OREGON — Phyllis Biever of Minier doesn’t seem like someone who needs to be in a program called, “Becoming an Outdoors Woman.” Most would say she already is one.
She has been fishing since before she was married. In fact, on one of her first dates with her now husband, she caught three catfish. “He told me later, ‘I knew then I was keeping you,’” Biever said as she cast her hook into a pond near the northern Illinois town of Oregon.
But the self-described “outdoorsy person” said she “wanted to know why things worked,” so when she read an item about the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Becoming an Outdoors Woman program in The Pantagraph, she decided to sign up.
The program took place in and around the Lorado Taft Field Campus of Northern Illinois University just outside of Oregon.
She liked the variety of courses offered and the fact that each session lasted three to four hours — giving students enough time to absorb a lot of information.
And she liked that it was a program tailored toward women.
“I think women in sports of these sort that are male-dominated would be easily intimidated if it was co-ed,” Biever said. But with a class of all women, “We can just be ourselves and learn together and not be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Mitch Ingold, coordinator of the IDNR’s Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, said the purpose is “to get women introductory experience in outdoor activities and provide them with an initial learning environment where it’s non-competitive and supportive.”
Ingold said the program is self-supported from registration fees, donations, raffles at the event and sponsorships.
He said registration is running strong, “showing there is a demand for this program.” The next one will be Sept. 28-30 at Pere Marquette State Park, north of St. Louis.
Courses range from fishing and shooting sports to horseback riding and outdoor cooking. There were classes on wilderness first aid, canoeing, kayaking, finding edible plants and even making jewelry from items found in nature.
Beth Carey of Bloomington took firearms and cooking classes with her daughter, Denise Strack, who graduated from Illinois State University in 1996 and teaches at Atwood-Hammond Elementary School in Atwood, on the Douglas-Piatt county line.
Carey saw it as an opportunity to share an interest with her daughter and also “to see what other women were thinking and what their experiences were … and gauge where I am.”
Strack said it was nice to spend time with her mother, without their husbands or her children around.
“It’s probably been 10 or 15 years since we’ve done anything as just the two of us,” she said.
“We had a blast in the outdoor cooking class,” Carey said, reeling off a list of menu items from a “taco” served in a Doritos bag to a goulash that included corn on the cob and German potato salad.
The instructor even showed how to make noodles from scratch and dry them on a rack near the campfire, she said.
Karen Rivera, a DNR stream fisheries biologist, taught the basic fishing class, which included an up-close look at live fish caught in the nearby Rock River and an explanation of the purpose of different type rods, reels, hooks, lures and bait, along with time to put the new lessons into practice.
“Women are much better students,” she said. “They listen to what you tell them.”
Becky Roessner of Hudson said, “It was a great opportunity to learn about outdoor activities that are not so easy to get involved in here in Bloomington-Normal.”
She already hikes, bikes and kayaks, but she took classes in hunting, trapping and shooting.
Roessner said, “Before I went, I was wondering whether I would meet people I would click with.”
But that wasn’t a problem, she said, adding, “I found there were women of all ages and from all parts of Illinois — all sorts of people.”