Two inductees worthy of the Hall of Fame

GARRISON – Two men who have had an impact on this state’s fishing have been inducted into the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame. Gene Van Eeckhout and Dean Hildebrand were honored prior to the July 17 rules meeting for the Governor’s Cup Walleye Derby.

Van Eeckhout, Jamestown, has been with the Game and Fish Department since 1976 and currently serves as southeast district supervisor of the Fisheries Division, a position he has held since 1992. He plans to retire in August, leaving behind a lengthy list of accomplishments that have proven beneficial to North Dakota fishermen.

He was nominated by Louis Gaukler of Cayuga and David Paulson of Hankinson. In their nomination letter, they stated, “Gene is well respected for his ability to communicate with landowners, sportsmen and others with concerns pertaining to area lakes. He is known for the extra efforts he takes to listen to concern, share information and do what is required to improve the fisheries in his district.”

“I am pretty humbled by the whole situation and never expected to be rewarded for the years of service and the thing I tried to do,” said Van Eeckhout. “It was deeply gratifying to get the nomination from the people I work with and know so well.”

Following his induction into the Hall of Fame, Van Eeckhout also praised his wife and fellow inductee.

“My wife, Mary, had the perseverance of a goddess,” said Van Eeckhout when reflecting on his career with Game and Fish. “As for Dean, he was like a father figure to a lot of us. Everything isn’t fun in Game and Fish management and we had some rocky times, but he guided us through. He was a real gentleman and real pleasant to work with.”

Hildebrand, former director of Game and Fish, was inducted posthumously. He served as department leader from 1996 until 2005. Hildebrand was nominated by Clark Williams, president of the Lake Region Anglers Association. Hildebrand was a teacher and administrator in the Devils Lake region and a former commander at Camp Grafton, which is located on the shores of Devils Lake.

In his nomination letter, Williams wrote, “Dean was a true leader in North Dakota and never failed to take the opportunity to make fishing and the outdoors better for others.”

After his retirement from Game and Fish, Hildebrand was active in the North Dakota Sportfishing Congress where his input was valued at legislative sessions. Accepting the honor on his behalf were his wife, Joey, and son Kent.

“I felt it was a real honor for the whole family and especially for Dean,” said Joey Hildebrand. “The only thing that could have made this better is if Dean was here too. It makes me feel very humble for all the people of North Dakota. This was Dean’s life. He loved it all.”

“I was very surprised and humbled and appreciative,” added Kent Hildebrand shortly after the awards ceremony. “We love it when Dad’s recognized. He loved the state so much and really cared about it. It’s nice to know that other people noticed that too.”

Van Eeckhout and Hildebrand join 23 others who were previously inducted into the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame. Nominations for 2015 are currently being accepted. Nomination forms can be found at