Garrison’s Keith Witt volunteers to recognize, encourage other volunteers

Volunteer heads Fishing Hall of Fame

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Keith Witt, Garrison, serves as the N.D. Fishing Hall of Fame president.

GARRISON – You can find him conducting regular meetings of the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame, or maybe filling bags of popcorn at the theater on a Friday night. He’s Keith Witt, a 31-year former resident of Bismarck who moved here in 2012 following his retirement from the Bismarck Police Department.

Witt grew up in Hankinson, a town similar in size to Garrison. A desire to return to a smaller community, and good fishing, led Witt to the community.

“In the mid-’90s I started coming quite often up to Fort Stevenson to go fishing,” said Witt. “My wife and I spent a lot of time in town and always liked Garrison. My wife also grew up in Hankinson so our goal was always to get back to a small town.”

Witt secured work with the Garrison Area Improvement Association as executive director, a position he held for nearly two years before stepping aside, sort of. Today he operates a small engine repair business and continues to do volunteer work, something he found difficult to do with a varied and uncertain work schedule while living in Bismarck.

“For me it’s an important part of giving back to the community that you live in,” said Witt. “I think it’s important in every community, large and small. My wife and I do a lot of volunteering together. It’s enjoyable. A lot of what we do is focused on youth. Whatever we can do to help them is a good thing.”

Jill Gackle, Garrison, approached Witt with the possibility of revitalizing the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame. The group originally started in 1981 but ceased operation in 2005 due to a lack of volunteers and difficulty in securing a site to house artifacts and properly recognize inductees.

“In 2012 I agreed to try and get things going again,” recalled Witt. “We got a new group of board members together and have been active ever since. We had our first inductions in 2013.”

Today Witt continues to serve as the Fishing Hall of Fame president who sees an important purpose of the organization.

“There’s been a lot of people who have done a lot of volunteer work as far as habitat, boat ramps, fish cleaning stations and educating people on how to up their success rate as a fisherman,” said Witt. “A lot of these people have done years of hard work volunteering. I think it’s important to recognize them. To me, that was my primary motivator to be involved, to get those folks the recognition they truly deserve.”

Under Witt’s guidance the N.D. Fishing Hall of Fame has welcomed inductees each year since 2013. The inductions are held every year in conjunction with the rules meeting and team gathering on the eve of the long-running Governor’s Cup Walleye Derby hosted by Garrison. This year’s induction ceremony is set for July 18.

For Witt, the resurrection of the Fishing Hall of Fame is another example of the value of volunteering. Without volunteerism, he says, popular public activities and events often disappear.

“A lot of people take this stuff for granted,” concluded Witt. “They don’t understand all of the volunteer work behind it. Then when it doesn’t happen they are upset they don’t have that event to go to anymore.”

Finding volunteers, said Witt, has become more difficult in recent years, putting even more pressure on those who do volunteer.

“Maybe in years past there was more of a volunteer spirit in communities, which is going away,” said Witt. “We are always struggling to find new volunteers which is getting harder all the time.”

A shift away from volunteerism is one of the reasons Witt continues his effort with groups such as the Fishing Hall of Fame. As he puts it, “I’m sure they get thanks, but I think more formal recognition is important. Not only to reward them for their efforts but maybe serve as a motivator for others to get more involved in volunteering.”

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to msasser@minotdailynews.com.)

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