Forty years of wildlife festivities that fed as many as 800 guests on behalf of wildlife conservation are a thing of the past now because of the pandemic. But that did not stop the dinner’s founder, Rich Bohaty, from continuing his passion for giving back.
The man with a hunter heart has a new mission that serves both former and current members of the military, as well as first aiders during the holidays.
The giving campaign is called Hunters Harvest, a non-profit organization started by Bohaty and his family, whose mission is to make sure no one who earns goes hungry. In line with that mission, they work with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, or MACV.
The non-profit organization, which is mainly staffed by retired military members, was established in 1990 with the sole purpose of bringing the homelessness of veterans to life.
Bohaty reached out to MACV’s operations manager, Jon Lovald, even before Hunter’s Harvest existed and asked how to donate meat to soldiers returning from deployment.
“I was sitting on a lot of game last winter, usually reserved for dinner, as we did not know what to do with it,” Bohaty recalled. “Top (military) brasseries wanted to attend my dinners, so I thought, ‘Let’s send deployed troops back home.'” So he contacted Lovald, a retired lieutenant colonel who advocates for state veterans.
“When Rich called, we wanted to find out how we could help him,” Lovald said. “Even though we are not the National Guard or the US Army, our reach goes back far enough to facilitate that donation. We knew which units were returning and we were able to make contact. With the non-profit establishment, we were more prepared in year.”
Thanks to donors and volunteers, Hunters Harvest, with the help of MACV, donated 175 boxes of assorted meats plus 110 hams and 75 turkeys during the holidays to support military personnel and their families.
Packages of donated meat sticks are also used by MACV’s outreach team for homeless veterinarians. “Pre-packaged meat is perfect for that,” Lovald said. “People on the streets or in emergency housing have many trust problems. Our team puts a business card and meat sticks in hand. It helps build trust in that veteran. “
Bohaty’s legendary game dinners at the Prom Center served a dual purpose in its long life. Not only did the event serve as a major fundraiser for Pheasants Forever, an organization close to Bohaty’s heart, but his hunting companions had a valuable outlet for their meat, which included game, bear, elk, wild boar, pheasant, gator – even snake.
The longtime polar bear resident developed an interest in mountain conservation as a young pheasant hunting in southern Minnesota with his father and uncles. As the years went by, his passion led to an interest in conservation, where he focused his energy on preserving the pheasants’ habitats. Since 1982, Bohaty has been a volunteer and major donor to Pheasants Forever’s Build a Wildlife Area land acquisition project. His dinners turned out to be one of the biggest gift campaigns for the organization, which honored Bohaty with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The 79-year-old, affectionately called “boss” by his many friends, says he is up before dawn to “work out in the gym,” but Bohaty is not out hitting the bushes on the hunt like he used to. His role these days could probably best be described as a tour guide.
A snowbird that spends the winter in Florida with his wife Anna, Bohaty enjoys hosting friends who like to hunt boars in Sunshine State or track pythons in the Everglades. “I have hunting blood in me and can never give it up,” he said.
Bohaty gets help for his nonprofit from his son Brian, who serves as chairman, and daughter Amy, who serves as treasurer.
Amy Bohaty called her father “a special person” and said her family is proud of him. “My father has a long history of conservation and philanthropy,” she noted. “Both he and my mother have given a lot to their community.”
For those who may not know, Bohatys owned Ciresi’s Liquor on Third Street in downtown White Bear Lake for about 40 years. They bought the business from Anna’s father, Samuel Ciresi, who opened the store in 1952. The Bohaty family also owned the Piccadilly restaurant in Mahtomedi for about a decade, Amy said, selling it in the late ’80s. That was actually where the game dinners started.
MACVs Lovald calls Bohaty a “very rewarding person.”
He recalled a conversation from the Hunters Harvest founder that went like this: “Rich calls from Florida and says, ‘Jonny (he calls me that), have you ever had gator? I’ll send something home to you.’ My wife asked, ‘who are you talking to?’ I said, ‘I’m talking to the meat guy.’ ”