Polar bear still on display in Aberdeen 50 years later
ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — When he was 40 years old, Frank Scepaniak shot a polar bear north of Siberia.
On Feb. 21, he turned 89, and still that trip to the Arctic Circle is one of the most memorable hunting trips of his life. And he’s been hunting since he was a kid.
“I hunted all my life,” Scepaniak said. “I shot that bear and it was kind of fun.”
The Aberdeen American-News reports that as a child, Scepaniak, who grew up in Waubay, hunted with his dad, eventually getting a job as a duck hunter for St. Louis-area restaurants, he said.
“I was quite a shot, see,” Scepaniak said. “They had them all taken care of in Waubay, and then they would freeze them and ship them to St. Louis.”
His favorite thing to hunt was pheasants, he said, which he hunted all over.
He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and returned to South Dakota and married his wife LaVonne in 1954. They’ve lived in the same house for 50 years, a house that was built the same year Frank Scepaniak was born — in 1929.
The pair settled in Aberdeen. Scepaniak started laying flooring. He estimates he’s laid more than a million miles of flooring. They raised two sons, both of whom moved away, but not too far. Scott is still in Minneapolis, and Todd spent most of his career in Nebraska, but recently moved to the Caribbean.
While Frank Scepaniak loved hunting, it’s not something either of his sons took to, and he was OK with that.
Scepaniak said he hung up his hunter’s hat about 30 years ago, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the memories.
A love of hunting was something that he shared with Aberdeen businessman Fred Hatterscheidt. The friends bonded over the pastime.
The friendship led Scepaniak to take that trip polar bear hunting in 1969, he said.
“Hatterscheidt wanted to hunt polar bear, and we were real close friends,” Scepaniak said. “We hunted together all over the country.”
The polar bear is now on display in the Hatterscheidt Wildlife Gallery at the Dacotah Prairie Museum.
“They continue to be, after all this time, one of the most popular exhibits with kids,” said Sue Gates, director of the museum.
The animals aren’t just a tool to teach about wildlife, Gates said. Museum staff uses them to teach about a different time in hunting.
“At the time that he was doing it, there were no restrictions on any of these things,” Gates said.
Hatterscheidt and Scepaniak were based in Alaska on the trip, but flew on a plane into Siberia, not far from the North Pole, Scepaniak said. It was 72 below zero when shot the bear, he said.
“Hatterscheidt couldn’t go because he was too old. They wouldn’t allow him to hunt a bear like that,” Scepaniak said.
The task was left to Scepaniak, who loaded onto a plane in early April 1969. After a brief encounter with a Soviet plane, he said he was able to find the tracks of a bear, land the plane and go in for the kill.
“He weighed 1,000 pounds, and he was running in snow about that deep and he was just coming — I was lunch,” he said.
While the trip was to hunt polar bears, Scepaniak said he wasn’t quite expecting a fight for his life.
The bear was taken to a taxidermist in Washington state after being skinned in Alaska, Scepaniak said. It then made its way to an Aberdeen bank before finding its home at the Dacotah Prairie Museum.
“That was 1969, that was the end of hunting polar bears,” he said.
Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com