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Phil Johnson Exceptional Leadership Award

79b4b044-2f02-45aa-8997-514c04da2173As a way of recognizing the tens of thousands of volunteer hours given each year to Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing by our talented and caring volunteers, PHWFF has instituted the Outstanding Volunteer Award. Each year, one volunteer from each of our regions is selected for this honor.

We extend a sincere thank you to Temple Fork Outfitters for their support of our program and for providing each award recipient with a fly rod. Join us in thanking all of our volunteers and congratulating each of these deserving recipients



Kevin Matthews, Rocky Mountain Region
Grand Junction, CO Program

Kevin Matthews is a volunteer instructor with the Grand Junction chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. His passion for fly fishing serves not only his mentoring skills, but the vital rehabilitative process for veterans as well.

Kevin works as a full time nurse with the VA Medical Facility in Grand Junction, Colorado. This position has facilitated his ability to not only inform veterans about PHWFF, but recruit them as well. In his off hours from the VA Orthopedic ward, he can be found serving a dual role for PHWFF. Not only as a Mentor, but Rod Building Instructor.

One example of his dedication to the PHWFF program, is countless hours spent building rod wrapping racks for his class. Off the clock and outside of PHWFF, mind you. As instructor, you can find him teaching rod building, every Wednesday night, throughout the year.

As a mentor, he serves in multiple roles as well. Not only does he take groups of veterans on fishing outings, but gladly takes individuals as well. Many times, these trips are held on his personal time. This generosity of time is just part of Kevin’s character. He has a big heart and gentle demeanor that is readily apparent upon meeting him. These qualities serve him not only as mentor/instructor, but counsellor also. Not only will veterans seek him out for guidance, the same holds true of the program lead, when advice or encouragement is needed.

This past year, Kevin won a hard fought battle against a severe illness. Even in the midst of this, he never complained nor missed a class. His steadfast conviction to the veterans he donates to, remained as well.  As a devoted family man, father and avid fly fisher, we are proud and honored to have him as part of the Grand Junction Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program.   Kevin personifies the word volunteer for the PHWFF program.

midsouth-volunteer-of-the-yearCalvin Norton, Midsouth Region
Charlotte, NC Program

When Calvin Norton came to his first PHWFF meeting.  He, like so many of the first time participants, was guarded, quiet and not sure whether he was where he wanted to be, but it did not take long for him to find his place amongst his fellow veterans, soon to be friends, and PHWFF volunteers; beginning what would be a wonderful relationship for all involved.

A participant in the Charlotte NC program since 2008 Calvin has become a favorite personality for the entire region.  Quick to mentor fellow participants and offer useful fishing, and life, advice whenever and wherever asked he soon became more than just a helpful participant.  He was looked up to by the new faces in the room and became regarded as a “can-do” positive influence by his Program Lead and Regional Leader.

As time progressed he has developed from the model participant to the model volunteer.  Currently serving as the assistant PL for the Charlotte program Calvin spends 8-10 hours per week in support of the rapidly growing program activities including the fly tying classes at the Salisbury VA Hospital and numerous activities and outings throughout the NC Region both as a representative of his Program and the Region as a whole.

PHWFF prides itself in giving its participants the opportunity to make themselves and others around them better.  Better fisherman of course, but more importantly, better people, better friends, better spouses, and better citizens.  Calvin shows us this objective in the flesh and is infinitely deserving of the 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award for the PHWFF NC State Region.

john-boiros-at-brockton-vRyan Leclerc, New England Region
Winchendon, MA Program

In the two years we’ve been fortunate to have Ryan as a volunteer, he has rarely missed an outing or tying session. He has a strong tendency to form close bonds with the Vets he works with. He is generous with his vast knowledge and is respected by all who work with him.  Recently he asked about business cards. He said they would be a big help when he is trying to promote what PHWFF does, with clients, his TU chapter and Vets he meets at the health clinic he goes to

In his own words:  “My name is Ryan Leclerc.  Six years ago, I decided to turn my passion of fly fishing into a livelihood.  As of now I am the owner and operator of New England’s Guide Service LLC, I am also registered and licensed to guide any inland open bodies of water in New England.  “Do what you love and love what you do”  Well, I believe I did just that!  My reasoning for volunteering with the Healing Waters Project is pretty simple.  I’m doing my best to return the favor!” – Ryan S. Leclerc at New England’s Guide Service LLC.

