From September through May for more than 30 years, Dave Voegtlin's Saturday mornings started around 6 a.m.
The DU volunteer and supporter from DeWitt, Illinois, loaded about 20 shotguns into his truck, drove 50 miles to the St. Joseph Sportsman Club, and prepared for members of the Illini Trap and Skeet Club from the University of Illinois.
For several hours every Saturday for all those years, Voegtlin acted as a coach, a mentor and a friend to thousands of aspiring outdoors men and women.
"It was a huge commitment for him. There were probably a lot of Saturday mornings he wishes he was out duck hunting," said Illini alumnus Scott Korte of St. Louis, who was on the team in 1996. "That's just the kind of guy Dave was. He sacrificed to help out and promote the shooting sports."
Voegtlin, a recently retired entomologist, is a Ducks Unlimited sponsor at the Clinton Lake (Illinois) Ducks Unlimited Chapter. He's passionate about aphids, DU, shooting sports and conservation, and warmly tells stories of his various experiences.
Voegtlin grew up southeast of Edmonton in western Canada, where he would go waterfowl hunting before school each morning using an old Cooey 12-guage shotgun he bought for $18.
He was drawn to the natural world as a career and earned his doctorate degree in entomology from the University of California-Berkley.
Voegtlin is known across the country as an aphid expert. Throughout his career he was influential in helping the science and agriculture communities learn how these tiny plant parasites affected natural and agricultural environments.
Voegtlin was hired in 1980 as an entomologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey, an organization charged with studying the biology in the state. The organization is on the campus of the University of Illinois, where Voegtlin discovered the skeet club.
Mentoring the next generation
"It was 1982, and I saw a sign at the gym advertising the trap and skeet club," Voegtlin recalls. "One of the first things I discovered was that I was a lousy shot."
By 1984, he had taken over as club sponsor, or volunteer leader. His former students say Voegtlin's greatest strength was treating everyone fairly and equally, no matter their age, shooting experience or background.
"That's where Dave shines, in taking a person who has never picked up a gun and delivering a positive experience for them," said alum Michael Wurglitz of Mount Vernon, Illinois, a team member from 1998 to 2002.
Always welcoming and quick with a joke, Voegtlin put people at ease. And his hours of commitment extended beyond those busy Saturday mornings. To keep costs down for students and the club, he often drove members to state competitions or lent them supplies and gear.
Alumna Linda Berent spent time on the club from 1987 to 1990. Today she's associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine.
"For us to save money, he let us reload shells in the shed in his backyard," she recalled. "His wife, Sue, was a saint to put up with all of us - she would travel with us as well. I still shoot occasionally and hope I can provide the same kind of mentoring to my students that Dave gave to me."
No matter their education path at the university, many found Dave to be a great voice of experience.
"A lot of times after we were done shooting, he'd go out to lunch with us, so he transcended our relationship from "˜I know him through shooting' to "˜I know him through the community,'" said current Illini senior Michael Vershaw.
Voegtlin said his role on the club has provided lifelong friendships, including fellow coach and friend Ron Reinhart. His reward was seeing the sense of accomplishment.
"You look at new people come out, they've never touched a gun, and they are kind of scared of it. But you teach them to shoot, and for the beginners they are so delighted when they break a target for the first time," he said.
Dedication to Ducks Unlimited
As a waterfowler, Voegtlin appreciates what Ducks Unlimited does for the sport.
But he is a DU supporter and volunteer because he also sees the impact DU's projects have for the 900 other species of wildlife which call wetlands their home, including his favorite little bug.
"I've roamed the continent, often under the excuse of research, and I've stopped at a lot of waterfowl areas and refuges featuring beautiful wetlands and birds," Voegtlin said. "Some of these natural areas that are created by DU and other conservation organizations are a great place to find native plants and it's a great place to find aphids. I'm convinced habitat is key."
Former trap and skeet club member Michael Baker is a wetlands engineer for Ducks Unlimited in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He said what he will always remember about Voegtlin is the humble way he affected so many people.
"I have a lot of respect for someone who gives selflessly and doesn't ask for anything in return," Baker said.
A large gathering of Voegtlin's former students caught up with their former coach and said thanks this past May during his retirement ceremony.
"There were a lot of people who took life advice from Dave and are still getting it," Wurglitz said.