Gene Loveall and members of Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri gather Tuesday for a day of fishing at the pond on Dr. Doug Kiburz’s property along Highway Y. Behind them is the 12-seat van that was purchased with Loveall’s $30,000 donation to the club.
Gene Loveall baits a hook for Victoria Heinaman during Tuesday’s fishing trip. Victoria said she had been fishing before and caught a five-pound catfish and a crappie.
Isaiah Ewert, 10, pulls weeds off of his hook after casting from the bank of the pond.
Reed Mergen, 12, shows off the large-mouth bass he reeled in during Tuesday’s fishing trip.
Gene Loveall was far too busy baiting hooks Tuesday morning to talk about anything other than fishing.
As he pierced a worm on the hook at the end of Victoria Heinaman’s fishing pole, he said, “I guarantee this will catch you a fish.” Seconds later, 11-year-old Victoria pulled a four-inch sunfish from the pond on Dr. Doug Kiburz’s property along Highway Y. As Victoria struggled to free her catch, Loveall helped another young angler who had snagged an eight-inch large-mouth bass.
“That’s a nice bass – you got a pocket?” Loveall joked, as the girl squirmed at the thought of bringing the fish home.
Tuesday’s Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri outing was made possible by Loveall and his wife, Frances, who read my June 27 column about the club’s quest for a new vehicle to transport members to Outdoor Adventures programming and other activities. The Lovealls provided the full $30,000 the club sought through its “Take Pride In Our Ride” fundraiser and Tuesday a dozen club members were transported to the fishing hole in the van those funds purchased, while others rode out in the 1989 short school bus the club still uses – when it runs.
“This morning when I went to the gas station to get the minnows, the bus died and I said, ‘No, no, no, no, you can’t do this today,’” said Vicki Hart, a Boys & Girls Clubs site manager who has been driving the old bus for the past five years.
Hart said that since the Lovealls committed to purchase the new van, club kids and Gene Loveall have been looking forward to spending a day together fishing.
“This used to be mine, I owned it before Dr. Kiburz,” Loveall said as he looked out over the property. “When they were talking about fishing, I called him up and being the nice guy that he is, he said OK.”
Years ago, Loveall stocked the pond with 2,000 fish, including bass and bluegill. On Tuesday, a smile came across his face every time one of the kids called out, “I got one!” One of those club members, Reed Mergen, was having plenty of success from the pier and was truly appreciative of the Lovealls’ generosity.
“I think it’s really cool because we can come out here and do different stuff, go fishing, and go on trips that are pretty far away,” said Reed, 12, who would like to see the van used for a fishing trip to Truman Dam.
Leah Landon, 13, said the new van is “a million times better” than the old bus. “It is basically luxury.”
“I think it’s really cool,” Leah added. “You wouldn’t expect someone to step up and give us all the money (for the van). That is really generous of him. It’s just awesome, and we need to repay him.”
Frances Loveall has been in ill health lately, enduring a stroke, open-heart surgery and pneumonia. Hart said Tuesday’s outing was good therapy for Gene.
“For me and for the kids, we have looked forward to this for months,” Hart said. “Just being able to give him a day out – I’d bet he doesn’t get many days out like this. … He’s Number One in my book. He’s a good guy. I am just amazed by somebody who would support us and feel that strongly about us.”
Hart pointed out that the van offers many amenities to the club, including better gas mileage than the old bus, increased comfort and most important, reliability.
“I know if I want to take the kids to Jefferson City or someplace for the day, we would make it there and we would make it back,” she said.
Loveall’s motivation to help the club came from his upbringing.
“I was poor when I was a kid, I was a Depression guy,” he said. “I just want to help kids out, get them started in life.”
He also wanted to share his passion for fishing, something he has in common with club member Isaiah Ewert, 10, who fishes frequently with his grandfather. Isaiah was casting like a pro from the pond’s bank, but spent considerable time removing weeds from his hook.
“I think he is really nice and kind to do that for us,” Isaiah said of Loveall. “Our old bus kept breaking down, so we needed a new one.”
Isaiah also has ideas on ways to use the new van based on Loveall’s “pay it forward” example.
“We could go out and help other people,” he said. “Since Mr. Loveall did something for us, we could do something for him.”
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.