Larry Gardner, president of the Fremont Pigeon Club, shows off one of the fancy-breed birds he has nurtured.
BELLEVUE, Ohio - Larry Gardner didn't even know what a fancy pigeon was when he started catching the plain old pesky ones in the barn at his family's farm.
He was just 11 when a neighbor boy introduced him to the fancier breeds that he would eventually raise, breed, and take to pigeon shows. At 73, he still has about 100 birds in specially built pens in his backyard and he still judges fancy varieties at shows.
"It's just fun," Mr. Gardner said of his longtime hobby. "You meet a lot of people. You make a lot of good friendships."
As president of the Fremont Pigeon Club, which is holding its semiannual show at the Sandusky County fairgrounds Saturday, Mr. Gardner is trying to stir up interest among younger people to help keep the hobby alive in northwest Ohio and sustain one of the last fancy pigeon clubs in the state.
"Being the oldest member of the club, it is a concern of mine," Mr. Gardner said. "That's why I and all of our club members are willing to help younger people get started and get quality birds."
The club, which has about 30 members, is inviting anyone - young or old - who might be interested in pigeon keeping to come to the show, which runs from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the flower building at the fairgrounds on Rawson Avenue in Fremont. Admission and parking are free.
"Most of the guys would go out of their way to start somebody, whether it's giving them birds or giving them help," said club member Jim Feasel.
Mr. Feasel recalled it was his friend's grandfather who got him interested. When the man became ill, he asked the youngster if he wanted some of his birds.
"I went home and asked my Dad, and he said, 'Maybe it will keep the kid out of trouble,'" Mr. Feasel recalled.
He became hooked and still keeps about 200 fancy pigeons at his home near Green Springs.
"I would like to see more kids get involved," Mr. Feasel said. "I think it more or less teaches responsibility. You've got something alive that needs to be fed and watered every day and needs to be looked after."
At his home north of Bellevue, Mr. Gardner keeps several fancy breeds, including his wife Ruth's favorite, turbits, which have particularly short beaks. He seems to favor his pygmy pouters, which are noted for their long, slender legs and their ability to puff up with air in their chest.
He admits he gets attached to his pigeons, although he doesn't name them.
"When our children were at home, they used to name every bird, but then they didn't want you to get rid of them," Mr. Gardner recalled with a laugh.
Although their children did not grow up to be pigeon breeders, Mrs. Gardner said she thinks the hobby is good for kids because of the pride they feel from raising quality pigeons and showing them at competitions.
"When you can have them in a group and they meet other ones who are interested, it's good," she said. "You can feel it in the kids."
Both Mr. Gardner and Mr. Feasel said they have friends across the country and the world because of their hobby.
Recently retired, Mr. Feasel said whenever he traveled for work, he would consult his pigeon breeders handbook to see whether there was a fellow pigeon fancier in whatever town he was staying in. If there was, he'd give that person a call.
"Even if he didn't raise a breed I like, pigeon guys are pigeon guys," he said. "I was never turned away, and I usually got a dinner invitation out of it."
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