Terry Mulvihill, Pennsylvania Region
Pittsburgh, PA Program

Terry Mulvihill has been Project Healing Waters Program Lead in Pittsburgh, PA for numerous years.  He has shown complete dedication to both Project Healing Waters and our veterans. He is involved in the future of our Program Cause.  He shows this through all he does from fly tying,planning events right down to the cooking, fund raising.  He volunteers to help judge the rod building contest without hesitation.  He’s there to help other Leads if they need assistance. His dedication is an honor for Project Healing Waters, veterans and fellow volunteers.

natl-capital-dan-soperDan Soper, National Capital Region
Quantico, VA Program

Dan has been a very active Volunteer with the PHWFF Quantico Program since 2012. He is an accomplished fly fisherman, fly tier, artist, and Volunteer. Despite his devotion to being a husband and father, and to his full-time job, he regularly manages to find time to fulfill his deep care for our Servicemen and Women and Veterans by his outstanding Volunteer leadership with the Quantico Program and dedication to PHWFF.

Dan has a great many Quantico Volunteer accomplishments, plus numerous examples of exemplary support for PHWFF. Here are just a few of his many contributions to both the Quantico and other local Programs and to PHWFF:

From the beginning of his Volunteer service, Dan has been one of the PL’s “Core Volunteers” because of his patience, persistence and skills at providing extra assistance and understanding to Participants who needed it. Regardless of a Participant’s issues, Dan has not turned down his PL’s request to go the extra mile with him or her when needed, nor has he failed to help any Participant in need. This exemplary accomplishment is perhaps more impressive since he himself has not served in the Armed Forces, a fact that most Participants find hard to believe. To Dan the Participants are his comrades the special way that Service Members and Veterans frequently relate to each other. While many Volunteers are committed and dedicated, Dan’s level of connection and service is rare and outstanding.

In describing this special quality, Dan’s PL recalled a recent outing attended by a Participant who he just couldn’t engage or draw out at all. “I picked up the Participant and he said “Good Morning” and nothing else for the two and a half hour ride to the outing location. Realizing that he needed help, I paired him with Dan for the day. At lunch, I noticed that Dan and his Participant were not there, so I headed down to the river where they were and heard talking and laughter. I yelled to them that lunch was ready and they both yelled back “we’re good.” When Dan and the Participant returned for dinner, the Participant was a different person; he was talking and engaging everyone who would listen. On the drive back he talked with me the entire time. When I dropped him off, he thanked me and gave me “a man hug.” He was a different person when I dropped him off – and it was all Dan’s achievement.”

Dan is a very accomplished fly tier who frequently leads the fly tying session at Quantico’s regular meetings. He has taught numerous Participants to tie flies. When he leads a tying session, he provides all the required materials for the attendees without asking to be reimbursed.

In his constant search for ways to support the Quantico Participants, Dan located a retired Marine who owns a fly fishing lodge and persuaded the owner to invite the Quantico Program to come for an overnight fishing outing and to give them a great rate. To make the trip possible, Dan coordinated all the logistical requirements for the overnight trip, including using his gourmet chef skills to prepare all the meals for eight people during the trip.

Dan initiated and continues to coordinate the Quantico Program’s participation in an annual weekend Sportsman’s Show. Dan organizes and schedules the Program to run a tying table, raffle, and trout pond. Dan’s initiative has allowed the Quantico Program to raise awareness, reach additional Participants, and stimulate the local community’s support for the Program. Similarly, but on a smaller scale, Dan organized and set-up a fly tying demonstration at a nearby large State Park sponsored Fly Fishing Expo, which also spread the word about PHWFF and the Quantico Program.

