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Like father, like son

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After his father, Bob Kennedy, passed away at age 62 on April 28, Bill Kennedy decided to help continue the Hackensack Children’s Fishing Contest by becoming the coordinator of the event that his father co-created and coordinated for the last 17 years.

This year, the contest is dedicated to the memory of Bob Kennedy.

Having retired from the military as a senior chief petty officer for helicopter squadrons in Colorado, Bob Kennedy and his family moved to Walker and started working for the Hackensack American Legion Post 202, where he was a member. There, the idea of the Hackensack Children’s Fishing Contest on Birch Lake originated out of the think tank of Robert Kennedy and the other Legion patrons.

“My dad was asking himself how he could create something for the families in the area to do,” said Bill Kennedy. “He was wondering what activity could the children do to have some fun during the summer.”

Bill, who was 21 and attending Bemidji State University to earn his computer science degree at the time, was unsure whether the activity would be successful.

“I didn’t think it would be a success, but I wasn’t part of it personally,” he said. “In its infancy, everyone who came up with the idea had set it all up that June, and no one came. School was still in session at the time.”

From there, the program schedule was changed to fit with the school’s schedule and the schedules of the volunteers.

“This year, we limited the contest to only 10 weeks to give the volunteers a break as we reorganize,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy started volunteering with his father 10 years ago as new technology allowed him to expand what could be done at the contest, like selling personalized T-shirts and buttons to help fund the free event. From initially being a fishing contest, the event expanded with other events like minnow races and a casting contest with free hot dogs and soda for all those who attend. Prizes are given to children of different age groups for catching the most fish, the largest fish or the smallest fish.

“This contest gives kids a time to learn how to fish with their parents’ help,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes I see parents fishing for their kids and really wanting to win a contest, but the idea is that even the 1-year-olds who come can learn how to fish.”

Each summer, more than 1,000 kids participate and catch and release 3,000 to 4,000 fish. The contest is beginning to grow in popularity as participants visit Minnesota for the summer from places across the United States and other countries such as Germany and Japan.

For each contest, up to 25 volunteers dedicate time from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to help during the contest by coordinating events, helping children fish and keeping safety a priority.

“We don’t allow casting over the shoulder; it’s a safety issue,” said Kennedy, “We also ask those who come to bring their own rod and life jackets.”

This summer, more than 100 sponsors donated money, time and supplies to the contest.

“Anyone can be a sponsor by donating fishing supplies, money, time and coupons to the event,” said Kennedy. “After the event, we give a prize to everyone who attended. It’s filled with coupons to businesses in the surrounding areas.”

Aside from coordinating the contest, Kennedy also works full time for the state of Minnesota as a computer programmer, volunteers as a Cub Scout master, teaches at the Walker School of Tae Kwon Do where he is a third-degree black-belt and is a father to his three sons, Taylor, Jared and Ryan. He also plans to give free Tae Kwon Do lessons Aug. 10 in Hackensack.

“I am learning karate as well,” he said.

Kennedy sees himself volunteering at the fishing contest for as long as possible.

“It was started by my dad, so it’s really a part of the family,” he said. “For now, I plan to volunteer forever.”

He is thankful that his father and others created the contest.

“If it wasn’t for him, it would have never happened,” he said.

He is also thankful for the memories and moments shared with his father.

“Overall, it’s fun to see the number of kids show up, watching them grow, and seeing their smiles as they have fun in the contest,” said Kennedy. “It’s always been something we’ve done together.”

For more information on the Hackensack Children’s Fishing Contest or to become a sponsor, contact Kennedy at 218-838-9468 or visit