Merle Douglas, of Marion, has not had an easy life, but he would be the last one to complain. Fishing stories, fun times with family, and chasing the thrill of a casino jackpot top his list of favorite topics to talk about.
It has not all been fun and games however, and Douglas has many things to be thankful for this holiday season, the greatest of which is his life.
“I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my family, and for Dr. Stephen Cranston and some of the other good doctors who have worked on me,” Douglas said.
Douglas underwent surgery for colon cancer in 1996.
“They didn’t know if I would make it or not,” he said.
Prior to dealing with colon cancer, Douglas was an avid fisherman, often frequenting Marion County Lake and Marion Reservoir, where he made some legendary catfish catches.
“Oh, the biggest one was probably 51.5 pounds,” he said. “I’ve caught thousands of fish, but I like going after the flatheads the best. It’s a challenge to get the big ones.”
He also enjoyed traveling to fish, casting lines at Cottonwood Falls and at lakes in Oklahoma, before another illness put a damper on his fun.
In 2002, Douglas underwent surgery to correct a problem he had with blood veins clogging circulation to his eyes. It saved his eyesight.
“That was also a pretty rough time,” he said. “I couldn’t see and thought I would probably go blind. This darkness would just take over sometimes, but they finally got me taken care of.”
Douglas said the main thing that kept him going during times of health trouble was the support of his family.
“I have five daughters, 15 grandkids and 24 great-grandkids, all living fairly close,” he said. “They mean the world to me.”
Douglas particularly loves spending time teaching his grandkids to hunt and fish. Another surgery in 2006, this time to correct a cataract problem, put a halt to those outdoors activities for a bit.
The biggest trial of his life came in 2010, however.
“I was losing blood somehow,” he said. “I went to several different doctors and they kept testing me for this and that, but couldn’t find the problem.”
One of his daughters finally convinced him to see her doctor in El Dorado.
“They found I had a malignant stomach ulcer,” Douglas said. “I went back to Dr. Cranston for that surgery because I trusted him.”
By February 2010 when Douglas underwent stomach cancer surgery he weighed only 120 pounds.
“I spent 10 days in intensive care at Axtel in Newton,” he said. They didn’t know if I was going to make it or not. But I had a lot of good nurses and my family was there for me. They kept me going.”
Douglas survived the ordeal, and though he is not able to go fishing on his own anymore, he still enjoys telling about past hunting and fishing experiences.
“The best time to go fishing is early spring when the ice just gets off the water,” he said. “Fall is also good.”
Douglas said the best bait was shad, but he didn’t like to buy it for $4 a pint.
“I’d much rather catch my own bait,” he said. “We throw nets down below the dam and get better bait that way.”
Douglas said his grandson Doug Schroeder was a good fishing companion.
“For the past three years or so, he’s been going fishing with me,” he said. “He is a big, strong young man, used to play football here in Marion, and he likes to fish like I do.”
Douglas also said several grandsons in Chase County would likely take after him with fishing and hunting interests. He is always glad to share those interests with them, and with the rest of his family, as well.
“My grandkids are all such really good kids,” he said. “It means so much to me that they are all pretty close by and we get to go see them in their activities.”
Douglas said his daughters and their families all plan to get together for Thanksgiving this year, coming from El Dorado, Marion, Strong City, and southeast of Peabody.
“Since I’ve been sick, I’ve just come to appreciate the little things in life so much more,” he said. “You just learn not to take things for granted.”
Just because he can’t fish and hunt as much as he used to, doesn’t mean Douglas is sitting around letting the fun pass him by.
“Oh, me and the wife might go to the casino and pull some levers,” he said. “Life is too short not to have fun.”
Douglas and his wife, Emma, have lived in Marion all their lives. Prior to retirement, Douglas worked for Marion County Road and Bridge Department.