Dan has also used his outstanding skill as an artist to support both the Quantico and Ft. Belvoir Programs, and the National PHWFF Office. He provides custom “fishing themed” Thank You cards to both local Programs, as well as the National Headquarters. To support a North Carolina PHWFF Fishing Tournament, Dan painted and donated a beautiful piece of art that raised $700 for PHWFF in the tournament dinner auction. In addition, Dan used his extraordinary artistic skills in working with two other Quantico Volunteers to design a handsome logo for Quantico and Ft. Belvoir’s largest annual weekend outing to West Virginia. The logo was used throughout the media promotion of the event giving more consistent brand visibility for this significant PHWFF activity.

In many ways, Dan Soper is especially deserving of the National Capital Region 2015 Volunteer-of-the-Year Award.

tn-valley-vol-of-the-year-2015Mike Marshall, Tennessee Valley Region
Memphis, TN Program

Mike Marshall is a retired Doctor, Air Force Veteran and avid fly fisher who has been a PHWFF Volunteer for 5 years recently becoming PL of the Memphis VA program. His desire to help the participants in the program along with his ability to observe issues that the participants be they in fly fishing or medically related is reflected in the trust he engenders with participants within a short time.

Mike will see an issue the participant is having, discuss it with other volunteers or VA staff as appropriate to find the best resolution and work on that in his own time until he finds the optimum solution. His steady and calm demeanor is a lesson to all of the volunteers in how to interact with the participants in all manner of circumstances. I have personally seen him work with participants by taking them aside and discussing an issue after which the participants would not hesitate to approach him, this helps participants with PTSD and TBI immensely lowering their level of frustration and knowing that someone cares and understands.

The Memphis VA Program runs 3 courses a year each of which has 10 to 12 participants and lasts 16 weeks. The participants learn fly tying, rod building, and casting plus they go fishing. The program has evolved over 8 years and always has a waiting list, we work diligently to ensure that the benefits the participants receive are maximized. One of the highlights of each program is the final week where we have a graduation ceremony and the participants receive a rod they have built flies they have tied and enough equipment and accessories to ensure they can go fishing. Mike has designed flies that represent campaign ribbons and a fly representing the Memphis VA program, each Veteran receives a mounted frame with the PHWFF button and fly and a personalized frame with their appropriate campaign ribbons with matching hand tied flies. Mike buys the frames, ribbons and hand ties every fly, these frames come as a complete surprise to the participants and mean a great deal to them with many a tear shed on being given these items.

Mike is a great advocate and supporter of PHWFF in every way.

Jerry Koons, Midwest Region Indianapolis, IN Program

Jerry is one of the original-founding members of the Indianapolis program. Over the past eight years, has been instrumental in growing the program. Jerry insures that every fly tying class and outing has all the supplies and materials readily available, he is also responsible for supplying all of our beverages and food. His dedication is outstanding and a positive influence on veterans and volunteers.


Thomas Gadacz, Florida Region
Bay Pines VAMC Program

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. (PHW) was established in 2005 and Suncoast Fly Fishers(SFF), a Charter Club of the International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF) established the PHWFF program at the Bay Pines Veterans Administration Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2008 and Tom Gadacz was there.

The program at Bay Pines flourished from the very beginning.  Tom was helpful in guiding the program through the Veterans Hospital from his prior experience with the VA.  The members of SFF, Tom’s home club, have been great supporters of the Bay Pine program.  Initially, fly tying sessions were initiated, later fly casting was added and then, the final piece, fishing trips. Also a rod building program was started, with two of his VA participants winning National Awards for their rods.  Field trips were also organized to local sights and an annual fly fishing trip for all veterans in Florida was established at the Bradenton Yacht Club.

As President of the IFFF Florida Council Tom has worked tirelessly to secure large contributions and in kind donations to support the PHWFF Florida Program. Not only in 2015, but for the previous years as well.  Tom continues to actively participate in PHWFF at the Bay Pines VA and the Bradenton Yacht Club while handling the duties for the IFFF Florida council.

