Hugh Becker: Leaving a lasting legacy for muskies

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 11, 2013 - 2:51 AM

In Hugh Becker’s life, fishing provided a highlight. In his death, his estate provides for the fish he held so dear.

Hugh Becker hefted a 35-pound muskie he caught and released on a cold November day in 2000, likely on a Minnesota lake. Becker died in 2007 at age 89. The earnings from his $3 million estate go to Muskies Inc. and a Wisconsin rod and gun club.

Hugh Becker was a modest, frugal man whose passion for fishing and the outdoors ran so deep he left his entire $3 million estate primarily to benefit fish and anglers.

His life was remarkable — from baseball fields at the University of Minnesota, to battlefields in the South Pacific in World War II, to his efforts to bolster fish and wildlife conservation in Minnesota.

Becker, a die-hard muskie angler, worked for years as a physical therapist at the former Minneapolis Veterans Administration hospital. He never married and had no relatives, so when it came time to consider what to do with his fortune, the decision was easy. He set up a nonprofit foundation that — in perpetuity — funnels the yearly earnings of those millions to the Twin Cities Chapter of Muskies Inc., which Becker helped start, and to the little Chippewa Rod and Gun Club in Chippewa Falls, Wis., where he fished.

“The money goes to fisheries, stocking, habitat work and youth programs,’’ said George Selcke of Minnetonka, a friend of Becker’s and chairman of the Hugh C. Becker Foundation.

Since Becker’s death in 2007 at age 89, almost $700,000 has been distributed. The principal continues to grow, so his legacy will live indefinitely. Yet, most Minnesotans — even the 1.5 million anglers — probably have never heard of Hugh Becker.

Who was this guy, where did he get all of that money, and why did he leave it to benefit muskies and muskie fishing?

Here’s his tale:

A stroke of luck

Becker was born in Olivia, Minn., grew up in south Minneapolis and attended Washburn High School. He lettered in baseball at the University of Minnesota from 1938-1940, and was a weightlifting champion. When World War II broke out, he joined the Marines and saw action at Guadalcanal and Okinawa in the South Pacific as an artillery officer. After the war, Becker worked as a physical therapist.

But physical therapists don’t make millions. His top salary was $17,500.

A stay at the Naval Base in San Diego shortly after the war changed his future — and, strangely, the future of muskies in Minnesota and elsewhere. A wealthy San Diego family befriended Becker, taught him about investing and, when they died, left him a substantial inheritance.

“He received something like $51,000 a year from 1949 to 2000,’’ Selcke said. “He never touched it; he would just invest that money. He was a very shrewd investor.’’

Despite his wealth, he lived frugally. Except when it came to fishing.

“He had the best fishing equipment money could buy,’’ said Selcke, who himself was wounded in the Vietnam War and was treated by Becker at the VA hospital in 1969. They became close friends.

“He had 30 days off a year at the VA, and he would go two weeks in the spring and two weeks in the fall to Lake of the Woods to fish muskies, bass and everything,’’ Selcke said. “He also fished a lot at Lake Wissota near Chippewa Falls.’’

Paul Hartman, 43, of Blaine, another friend, said he tried to encourage Becker to splurge a little and hire muskie-fishing guides to take him on some of his favorite waters.

“He looked at spending money on guides as wasteful,’’ said Hartman, who runs the yearly Minnesota Muskie Expo. Becker drove a modest sedan, “and his boat was a 15-footer, nothing fancy.’’

Ahead of his time

Becker never married, though he and Helen Ness of Minneapolis were close companions for years. And she was an accomplished angler herself.

  • related content

  • Hugh Becker and his longtime companion, Helen Ness, with a stringer of fish they caught in 1987.

  • Hugh Becker of Minneapolis served in the Marine Corps in World War II, and later worked as a physical therapist at the Veterans Administration hospital in Minneapolis.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City 1 Top 2nd Inning
San Francisco 0
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 57 3rd Qtr
Orlando 46
New York 34 2nd Qtr 6:11
Toronto 34
San Antonio 17 1st Qtr 3:36
Houston 18
Miami 19 1st Qtr 5:33
Memphis 15
Minnesota 23 1st Qtr 4:40
Chicago 19
Phoenix 8:00 PM
Utah
Sacramento 9:00 PM
LA Lakers
Denver 9:30 PM
Golden State
Portland 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Dallas 0 2nd Prd 17:11
New Jersey 1
Tampa Bay 1 1st Prd 12:55
Winnipeg 0
Vancouver 8:00 PM
Colorado
Carolina 8:30 PM
Edmonton
Columbus 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 3 2nd Qtr 4:44
Cincinnati 17
Troy 0 2nd Qtr 11:11
South Alabama 10
BYU 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 0 1st Half 44:55
Chicago 0
Montreal 20 11:05
Ottawa 7
Saskatchewan 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close