When Preston Launius of Sesser peers into the future, he seems himself as a conservation police officer.
That dream took a step toward reality last month when the Sesser-Valier High School graduate was named the recipient of the 2018 Conservation Achievement Scholarship. He will receive $2,000 to apply to college expenses.
“I’ve always loved, had a passion for the outdoors, really every aspect of it, conservation, hunting, fishing and getting other involved in it, all that stuff,” Launius said. “I’d really just like to come back to Illinois and work, preferably Southern Illinois where I’ve grown up.”
He will attend Rend Lake in the fall to study criminal justice. After completing classes at Rend Lake, Launius plans to transfer to Murray State to pursue a wildlife conservation and biology major.
His love for the outdoors was kindled during his first deer hunt when he was 10. That first hunt didn’t end with a trophy deer, but Launius was hooked.
“I first started out hunting, my dad, my uncle and both of my grandpas, I think I was 10 years old in the fourth grade,” he said. “I know for two years we could never get a deer where I could shoot it. They would all tell me when they went hunting the deer would walk right up to them. When they took me, the deer wouldn’t show up.”
Launius became an avid hunter and fisherman. Bowhunting remains his passion. During his high school years, he began thinking about the outdoors as a profession.
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"Around my freshman, sophomore year, I really got intrigued and interested in the field,” he said. “What originally piqued my interest would have to be my passion for the outdoors. My junior year I started looking at a couple different fields. I do know officer Chris Johnson. He’s friends with my dad. I used to play baseball with his son.”
That flame was fueled by Launius’ membership in the Sesser-Valier Outdoorsmen’s Club. The club sponsors various projects through the school year, from volunteering at the Southern Illinois Celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Days to conducting a deer hunt for physically challenged hunters.
“It really showed me how you can bring others into the outdoors, teach them everything about that from conservation to the love of the outdoors,” he said.
Launius used those experiences to enhance his scholarship application.
“I talked about just a few different things I do every year,” he said. “I know my immediate family and my uncles, and aunts we get real Christmas trees. When we get done with them we can put them in selected spots and they give the fish cover. In the Outdoorsmen’s Club you have to turn in 50 pounds of aluminum every year as part of your dues. I just drive around, pick up cans and take them to the recycling center.”
Only one scholarship is issued each year.
“The Illinois Conservation Foundation is pleased to award the 2018 Conservation Achievement Scholarship to Preston Launius for his academic efforts in the classroom, and his community service efforts in and around his hometown of Sesser in Southern Illinois,” said Wayne Rosenthal, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in an ICF press release.