Tom’s background is a career in surgery.  Before his retirement, he was Professor of Surgery at Johns Hopkins and Chief of Surgery at the Baltimore VA Hospital.  After 16 years at Hopkins, he became the Chair of the Department of Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia and on the staff of the Augusta VA Medical Center.  Tom retired in 2005 to St. Petersburg, FL and became very active in fly fishing.  He has contributed to and authored many articles on fly fishing and PHWFF.   Tom continues to be very active in teaching fly fishing and casting in a local youth program and other outreach programs.

Tom’s relationship with his fellow veterans is a special one.  During his surgical residency he served two years (1966-68) in the Navy and was initially stationed at the Naval Hospital in San Diego.  Because of his surgical training, he shipped out and became the Battalion Surgeon of BLT 1/26, 9th Amphibious Brigade in Viet Nam, where he saw considerable action. Tom’s combat experience has resulted in a deeper understanding and appreciation of what our soldiers, sailors, marines and coast guardsmen have given to support the freedoms in our country and our deep obligation to support them when they return as veterans.

Ladies and Gentlemen, PHWFF Florida Region volunteer for 2015, Tom Gadacz!

nw-jay-woodburyJay Woodbury, Northwest Region

Jay Woodbury’s work is not measured with simple tools.  He does so much. As the Deputy Coordinator for Oregon and SW Washington he has done the heavy lifting and much of the communication that has allowed growth in PHWFF programs throughout the Area.

In the past year, he has organized 5 very successful BBQ fundraisers for PHWFF through area clubs who support the program in the area.  He cooks, coordinates, promotes and manages the entire operation and has raised more than $5000 that comes back to the local programs in the form of in kind donations.

He has provided meals at 6 different PHWFF outings during the year.  The cost of this service is so low as to be criminal, but it allows us to provide food and drink to participating veterans and volunteers at no cost.  The success of our program relies on this kind of support.

While not otherwise busy with work and family, Jay has been the President of the Salmon Creek Fly Fishers, a club formed by veteran participants in the local PHWFF program.  This club has grown from its birth two years ago to a very active organization that performs conservation projects and sponsors outings for club members.  Jay’s direction and leadership to this group has extended the PHWFF program into the lives of participating veterans.  Club members have become volunteers in PHWFF programs after coming into PHWFF as participating disabled veterans.

His hard work, determination and spirit have brought PHWFF in Oregon and SW Washington to a new level.  The PHWFF programs in the area have grown from three to 6 in two years.  This doubling of programs has expanded the PHWFF support to the largest population areas of Oregon and SW Washington.  Activities continue to grow with his solid support.

As the Program Lead and Oregon/SW Washington Coordinator I rely on Jay for the steady and consistent support that has made it possible for programs in the area to multiply and grow.  He does his best to keep me on track and ahead of the next dilemma.  He deserves this recognition and much more for all that he has done.” – Jerry Lorang Oregon/SW Washington Program Lead

jim-gilmartinJim Gilmartin, New York/ New Jersey Region
Northport, NY Program

Jim Gilmartin is an Air Force Vietnam veteran and a certified FFF casting instructor. He was an instructor at the Nissequogue River fly fishing school for many years, where he taught both fly fishing, casting and tying. Jim is an extremely knowledgeable fly tier for fresh and salt water patterns.and is the fly tying instructor for the program and has served as such for the last three years. He has generously contributed his personal tools and materials to the program in order to facilitate the needs of the tying instruction. His consistent and reliable participation has contributed greatly to the success of the Northport program. He is a natural teacher and has a great personal rapport with the veterans. He is always available to the participants for both fly fishing and tying information and personal counseling.

southwest-volunteer-of-the-year-2015Joe Ritcher, Southwest Region
Long Beach, CA Program

The 2015 Southwest Region Volunteer-of-the-Year is Joe Richter.  Joe started volunteering for the Long Beach program of PHWFF in 2007.   At the time, our group had two paraplegics and Joe, along with another volunteer, spent many hours of one-on-one instruction with those two veterans.  Being very skilled  with tools, Joe built a “casting platform” to put under each wheelchair to insure that the wheelchair did not roll into our casting pond.   When one of those paraplegics was offered a Rivers of Recovery trip to Utah, Joe went along, at his own expense, to make sure things went smoothly for him.

