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Frye: Bear man heads off to retirement

| Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

You know the deal with Superman and Clark Kent, right?

No one ever saw them together. But wherever one was, the other was sure to be.

It used to drive Lois Lane crazy.

That's sort of how it was with Joe Stefko and black bears. If you were a teacher, a scout, a student, a youngster at a youth field day, a female at a Women in the Outdoors class and you saw one, you saw the other, too.

Stefko was the Pennsylvania Game Commission's first wildlife education supervisor. Based in the southwest region, he did all manner of outreach programs to connect people — many of them non-hunters — with wildlife. Black bear programs were a speciality.

But no more.

Stefko retired from the commission Jan. 3, ending a career that spanned nearly three decades.

“There comes a time in one's life journey that is marked by a crossroads, and I have reached that place,” Stefko said. “I have been indeed fortunate to have enjoyed a career that most people would have loved to have pursued.”

Health issues played a part in his decision, he said, noting that he had triple bypass surgery two years ago. But he's otherwise going out on top, having set records for personal involvement in programs in 2013.

“I don't know of anyone in the agency who has put more time and effort into teaching kids about the outdoors,” said Tom Fazi, information and education supervisor in the commission's southwest region office and a coworker 22 years.

Over the years, Stefko became known for working with students at Cal (Pa.) interested in wildlife and fisheries careers. That involved internships but also the school's wild game dinner and firearms classes, where non-shooting students were introduced to guns and hunting.

“Time was never an issue for Joe. He would work with the students seven days a week, from sun up to well past sun down on some days. He was a consummate professional and a great friend,” said David Argent, chairman of the biological and environmental sciences department. “We will sorely miss him.”

The commission plans to fill Stefko's job from within the ranks of its wildlife conservation officers, spokesman Travis Lau said.

But given that he “defined the duties and expectations” of being a wildlife education supervisor, “he will be hard to replace,” agency region director Pat Anderson said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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