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.


St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 3
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 12 FINAL
Seattle - LP: E. Ramirez 4
Washington - LP: D. Fister 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 8
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Smyly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 1
Boston - LP: T. Layne 2 FINAL
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 5
NY Yankees - WP: S. Greene 8 FINAL
Detroit - LP: D. Price 4
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: Z. Wheeler 2
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: M. Latos 7
Cleveland 2 Bottom 8th Inning
Chicago WSox 3
Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes 1 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: W. Davis 6
Oakland 2 Bottom 7th Inning
Houston 1
Milwaukee 0 Top 6th Inning
San Diego 0
Los Angeles 3 Top 4th Inning
Arizona 0
Miami 1 Bottom 3rd Inning
LA Angels 0
Colorado 0 Top 3rd Inning
San Francisco 0
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:02 PM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
D.C. 0 1st Half 41:00
Los Angeles 1
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

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

Weekly Question