Monday, Aug 20, 2018
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Matt Markey

LOST SERIES

African adventure never got closer than the horizon

  • Lost-series-Daryl-Powell

    Daryl Powell, a grain farmer from Republic, fished above the Arctic Circle and also made three trips to the Amazon River. Powell, pictured with his Brazilian guide, holds a peacock bass he caught on the Amazon. Powell, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 77, had a lifelong dream of hunting in Africa, but he died before making the trip.

  • Daryl-Powell

    Benfer

Lost-series-Daryl-Powell

Daryl Powell, a grain farmer from Republic, fished above the Arctic Circle and also made three trips to the Amazon River. Powell, pictured with his Brazilian guide, holds a peacock bass he caught on the Amazon. Powell, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 77, had a lifelong dream of hunting in Africa, but he died before making the trip.

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REPUBLIC, Ohio — On those winter evenings when the chores around the farm were completed and darkness came calling at an early hour, a young Daryl Powell would stretch out on the living room floor of the house where he grew up and wear out the pages of hunting and fishing magazines as he plunged into adventures in distant lands.

The dreams of that kid carried him to rugged wilderness, dense jungle, and vast savannah, all played out on the mind’s big screen in a manner only an adolescent imagination could sculpt.

As an adult, Powell never was rescued by a timeclock, working those callus-making hours as a lifelong Seneca County farmer, but those visions of far-off journeys and taking on some of the most severe challenges in the hunting and fishing realm always were a companion in the shop, on the tractor, or in the dairy barn.

Powell led a modest existence, cared tirelessly for his family, and milked cows and worked those fields of grain from before dawn until the sun had taken its illumination well to the west. His only indulgence came in the form of hunting and fishing. He hunted deer in Pennsylvania with a group of friends and kept a boat at Lake Erie.

Eventually, he fished the extreme north country of Canada and the Arctic with his wife, Laura, and they caught monster lake trout, thuggish pike with a phalanx of dagger-like teeth, and the elusive Arctic grayling.

VIDEO: Bob Benfer remembers his late father, Daryl Powell

Powell also would make three trips to the Amazon, venturing deep into the spaghetti-strand maze of streams and feeder creeks that pump the world’s largest river full of nutrients and support its often bizarre aquatic life that includes some 2,000 species of fish. He caught brilliantly colored peacock bass, the razor-toothed piranha, and the huge, carnivorous arapaima that can reach nine feet long and weigh 200 pounds.

But his ultimate castle-in-the-outdoors-sky still was a trip to Africa, where for decades he had made plans to hunt Cape buffalo, a species that has a widespread and stable population and a notorious reputation. It is considered the most dangerous of the African big game, earning its title as the “widow-maker” by goring and killing more than 200 people every year.

Powell attended outdoors shows all around the country to speak with big-game guides from Africa. He watched tapes of various African hunts with his son, Bob Benfer, and made friends through the Safari Club International. He had the trip planned on three occasions, actually booked the hunt twice, and once had all of the necessary and required vaccinations, purchased the .50 caliber rifle he would need to take down a nasty Cape buffalo, and lined up a taxidermist to handle the beast he anticipated bringing back.

But health issues — his and those of his wife — intervened each time. Powell passed away late in 2013 at the age of 77, with the hunting trip to Africa still standing there on the top line of his life’s bucket list, never to be crossed off.

“That was his dream for a very long time, and he tried to get there several times and even got really close once, but mom got sick, and he had to back out,” Powell’s son said this week. “Those trips were a reward for a life of hard work. He kept in contact with the folks in Africa, just hoping that someday it would happen for him because he wanted to go to Africa in the worst way. It’s sad, but it just never seemed to work out.”

Powell grew up with the soil in his veins, learning farming as a boy, working the ground throughout his life, and eventually passing that impossible to quantify skill set on to his own children. His sister, Sandy Sparks of Perrysburg, who was 10 years younger than Powell, also recalled his generosity.

When she was in high school, her older brother had just bought a new car, an eye-catching two-door, light blue Pontiac. As Sandy headed out the door to high school marching band practice one summer day, her brother tossed her the keys and told her to take his car. She initially hesitated, since it was so new, but he insisted.

“And when practice was over, the band director came out and said, ‘Whose car is that?’ and he couldn’t believe that my brother let me drive it,” she said. “A lot of brothers wouldn’t do that, but that was my Daryl.”

Powell was a graduate of tiny Scipio-Republic High School, a veteran of the U.S. Army, and the survivor of a gruesome automobile accident that shattered his hip, damaged much of the circulation in one of his legs, and put him in a body cast from the neck down for almost a year.

“They gave him the last rites three times — they didn’t think he was going to make it,” Benfer said. “But he was tough, and when he got a little better, he went back to work on the farm, and there was nothing he wouldn’t do. He limped because his leg never healed, but he was right in there working, right along with everyone else.”

When he married Laura in 1966, it was a package deal with her three children becoming Powell’s, but the word “step” never was used to minimize their relationship. Those kids — two boys and a girl — were every bit his children until the day he died, and along the way there might have been some DNA transferred through his unconditional paternal love.

“Daryl was the dad we never had,” said Benfer, who was 10 years old when Daryl and Laura married. “We learned everything from him, and while he taught us, he also gave us the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, like any good dad would. We came from a home that was broken, and then Daryl fixed it. My sister said, ‘Who we are today is because of one man — Daryl Powell.’ “

Benfer, who lives in Willard and has a family of his own, said in an era when so many men shirk the responsibility of fatherhood and too many kids grow up without the guiding hand, the stern looks, and the steady voice of a father in their lives, his appreciation for Powell grows.

“When you stop and think about it, this man got married, and he got a family, all in the same day, and he immediately became the father we never had,” Benfer said. “As you get older, you admire him more and more for doing that.”

Powell kept those kids busy, farming almost 4,000 acres at one point, plus milking cows twice per day. He bought Benfer his first shotgun when the boy was in sixth grade, and as time permitted, he took Benfer rabbit hunting, even though trudging through the snow was especially difficult because of Powell’s ambulatory challenges after the accident.

He had hundreds of pictures from those fishing trips to exotic locales, and some stunning graphite reproductions of the trophy fish those ventures produced, but it was his words that conveyed the best images. If you listened attentively, in his voice you could hear John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and a dash of Lorne Greene.

“Those trips took him to parts of the world so far removed from the farm fields he worked every day, and they really were a small reward for a life lived the right way,” Benfer said. “And he loved to share those trips with everyone — he could tell a story and make it like you were right there with him.”

When Powell died, friends, family, fellow farmers, and many of his hunting and fishing buddies alike all put on their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and at his wake again enjoyed the photos of Daryl and Laura from their Arctic adventure, and his forays into the Amazonian labyrinth.

Lying next to him in the casket was that Remington rifle he had owned since he was a kid. If at his next stop that Africa trip finally works out, Powell will be ready.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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