You could say that the late Wally O'Dowd was a piece of work, a masterpiece actually, considering his memorial gift to the sportsmen and sportswomen of Ohio.
For O'Dowd, who died in 2007 at 76, left a nearly $4.6 million bequest to the Ohio Division of Wildlife to buy some good hunting land in southeast Ohio to be used in perpetuity by the public.
The result is the 6,694-acre Wallace H. O'Dowd State Wildlife Area straddling the Hocking-
Athens county line in southeast Ohio.
"If you saw Wally in a gunshop or sporting goods store, or at the corner gas station, he looked like the average Joe Sixpack," said Jeff Taylor of Atlanta, a long-time O'Dowd business associate and fellow sportsman."He drove a 15-year-old truck."
Yet O'Dowd was a globe-trotting hunter and angler from central Ohio who saw every
continent except Antarctica.
The southeast corner of the Buckeye State, however, was his outdoors home. Upland game birds - woodcock and ruffed grouse - were his passion and the woods and briar tangles of the hill country southeast of Lancaster were the stage.
A Korean War veteran, he built a successful sales career and founded his own manufacturing business, Capital Polybag, Inc., which he ran until retiring long before his death.
"The highlight of Wally's business day was getting a Cabela's catalog at the office," said Taylor. "Don't get me wrong, he was a shrewd businessman. [But] he was as honest as they come.
"The night he told me about this [the plan for the gift], his eyes watered over. He wanted to make a statement to the hunters and fishermen of Ohio. He loved the DNR, and he didn't think there was enough land [for public hunting]."
Jill King-O'Dowd, his wife for 14 years, added that "Wallace was a tremendous sportsman who hunted all over the globe but always came back to southeastern Ohio to hunt grouse and woodcock." She accompanied him to Africa and Scotland hunting.
"He was a very generous man who wanted to leave a legacy for all those who shared his passion and love for the sport. He also hoped he would encourage others to 'pay forward.' He was a real tough old bird on the outside. He was a brusque businessman, a go-getter. But he was very, very soft on the inside and that's the side of him I knew."
Said Dave Graham, chief of the wildlife division: "It's hard to put into words how much it means. What a great legacy." He noted that the quest to fulfill O'Dowd's wishes spanned the watches of three chiefs, including his, Steve Gray's, and Mike Budzik's. It was Budzik, Graham said, who set the stage.
"Wally was special, no doubt about it," said Budzik. "We met at a wild game dinner in Columbus, just after I became chief." At the table, grouse came up, so did dogs [English setters], and hunting.
"Wally started asking lots of questions - he wanted to know about land acquisition." Later Budzik got call from an attorney whose client wanted to donate maybe $5 million to $8 million for land for public hunting. It turned out to be none other than Wally.
"He was a good, good sportsman," said Budzik. "But he wanted no publicity while he was living."
Just what O'Dowd gave the state was a choice piece of rugged hill country on the Hocking-Athens county line next to a stretch of the Wayne National Forest. The purchase came to 3,632 acres from a long-time wildlife division partner, the Sunday Creek Coal Company in Nelsonville.
Randy Miller, assistant chief of wildlife, said that the transaction was completed on Sept. 15. "This was the single-largest gift ever received by the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife." The division also contributed an additional $560,326 toward the purchase to pay for a few of the acres, closing costs, pro-rated taxes, recording fees, and related costs.
The division now will combine the Wallace H. O'Dowd State Wildlife Area with the adjacent 3,062-acre Trimble State Wildlife Area to create the 6,694-acre Wallace H. O'Dowd Wildlife Area. It will be the sixth largest wildlife area in Ohio.
"The land is open to the public for hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife related recreation in perpetuity," said Miller.
O'Dowd was so serious about locking up land for future outdoors pursuits that he lifted language from the Ohio Revised Code and placed it in his bequest to assure the acreage would be locked up forever. A dedication is slated for spring of 2010.
The largest previous gift was $3 million for the Crown City State Wildlife Area in Lawrence County, from the Mellon Foundation.
After O'Dowd died, the division began searching for an appropriate parcel in conjunction with Jill.
"They looked at a number of tracts but none had the topography or lay of land that this one had," said James P. Kennedy, chief executive officer of Sunday Creek.
Division personnel and Jill O'Dowd did two flyovers, liked what they saw, had the land appraised, and offered fair market value. Over the years Sunday Creek has been liquidating some of its 25,000 acres, much of it to state and federal agencies.
The rugged terrain, near Murray City, includes stands of red oak and white oak hardwoods and pine plantations on reclaimed areas, Kennedy said. It even includes remnants of an old mining town for underground mines, which were mined out and shut years ago.
"It is full of grouse, turkey, and deer," said Kennedy.
O'Dowd's beloved grouse, he added, "are abundant, but hard to hit. There may be a bear, but I've never seen one."
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