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by Aaron Portwood


Woods ‘n Water celebrates 30 years!

Believe it or not, Woods ‘n Water magazine began as one entrepreneurial working mother’s dream to earn enough money to be able to pay someone to clean the house, and (based on what I’ve personally witnessed) avoid having to cook dinner.

What you are now holding in your hands is the result of one amazing woman’s quest to do something that would allow her to make enough money to avoid the hum-drum cooking and cleaning housewife chores she bitterly despised – those same duties that keep many of us out of the woods and off of the water on too many days.

In the summer of 1978, a stay-at-home mother of three had just sent her baby boy off to school for the first time. With her oldest two daughters already in school and her husband working full time building and selling boats at the local SportCraft plant, she sipped her coffee alone in the house for the first time in years. She had previously worked at several other jobs, and had actually enjoyed many aspects of her position with the local newspaper, but hated having to write about the negative or heartbreaking events that sometimes happened in the lives of people she knew (and ran into at the grocery store in the small town of Perry, Fla.)

The (then) 36-year-old daughter of well-known Taylor County Judge Declan O’Grady and his wife, Ruth, had never been hunting in her life and had accompanied her husband, Billy, on just one fishing trip. But, despite an obvious lack of personal experience or knowledge of the outdoors field and publishing, 30 years ago this month, Patricia “Paddy” (O’Grady) Pillow decided to start a hunting and fishing magazine.

In spite of everyone telling her it would never work, Paddy was convinced a magazine dedicated to providing readers with timely outdoor news, interesting and informative articles and photos of local hunters and anglers with their “trophies” would succeed. She recognized the niche market that was not being met by the mainstream media and seized the opportunity to fill it.

“If I would have listened to all of the expert advice I was offered and the conventional wisdom, we wouldn’t be here today,” she told me last year when I was preparing to give a presentation about the business to a local Kiwanis Club. “Everyone, including my own husband, thought I was an idiot.” Despite the doubts, her own personal fears and all the daunting challenges that come with starting a new small business in a small town (not to mention doing it as the mother of three) she invested in a hand-held waxer for $29.95 and founded Woods ‘N Water magazine.

To this day she says that waxer is the only investment she did not have the funds in the company coffers to pay for at the time of purchase. Her kids’ playroom was cleaned out and became the office. Her husband, Billy, built an old fashioned lay-out/paste-up table along one wall and helped her as she began to sell ads to friends and acquaintances who owned businesses around Perry.

She scrounged up some fishing photos from Wilson’s Bait & Tackle and a couple of very dated pictures of Billy and some of his friends. She called around to several fish camps and marinas and gathered enough content to publish the inaugural issue in August, 1978. She paid the local newspaper to set the copy and had it printed in Camilla, Georgia along with the Perry News-Herald. She typed the cutlines under the photos herself, using a typewriter from her dad’s law office that wouldn’t quite make the words dark enough. So, she put a piece of carbon in front of the paper and “typed blind” to make sure readers could read the text.

That first edition was 16 pages and featured ads from local businesses like Citizens Bank (now Citizens State Bank and on page 77 of this issue), Thomas Chevrolet (you can see their current ad on page 33), Jack’s Boats & Trailers (see page 201), Radio Shack (page 94 this month) and a host of other businesses. As a testament to the quality of the content and the effectiveness of the magazine’s advertising power, some of these same businesses are still regular advertisers to this day. Many more are now also using us as a vehicle to reach their target audience.

To get an idea, just flip through these pages and see the amazing variety and range of businesses (from snow geese guides in Missouri and Michigan, to caribou, bear and whitetail outfitters in Texas and Canada, fishing guides in Mexico Beach and the Florida Keys to real estate companies offering land, leases and property all over the Southeast). In the early years the magazine covered fishing and hunting in Taylor, Lafayette and Madison counties, with grainy black and white photos of fish and game taken by local anglers and hunters and fishing reports from Cherry Lake, Econfina River, Spring Warrior, Keaton Beach, Steinhatchee, Lake Jackson, Talquin, Seminole, Panasoffkee and the St. Johns River at Astor Park.

In that first edition Shorty Guthrie reported that Louie Houck caught 300 Key West snapper (pinkmouth grunts), two buddies from Valdosta came down and brought in about 60 trout and Charlie Ward and Jim Ross caught 35 nice grouper three miles off Marker 20. Ralph Sadler reported catching 50 to 100 trout on consecutive days fishing out of Spring Warrior and another unnamed angler brought in 36 “fair size” grouper. Not much has changed in 30 years (other than the number of fish you can legally keep) because even back in that August, 1978 edition Ralph Holton shared that he caught 60 redbellies, but would only add he managed to do it “somewhere in the Econfina River.”

