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'Judge Pete's' energy an everlasting force
Tulsa NWTF Chapter founder is gone but leaves a lasting outdoors legacy
If you’ve recently felt a little extra boost behind your passion for wildlife conservation, for wild turkeys or duck hunting or fishing, or that project that’s been lingering, seize it!
Hold on to it and keep it going.
I do believe it’s coming from a divine source.
The Honorable J. Peter Messler passed away June 30 after kicking cancer’s butt around the block more times than any could count the past couple of decades, double lung transplant and all. If cancer were a boxer this column would be about how no one thought that, despite repeatedly getting back up off the mat, most thought it would never actually beat ol’ Pete.
Mostly, I believe, Pete Messler beat the heck out of it because he possessed energy and tenacity that came from a sheer God-given will to never give up and to just get things done.
We all meet people in our lives that seem imbued with endless, infectious energy. It is tangible when you are in their presence. They are the ones who say, “let’s do this,” and you find yourself getting it done even though it’s something you never would have thought of doing in a million years. Pete possessed that quality in spades.
Damn my feeble brain for not recalling the exact dialogue, but when I had the fun of standing between “Judge Pete” Messler and his buddy the late Hall-of-Fame archer Jim Daugherty all I remember is a lot of laughing.
That, and one damned good wing shot by Daugherty! But that’s another story.
The occasion was an afternoon duck hunt in 2011 with a great friend and guide Jack Morris. I chuckled with my wife later about the two elder outdoors statesmen putting off so much energy while literally laughing in death’s face. Cancer visited both men so it naturally became a victim of their maudlin senses of humor.
Two men in their 70s and their energy and spirit outshined the bunch of us, most of us 20 or more years their juniors. Messler remarked at the time that Daugherty carried his gun for him on his first turkey hunt after his lung transplant and, now that Daugherty was having a tough time, it was his luck to be able to return the favor.
Daugherty stepped into history in 2015.
Early Thursday evening, during a meeting of the NatureWorks board of directors, Morris encouraged folks to stop by and see Pete soon if they had the chance. An hour later, as we stood outside taking photos in front of a giant bronze bison bull, Morris raised his hand to let us all know Pete was gone.
The bull is destined to lead a herd of 40 larger-than-life bison bulls, cows, and calves in the Tulsa Herd Grand Monument, now under construction off Yale Ave.
The work of wildlife awareness rolls on.
I imagine about the time we hung our heads and mourned, Pete was bumping into a lot of old friends at the Pearly Gates and, among them, Daugherty likely looking at him askance, but in a friendly way.
He would say something like, “well, it’s about damned time you showed up.”
I could imagine a gentle jab with an accusation Messler simply stalled so his good buddy could do all the work of scouting out all the best hunting and fishing spots before he arrived.
It is both impossible and incredibly simple to describe Pete Messler to folks who don’t know who he was.
The list of introduction points is long. If you are old enough, you knew him as “Judge Pete” in the Trails End columns Daugherty penned for the back page of Peterson’s Bowhunting magazine for 20-plus years.
Maybe you knew him as a founding member of the National Wild Turkey Federation chapter in Tulsa. A lot probably met him as a Tulsa County special district judge—whether they wanted to or not. Or, maybe he was on your side as an attorney with Drummond Law. He coached kid’s hockey and baseball. He and his father invented several fishing devices, including a bass fishing hook produced by Eagle Claw. He was a batboy for the Tulsa Oilers when he was a kid.
He was an early member of NatureWorks and left his mark as art show director for several years. The banquet that honored His Honor with the Wildlife Stewardship Award in 2018 was the most enjoyable I can remember—from Roland Martin’s remote video check-in to Michael Wallis’ rousing tale about one James Messler, a sheriff’s deputy in Fort Smith, Ark., and great-great-grandfather of the Cherokee Nation member.
A giant bronze polar bear stands in memory of his contributions to conservation in front of the Tulsa County Courthouse downtown.
The introduction points are many; the stories behind Pete Messler are rich and endless.
“I could go on about this stuff for hours,” Pete once told me.
And he did.
And I enjoyed every minute of it.
Messler shared one story about how a pair of quail hunters once confronted him after he told a group how he had rescued a red-tailed hawk and released it back to the wild. He said the men told him hawks are responsible for killing more quail than anything and asked why on earth he would help such a predator.
“Our creator put all the wildlife here for us, and it’s up to take care of it.”
The stories went on and on and the energy built with each telling.
The man loved life. There was just too much “let’s go” in Pete for it to vanish from our atmosphere. It’s still out there, and if you feel a piece of it, grab hold, get going, and you’re going to have some great stories to tell.
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