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Manorville man gives children gift of fishing

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 11:40 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Trib Total Media
Dale Ortmann shown in April working on a fishing reel he would give to a child after repairs were finished. The Manorville man has fixed up and given away hundreds of rods and reels to needy children. Ortmann's charitable work earned him a $50,000 award and an appearance on NBC's 'Today' last year.

Dale Ortmann is hooked on sharing his love of fishing with children in and around Armstrong County.

The 39-year-old Manorville resident started giving away fishing rods about a year ago. Last week, he gave away his 150th rod.

According to Ortmann and his wife, Shannon, 33, the endeavor was inspired by her grandfather, James H. Swarts of West Leechburg.

Before he passed away last year at 87, Swarts gave Ortmann more than two-dozen fishing poles. Those, combined with Ortmann's own collection, inspired him to give back.

“He told us to keep what you want, give away the rest,” Shannon said. “And that's what we did.”

The couple had spent plenty of time fishing with Swarts along the Allegheny River in Manorville.

“He was a great man,” Ortmann said. “I had great respect for him. He kind of rubbed off on me.”

He thinks that Swarts would appreciate his efforts.

“That's what I'm hoping,” Ortmann said. “He was a charter member of the Allegheny Township Lions Club. He was always helping out, and I figured, where else should the fishing rods go, instead of sitting in my garage and doing nothing?”

Though Ortmann started with a cache of rods and reels from Swarts' and his own collection, by the time he gave all of those away, he had more.

Friends, neighbors and strangers started dropping off fishing rods and tackle on his front porch. And they still do.

A week ago, someone left 15 poles and three tackle boxes at the Ortmann house.

“We don't know where they came from, but we're grateful,” Shannon said.

Ortmann takes fishing rods and reels in just about any shape. He estimates that a quarter of those he receives need repairs. He fixes them up from his front porch, which now doubles as a workshop.

Ortmann puts new fishing line on all the rods, greases them up with WD-40 and tests them out. That way, he's giving away a fishing rod that he knows is ready for action.

“You don't want them to catch a big fish and have the line snap because you have old string on,” he said.

If there's a problem with a rod or reel that he can't identify, he takes to the Internet. Researching there, usually with Youtube, helps him to find out what to do.

Fixing the rods and reels usually comes easy to Ortmann, however. Trained as a draftsman, he often is able to see how the pieces should go together “like a puzzle.”

For as much as he enjoys piecing donated rods back together, it's other, more personal connections, that resonate with Ortmann and his wife.

The couple, who have no children, take pride in showing children how to fish. That includes everything from how to tie a hook, reel in a fish or even how to stay safe on the river.

Ortmann not only gives the rods to children, he'll often give their parents a rod, too, so they can fish together. Many of the children in the area, he said, are disadvantaged, so they may not be able to afford a fishing pole.

“Some of my favorite childhood memories growing up are when I was fishing,” Ortmann said. “It takes you places. It's always a change of scenery.”

Ortmann would have never imagined his endeavor would catch on like it did.

“I had no clue,” he said. “I thought I'd be giving away about 12, but after awhile, people just started dropping them off, and more people came to pick them up.”

Theresa Peat, 45, of Ford Cliff shares Ortmann's love of fishing. And with his help, she's able to share that love with her own children.

Ortmann has given rods to Peat's children, Jozie, 12, twins, Tanner and Lane, 10, and James, 8.

“We have so many kids that come around, and they don't have fishing poles,” she said.

She likes the fact that Ortmann is helping children, instilling in them knowledge of fishing and water safety before they are teens.

“That's very special to him,” she said. “And the kids love him to death.”

Julie Martin is a freelance writer with Trib Total Media.

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