Over the years the publication slowly grew and expanded its circulation, advertising base and content to include all of the Big Bend area. In the early years it was just Paddy and Billy handling all the writing, photos, lay-out, selling ads, subscriptions and delivering the magazine, with a little help from their friend Ann Nola and lots of baby-sitting by Billy and Paddy’s parents.

The magazine eventually grew enough to move into an actual “office” located in Ann’s front yard on Main Street in Perry. Finally, Paddy broke down and hired Gwen Cade and Jo Dalton to help sell ads and deliver the magazine. Knowing and working for her for just the short time I have, I know that she probably felt “that darn overhead expense” would sink the business for sure.

Years later a driver delivering the magazine around the Big Bend area wanted to know if she could try to expand the number of stores on her route. Somewhat doubtfully, Paddy agreed to allow her to set up racks in locations outside of the Big Bend. Over the years the circulation steadily grew as the number of stores with Woods ‘N Water racks mushroomed across the state and into Georgia. That driver, Claire Isley, and her husband, Troy, have since formed their own distribution company (All-Florida Distribution) and now employ some 20 hard-working, energetic “route drivers” who deliver magazines to stores each month.

Soon there were “Best Bets” fishing reports from Jacksonville, Tampa, the Everglades and Pensacola. Hunters and fishermen from around the state began to subscribe and send in their photos and stories.

With some help from family and friends the business and workload grew. The magazine took a huge step forward when Declan “Dec” Pillow joined the staff full time in 1994, helping handle everything from subscriptions to advertising sales and began expertly building all of the ads. Dec (the most talented and skilled advertising graphics designer in the field, who still creates every ad with some help from sister Kerri Plaza) and Paddy, who until recently wrote every story and every cutline, could not have kept pace with the tremendous growth without help. Betty Ketron – the most punctual, dedicated, loyal and scrupulous business manager on the planet – has capably handled the bookkeeping duties and ensured we have enough to meet payroll. Claudette Cruse, our extremely organized, conscientious and sugar-tongued advertising sales director, somehow meets the needs of 400 to 500 business owners each and every month. With the arrival of email and high-tech computer software programs, Billy slowly moved away from his production duties (scanning, paste-up and lay-out) and into “field research.” But this talented angler and skilled marksman (and one of the kindest, most generous men you’ll ever meet) still personally caters to several local advertisers and delivers magazines locally. Due to unprecedented growth in advertisers, subscribers, content and online business in recent years, the Woods ‘n Water family has grown to include: IT/Marketing Manager Tracy Green, the most pleasant, polite, earnest, pure-hearted and devoted employee to ever possess the boundless computer, technological and internet-savvy skills a backwoods publication could ever hope to obtain, and Circulation/Subscription Manager Angela Sarabia, who not only adeptly handles receptionist duties, but also gracefully coordinates the thousands of subscriptions, renewals and expiration reminders while lending a hand to both advertising and bookkeeping as well.

We are a small, tight-knit family committed to fulfilling Paddy’s original vision. Woods ‘n Water’s primary focus has always been (and will be) to showcase outdoors enthusiasts with their fish and game, to be the voice of the average, everyday sportsman and woman and to keep them informed about current events on the state, federal and local level that affect your favorite outdoor pursuits. It is truly a Taylor County success story still being written each month with each edition published under the direction of a humble, but smart, shrewd and savvy Irish pixie named Paddy Pillow.

But, as much as I would like to suck up to the boss, I can’t give her all of the credit. Nope...Woods ‘n Water magazine may have been birthed, nursed in its infancy and raised up by the capable and loving hands of Paddy and Billy Pillow, but this incredible publication would not be the best hunting and fishing publication in the Southeast without you.

