Alumni Profile • Vern Edewaard '56
The call of the wild

Vern EdewaardAfrica. Vern Edewaard '56 loves the continent, its people and its wildlife. He's made more than two dozen trips there, many of them as a past president of Safari Club International, an organization that promotes responsible, ethical hunting and wildlife conservation.

In South Africa, Edewaard has worked with the national government, a native homeland and the parks department to establish a benevolent game ranch. In order to keep animal populations healthy and balanced, directors at national wildlife parks routinely cull their herds. Rather than simply killing the animals, staff at the South African park now take the culled animals to the adjoining homeland, where hunters are welcomed. Hunters' fees, shared with the park and tribal village, have paid for a medical clinic and park improvements.

On one of Edewaard's trips to South Africa, a local outfitter mentioned to Vern that someday he would like to take American kids into the bush. Edewaard heard in that suggestion divine prompting. "My wife, Carol, and I took for granted it was God's call," Edewaard said.

Back home he and Carol called school counselors, asking them to recommend 14-year-old boys who would likely never have such an opportunity to travel. He then got on the phone to Safari Club members around the world.

Within a year the Edewaards were back in Africa with 10 boys from the Holland, Mich., area. They took them on game drives, on boat rides in river estuaries, to cultural centers to meet native artisans and to medical clinics. On every one of their trips there, the Edewaards have taken bags of donated medical supplies and clothing. Not only were the boys with them astounded by the sight of giraffes and rhinos, Vern said, they were equally surprised to see kids living so differently and with much less than they. "One of our boys took his T-shirt off in the field and gave it to an African boy. They wanted to give."

After eight years, the Edewaards felt the demands of these trips becoming too great for them. Their efforts now center on taking eight to 10 mentally and/or physically disabled hunters each year to a deer ranch near Baldwin, Mich. When Vern asks, companies and individuals help him help men and women, young and not so young, do what they thought impossible.

For example, two years ago, Vern read a newspaper article about two Iraq war veterans who, because of war injuries, thought they would never hunt again. The following fall, with Vern's help, both bagged a buck.

These days, when he wants to help others respect and appreciate animals in the wild, Vern Edewaard has only to step outside his front door. On the 120 acres adjoining their home, he and Carol have, with help, established the nonprofit Outdoor Discovery Center. Over 18,000 children this year, led by a guide, will learn about the deer, elk, bald eagles and scores of other species that roam the land.

"Some of these kids have never been in the woods before," Vern said. "I get as excited as they do, just watching them."