2023 Pay It Forward Veteran’s Event on Midwest Outdoors TV
Sadly, many of our brothers and sisters who served and fought for our country during World War II have departed the earth for greener pastures. This past week on Lake of the Woods, however, two brothers who are 98 and 95 took part in the 10th Annual Pay It Forward veterans event. “I thought this event was absolutely unbelievable,” said Fritz Kruschel, a 95 year old veteran from the Twin Cities area who attended this weeks event.
Over 80 veterans took part in this annual event. The purpose of Pay It Forward is to honor, recognize and celebrate all veterans. This week did exactly that.
“Every year there is magic, and this year was no different,” explained Joe Henry, Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, a founding member, organizer and emcee of the Pay It Forward event. “This year, we had a nice variety of veterans including men and women, young and old, and all branches of the military, with the exception of the Space Force. Veterans came from as far as New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, the Dakotas, Wisconsin and of course, Minnesota,” explained Henry.
Fritz’s older brother is the 98 year old, Bill Kruschel, was also very impressed. “There is nothing that can compare to this in my life. Never in 98 years have I ever experienced anything like this. It was the greatest group of people I have been with that makes it even better.” Both Fritz and his brother Bill are Navy veterans.
The two brothers sat on the back of a charter boat in the middle of Lake of the Woods reflecting on the event. With the cooler full of walleyes, saugers and perch, younger brother Fritz was a bit sentimental as he held on to his brothers arm. “You know, and I think back, it might be Bill’s and I last time fishing, and if it is, we just had one great time.” He continued, “You couldn’t explain it any better. It’s going to be hard to tell our friends back home what a great time we had.”
Joining the Kruschel brothers on the charter boat was Tom Kramine, Chairman of the Minnesota Elks Veterans Services. “Whenever you can get 88 brothers and sisters together for a few days of healing, I will take it any day and this is a great area to do it.” Kramine was recently chosen as the Elks Veterans Service Volunteer of the Year and will be representing the Elks Veterans on the Elks float in the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena, CA on New Year’s Day. Kramine is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.
This year’s event started out on Monday evening at Sportsman’s Lodge. After a prayer and pledge of allegiance, the veterans enjoyed a delicious chicken dinner (compliments of US Foods). Guest speaker and veteran, Phil Krabbe from the Wounded Warrior Project shared his story of hitting rock bottom and how he fought back. Krabbe wasn’t what you might think of as a speaker, but that isn’t what the group needed. Krabbe is a warrior who went through some very challenging times and situations and is thankful to be where he is today.
Tuesday, veterans eat breakfast at the resort they are staying. Just before 8am, they board their assigned charter boat for a day of walleye fishing on the Walleye Capital of the World. Good numbers of fish were caught. Some had limits, others had a good start to limits.
That evening, the group met at River Bend Resort for a walleye fish fry. The group was set up on the patio overlooking the Rainy River. The night was perfect, with a few geese starting to move around and a million dollar view.
Tom Goodrich, the leader of Fishing For Life was the keynote speaker this evening. Goodrich was a strong leader in the military and has carried that skill forward to civilian life assisting others navigate life.
A longtime partner with Lake of the Woods Tourism on the Pay It Forward event since the beginning is Fishing For Life. The organization serves youth, families, veterans and communities through fishing and outdoor programs.
The group also heard from a member of the Eagle’s Healing Nest out of Sauk Centre, MN. He discussed the Nest and what it does for vets.
Tom Kramine of the Elks Veterans Services also shared briefly more about how Elks assists veterans and how veterans can get involved.
Wednesday also started out with a good breakfast followed by a second day of walleye fishing. There is a bit of competition for the top three largest walleyes and largest pike with some nice prizes that go along with them. This year, the top walleye was 28.5 inches and the top pike, 34 inches.
Aaron Ojard was a medic in the Navy with more than 20 years of service. He shared with the group some of the extremely challenging experiences he faced while treating and saving the lives of soldiers along with Afghan locals, from kids to adults, over in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Memories he experienced don’t just go away and he shared how he deals with the memories and how he faces life.
The event was filled with much comradery amongst the variety of veterans. The connections that were formed and grew throughout the few days was strong and meaningful.
Thursday morning, veterans wake up, have a nice breakfast, say their goodbyes and depart.
The Pay It Forward event is possible through the generous donations of many Lake of the Woods resorts, various businesses and organizations. The event, in some cases, saves lives. In most cases, it changes lives for the better. It is hard to explain the magic that happens each year, but there is definitely magic. As one veteran put it, “Something about this event is just special compared to anything I have ever experienced. I am so thankful to have attended.”
If you know of a veteran, perhaps yourself, that would benefit from a Pay It Forward veterans fishing trip on Lake of the Woods, download an application at the Pay It Forward website, www.PayItForwardLOW.org or email Joe Henry at joe.henry@LakeoftheWoodsMN.com.