Raising scouts, restoring nature
February 7, 2014 2:02PM
Art Peschke | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 13, 2014 9:23AM
“On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
— The Boy Scout oath
Pulitzer Prize winning author and environmentalist Wallace Stegner, astronaut Neil Armstrong, director Steven Spielberg and Aquilla J. Dyess are just a fraction of the notables who have earned the honor of Eagle Scout. Dyess was a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps during World War II. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously.
Art Peschke, of the Robertsdale neighborhood of Hammond, raised three sons who made Eagle Scout.
Peschke, 64, is a graduate of Hammond High School and is a retired carpenter out of Local 272 in Chicago Heights, Ill. He also spent four years in the Navy and is a member of American Legion Post 80 and the Whiting Elks Lodge.
Peschke has been married to Deborah for 43 years.
Were you always from this neck of the woods?
“No, I grew up in central Hammond,” he said.
Art, to me, that is this neck of the woods. As a kid, did you like to fish?
“Yeah, I used to fish in Harrison Pond and Conkey Pond. I don’t recall ever catching a fish out of Conkey Pond. They used to say Conkey Pond was a bottomless pit and if you got stuck in all that muck mire you’d never get out of there alive.”
Was that true?
“No. It was just to keep us kids out of there. Mr. Conkey had a printing outfit over there. He owned a lot of property.”
You’re big in the Boy Scouts.
“I had a son who wanted get into the Scouts. He attended the Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis from time he was 3. I started participating with him in Scouts down in Indy. His senior year, Charlie was able to come up here where he attended (Hammond) Gavit (High School). Mainstreaming, they call it. My son was self-sufficient. He had no issues.”
Good for him.
“Shortly after Charlie got into the Scouts, we started our Wolf Lake Conservation Project. We’re getting close to our 30th year on that. It’s an annual cleanup where we can bring anywhere from 50 to 500 kids together to clean up the environment.”
Tell me more about this Wolf Lake Conservation Project.
“Well, we’re sponsored by the Whiting Elks Lodge. The Hammond Parks Foundation is a big part of us, too. I take the kids and we go out and clean up for about four hours, then they get to camp out for two nights in the middle of Wolf Lake on Scout Island. They get fed lunch and get a patch. On Saturday evening, we have a great big bonfire where we properly retire American flags.”
When does this event take place?
“The last weekend in April. We get all muddy and dirty. It’s a lot of fun. We also have a road that’s called Boy Scout Road. It’s at 134th and Indiana right off of Sheffield Avenue. We’ve been cleaning that up for years. In the early days, we worked with Nipsco and got light poles put up. Boy Scout Road runs from Hegewisch to here. At one time it wasn’t a very nice road. Now, it has been paved and cabled off. People can hike it and bike it.
“After the kids have finished up and we get them fed, they can go fishing. We’ve done kite flying and a lot of educational stuff. It’s not only Boy Scouts, we’ve opened it up to community members. We’ve been working on a tree nursery for seven years.”
Very good. How’s the fishing in Wolf Lake?
“I had some guys do some diving for me at Wolf Lake. Afterwards, they says: ‘Art, please don’t ask us to go in again. There are catfish in there like this.’ They held their hands about two feet apart. I told them: ‘That ain’t big, I’ve caught ‘em that size out of the Kankakee River near Shelby.’ The guy replied, ‘No, that was the distance between their eyes.’”
“A little known fact is there are sturgeon in Wolf Lake. It used to be a spawning bed for them when it was open to Lake Michigan. Divers photographed a pair of sturgeons down there. One was 18-feet long and the other one was a 20-footer. They’ll live to be about 150 years old.
“One of our goals was to bring the wildlife back to this area, which we did. We have bald eagles again. The year before last, I was with ‘Conservation Mike’ Echterling on his Little Calumet River cleanup project. A pair of eagles swooped the last canoe as it was leaving the Ox-Bow in the Little Cal and then flew back over to Gary.”
It’s like those majestic creatures were saying thanks for a job well done.
“It was pretty cool.”
Art told me it was his deaf son, now deceased, who didn’t become an Eagle Scout: “Charlie had a lot of fun, he’s the one who really got me fired up about the Boy Scouts.”