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Families gather at Dolphin Lake on Saturday for annual McDowell Fishing Derby

Leila Kahn of Aurora and her fishing partner, Noelle Wick of Glen Ellen, watched with anticipation as Susan Murphy, a Homewood-Flossmoor Park District volunteer, measured the fish they caught in Dolphin Lake on Saturday.

The girls were visiting Tom Konieczny of Homewood, who takes them to the William McDowell Fishing Derby every year, according to Noelle’s mom, Megan Wick. 

“Their grandpa fishes all the time,” she said.

After Murphy announced the result, 13 1/4 inches, the girls danced away, then returned to the lake to try for another fish. At that point, their fish was the largest caught.

Jeanette DePhillips attended the derby with her husband, Jim. The event was created about 30 years ago to honor her late first husband, who was involved in leadership positions at the park district and Irons Oaks in the 1970s and ’80s, she said. 

“He loved to fish, and he loved kids,” she said. “He wanted kids to have the same pleasures he did” from the sport.

She said the McDowell family has sponsored the event every year for about three decades, purchasing a bicycle to give away in a drawing and providing other small prizes for the kids who come to fish. 

One moment stands out in her memory. One young boy had gotten increasingly upset and disappointed as all the prizes were handed out and he hadn’t received one. Then the bicycle drawing was held, and he won. 

She said his joy made a lasting impression on her.

“He was over the moon,” she said. 

For her that moment illustrated the purpose of the derby, which is to give kids and their families, even those who have never fished before, an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors together. 

That’s also consistent with William McDowell’s approach.

“He always said it’s not about catching the fish. It’s about the process. If you catch a fish, it’s a bonus.”

Around the lake, families were doing just that. 

Figen Karadogan of Homewood laughed as she tried several times to get a good cast while her daughter, Doga, looked on. 

Reed LaPorte, 4, of Homewood, kept his line in the water even though he’d only gotten one nibble all morning. 

Neil McCormack had better luck. He brought in a 12-inch largemouth bass within the first hour of the derby. He still had two lines in the water about 10:30 a.m.

After a chilly start, with temperatures in the mid-30s, sunshine warmed things up and contributed to the best turnout in several years, according to park district volunteer Deb Stanfield. She said the weather had certainly helped.

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