BY JIM SPENCER
I was thinking about Nebraska when the phone rang that January afternoon. Coincidentally, the screener on my phone said, “Nebraska.” Thinking it was my buddy Carl Frauen, I expected to hear his gruff, cheerful voice asking when we were coming this spring to hunt what he calls “feathered lizards.” Translation: turkeys.
Instead it was Melissa Stephens, Carl’s girlfriend and life partner. When I heard the catch in her voice I knew it was bad. In halting fashion, she told me Carl had been killed when a vehicle fell off a jack.
The next day, I logged into Trapperman.com to make sure the website’s membership had heard. They had, and during the process I learned of another impending loss—long-time Iowa trapper and advocate Gene Purdy, who ran the NTA convention demo schedules for 20 years. Gene had just entered hospice care with terminal cancer. By the time you read these words, Gene will almost certainly be gone as well. Two great trappers, two great men, two great personal friends, both lost within a span of a few days. Hard to take.
When we lose a close friend, we think in selfish terms. It’s not, “Oh, no, my friend lost his life,” but “Oh, no, I lost my friend.” I, I, I. Me, me me. And sure enough, that was my initial feeling with the loss of these two men. But really, it’s the whole trapping community that’s suffered the loss. Both these men stood on high ground.
Gene was a long-time NTA board member from Iowa and served for 40 years on his own state trappers association board as well. As mentioned, he almost single-handedly ran the NTA demo schedule for two decades, individually signing up the presenters, helping them with their needs, baby-sitting them through the whole process. Gene collared me into doing a dozen demos and seminars over the years, making the process easy as pie. I know he had headaches along the way, but he was calm, collected and efficient through it all.
Carl was more of a behind-the-scenes guy. He gave of himself, but on a one-on-one basis—a volunteer fireman, country fur buyer and trapping mentor, generous friend sharing whatever he had, whether it was a cold beer on a hot day, a helping hand with a busted piece of farm equipment, an extra rope or rider at a calf-branding, a secret patch of wild asparagus…or, as was the case with Jill and me, an entire cattle ranch to hunt turkeys on every spring, complete with room and board.
Jill and I didn’t go to Nebraska last spring. I wish we had. I didn’t spend much time talking to Gene at last year’s NTA meet. I wish I had.
Now it’s too late to make up for either. My loss both times; also my fault both times. I hope both these fine men knew how much their friendship meant to me. It’s been an honor to have known them both.
Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. To purchase Jim’s trapping and turkey books, visit his website, www.treblehookunlimited.com.