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Memorable fishing pond holding final gatherings

Kyle Schulz holds the fish Lena Vandenhoek caught on Tuesday afternoon at My Big Pond in Bridgewater. Sam Fosness / Republic1 / 2
Owner of My Fishing Pond Inc. John Alvarez poses in front of his acreage that is now for sale. Sam Fosness / Republic2 / 2

BRIDGEWATER — After 16 years of watching people visit his serene acreage near Bridgewater, John Alvarez is closing a special chapter in his life and selling the property that united those who casted a fishing line in his notorious pond.

On his road to recovery from a traumatic brain injury he suffered due to a car crash in 1994—Alvarez, an Arizona native and avid fishermen, had a dream to create a place where he and other people who have suffered from brain trauma, would be at peace.

"I used to be very busy working as a miner in Arizona, and I had to have a purpose in life after my brain injury," Alvarez said. "I wanted to create a place for people who have brain injuries and special needs to enjoy the peace of the great outdoors and fishing."

With the help of his wife Dee Ann and son Trevor, Alvarez manifested his dream and founded a non-profit organization in 2002 known as My Fishing Pond, Inc. Area locals also chipped in, as he constructed a big man-made pond on the acreage next to his house.

But as an Arizona native who prefers the southwestern climate, Alvarez said battling South Dakota's harsh is getting too hard on his body and joints.

His 2,000-square-foot acreage, which includes the fishing pond, is now listed for $325,000 on Craigslist.

Alvarez credits Hansen Fish Hatchery, a company in South Dakota that helped stock his pond with a wide variety of freshwater fish ranging from bluegill to catfish.

"After I built the pond, I had three groups in the first year," he said. "But I believed; if you build it, they will come."

Word spread quickly about the organization, as he hosted roughly 18 groups the following year.

In the early years, Alvarez primarily hosted groups of people who suffered from brain trauma and those with special needs.

Alvarez said the first group that came was the Sioux Falls Area Brain Injury Support Group, a group he credits that helped inspire him to manifest his dream of creating My Fishing Pond, Inc.

As each year progressed, Alvarez began hosting close to 30 groups a season.

Alvarez hosted two area nursing homes on Tuesday, as Golden Living Center in Armour and Good Samaritan Society in Corsica brought the residents to fish the pond.

Craig Engelland, an Armour native and general manager at Vern Eide in Mitchell, used the last few weeks of My Fishing Pond to the fullest, as he donated on behalf of Vern Eide and helped elderly locals from his hometown in Armour.

"Helping take this group is very important to me," Engelland said as he was flipping brats and burgers for the group. "I'm able to give back to the people who helped make the Armour community a great place to live, and we're taking it all in for the last time together."

Alvarez said all of the free-will donations each group gives, goes back into maintaining the acreage and pond that has produced special memories for many.

Alvarez will host his last group at 9 a.m. on June 26, as the Abbott House will close the chapter of My Fishing Pond as it sits today.