Morrison Sportsmens Club History

By Jerry Stuart

The city of Morrison had a population of 3067 people at the time and was a quiet peaceful little town with plenty of businesses, farms, and housing. The farmers of the community played a big part in the roll of putting in an organization for the preservation of hunting fishing and wildlife. This was called the Whiteside County Sportsmen’s Club and The Club meetings were held at the County Court House once every month.

I’m not real sure when the gun club was started but it was sometime in the early 1900’s.The clubs first known advertised shoot was April 30, 1926. The shoot was in the evening where 400 targets thrown, with each man shooting at 25 targets. Lee Whistler topped the scoring with 23 hits and Clyde Westlake followed him with a 21. There was a large turnout of shooters and onlookers for the opening contest. After the contest, several members of the club decided to get some traps in order to start the shoots in the near future open to the public. The grounds are located somewhere about a mile or so east of Morrison.

After a few years had pasted (year 1939), things must have been going well. Successful Farming Magazine wanted to do a story on Whiteside County and it just so happened that the story writer, Hugh Curtis stopped in Morrison because of some stories he had heard about a Farmer’s Community Club that was getting all kinds of results. So he set out to find a farm advisor in the Morrison area and came across Frank Shuman who gave him the names of Howard Hartman, Earl Bristle, Lee Whistler and Clerk Watt .
Howard Hartman and his dad operated the old mill by Rock Creek that bordered the town; Howard also was the County President. Earl Bristle and son Jay were cattle farmers. Jay was the President of the Union Grove Chapter of the Sportsmen’s Club in 1939. Lee Whistler was the county clerk and representative of the Farmers Club. Lee also hand made duck decoys made with duck skin and feathers pulled over balsa wood and then sold to Chicagoans. Watt was the clubs secretary and the owner of the hardware store in town. The county consisted of 18 townships or community chapters of farmers and businessmen devoted in some way to conservation. There were 1530 members of the organization and the dues were .25 cents per year.

These men and many others like them have raised and released pheasants (one of them was a pet named Pete ), quail, rabbit, squirrels and fish like bass, pike, trout and crappie fingerlings; and all of the game was released over miles of land and waterways throughout the county. Over a period of 3 years they had raised 2400 pheasants and 2000 quail. The county’s hunting was regulated by members. These 100 members were known as “minute men” that served under the county sheriff to protect the game from poachers and over hunting . So the hunters had to record where and how many they bagged .These records were then routed through the county secretary, Lawyer Karl Yost, who became the” lawyer for the Sportsmen’s Club.” He kept a record for the club so that they knew where to restock birds and fish. The Whiteside Sportsmen’s Club made such big news that national sportsmen such as Bob Becker of Chicago Tribune,” Ding” Darling, a famous cartoonist, and George Tonkin of the biological survey all showed big support for raising feed for the stock.

As the years past, everyone realized the importance of the members and club. In 1942 the Club was involved in the building of a dam for a trout lake in the northern part of the county believed to be the “Cheat em’s Ponds “which are located west of Route78 on Milledgeville Road, also known as Thompson Road. Three ponds were built there and  are still in use. The club also called for a lake to be built which possibly now could be Lake Carlton at the State Park.

Several members have come and gone between time but the known members in office in the year January 1, 1957 are President Walter Westendorf, Vice-President John Planthaber, Treasure Dick Larson, and Secretary Charlie Riggen; the meetings were held in the Morrison Coliseum with refreshments following the meeting. In 1958 there had been talk about the purchasing of land somewhere in the Morrison area. One place that was discussed was near Rock Creek by the Jacobs town area to put the Sportsmen’s Club there in the vacated quarry which was owned by Frank Norrish (the ground in question is located by the State Park on Crosby Road behind the house on the curve owned by Donald Nice, which used to be a grocery store.). A year pasted, and a special  meeting was called to elect a board of directors, whose names are Bill Berge, Loren Kinsel, Ben Ellicott, Milt Matthews, and Hank Hansen. With the present officers and the newly elected directors, they discussed the issue of the Norrish property and a new piece of ground located 5 miles west of Morrison on Garden Plain road. So Ellicott, Planthaber, and Westendorf set out to look at the property.

The next month at the meeting, March 6, 1958 the club discussed with the Sinnissippi Club a proposal to create a Whiteside Council of Sportsmen’s Clubs; this was decided to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding with the State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs with regards to other Sportsmen’s Clubs in this county. There are now four clubs in this county. They are: the “Izaak Walton League of America” in Fulton; the “Coleta Sportsmen’s Club”; The “Sinnissippi Rod & Gun Club” of Sterling and Rock Falls and finally the newly named;” The Morrison Sportsmen’s Club “.Besides the name change, the club also adopted a new set of by-laws and constitutions to make the club function with more up to date procedures.

