by: Rae Lesmeister

Having just spent a week wilderness camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a good friend and adventure pal, I had time to reflect on the previous week where Tim and I attended the AGLOW Conference (Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers) in La Crosse, WI.

Tim has attended this annual conference for over 30 years, always coming home regaling me with tales about the great people, camaraderie, and talents of the many characters who make the Outdoor Industry a vital one.

Since leaving my corporate life for new professional and personal adventures, I have enjoyed attending several AGLOW conferences with Tim. I have discovered what he has known all along. There is a strong sense of family among the attendees. This mix of gifted writers, photographers, marketing and tourism experts contribute to lively and wide-ranging conversations. Most of all, there are simply some very interesting and fine people.

It is the latter observation I want to share. Below are but a few stories that explain why this conference and the varied people who attend it have secured a place in my heart.

Picture a towering Kenny Kieser, surrounded by a contingent of 20 or so visitors from China, at an art gallery in LaCrosse. Kenny showed me a picture capturing the scene and told me about the questions he fielded from the Chinese delegation. Questions like, “Do you know John Wayne?” and “Do you drink Coca Cola?” Ever curious, I asked what he was doing at an art gallery that day. His answer confirmed something I have already experienced several times at the AGLOW conference. You never know how this tribe of outdoor aficionados will express their talents. It seems that Kenny is writing a column about murders that occurred in LaCrosse decades ago. He promised to share his column with me when it is published.

Karen Lutto, a world-class product promoter also happens to have a world-class heart when it comes to abandoned dogs. She not only has several dogs of her own, but regularly fosters dogs needing homes until they are placed. She has had as many as six to eight dogs at once. While Tim and I were chatting at Breakout, she described the immediate attachment that occurs when meeting the canine for the first time and how bittersweet it can be to send them to a new owner. It was no secret that while her heart might break at letting the animal go, she feels joy in knowing they will be with people who will shower them with love.

When I interact and observe Brandon Butler, I have the thought that I should change the lyrics of Alicia Keys’ song to “ This Boy is On Fire.” I have watched Brandon bring so many of his passions to life with unfailing energy and competence. He arrived at the 2019 conference having piloted a Cessna 172 to LaCrosse. It was only a couple of years ago that I heard him mention his dream of becoming a pilot. I attended Brandon’s presentation on the pioneering products and work that Roeslein Alternative Energy is doing. Coming from a large corporation where corporate responsibility around environmental issues was a key concern, I was very interested in his topic. While I was captivated by his compelling and articulate presentation, I was equally impressed by the leadership I see Brandon demonstrate in his new company and for AGLOW.

Mike Schoonveld, Tim’s favorite outdoor writer, when asked where in the world he would like to go for an adventure said “Panama” so he could spend his time fishing there. What I most enjoyed about hearing Mike’s response was the fact that I heard it hours after the question was first posed to a large group sitting around a table on the outdoor patio. Before everyone could answer the question, we were called in to join the evening banquet. I had noticed a slight smile on Mike’s face as people were sharing their responses. I was sure that he would have an interesting answer, and did not want to miss the chance to hear what is was. When I was able to connect with him I found that not only was his response indeed interesting, he was energized in the telling of it.

Who knew, that Jim Zaleski, a competitive bass-tournament angler, outdoor communicator and marketer, is also a dog whisperer. Jim shared how he and his wife’s beloved dogs found them. Not one, but two abandoned dogs literally came to their door and hung around until they became welcomed members of the family. It would seem that magical and seemingly coincidental relationships can also happen between humans and animals as evidenced when Jim added two “orphans” to his family.

I learned from Denny Geurink, that taking the road less traveled, both literally and figuratively resulted in an interesting career: Guiding hunters in Russia. This also makes him a sought after speaker. What I found most fascinating about Denny’s work is that he was doing business in the former Soviet Union in the 80’s before the fall of communism. Having spent a fair amount of time in Russia myself in the 90’s, I was intrigued by his experiences navigating the culture and business environment during the communist regime and afterward. His tales included befriending a KGB agent. Tim tells me his latest book, “In the Land of the Bear: Danger and Adventure Hunting Brown Bears in Russia’s Forbidding Siberia” touches on his Russian exploits and delves deeply into some amazing hunts.

I have long admired Cynthya Porter’s breathtaking photos. I say breathtaking, because her photos often actually do take my breath away by their sheer beauty and the stories I imagine as I take in the scenes she captures from around the world. I learned that I and others no longer need only to imagine the scenes, the people and adventures from her stunning photos. For Cynthya, under the banner of her trademark brand “Things I Wander”, will be adding another offering to her mix of photography, writing, and tourism marketing; that of leading trips to the many unique destinations she has traveled to around the world. If you follow Cynthya Porter photography on facebook or instagram, you will know that she always manages to serendipitously find a unique mix of people and places. Thus the reason I found her new offering so exciting.

So, as we plan our schedule for next year, the dates for the AGLOW conference in Gaylord, Michigan are NOT penciled in. Instead, they are blocked off in a virtual green, the color I choose for fun and adventurous activities. Will I miss the yet untold stories of this interesting tribe. Not a chance!