Puyallup's Jeff Mason just retired from 7-Eleven, where he worked as a market manager for 34 years. Rich on time, Jeff wanted to find a meaningful project to get involved in. So he came up with Fish'n Trips For Heroes.
"To take Wounded Warriors in the Warrior Transition Battalion, over at JBLM, out on one-on-one fishing trips in the Northwest," Jeff told me. "Give them the time and focus to just relax and not be in a guide boat with five other people, kind of elbow to elbow. Take them down the river, prepare a hot lunch for them, take a son or daughter or spouse along, if they want, and hopefully catch some fish too."
He got his fishing guide license, applied to be an official non-profit, and spent about $25,000 on fishing equipment and a special boat that can accommodate a wheelchair. But then, this past Friday, the boat was stolen.
"This is so frustrating. The boat was sitting in the driveway, locked up. I left Friday morning about 8:30 to go to the local grade school where I volunteer with first grade readers. It was a short day so I came back at 10:30. So sometime between 8:30 and 10:30 somebody pulled in and made off with the boat."
Even more frustrating, a neighbor saw the boat being stolen but had no idea.
"A new neighbor, who had just literally moved in about a month ago, was leaving his home. Pulled out of his driveway behind the bad guy pulling the boat. He didn't know anything about it, of course. I later found out, he said, 'Man, I was admiring that boat. I followed it up the street.' Then he heard from his neighbor what had taken place. He said, 'Oh my God, I followed that boat out of the neighborhood.'"
But luckily, that provided Jeff with a description of the thief's truck.
"The vehicle description is a Black Ford or Chevy half-ton, four door. It has a brown or tan stripe on the lower part of the vehicle. It was last seen heading north on Woodlawn Ave. on Friday morning."
Here's what Jeff's boat looks like:
"The boat is a 20 foot North River. It has big, black letters on the side that say North River. The top half is white and the bottom is a polished aluminum. A Yamaha 8 horse power motor on the stern."
Luckily, the boat was insured because police say the chances of Jeff getting the boat back are slim to none.
"[The police] came right out and took a report. Talking to the officer, he talked about his own experience of finding boats while doing his job. It's less than a 50/50 chance that it will ever be found again."
But Jeff's story has made its way across the country and he has been shocked by the calls he's received.
"This is the part that's cool. It's easy to focus on the rodent who did this, right? Yesterday I got two phone calls from veterans themselves, offering to give me their boats. Now, the type of fishing I do requires a specific type of boat. But the part that is so cool, these guys didn't even hesitate."
Jeff says he still plans to go forward with Fish'n Trips but it will take some time to get reestablished. He's determined to do something special for the veterans.
"You know, I've got friends that have battled breast cancer. I have a friend who suddenly lost the use of his legs for some freak medical condition. Then you have the Philippines. This is small potatoes. But, damn it, this is for our veterans, this is for our Wounded Warriors. The guy who did this, or whomever, yeah, they took my boat but they took away from these guys."
Email Jeff if you have any tips about the stolen boat: Fishing.JeffMason@GMail.com
Also, Jeff will be selling Christmas trees and wreaths and all the money will go towards Fish'n Trips For Heroes. His lot will be located at the intersection of Meridian and 152nd Street on the south hill of Puyallup, starting Friday Nov. 29th. He's also offering free tree delivery in the Puyallup/South Hill area.