It’s now April 1958. Remember the talk about a lake in the Morrison area? Well two members of the club, Walt Westendorf and John Planthaber went to Springfield as delegates to the State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs’ annual meeting . One of the highlights of the meeting was the annual report by Glen Palmer, Director of State Conservation. His report mentioned a lake in Whiteside County and that funds had been provided to cover the cost of the survey and soil test to locate a suitable site for a proposed lake.

With the newly named club at the June 23, 1958 meeting at the Walt Westendorf home a vote took place to purchase the property on Garden Plain Road .Dick Larson went to see Karl Yost a lawyer in Morrison that the club used . Mr. Yost drew up the papers for the purchase of the 55 acres of land in the amount of $4,500.00 from Garrett Damhoff. Now with the newly purchased land the club needed a club house and it was proposed that the surplus building down by G.E. could be moved to the new property location. So in April of 1959 a crew of men started to cut, support, and raise the building with the help of  Potters Lumber’s flat bed truck. The shed was loaded onto the truck and moved with the help of Kenny McDonald of Lyndon who drove the truck up the steep grassy hill, and nearly tipped the truck over, but manage to make it up the hill safely. With the new shed on site, it needed a foundation; this was put in with the help of John Planthaber, Kenny Schroeder, and Walt Westendorf. After a few months with a crew of men working on the building it was ready for use and had its first “Trap Shoot”on October 25,1959 .
And with all the great accomplishments, all good things must come to an end. It was the end of the year again, and new officers had to be voted for again.

The new officers elected for the year were Gerry Eissens, Dutch Loomis, Loren Kinsel, and Maynard Hartwick. Good luck boys! With the sizeable interest of the avid sportsmen in the county, in 1962 the club decided to put on single trap skeet shoot at the Whiteside County Fair Grounds to promote the sport. The members that help to set up this task were Gerry Eissens, Dutch Loomis, Clarence Heusinkveld, Loyal Garrison, Brightman, and a few other members from the club.

As the years went by, the club kept on progressing into a strong avid club and in 1994 the club purchased another ten acres behind the rifle range for $7800.00 to further the sport of hunting ,fishing and the preservation of wildlife. The club has been affiliated with different organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Water Fowl USA, Forestry, NRA, ATA, DNR, and many others. A lot of things have changed. The wildlife programs are run mostly by the Department of Natural Resources ( DNR ) so the club members can now concentrate on promoting the sport of hunting and shooting entertainment and most of all firearm safety . The Sportsmen’s Club is also in support of the law enforcement and security organizations such as Whiteside County Sheriff’s Department, Morrison, Erie, and Fulton Police Departments and security companies such as Burns and Wackenhut  by allowing the use of the ranges for their firearm qualification .

Due to the law changes in hunting, it is required that all born after 1980 or those  hunting out of state must take a Hunter Safety Course to obtain a hunting license. Due to this law, the club decided to teach this class. There are two classes every year with about 50 to 75 students in each class. The course is also followed up by a instruction on how to properly handle and shoot a firearm .With the large classes in 2001 the President at the time, Steve Blasdell decided we needed a bigger clubhouse. So a building fund was created and a new clubhouse was built with the help of Dietz  Concrete Inc, Jerry Stuart for the construction, Earl Santee and Doug Rutledge for the electrical, Mike Nelson for the heating & cooling, John Souser and Bob Miller for the finish work, Steve Blasdell and many other members. The club now is a large 26 X 46 clubhouse with a lot of nice space.

The trap range has also come a long way from having manual cocking setting and tripping which required a trap boy (someone to cock and load the trap) to a fully automated singles or doubles ‘Pat Trap “ thrower with voice calls by Canterberry .

The pistol range also was given a face lift in 1998 with a 12 X 58 canopy and a range from 10 yards to 50 yards thanks to the help of the members. The rifle range was also updated in 2007 from a 100 yard firing line and 200 yard firing line to a single 100 / 200 yard firing line. This was to promote more safety in shooting and to be more efficient for the members to be able to shoot at the 100 and 200 yards at the same time and with plenty of shooting stations under the 18 X 60 foot canopy. The dirt work and concrete work was done with the help of Stichter Construction and the canopy and shooting benches by the club members.

The club also saw the need for an Archery Range with the growing sport of bowhunting and competition shooting the club will have a 3-D range and a practice range for those archers that need a little practice.