By Charles Frank
When Glenn Titus asked me to write about an OWAA legend, I looked in OWAA’s Outdoor Reference Manual for a definition of “legend.” No joy, no definition. Oh, well, what about Father Daigle’s Dictionary of the Cajun Language? Drew a blank again. Then I pulled down my much-abused Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and there it was: “legend — a story coming down from the past.”
This man has been a friend and mentor to many of us through sometimes-contentious years. How about “a person who inspires legends?” That’s our man, Bob Neil Dennie, the ultimate arbiter whose wit has kept us on an even keel.
Here’s a tribute that is long overdue — a tribute for a genial friend, a wise counsel, and a man who lives by the motto “service before self.” His credentials are legendary, impossible for us to replicate even if we tried. Life member and past president of OWAA, past president of Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and founding member and board member of Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association (LOWA), he is a perpetual “toiler in the vineyards.” His services are multiplied by his ever-present helpmate, Gail.
Add to this his receiving the Arthur Van Pelt Award for outdoor writers who have given a lifetime of conservation activity and the Charles Buckley Award for advancing the objectives of LOWA, two of the top honors bestowed by LOWA. Here you have a true Renaissance man.
Bob was one of the first outdoor journalists to shift into the computer age. He mastered the word processor when many old hands clung to the typewriter. He shifted from film to digital photography and, with his usual enthusiasm, caused many of us to make the change, investing in digital toys far beyond my 84-year-old brain’s capacity to fully utilize.
His greeting is always “Charlie, let me show you this new gizmo. You’ll love it.” When my wife sees me talking to Bob at an OWAA conference, she tries to take away my MasterCard.
Bob’s radio program started National Hunting and Fishing Day. He chaired the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the United Way Givers Drive for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He also served on the Wildlife and Fisheries Credit Union for 23 years, including seven years as president.
Dennie is always in the front row at tech lectures. His grasp of fundamentals and appreciation of the nuances of change in this exciting venue are part of his always-expanding interest in the cutting edge of journalistic craft. May he always remain the perpetual student, seeking to expand our abilities and sharing his newfound knowledge with his peers.
Bob never hesitates to let you know where he stands on an issue — usually with one of his great Cajun stories. One he loves to use when discussions are getting out of hand is the tale of an old man and a boy leading a mule down the banks of Bayou LaFourche on a hot summer day. Passing a group of idlers, the man hears one say, “Why doesn’t that old man ride instead of walking on such a hot day?” So he mounts the mule and tells the boy to lead it. Passing another group, he hears the remark, “That old man should be ashamed. He should be leading that mule and let that young’un ride in all this heat.” Again, he changes places, telling the boy to ride and leading the mule himself. Moments later, he overhears someone comment, “That old man must be stupid. That big mule could carry them both.” So he remounts the mule, and he and the boy ride down the bayou. Coming to a bridge, they start for the far bank. In the middle of the bayou, the bridge collapses from their combined weight, and they all tumble into the stream. The old man and the boy manage to swim ashore, but the mule drowns.
Bob points out that when you try to please everyone, sooner or later you’re going to lose your ass. God bless you, Bob. May you continue to be a beacon of sanity in this contentious world. We need your Cajun humor to glue us all into a homogenous group dedicated to the best interests of all.
There is another facet to this remarkable man. For many years he maintained a camp on Lake Catherine. This beautiful little body of water has been wracked by every storm that hit the Louisiana coastal marshes. But time after time, Bob and his three boys, Robbie, Ken and John, rebuilt. It was a wonderful means of teaching the vagaries of nature and the ability of man to rebound with tenacity — another lesson learned. Fishing for redfish and specks, crabbing from the dock and trawling for shrimp brought a sense of oneness on many a family outing. Bait for fishing and a deep freezer filled for the cold winter months were extra dividends.
Flights of waterfowl in the fall and the spring arrival of shorebirds and neo-tropical warblers awakened the bird watcher in Bob. The yard at his home in Geismar, a sleepy little hamlet on the southern edge of Baton Rouge, is festooned with bird feeders. He calls me whenever a painted bunting, prothonotary warbler or a vagrant humming bird appeared. Then he complains, “Do you know what your damn bird watching is costing me for feed? I could train my bird dog for a lot less.”
Hunter, fisherman, bird watcher: Bob allows his interests and expertise to form the base that makes his journalism come alive.
A consummate, but not particularly successful bass fisherman, Bob joined my brother, Phil, and me on number of fishing trips. Phil always caught more and bigger bass. We attributed it to luck, but he managed to do it over and over again. The worst part of this denouement was that Bob and I had tackle boxes filled with the latest and greatest lures, while Phil stuck to H&H spinners and 6-inch plastic worms in red, black and purple. Everyone knows those baits went out of fashion right after the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon! Only Phil and the bass didn’t seem to know this.
Bob has lived his life in dedication to conservation. He has been successful because he prepared for each task at hand. As former OWAA Intern Kristin Knight wrote in a character sketch published in the June 2006 OU: “Bob Neil Dennie has had a successful career doing what he loves. He’s been prepared for every new opportunity that has come his way. He’s had fun at every turn.”
It’s a wonderful description of this remarkable legend. Thanks, Bob, for your selfless help to so many of us.
Charles W. Frank Jr. joined OWAA in 1982. He is a freelance writer and photographer, a lecturer, a film producer, a book author and a carver and collector of decoys. Frank lives in New Orleans, La., with his wife Jean. Photos: Bob Dennie (top), OWAA file photo, and Bob and Gail, photo courtesy Charles Frank.