By “you” I mean that smiling, considerate and thoughtful man who stopped by our booth at the Southern Trophy Hunters’ “Big Buck Expo” in Lakeland and whispered, “Thank you for putting out the best magazine in the world. I have been a subscriber for 20 years. Keep up the good work.” “You” are Amanda, Jeremy and David (on page 66) whose parents snapped a photo and emailed your first kill to us, knowing how much it would mean to you to see it in the magazine when you grabbed it out of the mailbox or off the rack this month. “You” are the parents of Clayton (page 125), Cal, Cody and Carey (page 110) and Joseph (page 113), who each took the time to capture the excitement of that “big catch” memory and send it in to share with your fellow anglers. “You” are the Marr family (page 13), Mike Wetsel (page 49), Ryan Brown and Chris Sapp (page 50), David Holland, Mark Titler and Mel “the Sow Slayer” Green (page 51), Linda Hatcher (page 70) and Bryce Walker (page 81) who all stopped by our booth at the Expo to make sure your photos would be printed this month. “You” are Millard Collins of C-Quarters Marina, who called this week to say he polled the entrants in his last fishing tournament and found over 80% showed up because they read about it here. “You” include Gary Smith of Trophy Georgia Hunts, Bang Collins of Paradise Valley Hunt Club, Fred Morgan at Big Bend Marine, Waymond Carroll at Jack’s Boats, Jim Hooks of Georgia Timberland and Brett Falicon at Timberland Ford (I know I am getting in trouble here, but forgive me), who have all demonstrated month after month how powerful advertising in this once tiny “mullet wrapper” is to your businesses. You are Pat, Wade, Frank, Chuck, Paul, Jamie and all of the many other current and past columnists, guides and “Best Bets” contributors who take time each month to pen articles that inform and inspire our readers to head to the woods and water. “You” are the father and son who took a moment to let us know that you used our listing of small game hunts on public lands (in the November, 2007 edition) to fill up every available weekend of you hunting calendar for father-son hunting/camping trips.

Wow......all of “you” don’t know what “you” mean to us....to Paddy, Billy, Dec and the entire staff here. Thanks to Paddy’s unwavering vision, we have always set out to be the voice, the ears and the communication center for the average, everyday hunter and fisherman, but it is still humbling each time someone lets you know you have accomplished your goal.

We owe you at big “thank you” for 30 years. Thank you for reading. Thank you for taking advantage of the great deals provided by our advertisers. Thank you for subscribing or buying a copy out of the rack each month. Thank you for mailing, emailing or dropping off your photos and your stories. You are who and what makes Woods ‘n Water special.

Where else can you have your son’s or daughter’s or wife’s (or heck, even your own) first doe, spike or four-point printed and published for over 60,000 fellow sportsmen and women to see? Where else can you send your first speckled trout, bass, snook, catfish, redfish, grouper or bluegill and expect to be recognized at your local convenience store or gas station the following month?

Woods ‘n Water is now sold at over 1,300 locations across Florida and Georgia (including Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain) with subscribers in many of the 50 states. But, without you, we are no different than those other big, slick, expensive magazines that feature hunts and fishing trips you most likely will never experience and advertisements you quickly flip past.

By the way, you should feel somewhat privileged. The words you have just read are the first ever printed in this publication to have escaped the ever-diligent, proof-reading eyes of its publisher over the past 360 issues. We actually had to sneak this piece by her (using fake ads, photos and stories) just before sending it to our printer (Web Offset Printing in Clearwater) for fear she would have opted to pull it and publish some of your photos (actually some ads) instead.

Her daughter Kerri may have summed it up best when she said, “My mother is a truly amazing woman. Not only is she a wonderful mother and grandmother, but also my best friend, an incredible wife, a darn good dancer, an excellent blackjack player and the best businesswoman I know. “It’s hard to believe that what started out as a means to pay someone to clean the house is now the success story that Woods ‘n Water is today. I am so proud of her and all she has accomplished. There is no one in this world I look up to more than my mom. She truly is my hero!” Kerri added.

Her sister Terri Pate adds, “When I think of Mom and all she’s done to create such a successful business, what springs to mind is total admiration for her perseverance and dedication to making it what it is today. Her blood, sweat, tears (and more long nights than most people can imagine) are what made Woods ‘n Water what it is today. And she did it all while being a wonderful mother and wife.”

Speaking of being a mother, I will close with this gem. Last year when I asked her about the toughest time she had weathered in the magazine business, Paddy remembers the day a little over 20 years ago when she got a call from her family physician, Dr. Rawls. She had been working 80 hours a week getting the magazine ready to be sent off to the printer and had stopped by his office for some tests several days prior because she was feeling “a little run down.” She was then 42. Her youngest son Dec was 10.

In his best physician phone etiquette Dr. Rawls gently told her that he had “some really good news or some really bad news.” In a way that only she can, Paddy told him to “just come out with it.” “The rabbit died,” he bluntly said. She hung up the phone on him without a word. She later admitted it was the scariest day of her life. Within three minutes Dr. Rawls was in her office, panicked that she might be having thoughts of suicide. But, she was still just sitting there in shock.

For those of you unfamiliar with the youngest of the Pillow clan, the result of that little “surprise” is the beautiful Lindsey, who is about to pursue her doctorate at an unnamed university in Gainesville after completing her degree at Florida State University. As you can see, she made it through that little test just fine. Throughout the past 30 years this amazing businesswoman has shown an incredible knack for juggling all of the elements in her life without compromising any of them.

On behalf of the founder and publisher of Woods ‘n Water Magazine, Paddy Pillow, we thank you for your part in helping keep her house clean.