Last Friday was like most Fridays for me before a long holiday weekend. In the afternoon I exchanged e-mails with Mark Henckel regarding his schedule for the weekend. Every week we communicated our weekend plans to each other, just as most friends do, but my relationship with Mark went beyond close friendship.
We first met 12 years ago. I had just started broadcasting my statewide hunting and fishing show, the Montana Outdoor Radio Show, and Mark of course was the legendary outdoor editor of the Billings Gazette. Mark called me and asked me a few questions about the show after hearing it for the first time one Saturday morning. We decided through that initial conversation that we had a common interest—Montana’s outdoors—and that we might be able to help each other, me providing information for his readers and him providing information for my listeners.
Mark volunteered to call in every Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. to report on fishing and hunting news for the Billings area. Soon after that I started to write this column for the Missoulian. Up to that point I had no experience writing a newspaper column. But Mark assured me. “Not to worry,” he said. “I will edit your column to get you started.” He did more than get me started; every week for 12 years Mark has made it a point to help make my “rough draft” more enjoyable for you to read.
Last Friday was business as usual with Mark. He planned to go fishing on Canyon Ferry Reservoir over the weekend, leaving Saturday morning and returning early Monday evening. The deadline for this week’s column was Tuesday, so that schedule worked out great. I could make calls on Monday and find out where the fish were biting and get my rough draft e-mailed to him to look over, edit, and back so I could submit it Tuesday morning.
It was the perfect plan and it would work out just like it has for the last dozen years. Except Mark never left his home Saturday morning. While preparing for his weekend fishing trip and his weekly Saturday morning call-in to the radio show Mark collapsed and died unexpectedly. He was 59 years old.
If you have every harvested a wild game animal, cast a fly into a Montana blue ribbon trout stream, or just enjoyed the great Montana outdoors, last Saturday morning you lost a friend. Mark Henckel worked hard as self-described “wordsmith” and he loved what he did. He wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion, which he did many times on hunting and fishing issues, though his weekly newspaper column. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed, one thing was for certain, Mark’s love for Montana and keeping alive its hunting and fishing heritage was what shone through.
Mark could have been my father, uncle, or brother. But he wasn’t. He was my friend, a very good one at that, and I will miss him.