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By Jennifer Kellner
At the age of 9, Willie Baker fought to recover from a car accident that took the lives of his mother and sister, broke his leg, punctured a lung, cracked his pelvis, broke his ribs, and injured his head. He lost the use of one eye, and now walks with a limp and a little extra spring in his step since his 16th birthday party last Sunday.
A large crowd gathered to greet Willie outside of Lucky Lanes and watched as he unboxed a seemingly small package from from his Uncle Frank and Aunt Bonnie Baker. Willie was speechless as he held the keys to his very own vehicle parked nearby.
Unbeknownst to Willie, his Uncle Frank and Aunt Bonnie Baker started making plans to surprise him about a month prior. During the planning process, Frank called to invite some special friends from “Making a Difference Outdoors,” and learned they were also planning a big surprise that would take place around the same time. They decided to work together to create an unforgettable day for Willie.
Bill Manske and the Making a Difference Outdoors team was introduced to Willie through Doug Still. After seeing a facebook post in August of 2022 looking for candidates to take on a youth hunt, Doug called Bill and told him to check into Willie Baker. “Willie is more deserving than any kid out there,” Doug recalled saying. Two days later, Bill called Doug back to thank him for bringing Willie into his life.
Willie was selected as the 5th participant for a group deer hunt hosted through a partnership between Iowa Trophy Bucks and Bill Manske with Making a Difference Outdoors. The group has a cabin in Bedford where the youth hunts take place. Their mission is to walk alongside kids who have experienced hardships, and help them grow through adversity, planting seeds of grace along the way.
On October 2, 2022, Willie harvested his first deer, a doe, while sitting next to Jimmy Callahan in the deer blind. He blew up the bow while releasing the arrow, and the hunt to find the injured doe was filmed to record Willie’s excitement. The team later enlisted the help of Doug Still to fix the crossbow, and they presented it to Willie during the surprise party along with a $3,000 check as a deposit towards Willie’s future endeavors.
Bill Manske remarked that Willie has blessed their lives as well because “he is strong in his faith, and such a great servant. What a great example of keeping a positive attitude.”
Making A Difference Outdoors was founded in 2019 by Bill and Josh Manske of Algona, IA. The team includes Mike, Tim and Jimmy Callahan, from Sioux City, IA, Eric Kline from Clarinda, IA, and Ty Green from Bedford, IA. If you know someone who would be interested in a youth hunt experience with Making A Difference Outdoors, please email email@example.com.