COLUMBIA — A gathering of sportsmen is sure to result in a tale or two.
So it was to be expected that stories would flow at the 75th anniversary dinner of the Conservation Federation of Missouri on Friday at the Tiger Hotel.
There was a retelling of Denver M. Wright’s Missouri safari hunt in 1932, where he had bought two circus lions for $75 and released them onto Towhead Island in the Mississippi.
Another speaker told of how a doodle of ducks drawn in that same room 75 years ago survived to make a return appearance for Friday night.
The honored guest, Gov. Jay Nixon, unwound a couple of yarns himself. He told the ballroom how he shot a deer in Clark County, but didn’t bag one until Pulaski County.
Nixon was invited to the dinner to talk about the future of conservation in Missouri. He spoke not only as governor, but also as an avid sportsman whose 85-year-old father had joined the federation following the Korean War.
In his speech, Nixon talked about trout fishing with his dad at Bennett Spring and Montauk state parks as a kid.
“The future of conservation lies in rekindling love and respect for the outdoors in every generation, but especially in our children,” he said.
The governor lauded a state program launched this year that encourages youths to work in state parks. The Missouri State Parks Youth Corps received the National Association of State Park Directors’ highest honor, the President’s Award, on Thursday, he said.
Nixon also reiterated his support for the reintroduction of elk in Missouri, a proposal the state Conservation Department is considering.
“His eyesight isn’t what it used to be,” the governor joked of the federation’s executive director and Nixon's hunting buddy, Dave Murphy. “I think he needs a bigger target.”
As if to prove his point, a burly stuffed and mounted elk, on loan from Bass Pro Sportsman’s Center, filled the space of the hotel lobby Friday.
The main topic of the night was the founding of the federation. It was formed in 1935 to “take the fish and game out of politics,” in the words of one of the founders, Roland Hoerr. The group was instrumental in establishing the Missouri Department of Conservation the following year.
Bill Crawford, the only living person from the inaugural meeting, gave the audience an account of the federation’s early days.
Crawford, 92, also presented the federation with the 75-year-old drawing of ducks and fish made by the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling at the founding meeting.
At the start of the dinner, the federation’s 72-year-old first vice president, Duane Addleman, presented Nancy Blankenship, 64, with a plaque inducting her into “life membership” in the federation.
He then whipped out a glittering, 2-carat diamond in front of the packed ballroom and asked her to marry him. She said yes.
No longer on the hunt, they will begin their life together, Blankenship said, in a Springfield house they bought earlier in the day on Friday.