In 2007, Bob and Christine Arndt watched their son, Beau, happily leave home for a goose hunt. He never returned.
The 18-year-old was hiding amid decoys when he was killed by a bullet fired by a man trying to poach geese.
Friday and Saturday, the Arndts watched five kids leave their rural yard on a special turkey hunt in their son’s name.
Christine Arndt said funeral plans weren’t even final when they decided to start what has become the Beau Arndt Foundation, which works toward getting children into the outdoors.
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“I didn’t want his death to be for no reason, to be just a bullet in a field on a Saturday morning,” she said. “I realized something good had to come from this. Frankly, I couldn’t have survived this any other way.”
Thomas Kent, of Topeka, was found guilty of firing the shot that killed Beau, and served about two years in prison before being released in 2010.
By then the foundation was rolling strong.
In 2009 they started the annual Beau Arndt Outdoor Days at a youth camp near Emporia. Bob Arndt said representatives from many conservation groups and assorted volunteers attend the event to present programs and tutor kids on a variety of outdoor activities.
Held the last Saturday in September, last year about 300 people attended the event. Most of the kids headed home with prizes.
Bob Arndt said the giving is important because the equipment may get some kids started in the outdoors. It also continues one of Beau’s most important legacies.
“He was always sharing and giving. His favorite thing was around Christmas, when he went around and gave jerky we’d made to all the landowners who let him hunt, and our friends,” Bob Arndt said. “The last deer he shot, he gave it to a homeless shelter. That was just Beau.”
The foundation is funded by raffling shotguns, other fund-raisers and private donations. Many people say they are involved out of respect for Beau Arndt’s character.
“He was seriously, just an awesome kid, all the time,” said Randy Smith, a family friend and mentor for Beau’s hunting education. “He was very outgoing, very respectful, very giving and you just didn’t see him when he wasn’t happy and with that smile. Beau was special.”
Raised in a non-hunting and fishing family, Beau often told his family he was going to teach other kids as a way of paying back those who helped him.
Shane Bitler, one of Beau’s hunting buddies, came up with the idea for a youth turkey hunt.
“Beau was always taking kids out so it seemed like a good idea,” Bitler said. “We can get some kids outside, away from video games, and then teach them the right way of hunting and doing things.”
Beginning last year, five kids were randomly selected from more than 100 applicants for the hunt based at the Arndts rural home.
Friday evening, the young hunters were paired with guides, given gift bags filled with hunting gear and free turkey permits. They also practiced shooting and discussed plans for the hunt.
Last spring, all five kids got toms. Saturday’s early morning storms kept most kids from hunting much. At least three got nice gobblers by mid-afternoon. Several were going to hunt Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
As he watched the kids leave Friday evening, Bob Arndt talked of the foundation’s future. It could someday include acreage set-aside for public fishing, target shooting and a clubhouse. More hunts are probably in the future.
He said local landowners are generous enough with access they could easily take 20 to 30 kids turkey hunting and there are plenty of volunteers, though he’s comfortable with just five these first two seasons.
The Arndts are continually touched by the way so many people step up to help financially and/or volunteer in their son’s memory. They regularly hear stories of how Beau touched many lives.
Not far from the Arndt home, Beau is buried in a small, rural cemetery. His grave is easy to spot because his headstone is decorated with hunting mementos like shotgun ammo, antlers and arrows left by friends.
Even though Beau’s been dead more than four years, the collection continues to grow.
“I knew Beau was a great kid but I didn’t know just how great until after he was gone, seeing what others have done,” Bob Arndt said. “It’s obvious so many people loved him. That helps, it really does.”
For more information, go to www.beauarndtfoundation.org.