Hunter Education Instructors of the Year

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Each year, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) recognizes the efforts of some 1,500 volunteer hunter education instructors throughout the state. Using private donations to the agency's Wildtrust Fund, the department has established an award for the Kansas Hunter Education Instructor of the Year, as well as awards for Instructor of the Year from each of the agency's five regions.

Twenty-three instructors were nominated by their peers in 2003, and the nominations were reviewed by the Hunter Education Advisory Committee. Hunter Education Coordinator Wayne Doyle assembled the advisory committee, which is comprised of volunteer instructors from around the state to advise on matters pertaining to the program.

Jim Kellenberger, Jetmore, was honored as the statewide 2003 Kansas Hunter Education Instructor of the Year. Kellenberger was one of the state's first hunter education instructors and was among those who helped organize and develop the statewide Hunter Education Program in 1973.

"Having helped put the program into action, Jim has continued to serve devotedly over the past three decades," says master instructor Larry McAdow, Halstead, who nominated Kellenberger. "Serving as a master instructor, area coordinator, and member of the advisory committee, Jim has taken on tasks that no one else wanted. It has been one of my greatest honors to know and work with Jim."

"I'm not sure where the Hunter Education Program would be without Jim," adds Doyle. "He has been involved with shooting clinics, mentoring youth hunts, and just about everything else you can think of involving hunter education since it began in Kansas." Kellenberger retired last year as KDWP's Region 3 Law Enforcement Division supervisor but continues as a part-time employee teaching youth wingshooting clinics around the state as part of the agency's "Pass It On Program."

Five other dedicated hunter education instructors were also honored, one in each of KDWP's five regions. In Region 1 (northwest Kansas), Chet Gardner, St. Francis, was the regional winner. Gardner has been a master instructor for 13 years and an instructor for 30 years.

"Chet has sponsored our local course for the past seven years," according to the nomination letter submitted by Dick Rohweder and Tim Stimber, also of St. Francis. "He sets up the class schedule and location, orders all materials, advertises, instructs, helps on the firing line, sets up a trail walk, and has recruited and helped certify new instructors. He also supplies refreshments and often ammunition. He hasn't missed a course in 31 years and has served on the state Hunter Education Advisory Board."

Theodore Billingsly, Solomon, took home the honors in Region 2 (northeast Kansas). Billingsly was nominated by Rick Schumock, Wichita; Mike Shirley, Haysville; and McAdow. Besides being one of the state's most active hunter education instructors, Billingsly travels the state presenting KDWP's Laser Shot computerized simulated hunting system to hunter education classes and other events. He has also been instrumental in making tools for using the Laser Shot available to hunter education instructors across the nation through the internet.

"Ted has spent untold hours helping me develop the Hunting Game Instructor Tools for the Laser Shot," says McAdow. "And he's been more than willing to take on any needed task to further promote hunter education."

Larry Skelton, Larned, was named instructor of the year for Region 3 (southwest Kansas). Larry was nominated by Cliff, Marsha, and Dennis Voelker (last year's Region 3 winner), also of Larned. In nominating Skelton, they said, "Larry works diligently with and for the children of Pawnee County and the surrounding area. Unless he's right in the middle of harvest, he'll drop anything to show up and teach. He is an expert with the students and the shotgun." Skelton also instructs 4-H students in wingshooting and is an avid trap shooter.

In Region 4 (southcentral Kansas), Alyce Harris, Arkansas City, received the award. Harris was nominated by retired KDWP conservation officer Gene McCauley, Winfield.

"Alyce came into a lagging program with irregular classes that were unable to meet demand and turned the situation around completely," says McCauley. "Local demand is being addressed, and many out-of-county students are now being served, as well. Under her direction, the local program has developed to the extent that a second area coordinator became necessary to assist with classes outside of the two larger communities in the county. She has worked with the first women-only hunter education course and the Cowley County Friends of the NRA to promote the Youth Hunter Education Challenge and Women On Target. She is also a strong supporter of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Pass It On Outdoor Mentor Program."

Benedick Rockers, Greeley, was the consensus winner in Region 5 (southeast Kansas) Nominated by his wife, Katie, Rockers is much appreciated in the region he has served for 25 years.

"Ben could have won this award no matter who nominated him," says Doyle. "Everyone agrees that he is just top notch."

Katie Rockers nominated her husband without his knowledge, saying, "Ben took over the duties of master instructor in our area without hesitation, poured his heart into it, and became the area coordinator. Not only has he volunteered his time, but he has invested a great deal of his own money in extra supplies, refreshments, meals, and benefits to our instructors and students. Every course he organizes in our area only gets better when he leads, and he has recruited an impressive line-up of instructors.

As changes took place at the state level, Ben knew that we needed to become more involved and learn more about new teaching methods. When students walk away from our course, they do so with pride, and are eager to hunt. Ben is a remarkable teacher and leader."

Kellenberger will receive a Ruger Red Label shotgun at the Hunter Education Instructor Academy in May. Also at this event, the five recipients of the regional Hunter Education Instructor of the Year Award will receive new Ruger Deluxe 10-.22 rifles in appreciation of their hard work.

Since the Kansas Hunter Education Program was instituted in 1973, not only have hunting accidents dropped to historically-low levels (only 15 in 2003), but young hunters now go afield with a greater appreciation for the wildlife resources they enjoy. This would not be possible without the tireless efforts of hundreds of volunteers dedicated to passing on the tradition of keeping hunting and the shooting sports alive in Kansas.