A Tribute to Roger McClellan: Conservationist Leaves a Legacy Through Estate Plan
By: J. Francis Duggan
During his life, Roger McClellan took plenty of people hunting, but he only had one hunting partner... his stepson Stephen.
When he introduced Stephen Rider to ringneck pheasant hunting, the boy stood no taller than a 12-gauge A-5 humpback propped in a closet corner. So, as many of us have done, Stephen played the role of bird dog...he walked, flushed, retrieved and was thrilled to do it.
Over the years, Roger trained a few good Labs so Stephen could stop flushing and start shooting. Although they started by hunting any grassy ditch where they could get permission, eventually they would hunt pheasants on 700 acres of their own ground in northwestern Indiana-much of which they restored to upland habitat in partnership with Pheasants Forever. While they frequently sought the company of other hunting companions, it seemed their best hunts were when it was just Roger and Stephen.
More occasions than not, Roger left his shotgun back at the house, preferring to walk in the outdoors focusing on God's creation, taking in good dog work and watching his hunting partner make the most of points and flushes with skilled shooting.
"He always talked about enjoying the experience," Stephen said. "It was a spiritual thing for him to be out in the field enjoying the outdoors."
Then tragedy struck when Roger was diagnosed with cancer, significantly interrupting their autumn reveries.
During the rounds of chemo, Roger prematurely lost a dog to illness, so he instructed Stephen to get a new pup. Stephen shook his head; he didn't even want to think about what seemed almost a trivial pursuit while his friend and mentor was fighting for his life.
But Roger insisted, "When I get better, we'll need a dog to go hunting," Roger said.
For Roger, removing the possibility of a future hunt would have been like giving up on life, for the two were practically synonymous his entire existence.
Born in 1953, Roger grew up close to nature on his grandfather's farm in Decatur County, Indiana. When he and his brother, Mark, weren't doing school or farm work, they fished creeks in the sunlight or ran hounds by moonlight. Although he grew up a coon hunter, he'd soon graduate to chasing ringnecks and bobwhites.
As he moved through life, Roger received many blessings. He graduated with a degree in business from Indiana University and then on to a professional career with CTS Corp., which manufactured a diverse line of electronics and components. His work with the company took him around the country to numerous states including Arkansas where he married his wife, Lora, known to everyone as Lolly. She had two children from a previous marriage, Stephen and Melissa, both of whom Roger loved as if they were his own.
In 1993 while living back in Indiana, he left CTS to join Lafayette Instrument Company, which he would restructure and eventually acquire along with two business associates. Roger served as president, and with his partners and employees, they grew the companyinto the world's preeminent polygraph supplier. Lafayette Instrument also supplies specialty products to counterterrorism units and the life science industry for research on central nervous system disorders.
As much as he loved his work, he loved life even more. A skilled, selftaught guitarist, he and Lolly shared a passion for music and singing. Roger and Lolly loved entertaining, hosting and otherwise spending time with friends. They traveled as much as possible, whether the destination was international or just down the road to a nearby state wildlife area. If he wasn't hunting or fishing, he'd paddle a canoe, hike a trail or spend hours searching for mushrooms or arrowheads. He also was an excellent golfer, played wicked game of ping pong and could run a pool table like Willie Mosconi. A direct descendent of Civil War General George McClellan, he had an insatiable curiosity about history and nature, consuming every book about both he could get his hands on.
His love of bird dogs and bird hunting naturally led him to Pheasants Forever. He joined the Sagamore Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Lafayette and before long became chapter president. The chapter blossomed under Roger's leadership. During his tenure, Roger organized banquets, encouraged landowners to conserve habitat for wildlife and introduced his extensive network of friends to wildlife habitat conservation. He also understood the importance of conservation at the national level and was a staunch supporter of habitat conservation programs through the federal Farm Bill.
He believed so firmly in the mission of Pheasants Forever that he set aside a near $1 million gift to the organization in his estate plan. For Roger, it was also important to make a difference for upland habitat by leaving a conservation legacy for future generations with a planned gift to PF.
"More than anything, Roger was driven to enjoy life," Lolly said. "He wanted to get all out of life he could."
And he did, until brain cancer wouldn't let him anymore.
Stephen got that pup Roger insisted he acquire at the onset of his illness. They named her Bella. She was at Roger's bedside when he passed away at home on July 9, 2012.
On opening day last fall, Stephen wasn't sure he could do it. But an internal voice made him lace up his boots. "I could hear him saying, 'Get your hunting gear on and get the dog out, she needs it.'"
When he got to the spot they called the honey hole, the air almost crackled as the young Lab started to get birdy. Then the birds erupted from the grass in every direction. As tears welled in his eyes, Stephen had no intention of shouldering his gun.
"It was my turn to take it in, to enjoy the beauty of what he created, what God created."