The other day, Drake Dill was still at home near the town of Crane Lake, on the Minnesota-Ontario border. He hadn’t yet returned to the Canadian fishing and moose-hunting camp he, his dad and a partner purchased a half-dozen years ago.
That trip would occur soon enough, and Drake knew when that happened, the camp might look the same as it did a few weeks ago when he left it.
But it would not be the same.
And never could be.
“My dad was my dad,” Drake, 25, said. “But he was also my best friend.”
Drake’s paternal reference was to Rep. David Dill, hunter and angler, snowmobiler, and member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, died Aug. 8 of cancer. He was 60.
At his memorial service Aug. 15 in International Falls, he was remembered by Gov. Mark Dayton and others as a straight shooter, agree or disagree, whose word was his bond.
A staunch proponent in the Legislature of outdoor interests, particularly hunting, fishing, trapping, clay target shooting and gun rights, Dill will be missed in a body politic that today includes fewer of his kind than at any time in history, the result of the state’s urbanization over the past 50 years.
Where once in the House and Senate roamed elected representatives with hands-on experience in wildlife and fisheries, and a natural sympathy for those resources and their stewardship, now sit legislators whose primary concerns, besides self-aggrandizement, are education, transportation and other matters of the day, including, broadly defined, “the environment.”
A natural reflection of the state’s changing demographics, the seating of these lawmakers bodes poorly not only for those who participate in the field sports, but for the state’s natural resources themselves. One cannot legislate effectively what one has so little experience with.
An Indiana native, Dill would have seemed an unlikely Minnesota legislative aspirant.
His dad was an emergency room physician in Indianapolis, and after World War II, he and Dill’s mother honeymooned on Lac la Croix, a connected waterway to Crane Lake.
Enamored of the big border country, the pair soon built a cabin on Sand Point Lake, which is also connected to Crane Lake, and it was there that young David first was exposed to the tall pines and vast waters he came to love and, in time, call home.
The north country is also where Dill met his wife, Tucky, who is from International Falls.
“After Mom and Dad married, they moved to Indianapolis, where dad had founded an air freight business,” Drake said. “It wasn’t until they sold that business, in 1982, that they came to Crane Lake to live for good.”
Dill’s first civic engagement was to organize Crane Lake’s July 4th parade, an extravaganza that commonly prompts a fivefold population increase of that tiny town, if only for a day.
Snowmobilers also can thank Dill for helping to develop Minnesota’s statewide system of trail development and maintenance funding.
“The golden age of snowmobiling was in the late ’80s and into the ’90s, and Dad championed the system that directs funding to snowmobile clubs for trail grooming and other work,” Drake said.
“I could fill notebooks with his accomplishments.”
A pilot who first soloed in his mid-teens and had his commercial aviation license at age 18, Dill loved flying, as does Drake, who similarly was commercially rated at age 18.
But shouldering a scattergun while scanning autumn skies for ducks and geese might have been the elder Dill’s paramount sporting interest.
“There were many years when he would make five trips to Manitoba in the fall to hunt birds,” Drake said. “I went with him from a very early age, when I was only 2 or 3.
“Like Dad, I learned to love hunting and fishing. At times in high school I would take 10 days out of class so we could hunt together. I was a good student, so my grades didn’t suffer. It was just something we wanted to do together.”
Buying their fishing and hunting resort — Thunderhook Fly-Ins near Armstrong, Ontario — in 2009 also was something father and son wanted to do together.
Reachable only by floatplane, the operation was performing poorly when the purchase was made, Drake said, even though lakes surrounding it teem with walleyes and northern pike, and the nearby woods harbor huntable populations of moose.
“Dad loved the challenge of buying the resort and so did I,” Drake said. “In six years, we’ve turned it into a robust operation.”
And one he’ll soon return to, seeing it first from above by floatplane, before circling to assess the wind and touching down once more on its northern waters, his dad’s memories riding as co-pilot.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org