Every so often, Francis Skalicky gets a call at his Springfield office from a close contact in Polk County, just to chat.
Skalicky, a Bolivar native and media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s southwest region, is tasked with coordinating media coverage for the office’s 17-county coverage area and assisting with media coverage elsewhere in the state.
“She’s not a hunter,” Skalicky said, referring to the caller. “She’s not an angler. She just appreciates the outdoors. We’ll talk about birds she’s seen. Sometimes we’ll get down to insects and plants. She always apologizes, but I say, ‘No no. You are exactly the kind of people we are working for, because you appreciate the outdoors. You appreciate how nature fits together, and I always have time for people who appreciate nature.’”
In 24 years on the job, Skalicky said he’s come to define conservation this way. While preservation is key, so is appreciation.
“It’s somebody who appreciates the outdoors and appreciates how special things are around here,” he said.
At a Missouri Sports Hall of Fame outdoor sports luncheon Wednesday, Feb. 26, Skalicky will be inducted into the hall for just that.
The 1980 Bolivar High School graduate is one of five who will receive the honor. Skalicky’s induction is under the hall’s conservation category. His sister-in-law, Bolivar’s Gail Skalicky, will sing the national anthem at the luncheon.
“In one respect, you could say it's a long way from my family’s milk barn in Polk County to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame,” he said. “In a manner of years, yes. But in directness of connection, no. It has Bolivar stamped all over it.”
That time spent on the family farm fueled a love for nature that’s continued to grow today, he said.
“There still was that connection to the outdoors,” he said. “Whether it was big stuff or little stuff, you had time out there to wonder how it all fits together.”
After graduating high school, Skalicky attended Southwest Missouri State University, now Missouri State University. He spent summer stints at the Bolivar Herald-Free Press and the Springfield News-Leader before graduating in 1984.
Afterward, he worked for newspaper firm Gannett for 11 years, including six years at the News-Leader, before being hired by the Missouri Department of Conservation as its first media specialist for the state’s southwest region in 1996.
He still holds the same job title today.
But, while the name has stayed the same, the responsibilities haven’t, he said.
“Obviously, media has changed,” he said. “When I started, there were more newspapers. It was radio and TV, and it was just interviews. Now, if I do a newspaper interview, they may want video too, for their website, so I send them video. I get calls from people who saw things on Facebook, because social media has become part of the media, too.”
Through the changes, Skalicky’s love of the work has stayed constant, he said.
“The good thing about my job also is that I am constantly learning,” he said. “I prepare for an interview with a media outlet or I research to write a story, and the interview comes and goes. The story is published, and the paper moves on, but the knowledge stays with me. I’m always learning, because the outdoors is always teaching.”