In Oklahoma, marking 40 years in the conservation ‘biz’
OKLAHOMA CITY — For four decades, John Groendyke of Enid has been a member of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Groendyke, 72, recently completed his 40th year on the eight-member commission that oversees the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
The chairman of the board and chief executive officer for Groendyke Transport has been a wildlife commissioner longer than anyone ever has in Oklahoma, and perhaps the United States.
Groendyke, a registered Republican, was first appointed to the wildlife commission in 1976 by Gov. David Boren, a Democrat. He since has served five other governors on the commission, both Democrat and Republican.
“I went to law school with David Boren but also sitting right beside him was Frank Keating,” Groendyke said, when asked how he keeps getting reappointed by both Democratic and Republican governors to a political position coveted by many.
“I don’t have any axes to grind. My interest has always been for the wildlife conservation and the work of the agency,” he said. “I was never very Republican or Democratically-oriented as it regarded that post. I just did what I thought was in the best interest of the (Wildlife) Department.”
The Oklahoman reports fellow wildlife Commissioner Bruce Mabrey of Okmulgee has served alongside Groendyke for almost 15 years. He said he thinks Groendyke keeps getting reappointed by both Republican and Democratic governors because governors in both parties recognize his commitment.
“He believes in the cause and conservation,” Mabrey said. “That is so important. Some commissioners just get appointed for the political appointment. We have had some that didn’t even have a hunting or fishing license, but that’s not John Groendyke. It’s John’s passion.”
It was a passion that started when Groendyke was a young boy, going on hunting trips with his father, H.C., who started the family trucking company in 1932 in Beaver.
H.C. Groendyke was born and raised on a 160-acre farm in Beaver County that H.C.’s parents began homesteading in 1902. John Groendyke still owns the property today.
As a young boy, Groendyke said he and his father often hunted quail on land that is now part of the Beaver River Wildlife Management Area.
“My dad was a pretty avid hunter of quail and pheasant and waterfowl, and he also liked to big game hunt all over the United States and Canada,” Groendyke said. “He took me with him a lot. I kind of learned to appreciate and enjoy that. I had a little single-shot .410 shotgun that he had owned as a boy. He would let me shoot a quail late in the day when he thought it was safe.”
H.C. Groendyke was one of the original founders of the Grand National Quail Club in Enid. The Grand National Quail Hunt, which began as an attempt to lure business and industry leaders to the state, just celebrated its 50th year in Enid. John Groendyke continues to serve on the club’s board of directors.
In addition to serving on the wildlife commission, John Groendyke also is a member of the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma, Quail Forever, Ducks Unlimited and personally funds an endowed chair at Oklahoma State University for wildlife research.
In his 40 years as a wildlife commissioner, Groendyke takes pride in the expansion of public hunting lands (The Wildlife Department now owns or manages nearly 1.5 million acres for public use.) and the growth in the Wildlife Department’s educational programs that introduce newcomers to the outdoors.
“You got to have that to recruit young sportsmen,” he said.
As chairman of the commission’s finance and retirement committee, Groendyke said he is most proud of helping modify the Wildlife Department’s retirement plan for its nearly 350 employees to a 401(k) type.
“I am very proud of the department and the quality of the personnel and the professionalism and the passion that the employees have shown over there,” Groendyke said.
Then-Gov. David Boren first asked Groendyke 40 years ago to serve on the state’s Pardon and Parole Board. Groendyke declined, and then the governor offered him a seat on the wildlife commission. It’s turned into a lifetime appointment.
Groendyke sees his duty as a state wildlife commissioner as balancing the need for wildlife conservation with providing opportunities for the sportsmen and women of Oklahoma.
“I think the important thing is that we are prudent,” Groendyke said. “That we take care of the wildlife out there that we are responsible for, and we set rules and regulations that allow the sportsmen to enjoy the resources and those animals, but we also have to have a program that preserves and protects them.”
Mabrey said some people serve on boards and commissions for all the wrong reasons.
“John Groendyke doesn’t serve on the wildlife commission for any wrong reason,” Mabrey said. “He is doing it because he loves what he is doing and is passionate about it. That’s what it really takes. You got to care about what you are doing, and John Groendyke cares.
“Sometimes you think people who are well-to-do don’t care about other people. They get kind of self-centered and it’s all about them. That’s just the opposite of John Groendyke. You see all his trucks running up and down the road all the time and you might think he is just some big, wealthy guy who just buys his way into it.
“If they could just sit down and visit with John Groendyke, they would come away with like, `Hey, John is just a real guy.’ He’s not real outspoken and doesn’t have a particular issue he’s driven about. It is just about what’s right for the sportsmen and what’s right for the wildlife in the state of Oklahoma.
“I think that is why he continues to get reappointed. There are not many people who have the passion and interest that John Groendyke has in preserving what we have.”