2018 Stewardship Recipient Pete Messler
NatureWorks honors ‘Judge Pete,’ man of a million outdoors tales
The bat boy tosses out stories now like he threw fastballs back when he was the kid who lived down the third-base line from the Tulsa Oilers’ ballpark in the 1950s.
“I had the best darned job in town,” said Pete Messler, now 76.
Just like that skinny 15-year-old kid who went to Rogers High School and surprised people with his 80 mph fastball, this attorney in the three-piece suit might surprise folks with the tales he can tell.
There are too many for this column, and it does the pure volume no justice to choose just one, but I can drop some hints and allow folks to imagine from there.
Besides being a bat boy for the semi-pro Oilers, he was a young pitcher with promise whose career was cut short by a car accident. He was a guitar player in a rock band with Bob Taylor and J.J. Cale in the early ’60s, and he danced Anita Bryant (a high school friend) across the stage at the Brady Theater like Fred Astaire one night. He’s one of the guys who hunts and fishes with Roland Martin, and he’s “Judge Pete,” the sidekick in so many columns at the back of Peterson’s Bowhunting written by bowhunting legend Jim Dougherty.
Ever heard of the Eagle Claw Messler worm hook for Texas rigging plastic worms? That came from Pete Messler and his dad. He was one of the guys in those old Zebco and Lowrance and Eagle Claw fishing gear TV commercials.
He’s also the guy who kicked off Oklahoma’s first National Wild Turkey Federation chapter, the guy who is the NatureWorks art show director, the father of three, the coach of baseball and hockey, the lung transplant survivor who went turkey hunting a month after he was out of the hospital, the Drummond Law attorney, Cherokee tribal citizen, the District Court judge, and he’s the man who lucked out big-time when a woman named Helen decided she’d like to become Helen Messler.
Most folks just know him as “Judge Pete,” in large part due to Dougherty’s columns, which covered their deer and turkey hunts from Texas to Iowa, or possibly because they met him in court.
“I could sit here and talk about this stuff all day,” he said with a chuckle and then launched into another tale as we sat at the conference room table at his office Wednesday morning — and well into the afternoon.
A pile (just a small sampling) of his memorabilia covered the table.
“I’ve shaken hands with all my heroes,” he said. “I met Ted Williams in 1952, ran into John Wayne and Ben Johnson, and I shook hands with Ronald Reagan, and I shook hands with Chet Atkins.” Fuller tales followed.
The many stories indicate a life strongly influenced by wildlife and the great outdoors, which is the reason Messler will be honored this week by the all-volunteer nonprofit NatureWorks with its Wildlife Stewardship Award for his contributions and service to conservation efforts and Oklahoma’s wildlife. An awards dinner is set to honor him Thursday evening at Southern Hills.
In May, the group’s 29th larger-than-life bronze monument will be erected in His Honor’s honor: “Alaska Polar Bear” by sculptor Paul Rhymer.
The conservationist mindset was drilled into him from a young age at the side of his father, Joe Messler, a well-known angler and the one Pete says is the guy who really invented that effective quick-turning worm fishing hook, which was the top new fishing product in 1977 and still is a good seller for Eagle Claw.
Joe Messler first took his son hunting at the age of 7. “I carried a single-shot .410, but I had no shells,” he said. That first morning his father shot a few mallards, which excited the younger Messler and made him want more.
“I said, ‘I want a hundred more!’ That’s when I got my first sermon about limits and why we have them,” he said.
A year later he was allowed to load his shotgun and he shot his first duck. “Actually, I think my dad shot it, but he told me I did,” he said. It was a mallard with a silver band on its leg.
“He told me that if it were not for programs like the banding and preservation programs for the nesting grounds, there would be no ducks for us to hunt and eat,” he said.
“I remember that well.”
The lessons about wildlife and the outdoors stuck with him. In the 1980s his fascination with turkey hunting and contacts with the new and growing National Wild Turkey Federation led him to connect with friends “Bo” and Jack Morris, Curtis Parks and Carlos Gomez to form the Tulsa Chapter, the first in the state. He was the state’s second NWTF life member and he served as local chapter president until 1997.
He was elected to the NatureWorks board of directors in 1998 and has served as director of the group’s annual Wildlife Art Show and Sale since 2013. The show is Feb. 24-25 at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel and Convention Center this year.
It’s a simple and direct philosophy he holds for conservation and giving back to the wildlife and woods that have treated him so well.
Near the end of our conversation, he searched the piles of paper on his table, fruitlessly, to find a passage he’d written. The first two lines he couldn’t quite recall, but the last summed things up well.
“The closing line was, ‘Our Creator put the wildlife here for us, it’s our responsibility to take care of it,’” he said.