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by Bill Rutherford

Other than William S. Winegar, few people in the town’s history had a more significant impact than that of Fred Wolter and his wife Catherine.

Fred and Catherine met while working at the same company in Milwaukee. In 1942, the Wolters’ bought a large tract of land east of Winegar and they started camping up north every summer. In 1945, despite having three small children under the age of 6, they decided to move permanently to the “wilds” of northern Wisconsin–even though it meant washing dishes in lake water and using the outhouse.

The town was divided regarding Mr.Wolter. When he first came here they were going to run him out of town, partly because of his German heritage. He came to town, bought land and then would not let people come on his property. He told them “I bought this land and I own it. You are not coming on my land”. Before he bought the land everyone pretty much had the run of the entire township, and they could hunt, fish, and trap wherever they wanted to. He changed that, and the men of the town were not happy. Their feelings were that many of them had fought in WWII and there was no way some German guy was going to deprive them of their lifestyle.

Fred ran for Town Chairman and lost. Undeterred, he waited until the next election, ran for office again, and this time he won by a narrow margin. He then remained in office for the next twelve years, partly due to the efficiency of the town board, but also due to his ability to win over the opposition.

Although a somewhat polarizing figure, no one can dispute that he did, in fact, bring about some significant improvements to this area. Fred started the Winegar Volunteer Fire Department in 1949, when he purchased a civil defense pumper truck, equipped it with fire-fighting equipment, and convinced some of the men in town to be part of the department. Frank Jirikowic, Bill Hill, Hank Brousil, Deke Wilutis, and others, volunteered. Now, the town had a chance to possibly save some buildings, instead of just standing by and watching them burn to the ground.

According to his son, Carl, who later had his own time as Town Chairman, his father’s biggest accomplishment in office took place in 1956, when he spearheaded the passing of zoning ordinances regarding waterfront development, requiring all newly divided lakefront lots be at least 1.5 acres, and have a minimum of 200 feet of frontage. This ordinance was the first of its’ kind in Vilas County, and was soon adopted by other communities throughout the county and the state. Due to Fred’s vision and leadership, Presque Isle has continued to provide residents and visitors the peace and quiet that can still be found in the natural environment of “Wisconsin’s Last Wilderness”.

In addition, Fred is credited with cleaning up waste and mismanagement in the town government. He put an end to some of the practices of misuse of town funds for personal use, and restored fiscal responsibility to the community.

Under his watch, the quality of the town roads was greatly improved. He was not only able to obtain better equipment, but led the effort to construct a new municipal garage to house and maintain the trucks, graders, plows and other equipment that was required to care for the infrastructure of the township.

At the end of his tenure he was succeeded in office by a new town chairman, but Fred was not happy with the way things were being done, and was considering running again in 1964. Unfortunately, on January 29th, 1964, while trying to skid a fallen pine tree across the ice on one of the lakes on his property, his tractor broke through the ice, and Fred drowned.

For being a city girl, Catherine took to hunting and fishing like a duck takes to water. She was an avid fisherwoman. In the early 1950’s she caught a bass that weighed over 6lbs, and almost won a brand new car because of it! Fred was a championship shooter and taught Catherine well, as she also became a champion shot. She not only shot her own game but gutted and cleaned it as well. She was so proud that it only took one bullet every year to get her buck! Catherine shot her last deer at age 85 (again with one bullet), and then died the next spring. We’re all sure she’s tracking the big buck in the big hunting grounds in the sky!

Today, the Wolter family’s legacy lives on, in the Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area. This 3,000 acre nature preserve includes 15 lakes and ponds with 36,000 feet of undeveloped shoreline. The wilderness area is an undisturbed gem in the heart of Presque Isle and will allow the enjoyment of nature in its most pristine state for years to come. It is open to the public from sunrise to sunset for hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching and other low impact recreational activities, and I would strongly suggest that you take to time to visit this wonderful area. Fred and Catherine would be very proud that their three children pushed for the creation of this wilderness area, rather than have it developed, and they have this as their legacy.

For a collection of 20 more of Bill's essays on Winegar/Presque Isle read his book:

WINEGAR Reflections, Shelbyville, KY: Wasteland Press, 2016.

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