“Without Gary and RMEF, the bus don’t drive.”
Randy Shelton speaks glowingly of his long-time best friend and fellow RMEF Life Member, Gary Hansen. Shelton is the chairman of Salmon for Soldiers, a Washington nonprofit that offers veterans a sense of normalcy and relaxation through fishing, and he, his wife Penny and his organization cofounder Rick Endsley lean heavily on Hansen. Yearly since 2013, Hansen has rallied his North Puget Sound Chapter volunteers to help with Salmon for Soldiers. On the “Day of Honor” check-in, Hansen and his fellow volunteers are ready to go well before sunrise.
“Even though it’s like a quarter after four in the morning, we have the best job because we get to be the first smile the soldiers see,” says Hansen.
RMEF volunteers keep things orderly at the pre-sunrise check-in by ensuring registered participants are both present and then paired up with skippers who volunteer their services and their boats for the half-day outing. After several hours on the water, the veterans return to shore for a barbecue, comradery, raffles and fun. One lucky vet even goes home with a new, donated $15,000 boat and trailer.
Thanks to Hansen and fellow long-time volunteer and friend Dan Paulson, RMEF also supplied thousands of dollars in grant funding over the years for Salmon for Soldiers, an event that not only alters attitudes and perspectives, but changes lives.
“In 2013, I was given this phone number to call a guy who was really struggling,” recalled Shelton. “I bet I talked to this guy a dozen times or more. The man said, ‘I’ll trust you this one time,’ so he came with us fishing that one day. And he has been fishing with us since and has come out of his funk. He bought a boat, and he now guides by taking other veterans out.”
From Washington state to Washington DC, people took notice. In 2019, Hansen and Paulson received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, signed by President Trump. It states, in part, “I thank you for your service to your fellow Americans and those most in need. Through your dedicated service, you have ensured the continuation of America’s unparalleled commitment to improving the lives of others. You have served as a model of the American Spirit.”
That same year, Hansen received the 2019 RMEF Chairman’s Award.
“Gary and his wife invited my wife and me to share the moment with him when they presented him with the plaque,” said Paulson. “It was a pretty special moment for him.”
“The guy’s put his blood, sweat and tears into RMEF,” says Shelton.
Hansen served RMEF for decades as a regional chair, a state chair, committee member, emcee, ticket-taker, doer and dedicated volunteer. As each year passes, he tries to make it even better.
“There are four members of our committee in our 34th year. It never gets old but anytime we can add anything new, like Salmon for Soldiers, it just increases our passion for RMEF,” says Hansen.
Take it from the guy who drives the team bus.