MARSHALL - For decades, nationally-known wildlife artist James Meger made the world a better place with his artwork, generosity, friendship, appreciation of nature and passion for conservation. Since his death on Aug. 25, 2011, a number of organizations have paid tribute to him in a variety of ways. Most recently, the Lyon County Pheasants Forever chapter is paying homage to the local artist by taking steps to establish a James Meger Memorial Wildlife Management Area.
"As a native of Lyon County, James' death impacted many people, not only within our chapter of Pheasants Forever and our local communities, but also across the country," LCPF President Nick Simonson said. "This loss was felt by the national conservation community due to the fact that James managed to improve habitat across our region, and the entire country, with a simple brushstroke."
Meger, a long-time supporter of Pheasants Forever, is one of 21 Minnesota artists to be chosen for the Minnesota Pheasant Stamp creation since the organization began in 1983. Six of Meger's paintings were also chosen as the Pheasants Forever Print of the Year - more than any other artist - raising thousands of dollars for habitat efforts across the nation in the process.
Independent file photo
The late wildlife artist James Meger paused for a photo after signing one of his pieces of art for a fan while at Farmfest, an annual celebration near Redwood Falls in August 2007, four years before he died of cancer.
"Homestead," was Meger's first Print of the Year, awarded in 1989-90, followed by "Thanks Be Given" (1997-98), "The Pumpkin Patch" (1999-2000), "Pony Express" (2000-2001), "Storm Break" (2001-2002) and "Forever Pheasants" (2003-2004).
"James spent most of his life capturing the beauty of nature through hundreds of wildlife painting," Simonson said. "Our chapter has prominently awarded his artwork year after year at our annual banquets. Through his paintings, James has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for habitat projects, even after his death."
Simonson said Minnesota has approximately 100 chapters of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, a sister chapter. Nationwide, there are 720 chapters, he said, so Meger's prints have brought in a lot of money over the years.
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"The impact he had was indescribable," Simonson said. "His prints went out to every chapter in Minnesota, then they auctioned them off for big profits. He was also one of only five artists to win the Waterfowl Stamp and Minnesota Pheasant Habitat Stamp."
Meger grew up in Minneota, graduating in 1960. He graduated from St. John's University in 1964. Meger spent 14 months as an Army officer in Vietnam before getting a master's degree in art education. He taught art from 1973-79. Behind the encouragement of his mentor Les Kouba and his wife Laurene, Meger took a leap of faith and began painting full-time. It was a decision he would never regret.
Meger's first limited edition print - "Wildside" - was released and quickly sold out. He also won the 1980 Minnesota Duck Stamp award, which jump-started his painting career. More than 30 years later, Meger still loved telling stories through his paintings and in person, to countless people whom he made a connection with.
"We were blessed to get to know a very talented, generous, kind and giving person, unlike anyone else on this earth," Vesta resident Joleen Irlbeck said about James on his CaringBridge site. "He's truly one in a million, a treasure."
Five days after Meger succumbed to cancer, a soft tissue sarcoma that was traced to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, Meger's wife Laurene and daughter Elise shared their wishes on the CaringBridge site.
"Many of you have asked what else you can do to honor Jim or to be of help in some way," they said. "We have thought about it, and we believe the most appropriate thing to do would be to appreciate nature and think of Jim whenever you have the opportunity. The outdoors was one of his passions along with his art, and we know he would like to be remembered in this way. As his family, we too, would take great comfort in knowing his legacy is being kept alive in this manner. Thank you."
Tracy chiropractor Mark Evers has already taken the advice to heart, admitting that he often thinks of Meger while out hunting geese, ducks, pheasant and deer. While Evers acknowledges the loss of Meger as an amazing artist and conservationist, he said Meger's genuine friendship is what he misses the most.
"He was just a good storyteller," Evers said. "You could sit and listen to him, and he'd always make it personal and draw you in. He made you feel like a friend. I miss the conversations and that friendship."
While displaying his art at shows in the area, Meger also graciously donated countless prints to individual benefits, raffle contests, banquet fundraisers and other events, including the Tracy Area Sportsmen's Show and Shetek Prairie, the local chapter of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association (MWA), both of which Evers is heavily active in.
"He was always good at signing things for our next banquet," Evers said. He was always good about supporting the banquets. He'd donate the picture and we'd pay for the framing. He'd always write something personal on it and we'd set it aside for the next year's banquet."
Evers, who is advocating to get Meger inducted into the MWA Hall of Fame, noted that the Shetek Prairie organization plans to support the LCPF memorial project by making a large contribution.
Galen Boerboom, president of the Southwest Sportsmans Club in Minneota, believes the wildlife preserve is a fitting tribute to a man who has earned so much respect over the years. Though the project is being sponsored by the LCPF chapter, Boerboom said it's likely that area individuals and organizations will also step up for the cause.
"I'm sure we'll be donating to the memorial," Boerboom said. "I hope we can get enough funding because land is expensive right now. But I'm glad everyone can finally start to give back to Jim for all the things he did for restoration and preservation. He worked with all the sportsmans groups around here."
Boerboom remembers Meger as a generous man who often donated to area organizations.
"A lot of times, he'd donate a print and we'd auction it off," Boerboom said. "Jim's helped almost every organization out there that has to do with wildlife, or youth for that matter."
Shortly after Meger's death, members dedicated a wall inside of the Southwest Sportsmans Clubhouse to the artist.
"There are six prints on Jim Meger's wall, I believe," Boerboom said. "They're all his prints."
Though he lived in Edina, Meger came back to his roots periodically. Occasionally, he attended the annual Boxelder Bug Days celebration in Minneota.
"Jim did a lot of good," Boerboom said. "He was a terrific man. He always knew you, regardless of where you were."
VISION FOR THE FUTURE
LCPF member Al Dale was instrumental in getting the James Meger Memorial Wildlife Management Area project off the ground. He sincerely believed the effort would ensure that future generations would not only have access to hunting habitat, but they'd also know about Meger's legacy.
After getting approval from the LCPF, the project quickly took off.
After getting permission from Meger's wife, the committee also contacted Tim and Ken Kurtz, who operate T and K Kreations as a way to represent and sell Meger's artwork.
Art Barbarians, which has more than 110 Meger prints available to view or purchase, also agreed to donate $10 to the WMA fund for every Meger print purchased at the gallery in Rogers or online at www.ArtBarbarians.com.
In addition to promoting the project at a number of area sportsmans club meetings or fundraisers, Dale also laid out his vision at the 30th Annual LCPF banquet recently.
"Since James was from Minneota, grew up and went to school there, we wanted to stay within 30 miles of Minneota," Dale said. "We want to get an acreage, like 100-plus acres, all on donations."
Then, instead of having a wooden sign posted at the site, which will be prime pheasant hunting habitat, Dale said, the plan is to get a granite rock out there.
"It's more permanent," he said."
When the project is finished, the LCPF chapter will turn the wildlife area over to the DNR so it will be open for public hunting.
Dale's goal includes one final step, one final show of gratitude.
"I want to get an artist to come in and paint a print of this wildlife area with that granite rock," Dale said. "I want the original print to go to our next banquet. We'll invite his widow and then present that to her as a tribute for everything Mr. Meger did for Pheasants Forever and for wildlife in general."
When the project is finished and area enthusiasts of all ages are drawn to the Memorial WMA - to the outdoors that Meger loved so much and replicated in his art - it is then that people can be assured that Meger's legacy will never be forgotten.