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Rick Cerwick flashes back to the days when he started hunting, rolling down the Webster County gravel roads in the ‘63 Ford Galaxy 500 with mom and dad up front and he and his brothers and sisters in back competing to see who could spot the most rooster pheasants and who could retrieve them when dad shot one.
His early exposure to hunting started Cerwick down a path to not only continue following his passion for the outdoors, but crossed over into assisting with hunter education classes that has helped 5,000 students learn about gun safety and become certified in hunter education.
That journey paused briefly on May 25 to allow Cerwick, from Des Moines, to be honored as the Federal Premium Ammunition 2015 National Hunter Education Volunteer Instructor of the Year during a luncheon at the International Hunter Education Association’s annual conference in Vergennes, Vt.
“I’m very humbled,” Cerwick said.
His involvement with hunter education began in 1995 when a career change allowed for free time to volunteer.
“I thought if I have time, this is what I want to do and I’ve been loving every minute of it. It’s very touching to be recognized for doing something isn’t a lot of work, it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
He began helping Ray Thode and Jerry Keyes with hunter education classes in the Des Moines area. When Thode passed away in 2003, the Des Moines Chapter of the Izaak Walton League placed a help wanted ad for the lead instructor position in its bi-monthly newsletter. Cerwick thought about it and then responded.
Congratulations, the job is yours.
“Ray was a very compassionate man, very patient and believed we were here to guide them (students),” he said.
He uses that style combined with his many personal experiences learning to hunt to teach his classes. “Hunter education wasn’t mandatory when I grew up so I tell my students that I learned from the school of hard knocks and I don’t want them to have to learn like I did. Do it right the first time,” he said.
His hope is that the kids who attend his classes can go outdoors and find one thing to be passionate about like he did. It will change them forever, he said.
“I’m afraid if we don’t reach the next generation, get them outdoors, we will lose them,” he said.
Cerwick has reached many of his students who like to share their experiences and success. He offers his phone number at the end of each class and said one phone call in particular stands out.
“About 2-3 years ago I taught a class that was about 60 percent youth 40 percent adults and I left my phone number when we ended on Saturday. On Tuesday I got a call. It was from a dad who asked if I said it was okay for his son to tell his dad that he was doing something wrong in the field.
“I said yes. And the Dad said thank you. That happened to him and his son was right. He was proud that we took a young shy kid and gave him confidence.”
He has come full circle from his starting role as the child hunting pheasants and ducks with his father and grandfather to being the grandfather teaching his grand kids how to shoot toy foam bows. And their Papa is the Nation’s top volunteer hunter education instructor.
“I’m extremely happy,” he said. “I didn’t expect anything like this.”