He was born with a million dollar voice, and a love of the outdoors. He melded the two into a career that took him to countless fields and lakes and his beloved prairie potholes. Along the way, he became a conservation visionary, committed to preserving those areas so that future generations would have access to the great hunting and fishing opportunities he enjoyed. He was an exceptional communicator who used his voice and gift of storytelling to make a difference.
He went by the name of Tony Dean, but he started life as Anthony Eastman DeChandt II, on November 26, 1940. The son of Anthony and Marion (Smith) DeChandt, he grew up in Mandan, North Dakota. He got his first taste of the broadcasting field in Bismarck as a teenager, first in radio, then as the host of a children’s television show.
Tony and his wife Darlene moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was assistant manager of a radio station. He also began doing play-by-play and announcing auto races. His announcing prowess led to eight years working with the Motor Racing Network, covering NASCAR races on speedways nationwide.
In 1968, Tony and Dar moved to Pierre, where he managed KCCR Radio. The couple also operated the State Fair Speedway in Huron for a decade.
From 1970 to 1972, Tony served as South Dakota’s first Press Secretary for Governor Frank Farrar.
Tony then began the work that would continue for the rest of his life: he started a daily outdoors radio show. He began producing South Dakota Outdoors radio for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, and a similar series, “Great Lakes Outdoors”, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Tony expanded into television in 1987 with the weekly “Tony Dean Outdoors” program which aired throughout the Midwest, and in 1990 began the daily “Dakota Backroads” radio program, which aired in North and South Dakota. For over two decades, Tony’s programs reached an audience of more than 250,000 people each week.
The radio and television programs began as hunting and fishing shows, presented in Tony’s familiar homespun, comfortable style, filled with good tips and good humor. But as he wove his stories about hunting and fishing, he also began using the award-winning programs as a vehicle to help teach his audience about the importance of stewardship and conservation issues.
He became a well-known outdoor writer, authoring several books and hundreds of articles for regional magazines and newspapers. He added to his reach and influence with his Tony Dean Outdoors website, providing a forum for people to interact about outdoors and conservation issues.
In every format, he shared the pure joy of hunting and fishing and his love of the great outdoors, while educating his audience about threats to the environment and wildlife, and advocating for people to get involved.
His shows had tremendous impact. State and Federal agency personnel often said they knew what he had on the air simply by the number of calls they received on an issue. Many times, policies were changed or modified as a result of people speaking up after learning about an issue through one of Tony’s programs.
Tony was also active on the political front, lending his voice to environmental issues; efforts related to protecting wetlands, soil and water conservation; and climate change. He served on many boards which shared his goals. He testified on environmental issues in Washington, DC and in Pierre, and was always active in efforts to educate the public about how climate change will impact our land, fish and wildlife.
In recognition of his achievements, Tony received hundreds of awards during his lifetime and posthumously including conservation awards from the U.S. Forest Service, the South Dakota and National Wildlife Federation, and the South Dakota Wildlife Society, and communications awards from Ducks Unlimited, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He was named to the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame, the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, and the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.
One of Tony’s proudest achievements was being asked to serve as part of the transition team for President Barack Obama. He told his children that he had trained his whole life for that job.
Just months before his death, Tony was asked what he considered the most rewarding aspect of his career. His response: “If I had to really sum up the greatest satisfaction, it’s that when I was doing outdoor radio for the Fish and Wildlife Service and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, that gave me an opportunity to rub shoulders with and listen to some of the finest fisheries and wildlife minds on the planet, and it didn’t take long to figure out that everything we enjoy in the outdoors is a result of good management and good conservation practices. And I’ve tried in my own way to pass along those good conservation practices to other anglers and other hunters. You know, if we don’t have habitat, we don’t have fish. If we don’t have habitat, we don’t have wildlife. It’s that simple. And being able to utilize any skills I’ve had in the outdoor media to drive home that conservation message at every opportunity has been one of the real satisfactions.”
Tony and Dar’s children – Cameron, Melissa, Alexia and Anthony – shared a tremendous love and regard for their dad. Notes Melissa, “My father taught me many things, including the importance of loving what you do and finding the joy in the everyday occurrences in life, treating people with kindness, compassion and respect, independent of race, class, gender or economic status; to stand up for what you believe in, even when it is not the most popular stance and to tell the important people in your life that you love them at every possible occasion. The memory of my beloved father serves as a daily reminder of these important life lessons and his lasting legacy." His wife Dar says simply, “He is missed.”
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