The minister's menagerie: Elgin college puts 226 hunting trophies on display
Hundreds of eyes stare at you from all angles when you meander through the atrium of Providence Baptist College in Elgin.
More than a college, the setting evokes that of an exotic safari, what with 226 animal mounts on display, including white-tailed deer, zebras, warthogs, waterbucks, impalas, buffaloes, blue wildebeest, bear and much, much more.
"We make Cabela's (hunting store) jealous," joked pastor Keith Gomez, an avid bow hunter who is responsible for about half the collection.
The rest of the animals were hunted by Gomez's friend Mike Miller, owner of M.J. Miller & Co., a jewelry company in Barrington.
Gomez, 61, a pastor at Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin, founded the college about 15 years ago. He began hunting with his father while growing up in Louisiana and studied forestry and wildlife management in college.
He later attended Hyles-Anderson College, a Baptist college in Indiana, eventually ending up in Elgin.
Bow-and-arrow hunting has been around for centuries, Gomez said. "You just feel a part of how this is supposed to work," he said.
Hunting with a bow and arrow is all about proximity, usually 30 to 40 yards, he said.
"It's not only challenging, but it's up close and personal."
The white-tailed deer is the most difficult animal to hunt, said Gomez, who plans to go on his fourth trip to Africa later this year. "They are so smart, so hard to hunt if you do it with bow and arrow," he said.
Gomez also takes pride in ensuring the animals he kills are always used as meat.
"Mass-produced processed food, chicken and beef, are full of steroids and antibiotics," he said. "This is the cleanest source of protein you'll ever find."
The showiest pieces of the college's collection -- including lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and a crocodile -- belong to Miller, a gun hunter.
"(Miller) has the high-dollar stuff. I'm the poor man," Gomez joked.
Although many colleges have natural history collections, few, if any, display them unprotected in public areas, Miller said.
"One of the neat things about Providence Baptist College are the quality of people," Miller said. "You don't have to worry about anybody messing with it."
Many of his animals were stored in the basement of Miller's now-closed Esh Pharmacy in Barrington, Miller said. Some day, he might donate everything to the village by creating a natural history venue, he added.
Gomez is "an amazing man," Miller said.
"He's one of the premier shots in the United States with a bow and arrow," he said.
Gomez's second wife, Kim -- whom he married after the death of his first wife, Carla -- also has become a bow hunting enthusiast, and some of her kills are on display at the college.
"We work hard and we play hard," Keith Gomez said.