DRIFTWOOD OUTDOORS: Missouri loses longtime voice for conservation

BRANDON BUTLER, Driftwood Outdoors
Joel Vance was a gifted outdoor writer who covered Missouri for 50-plus years.

One of the most important conservation voices in Missouri history has gone silent, yet his words will live on forever. Joel Vance passed away December 9. His work as a writer for 50-plus years inspired generations to enjoy the natural resources of Missouri and beyond. He leaves a legacy as a legendary communicator that will stand the test of time. Vance is best known for his time spent with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Vance’s family released the following statement, “Joel M. Vance passed away peacefully after a short hospital stay. We all got to see him to say our goodbyes in the ICU. He is no longer hooked up to machines. He is striding through an eternally sun-dappled quail field, strong and vibrant once again, a brace of favorite Brittanies, Dacques and Chubby long gone, crisscrossing ahead through the fallen leaves. His hand is no longer cramped by stroke; he can pick Doc Watson tunes on his Martin guitar, and his song is pure, voice no longer crackling with age. His fingers fly across the keys; he no longer has to use his voice recognition software to share his insights with his readers. If you read his blog, you'll know that a release from his concerns about the country that he loved soothes his soul. We'll miss him. His readers will miss him.”

Vance’s outdoor writing is recognized far beyond the borders of his beloved Missouri. He served as president and board chairman of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He is also one the very few writers to have won three of the Outdoor Writers Association of America's major awards: Excellence in Craft for journalistic excellence, The Jade of Chiefs for adherence to and support of the principles of conservation and The Ham Brown Award for outstanding service to OWAA over a period of years.

Jim Low, who succeeded Joel as a writer for MDC, said, “Joel became a familiar and trusted presence in hundreds of thousands of homes where subscribers to Missouri Conservationist magazine watched for his byline. The literary rapport he built with millions of readers came into play when he wrote the entire August, 1975, issue of the Conservationist, explaining what the agency would do if voters approved the one-eighth of one percent sales tax for conservation. They did approve it, and the stable, dedicated financial foundation it provides to this day has made Missouri the envy of nature lovers the world over. Some U.S. presidents have left legacies less significant.”

In April of 2017, I interviewed Vance for an episode of The Conservation Federation Podcast. It can be found on the CFM website (www.confedmo.org). To wrap up the interview, I asked Vance to give some sage advice to the next generation of Missouri conservationists.

His response was, “Every citizen of Missouri has a stake in the outdoors because it is in my mind the number one conservation state in the country and has been for many years. And I think it is almost a duty of every kid growing up, even in the city or country, it doesn’t matter where, to get educated about the outdoors. There are great education programs the Conservation Department has about wildlife. Learn about the outdoors. Read about it. Become interested.”

Bobby Whitehead, who recently retired as editor of the Outdoor Guide Magazine, said, “Joel Vance was the best outdoor editor I ever knew. He was my longest running columnist in the Outdoor Guide. He was tough and didn’t hold back about how he felt. I’ll miss his honesty and heartfelt love and passion for all the people and places that make the outdoors in Missouri so special.”

Jim Low, who is one of the most thoughtful outdoor communicators I have ever had the fortune of knowing, admired Vance and cared about him in a special way. Following in his footsteps, Low came to appreciate the work and life of Vance in a way most never could.

Low said, “Writing was always more than a vocation or even a passion for Joel. For him, it was akin to breathing, and continued until the grave claimed his restless pen.”

We should all be so lucky to live a life as full as the one Joel Vance just left behind. Missouri is better place for having had Vance telling her stories of beautiful places, wonderful people and a conservation ethos without parallel for so many years.

See you down the trail…

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