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Hamilton Izaak Walton League chapter celebrates 100 years
By Celeste Baumgartner
Ohio Correspondent

HAMILTON, Ohio – The Hamilton Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a celebration on May 11. The public is invited. According to the National IWLA, the Hamilton chapter’s charter date is 1924. It was the first chapter in Ohio.
“At that point, there were chapters in a number of other states, like Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and others,” said Michael Reinemer, IWLA communications director. “But Hamilton was definitely a leader and pioneer in Ohio.”
In preparing for the celebration, 40-year member Yvonne Hayes dug out some nuggets of the minutes, which go back to 1928.
In 1928, they formed committees for entertainment, membership, publicity, distribution, fellowship, and violation. The next year they formed a rifle club.
They held meetings at the Blue Bird Cafeteria in 1930 and sponsored a birdhouse contest for boys. They were interested in the fish-rearing ponds being built near Hamilton.
In 1933, they planted 1,200 Logan Elm trees in cooperation with the county schools. Their pheasant pens were stolen (they later retrieved them from Indiana). The Department of Conservation notified them that they could receive 25 cents each for selling fishing and hunting licenses.
In 1934, they suggested a fish ladder be built at the new Great Miami River dam above the Black Street bridge. Butler County received 1,575 bluegills, bass, and catfish; 2,000 fingerlings 5.5 to 7 inches, 2,000 rock bass, 425 pheasants, and 10 dozen rabbits from the state. They closed the year with $22.91 on hand and a bill for $11.80.
There was a report of a Jack Salmon fish kill in the Great Miami River below Hamilton in 1935. A wife’s auxiliary, the Anthony Wayne Chapter, was created. Turkey shoots were popular and yielded a profit of $6.92.
They held a tournament following the release of fish from the rearing ponds. Ray Martz caught the largest tagged fish to beat out Mr. Farr. Martz’s fish swallowed the 2-ounce sinker he was using and weighed 2 ounces more than Farr’s fish. There a no notes on the discussion that may or may not have followed.
In 1938 the club supported the purchase of Lake Erie shoreline for public parks. They also released a tub of crawfish in their rearing ponds. They ate hasenpfeffer and drank beer.
They were concerned about the pickling solution in the river from the steel mills in 1939. They were also stocking raccoons (the Division of Wildlife was given the Milan Wildlife Area in 1932 for the propagation of raccoons. It was maintained until 1953).
Fish and game kills along the Great Miami River were a cause for concern in the 1940s. The group also supported purchasing land for a state park which became Hueston Woods.
Over the years, the group met in cafes, bars, and other facilities. Sometime in the early 1960s, two spinster women had about seven acres and a small house on Symmes Road in Hamilton. They wanted to arrange a trust with a conservation organization that would have use of the property in return for preserving it.
Member Will Harbaum, an outdoor writer, arranged for the Hamilton chapter to get control of the property, called The Oaks. Randy Windell was president. They held monthly meetings, played lively games of pitch, and had other activities there until they purchased Long Acre Farm, 38 acres, on Beissinger Road.
While the group was meeting at the Oaks, in the 1960s, someone talked Ray Zehler, then age 35, into joining. He was an avid conservationist, hunter, and fisherman all his life and he became the guiding light of the chapter. He held positions in IWLA at the local, state and national levels.
“He garnered every award given by Izaak Walton including the Fifty-Four Founder’s Award, the highest IWLA award gives to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the conservation of natural resources,” said his daughter, Jenny Allen, a Hamilton Chapter IWLA member.
“My dad was driven to ensure a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. He especially encouraged programs to educate kids about conservation,” she said.
The Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Streams program is the only nationwide program training volunteers to protect waterways from pollution. Hayes recalled that, through a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), she, her late husband, Dan, and Zehler presented Save Our Streams programs throughout Northern Ohio in communities around streams that emptied into Lake Erie.
When the Hamilton group built a clubhouse at Long Acres in 1995, it was named the Ray Zehler Environmental Education Center. Zehler passed in 2016.
In about 2000, the Anthony Wayne auxiliary told their husbands they would no longer cook meals for the monthly meetings unless they could attend them. While the Anthony Wayne Chapter continues, women are now welcome at the meetings.
In 2024, the chapter has about 120 members. Current president, Barry Walls, said their turkey shoots held every fall are their biggest fundraiser but they host many activities to interest everyone in conservation and outdoor activities.
“We have Save Our Streams, a national program,” Walls said. “We teach kids about the creeks, we call it Creek Freaks. We plant wildlife plots, we just finished two observation towers in the woods with grants from ODNR. We try to have two trapper and hunter education classes every year.”
They hold public events to teach adults and children shooting safety and skills in archery and firearms. About 50 kids usually come to catch-and-release fishing derbies in their stocked pond. A kayaking event at Hueston Woods is always well attended.
Once a month, kids, parents, and grandparents attend their popular Uncle Ikes meetings where they learn about conservation, age-appropriate shooting sports, fishing, beekeeping, astronomy, and more.
“We’re trying to pass conservation on to the younger people, trying to get them more involved,” Walls said.
The May 11 open house will go on, rain or shine, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at 450 Beissinger Rd., 45013. It will offer (weather permitting) trap shooting, archery, hay rides, fishing, hiking, and an opportunity to visit the bird blinds. There will also be a cruise-in; anyone can bring their motor vehicles. More information is available on FaceBook at