December 2011

Who We Are
index.html Home    Print    Email

Go to
Retiree's Niche is Helping Wounded Veterans

Leroy Shull, a 40-year journeyman wireman who retired on disability in 2003, expected to do a whole lot more fishing since he had put away his tools. But never could the Kansas City, Mo., Local 124 member have imagined that sharing his passion for the rod and reel would help save the lives of veterans, some young enough to be his sons.

"Leroy's a very patriotic person with a huge compassion for people serving our country," says his wife, Barb Shull. She wasn't surprised when her husband volunteered to help with Fishing for Freedom, an annual local bass tournament that links supportive anglers with veterans, most of whom have been wounded in action. The tournament is also opened to other veterans who have served multiple deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two years ago, at the first tournament Shull attended on Truman Reservoir in Warsaw, 100 miles southeast of Kansas City, 33 wounded veterans showed up. They were provided with meals, hotel accommodations and fishing equipment, but—most of all—comradeship. Paired the night before the tournament with a 28-year-old veteran, Shull felt his retirement being transformed as he connected with the young warrior's story.

Shull says, "I found my niche in life. This is my heart. My own kids are grown. Now, these soldiers are my kids."

Today, Shull works full-time as a planning committee member of Fishing for Freedom, raising funds, seeking out sponsors to donate lodging, food, trophies, fishing equipment and pitching the effort to dozens of groups, including many union locals. The 2010 tournament grew to 91 veterans. More than 140 wounded veterans were expected to participate in this year's tournament on Columbus Day weekend. However, just before the event, a prospective participant who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, took his own life. Thirty vets stayed home in mourning. "Hopefully," says Shull, this year's event helped to save another vet's life.

"Tournaments start off with tanks full of gas and smiles on their [veterans'] faces," says Shull. "When we come back in to weigh the fish and give out trophies, they are still smiling. The volunteers get as much out of this as the soldiers. It's the greatest thing in the world."

Matt Marvets, Shull's 2009 fishing partner, an Army infantryman wounded in Iraq, first heard about Fishing for Freedom at Fort Riley, Kan. Marvets, who suffers from PTSD, was once an avid fisherman and hunter. Now, he spends most of his time indoors. "I've been through thick and thin and have a hard time talking to people," he says.

But, talking to Shull the night before their first tournament, Marvets found a friend and a father figure. "I think he's one of the best men in the world," says Marvets, who joined Shull for his third tournament this year and speaks with him about once a week by phone.

A veteran's letter to a volunteer posted on the Fishing for Freedom Web site says, "Did you know the whole time I was with [Shull] in that boat and at the barbeque I did not have to take any of my anxiety medication? Hanging out with you put me at ease and I have learned to take that ease and use it for everyday life."

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Larry Stoafer, a member of the Leavenworth Bass Club, founded the Kansas tournament after following the success of a similar contest organized by some friends in Texas. He met Shull in 2009. Stoafer says, "Leroy's kind of a big, gruff guy on the exterior. But he has unbelievable passion. When he believes in something, he's all in. He's like a pit bull when he's assigned a task. He latches on. He knocks on doors and talks to a ton of people."

Barb Shull, who also serves on the planning committee, says that Leroy had no previous experience speaking before groups outside of his crews on the job. "He speaks from his heart," she says. "It just comes very natural, somewhat of a gift."

Local 124 Business Manager Terral Akins remembers Shull first approaching the local for support. "We committed money the first year, but the amount wasn't large," says Akins, president of the local Building and Construction Trades Council.

The success of the tournament turned heads. Local 124 and the IBEW-National Electrical Contractors Association Labor Management Cooperation Committee's marketing effort, Power Partners, decided to step up its support. And Akins invited Shull to do a presentation to building trades leaders.

"The support was huge this year," says Akins. Shull's work has been featured on a local TV segment called "Pay it Forward" and in the newsletter of the Union Sportsmen's Alliance.

Akins says Shull carries his union values into his work, helping Stoafer and the planning committee keep the effort focused on veterans, not the public relations agenda of some would-be corporate sponsors.

"We're really proud of Leroy," says Akins. "Here's a guy who postponed his own back surgery to plan this year's tournament."

Currently recovering from spinal cord surgery, Shull says his participation is driven, in part, by hearing about returning veterans tortured by wars' demons who turn to alcohol, drugs and suicide.

"We sometimes forget that these men and women protect our precious freedom. We need to show appreciation for their sacrifices," says Shull.

Leroy Shull said he would appreciate speaking to other members about launching or participating in fishing tournaments to help wounded veterans. He can be reached by e-mail at onfish2@ Visit Fishing for Freedom at

Retired Kansas City electrician Leroy Shull, right, has formed a deep friendship with Matt Marvets, a wounded Iraq war veteran he met at a tournament sponsored by Fishing for Freedom.