Joe is an excellent casting instructor and has taught saltwater fly tying, but he really stands out in advanced rod building techniques.   He taught himself how to build rods and then learned all sorts of embellishments, particularly weaving and custom grips, both of which he has taken to a much, much higher level.  He became friends with the master of weaving, Doc Ski, and invited him to our classes.  Doc now comes to all our weekly rod building classes and has taught many advanced skills.  In return, Joe has built two light systems and a carrying system for Doc’s power wrapper.

Joe has also become friends with another custom rod maker, Terry Henson, and brought him to class several times to show custom rod finishes and teach custom grips.  Joe has built several rod stands for Terry so that he can display his custom rods – up to 20 at a time – and also some cork clamps that Terry has found very useful.

Joe has put together and kept an inventory of our advanced rod building supplies and has taught one-on-one lessons in his home to multiple vets on many occasions.  He has mentored our more advanced rod builders and overseen the construction of custom rods built for raffles or auctions that have brought in as much as $1000 each.  In 2015 alone, he contributed over 800 hours for classes, private sessions in his home and work on custom rods.  He has built rod wrappers with thread tensioners and a light system, at eight hours each, for at least nine of the vets.

Joe is one of those tireless people who can figure out anything, build anything, learn anything, always with a cheerful, can-do attitude.   He has helped to really raise the level of achievement and pride in one’s work at Long Beach PHWFF.   When given the choice of any rod in the TFO catalog, Joe chose a blank.

bill-campbell-picBill Campbell, Virginia Region
Portsmouth, VA Program

Bill Campbell has been a volunteer for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing since June 2013.  He volunteered to do “anything he could to help” during a phone call that was his initial introduction to the organization.

He went to work immediately as the Assistant Program Lead to Jim O’Brien and took over as Program Lead in January 2014 when Jim moved on to become Deputy Regional Coordinator of the Virginia Region.  During Bill’s tenure as Program Lead he has consistently worked to build a strong foundation for his Participants and Volunteers and stress the importance of continuous learning in the sport of fly fishing.  Efforts to further these goals have included:

· Securing the sponsorship of the Bill Wills Southeast Virginia Trout Unlimited Chapter.  Bill and many of his Program Volunteers are member of this TU Chapter and it’s been a wonderful resource to draw talent from in their immediate area.

· Transferring the meeting location of his routine Program meetings from Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth VA to a more central location in Norfolk VA that eliminates access problems for non-military Volunteers and Participants and locates the Program closer to other Military facilities such as NOB Norfolk, NAB Little Creek Virginia Beach, and Fort Story in Virginia Beach.

· Encouraging Volunteers and Participants to get involved in continuous training efforts on multiple subjects that enhance and mature their fishing skills.  Lesson plans for basic knot tying have been developed and the Program has its own fly tying pattern book that’s constantly being updated by Program members.

Bill believes strongly that if you create an environment where all participants are given the resources and opportunities to succeed, everyone benefits and the “Leader” looks good.  This principle is no more evident than in his choice as Volunteer of the Year.  When told he was receiving this award, his first response was “It’s easy to look good when you’ve got the great group of Guys and Gals I have”.

Matt Bonner, The Heartland Region
Leavenworth, KS Program










wv-paul-wilsonPaul Wilson, West Virginia Region
Martinsburg, WV Program

Paul is a retired Marine and has been in the position of Program Lead since 2012, when the program was started. Paul is in a unique situation whereas he is not only working with the disabled veterans out-patients but as well as in-patients at the Veterans Hospital. I believe it takes a certain and true dedication to working with the in-patients, the various disabilities and concerns involved as well as working with the Hospital Administration which have totally supported his efforts.

Paul has received several outstanding letters and e-mails from the Hospital’s Physical Therapist on his outstanding achievements with the patients day outings along with his total involvement.  Paul also writes a column for the Winchester, Virginia Trout Unlimited on a monthly basis, keeping it members abreast of the activities and efforts of PHWFF.

Paul Wilson is a true asset to the West Virginia Region and to Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and deserving of this recognition.