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Southeast Siders Jack Vadas, John Vukmirovich are real gems

Jack Vadas wife Shirley their shop Vet’s Live Bait   Tackle after Jack was honored for his advocacy this

Jack Vadas and wife Shirley at their shop, Vet’s Live Bait & Tackle, after Jack was honored for his advocacy this month by Perch America. | Dale Bowman~For the Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM

From perch and fishing access to pawpaws, we celebrate Jack Vadas and John Vukmirovich. The sons of the Southeast Side come, improbably, from that mix of shuttered steel mills and some of the greatest urban wilds in Chicago.


Vadas and his wheelchair, wife Shirley and employee Victor Zuniga were crammed in an aisle behind the counter of Vet’s Live Bait & Tackle this month.

At Vadas’ bait shop on South Indianapolis, a long, lighted sign hung high with prices for everything from fatheads to pond craws to leeches to bee-moths to soft shells to night crawlers to spawn to squid. Plastic trays of weights, sinkers and spinners filled glass counter cases. Plastic packs of Eagle Claw snelled hooks and other fishing tidbits hung squished together.

Yeah, Vadas has an economic interest in people fishing. But considering he turned 80 on July 31 and has been married for 58 years, another container of maggots sold isn’t going to make any difference either way to him.

Vadas is about fishing as an avenue to being an citizen conservationist. That’s why a pack of hard-core Perch America members — Bruce Caruso, Ken ‘‘The Lakefront Lip’’ Schneider, Bob Marshall, John Hindahl, Ed Davis, Ed Landmichl, George Heinz, Howard Petroski, Jann Bouwman, John Galambos and Mike Ratter — were there to give Vadas a lifetime award.

That’s ripe material for somebody like Vadas, who said, ‘‘You want to give it to me before I croak.’’

For decades, Vadas has been on the front lines of the fight against zebra mussels and round gobies and for ordinary fishermen and their favorite fish on southern Lake Michigan, the yellow perch. Perch America is a collecting point for the motley fringe of urban conservationists.

‘‘Most places in society, we would be outcasts,’’ said Hindhal, the president of Perch America.

Vadas was right at home. ◆◆◆

Vukmirovich just completed a proposal to the U.S. Postal Service calling for the issuance of a first-class-rate pawpaw stamp. It seems odd for somebody from Chicago’s 10th Ward to push for Asimina triloba, the North American pawpaw.

But Vukmirovich is somebody who well-documents the comings and goings of sandhill cranes over the Southeast Side and crafts some of my favorite writings about urban wilds. He describes himself as a ‘‘self-taught naturalist.’’ That’s self-deprecating.

Because I enjoy his writing about the outdoors and hope others learn to enjoy it, too, I posted his entire proposal for the pawpaw stamp on Stray Casts (

Here’s a taste: ‘‘Once pollinated, the clusters of light-green fruit swell until they are roughly mango-sized and -shaped, their skins irregularly daubed with a patina of brackish purple or brown. Inside, the flesh is a creamy yellow that darkens as the fruit matures and, at its peak, has a custard-like consistency, while the fruit as a whole gives off a heady floral aroma. The flavor teases the senses: banana-vanilla up front [with occasional] pineapple or coconut accents, befitting its long, droopy, tropical leaves. The bean-shaped seeds are large and dark-chocolate brown.’’

That’s a fruit worthy of being tied into U.S. history and literature.

To support the project, send a postcard with a brief message to Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o Stamp Development, U.S. Postal Service, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300, Washington, DC 20260-3501.

LaSalle clout

Again Sunday, the summer help didn’t arrive in time to open the gate at LaSalle Lake. I’m beginning to think he is the most politically connected employee of all-time. By my count, that makes at least four times this summer the gates were locked late, trapping fishermen in a narrow gravel road for hours.

Wild things

With the full arrival of dog-day cicadas, the ferocious-looking cicada killer wasps are flying, too.

Stray cast

Mike Quade: chum.

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