Open hearts, open doors: From Georgia to Colville

Hunters during deer hunting season, or any other hunting season for that matter, hardly garner more than a glance from passersby on the street or in a store or restaurant in Stevens County. It’s business as usual in one of the most verdant and popular hunting regions in the Northwest. So not very many people may have paid much attention to a middle-aged man making his way around Colville and Loon Lake with a 16-year-old boy in tow, both dressed in warm clothing and hunting apparel. The pair was Ben Baker and his son, Jesse, who had journeyed all the way from Ashburn, Georgia so Jesse could hunt the elusive White Tail deer. So why come so far? Diagnosed with Down Syndrome as an infant, Jesse had never been outside of his home state before. He has hunted his whole life with his father and wanted to try his hand at harvesting a White Tail buck. But with costs for transportation, lodging, meals and the proper Washington State hunting licenses, it was easier to dream the hunt. Ben and Jesse’s community held fund-raisers to help with the travel expenses when it just so happened that Colville resident Chris Van Kempen came across an article online from The Wiregrass Farmer Newspaper, where Ben is editor. ‘I would like to shoot a big deer…’ Van Kempen contacted Ben and said he would like to help raise money for Ben and Jesse’s trip. With the help of folks in Colville and neighboring communities, Van Kempen was able to raise around $1,500 for the outing. He also donated a guided hunt to the prospective guests. “They are awesome people,” Van Kempen says of Jesse and Ben. “I think our community needs to do more of that; getting the youth and the disabled in the great outdoors so they can enjoy it.” Ben says there are deer in Georgia, but they are miniature, don’t yield much meat and their antlers are smaller than either a White Tail or Mule deer. “It’s fun,” Jesse says of his trip to Colville and the surrounding areas. “I would like to shoot a big deer.” The father and son team spotted over 50 deer during their weeklong stay recently, but unfortunately, they were not able to shoot one (Washington State law requires that harvested White Tail bucks have a minimum of four-point antlers in order to harvest). The lack of a kill did nothing to diminish Jesse’s spirits though. As long as the pair was outside and not hunting, Jesse would pelt his father with snow (something they don’t see in southern Georgia, acknowledges Ben). Besides the opportunity for some father and son bonding, complete with snowball fights, Ben says one of the best aspects of their stay in Stevens County has been the people that live here. “Southern hospitality hasn’t got anything on you folks,” says Ben. “People have been wonderful to us (see Letter to the Editor from Ben in this week’s S-E).” Ben adds that he and Jesse hope to come back some day and bring Jesse’s younger sister, Susan, who wants to hunt a bear. “Jesse has really loved this,” Ben states. “Being outside, being able to take time off from school to have this once in a lifetime experience has just been great. We’re very thankful and we won’t forget it.”