Family honors father with bench situated on trout stream

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS Chuck Prokop enjoys his last Kids Trout Fishing event in Chatfield.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS Mill Creek Park is the perfect place to go fishing, and a bench has been installed in honor of the late Charles Prokop, who helped start and organize the annual Minnesota Trout Association Kids' Fishing Tournament held in Chatfield each year.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS The bench has a plaque on it showing that it is in memory of Charles Prokop.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Chuck Prokop’s the guy who always had a line.

Once a kid met him, they were hooked.

“One of the most fun things is that at every one of his meetings, he had a corny joke for us, and he’ll always be remembered for that,” recalled Minnesota Trout Association (MTA) President Jeff Broberg.

He said the late Twin Cities-area MTA member, Prokop, was a staunch advocate for taking kids fishing and for having a “finny” line to go with every encounter.

Prokop’s son, Charlie, agreed, saying that his dad would say hello to his brother-in-law, Mark, and then immediately ask him, “Have you been fishing yet? Why not?”

Charlie shared that while Chuck wasn’t a Chatfield resident, he grew to love spending his time here. “I have pictures of my dad fishing as a kid. He was originally from Chicago, and he got married to my mom, Maxine, in 1954. They lived up here in the Twin Cities, and he worked at 3-M. He became a physics teacher. He cared deeply about his family, educational issues.”

Charlie described his father as a conservationist and a lifetime teacher, a conservationist of land and water. “He loved to teach about fishing, talk about fishing,” he continued. “He took us fishing when we were kids because the first five of us were boys, and it was a way to get us out of the house so mom could have time for the baby to sleep. I’ve probably fished about 30 different trout streams down there.”

He recalled that his dad would go fishing and then always go to the Dairy Queen. “He knew wherever he went where the Dairy Queen was,” Charlie said.

The younger Prokop misses his father greatly, as Chuck, who left the streams and lakes in 2016, was the guy who was second in command at the MTA and the one who organized and promoted Chatfield’s MTA Kids’ Fishing Contest each spring – a free opportunity for families to go fishing in Mill Creek Park with children 2 years to 12 years and learn how to bait and cast so that in addition to Chuck’s jokes, they might go home with the prize for the biggest rainbow trout.

Charlie recounted, “Jeff Broberg is the executive director, and dad was second in command. He was involved for 25 to 30 years, and he was an ardent supporter. Dad was instrumental in getting the trout fishing derby contest happening the second week of May. It was his baby – he loved it.”

Broberg described the elder Prokop and his “baby,” the one he worked hard to make self-sustaining. “He was a champion for us. I’d known him…I don’t actually remember the first time I met him, because I joined the trout association in 1991, and I think he’d already been a board director at that time. He was a schoolteacher, so he was very interested in kids participating in outdoors activities, one thing he was very instrumental in very early on.”

Broberg said the goal was to make the fishing contest such a routine thing that it operated like a well-oiled machine, with people bringing the food, someone else bringing the prizes.

“We’ve been in Chatfield for 23 or 24 years, in Mill Creek Park for some of those, and everything was free,” Broberg continued. “We’d give the kids some bait, show them how to put it on the hook, give them some instructions, and there were prizes for the kids who got the biggest fish in each category, and there were always some little bitty kids, about 2 or 3 years old, out there with their parents learning how to fish.”

Broberg said the donors and sponsors for the fishing contest were so generous that there was enough money to buy prizes so almost every kid got a prize.

“The DNR would stock the stream with 500 rainbow trout a few days before so there were fish to catch, and after the fishing was done, we’d bring everybody together at noon to measure their fish,” he explained. “The kids would be given little tickets to get a prize, and we almost always had more than 60 kids, so with parents along, we were often feeding lunch to more than 100 people.”

Broberg observed that Chuck’s children and grandchildren were ace anglers – as was required if they were going to be any kind of Prokop, as Charlie pointed out that new in-laws were handed a fishing pole and told that this was their lesson to learn well.

Broberg stated, “Chuck’s grandkids were perennial winners because he made an effort to take them fishing. He was always a very generous donor, and he signed up his own kids and, later, his grandkids. He served at the association for many years – he was on the trout stamp budget oversight committee and the game and fish oversight committee. He’d come down to our meetings in Stewartville, all the way from White Bear Lake and Hugo, even when he was well over 80 years old, and he always had an important role in our organization. It’s the support of our donors that helped make the contest possible, and the Prokop family is very generous, too. It’s great to see how some of these kids have grown up fishing. I hope that we can do it another 20 years. Chuck will be missed.”

Charlie felt that the best way to memorialize his father would be to do it with a resting spot along the Mill Creek Park trail leading from the handicapped fishing pier to a bend in the banks, complete with a view of the creek and a herd of Holsteins.

“We’re having a picnic this Sunday, June 23. About 20 to 30 people will be there. After that, at about 3:30, everybody will gather for a word about Dad, some pictures, and then we’ll probably go to the Dairy Queen. We’ll be meeting at the pavilion in Mill Creek Park, and Jeff Broberg will be coming, along with some friends from Madison and Stevens Point, the Cities and Rochester. It’ll be a chance to remember Dad, fish, eat, let the kids run and play in the park, and then we’ll go to the DQ. I’m hoping that the fishing contest will be able to continue on.”