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Hunting and fishing, union members prize time outdoors and connect with friends and family

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, July 26, 2019

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS —About this time of year, my family’s annual canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is coming up soon. I’m anticipating the vast blue skies above an open lake, the clear waters, working together with my wife and sons to paddle, make camp, and then just sit on a rock and watch the sun set over the horizon.

So I always enjoy my July interviews with union members who’ve offered to share their hunting and fishing lives with Labor Review readers. Even though we’re usually meeting or speaking on the phone for the first time, we readily connect over a shared passion for the outdoors, for the quiet we find there, for the close connections that come from spending time with family or friends. And, of course, there are the fun stories about that giant fish or a memorable hunt.

Here are stories shared by three union members: Greg Sperl, retired member of Pipefitters Local 539; Clara Schiller, member of Pipefitters Local 455; Nolan Peterson, member of IBEW Local 292.

Greg Sperl

Pipefitters Local 539 member Greg Sperl displays the skull of a 305-lb. bear he shot in 1983 in Crow Wing County. Thatís the bearís skin mounted on the wall behind him.

Greg Sperl:
Pipefitters Local 539 retiree

Introducing a visitor to his home on four acres in Inver Grove Heights, Greg Sperl explains: The house atop the hill is “heaven.” The semi-private lake at the bottom of the hill is “paradise.” You’re in a Twin Cities suburb a few minutes from downtown, but you feel like you’re really miles and miles away in the woods.

Sperl bought his “dream” property 30 years ago, logged it, built his house and raised his son and daughter there with horses, cows, chickens, dogs and cats.
“Living out here, I see wildlife out my window,” Sperl reports. A pair of eagles nest in a tree above the lake. He has four or five deer stands on his property and one turkey stand.

And a story about his first bear hunt.

Back in 1983, on public land in Crow Wing County, “I baited for two weeks prior to bear season,” Sperl relates. “The night before the season opened, I put out a one-pound block of fudge and went home. I thought, there will be a bear smiling out there.”

“So, September 1, opening day, I waited until 3:00 p.m. to go out and hunt. It was my first day of bear hunting ever in my life.” He sat in his stand for two and one-half hours.

Then, he looked up the logging road and saw a black dot. “I had never seen a bear in the wild before,” he acknowledges. “It kept coming and coming.” He determined the bear was large enough to take. “When he got 10 yards away from me, I pulled the trigger and shot.”

The bear, however, acted only like he might have gotten stung by a bee. Sperl put in a second round. The bear disappeared into a thicket. “I thought, do I really want to go in there?”

He waited 15 minutes, went back to the cabin and returned with his two friends. They found the 305-pound male bear, dead, about 75 yards away.

Gutted, the bloody carcass still was so heavy and awkward that the three men struggled to lift the bear on the count of three, move it three feet at a time, then drop. This story won’t go into all the details, but “the three of us were on our backs, laughing,” Sperl recalls. “It was not that thrilling of a hunt but it was what happened afterwards” that he and his buddies still laugh about years later.

And the skull of that bear, Sperl says, at 20-1/2 inches “was one-half inch from being in the record book.”

Sperl, now 62, worked for 21 years for Sperry-Univac and there was a member and officer of IBEW Local 247.

In 2001, he joined Pipefitters Local 539 and worked as general foreman for the Pipefitters at the University of Minnesota. He was an active member of Local 539 for nine years. But, after experiencing a heart attack and eventually getting a heart transplant, he has been medically retired for the past nine years.

Sperl said he’s had to give up some of his activities — scuba diving trips to Maui — but he continues his life-long love for hunting and fishing.

And he enjoys cruising around the lake at the bottom of his hill on a pontoon boat. “Being on the water is just so peaceful and tranquil. It’s just one little spot of water but it fills my needs.”

“Without the union wage, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am in my life,” Sperl emphasizes. “The pensions are a blessing at this stage of my life. The contracts speak for themselves.”

Sperl also sends thanks to Pipefitters Locals 539 and 455 for supporting the Second Chance for Life Foundation — a volunteer organization where he has been a board member. The foundation’s mission is to support “transplant recipients, candidates, their families, and donor families, and to promote organ donor awareness.”

