“If it wasn’t for Dick King, we wouldn’t be here. He’s a hell of a guide and a man, no ifs, ands or buts about it.” Bill Stiner, of Moline, Ill., is a bricklayer and an avid fisherman. He and his 14-year-old son, Tommy, came to Mille Lacs for a special two day fishing trip.
They almost never returned to Moline.
“We were fishing about 400 yards off Izaty’s, beyond a reef in four or five feet of shallow water,” said Stiner. Tommy remembered the depth because he had looked at the finder Dick King had mounted on the boat.
“The waves were getting bigger, and Dick said we were getting out of there,” continued Stiner. “I was in the front of the boat and reached for the anchor rope when a wave hit the boat and threw me back against the boy’s seat.” In a second effort, the same thing happened. King had started the motor. An attempt to cut the rope was made, but he couldn’t reach the knife in a tackle box. The boat moved ahead over the anchor rope and caught in the propeller.
“The boat turned over in the waves, and Tommy and Dick got up on the overturned boat. I couldn’t make it. I tried, but there was nothing to hold on to. I saw dick trying to cut the anchor rope on the prop blades. He never stopped trying the whole time we were out there. We all kept our cool most of the time, enough to save our lives,” said Stiner.
No one knows for certain how long Tommy and Dick fought to stay on the overturned boat or how long Stiner floundered in the 50 degree water, holding onto the boat and anchor rope as they attempted to cut themselves loose. Stiner said it felt like an hour, but observers said for sure it was at least a half an hour.
The air was cold on Monday, Sept. 22. It was the first day of autumn. The trio was dressed in insulated clothing and rain gear – and, thankfully, life jackets. Still, the water was numbing. “They told me I was blue,” said Stiner.
“I was almost lost in the waves. I was loose from the boat and couldn’t get back. They yelled at me to just let myself drift to shore. The vest kept coming up in front of me, and I was fighting to see the boat, to see Tommy and Dick.”
Moments later, Tommy was swept off the boat. “I saw Dick dive in after him. He went off the boat to stay with Tommy,” said Stiner. “Tommy’s jacket wasn’t just right, and it almost came off. Dick grabbed Tommy and pulled his arms around him and the jacket to help him stay afloat.”
Somehow, Tommy and King fought their way to shore. At some point, they were observed by golfers on the green at Izaty’s. “We were just there playing golf and happened to look out on the lake,” said Harold Woody, of Twin Bay. “They were moving toward a wilderness area.”
“Tommy and Dick got to shore before I did,” continued Stiner. “When I saw they were going to make it, I knew everything was going to be alright. I was so relieved I went limp and let the waves take me in. I knew they must have thought I had a heart attack because I just didn’t move.”
By the time help had arrived on the beach, pickup trucks were moving through the woods. Stiner drifted a block or so down the beach from where Tommy and Dick were being helped ashore. “King was disorientated,” said Woody. “He kept asking how the kid was. Dick really saved that boy’s life. I know he was under the water a lot holding him up. He saved his life.”
“I can’t remember walking,” said Stiner. “They just sad I did, but I don’t think I did. I’m not too clear about what happened. I think they took Tommy and Dick to the hospital in a truck. I remember finding myself on a tarred road, and an ambulance took me there too.
“I just remember fighting with the life jacket, trying to pull it down to see if they made it to shore. I couldn’t have done anything if they didn’t. We were lucky the wind was blowing us into shore. Otherwise...” Stiner’s voice trailed off into a visible shrug and a look down at his young son. He shook his head, and his shoulders sagged for a moment. “I just wanted people to know how it happened so they wouldn’t get the facts wrong.”
Bill Stiner is back with his wife and three daughters in Illinois and working at the international harvester plant in East Moline. Tommy is back in school at Coolidge Junior High. The Stiners plan to come back here someday.
Dick King is still fishing Mille Lacs.