke was honored in 2015 with a 50-year award by FWP for teaching hunter education. He also received a Hall of Fame wall plaque and honorarium for his volunteer service. He first got involved with teaching hunter safety in 1965, leading classes at the old Whitefish Central School.

Howke last fall also signed off after 31 seasons of volunteering at the FWP game check station on U.S. Highway 93 near Olney.

Howke graduated from Whitefish High School in 1959. His varied career included work in the timber industry, at a taxidermist shop on Central Avenue, and 17 years at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company.

Howke’s history of volunteering for FWP is equally as varied. He’s volunteered as a wildlife worker on white-tailed deer studies.

He’s helped capture bears in the Swan Valley, trapped and transplanted Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, and helped with bighorn sheep trapping and transplanting operations.

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