It’s a bright Saturday morning in November and Bartley Spieth is in his element: directing folks around the John A. Halter Shooting Sports Education Center.
On Nov. 9, the shooting center held its second annual Veterans Appreciation Day open house event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Veterans from Hillsdale County and beyond shot for free on the trap, skeet, five-stand sporting clays, and Olympic bunker ranges at the early Veterans Day event.
“Today, first and foremost, we wanted to take a special time to honor our veterans and the service they provided our country,” Rangemaster Bartley Spieth said. “What better place to do that than on a shooting range? It just seems like an obvious thing to do.”
Spieth said that last year about 60 people came out to the inaugural veterans appreciation event, more than they initially expected. By noon Saturday, Spieth said they expected to exceed last year’s numbers with 70 or more guests, including those who called ahead to schedule their visit.
“Many people called ahead and said they were coming, but there was no registration. It’s open to any veterans and their families, and actually anybody in the public today,” Spieth explained.
Though many visitors were local or regular visitors to the range, including several students from the college, some came from much further.
“There’s one gentleman here right now from Spokane, Washington,” Spieth said. ”He’s in the service out there and is just back home visiting. There are some people from the Detroit area, people from Toledo here today, so really all over the region.”
Hillsdale alumni Kathryn and Dean Melchi, ’76 and ’74, drove up from Columbus, Ohio, to participate in the event.
Dean Melchi, whose brother and two nephews also attended Hillsdale, said he and his wife have been coming to shoot at Halter since “there was nothing but a little storage container and a Port-A-John, and Bart was volunteering to get it off the ground.”
They have since attended three couples’ camps at Halter and came out for Veterans Day because it sounded like fun.
“It was another opportunity to shoot,” Dean Melchi said. “This is a tremendous facility, great people, so it’s always a good experience to come here and shoot.”
Kathryn Melchi explained that her husband and son often shot together. When their son got married and moved away, she came to a Ladies for Liberty camp to try the sport herself.
“I thought, ‘OK, Dean’s learned to like the symphony and the plays, I’ll try shooting,” Kathryn Melchi said. “I’ll be the good wife and I’ll try doing something he likes.’ So I came out here to one of the Ladies for Liberty camps, and I liked it. They’re so good; the coaches are so good.”
Kathryn Melchi has been to two more ladies’ camps at Halter since her first in 2012, and added that her favorite event is shotgun, which is unusual.
“Most women prefer handgun, but I come out here because I prefer shotgun,” Melchi said.
Spieth added that many people drive past the shooting center without stopping to visit, but any day the gate is open, anyone is welcome to stop in for an informal tour.
“This is the closeout of a great season,” he said. “We have seen incredible growth in the school programs here over this last year, and in the number of families coming out and participating in shooting sports together as a family.”