Uncle Jake’s Tradition

John Rittel grew up in a time when children had more freedom to wander and explore. “Sugar Creek was semi-rural at the time. I grew up roaming along the Missouri River and stalking the local wildlife,” he says. John’s parents were not outdoor people, but he found a mentor in his Uncle Jake.

Uncle Jake had no children of his own, but he was a dedicated hunter and angler. “It wasn’t just a sport to him, it provided the means to bring food home for his family,” says John. “He didn’t have to take me with him, he probably could have been even more successful if he hadn’t let me tag along, but he did.”

John’s favorite memory is the time his uncle taught him how to set limb lines for catfish, baiting the lines with John’s hard-won bluegill. Another time, they cleaned a large flathead catfish and discovered a rapidly decomposing mallard drake in its gut. “That’s the stuff young boys’ dreams are made of,” says John. “I was fascinated, and I was hooked.”

Uncle Jake was one of the first deer hunters in Missouri the year MDC reopened deer season. He kept a journal throughout his life filled with detailed calendar entries that described each hunting or fishing experience with those he mentored.

These childhood experiences began an outdoor tradition in the Rittel family that continues to flourish today. Although Uncle Jake died a couple of years ago, his legacy is very much alive.

Meet the Family

Allow me to introduce you to this amazing family. In 2008, John’s son, Alex, completed the Missouri Department of Conservation’s volunteer training. He was one of the first youth volunteers at Burr Oak Woods Nature Center in Blue Springs. Many of the adult volunteers were skeptical at first about having teenagers join their ranks, but, after working with them, all agree that it is a special treat to work side by side with these passionate and enthusiastic youth.

Since becoming a volunteer, Alex has contributed more than 743 hours to the Missouri Department of Conservation. His favorite activity is the Burr Oak Woods Outdoor Skills Camp because he sees the program involving so many kids in a wide variety of outdoor activities.

In 2010, Alex’s little sister, Andi, wanted to become a volunteer. Many older brothers would have discouraged her participation, but Alex was thrilled to have his sister join the team.