Clara Schiller and brother Mark

Pipefitters Local 455 member Clara Schiller (left) and her brother, Mark (right) óher favorite hunting partner ó holding up some divers on what she called ďa ducky day.Ē

Clara Schiller:
Pipefitters Local 455 member

“The worse the weather, the better it is for duck-hunting,” says Clara Schiller, 36. She’s learned that lesson although she came late to duck-hunting, about six years ago.

Now, she says, “canvasbacks and redheads would be my duck of choice.”

“My mother’s family is very into duck hunting,” Schiller explains. “We have a duck shack on Swan Lake right outside of Nicollet, Minnesota.” Still, “it never occurred to me that it was something that I would be interested in,” she says. Then, “I went down there with my brother and it turned out I really enjoyed it.”

“Being able to see the sun rise and the sun set, spending time with family, the stillness of it all, working with the dogs is great,” Schiller says. She adds: “continuing the family tradition is an honor.”

Schiller, Minneapolis, is a six-year member of Pipefitters Local 455. She’s a foreman at Harris Mechanical and teaches pipe layout at the union hall one night a week.

There’s another family tradition she’s continuing.

“My grandfather was a plumber… He worked for the same company that I do now,” she says. “I’m kind of keeping it in the family. My dad’s family have been plumbers in St. Paul for generations.”

Schiller grew up in Chaska, graduated from the University of Minnesota and worked as a youth and family counselor for a nonprofit for six years.

After downsizing hit her employer, she says, “I wanted something light on the heart and heavy on the wallet. She took a year of welding school and then entered the Pipefitters apprentice program.

“Success is easily measured when you’re welding or fishing,” Schiller reflects. “You either don’t catch fish or your weld doesn’t hold.”

Schiller sees a clear reason for so many union families’ passion for hunting and fishing. “Long hours and a fast-paced urban environment can make you crave a slower-paced family time,” she says. “To take kids hunting, to take kids fishing, the outdoors provides a good medium for families to connect.”

She adds: “it’s a good practice to be able to get your own food” from hunting or fishing. “If the zombie apocalypse ever happens, I won’t go hungry.”

Nolan Peterson and catfish

Nolan Peterson, IBEW Local 292 member, caught this 42-inch flathead catfish in May 2017 on the Minnesota River near Savage.

Nolan Peterson:
IBEW Local 292 member

Nolan Peterson shares photos of a 42-inch flathead catfish he caught in the Minnesota River and a 63-inch lake sturgeon he caught in the St. Croix River.

“Those are the two species I like to go for the most,” he says. “They get the biggest. And they put up a fight. That’s why I’m in it — for the fight. I’m not a guy who likes to eat a lot of fish.”

“I use the same rod and reel for both the flathead and sturgeon,” he says — the same as a muskie rod and reel, the heaviest you can find.

Peterson caught the 63-inch lake sturgeon while ice fishing in January near Stillwater. “Fishing for me is four seasons,” he reports.

Peterson, 29, lives in Waconia and is a five-year member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 292.

He grew up in Mora in a house with the Snake River in his backyard, fishing “most everyday” as a kid in the summer. He fished for walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike. “I got kind of bored after a while,” he reveals, but then he heard about bigger fish, researched where they are and what they eat. “I wanted to fish just for those — they fight so hard.”

After high school, Peterson went to St. Cloud Community and Technical College earning an associate degree in electrical construction.

“I always knew I wanted to do something with my hands,” Peterson says.

After working for a shop in his hometown, he says, “I ended up moving to the Cities; I joined the union then.”

He now works for OlympiaTech Electric.

For Peterson, a union job is important to his after-hours pursuit of those big fish. “Since they believe in an eight-hour workday and weekends off, that helps a bit,” he says.

“You know going in you’re going to put eight hours in, go home, enjoy your family and go fishing,” Peterson says. “You can earn an honest living and enjoy those passions you have.”

Peterson and his wife Monique — who is his main fishing partner — are new parents. They recently welcomed their first child, Brantley, who was born the day this issue of the Labor Review was going to press. “I’m excited to teach him to fish and show him the outdoors,” Peterson says. “It will be a lot of fun.”

Related story:
Laborís booth returns to Game Fair 2019

Nolan Peterson and sturgeon

Nolan Peterson, IBEW Local 292 member, caught this 63-inch lake sturgeon in mid-January 2018 on the St. Croix River near Stillwater.


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