Cassens helped nurture shooting sports for DNR

Springfield — Tracking down Dave Cassens at the Illinois State Fair would be very much like shooting at a moving target.

That is, if said moving target wore stealth sneakers and shuffled in and out of meetings like Santa on Christmas Eve.

Alas, Cassens was cornered long enough in Conservation World during this year’s fair to confirm a rumor that spread just as the annual event opened.

He will be retiring effective Aug. 30.

With 28 years at DNR in various roles – each of them tied to attracting and engaging outdoorsmen and women – Cassens has certainly left a mark on an agency that has seen its ups and downs during that time.

“I’ve had a lot of fun and been around a lot of good people, both in DNR and those who participated or partnered in DNR events. It doesn’t really seem like 28 years, but that’s what the calendar says.”

Cassens, 62, has been director of DNR’s Division of Special Events, Programs and Promotions since 2008. That wing of the agency manages such programs as the Scholastic Clay Target Program, Archery in the Schools Program, the Big Buck Recognition Program, Safety Education, Disabled Outdoor Opportunities and several others.

“Dave brought a great deal of experience and a great number of relationships to his role with the agency,” DNR Director Marc Miller said. “Because of this experience and these relationships, it really enabled a large number of people in the state to interact with DNR.”

An avid shooter himself, Cassens was instrumental in getting shooting sports programs, including the SCTP, rolling in Illinois. He also played a major role in the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program.

Not surprisingly, Cassens began – and expanded – his DNR career as a result of his interest in shooting sports.

“I was teaching as a volunteer hunter safety education instructor up in the northern counties and I heard about a position open. I got the job as volunteer services coordinator, overseeing nine counties around Chicago, in 1986. We oversaw hunter ed, boater ed and snowmobile ed courses.”

In 1994, Cassens went to Springfield as interim safety education administrator, a job he took full-time in 1995.

By 2000, as DNR began its shooting sports programs, Cassens was a natural choice.

“The top administration knew I was a shooter and had interest in shooting sports,” he recalled, then let out a laugh. “The first questions I asked them were ‘how many people do I get and how much money do I have for the program?’ Their answer was ‘none and zero.’ But I was crazy enough to take it.”

The relationships Cassens had built came in handy, and he was able to build shooting sports into a popular offering.

He served for a number of years on the Executive Committee of SCTP.

In his final role at DNR, Cassens has had a leadership role in a number of programs and events outside of shooting sports, including DNR’s presence at outdoor shows up and down the state and, of course, Conservation World at the State Fair.

The growing Archery in Schools program  has resulted in DNR acting as a partner/coordinator of the National Archery in the Schools Program.  It implements a curriculum-based archery education program into school systems in more than 40 states.

Illinois was one of the first 10 states registered in the program.

“I’m proud of the things we’ve been able to do, especially to help introduce young people to the outdoors and get them interested,” Cassens said. “The past several years, that’s been an important push, because young people have so many things to do and things to take then away from the outdoors.”

Miller said Cassen’s position will be posted, and a successor will be named, though no timeline has been established.

“Dave did the responsible thing and worked with his staff to pass along responsibilities as time ran down, so that the staff could take over those responsibilities,” Miller said. “It will help the transition tremendously, because Dave had a lot of responsibilities.”

For his part, Cassens said he actually began planning his retirement roughly a decade ago. He and his wife began planting Christmas trees in 2004 on property they owned between Springfield and Rochester.

They began harvesting and selling trees three years ago.

“It’s a great experience to be involved as families shop for a Christmas tree, and we really enjoy that,” he said. “Other than that, I’m going to do more shooting than I have been able to do, and I plan to spend more time in a treestand.”

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