Every successful organization is a team effort. It requires volunteers with ideas, time, energy and patience, according to Guy Hanson of Rhinelander. “Good things, most often, don’t just happen,” he says. “It takes a valuable group of people willing to pull together for a common goal, and I’ve been so lucky to work with great people.”
Several area projects have benefitted from Guy’s leadership and his ability to communicate, listen and help people find common ground. They include everything from local government and church projects to the Rhinelander (RASTA) and the Rhinelander Food Pantry, for which he serves as executive director.
“Guy put in over 200 hours during October when we were moving to our new location,” says food pantry manager Jane Motowski.
“Not only did he supervise the remodeling work, he did a lot of work himself. There were hours and hours of phone calls, arranging permits and licenses, and endless meetings.
“He is doing a lot of things behind the scenes that we don’t see, making those important decisions,” she continues. “But he’s also right out front, dealing with the public, customers and volunteers. People listen to him and he’s a pleasure to work with.”
Guy has spent decades helping people. A former biology and life science teacher, he began working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Rhinelander in 1973. When the Clean Water Act was passed, he was brought on board to teach waterworks and wastewater treatment operators how to bring their systems into compliance with the law.
“I worked with municipal employees and industrial plant staff in ten counties up and down the Wisconsin River,” he explains. “I enjoyed the work and was very comfortable dealing with people. Of course, the DNR gets pounded now and then by those unhappy with the rules, and you have to just stand there and take it. I got used it.”
Later, his work with the DNR changed to the role of “trouble shooter” for water systems, and he watched with pleasure while the clean-up of the river took effect. “The mills and the communities did a phenomenal job.”
After several years, Guy went to work at the local paper mill for Wausau Paper. “I spent 13 years there as environmental supervisor,” he says. “That was a lot of fun. I worked with wastewater, landfill and helped with a number of projects. My main goal was to improve energy efficiency.”
Concern with efficiency served the food pantry well when the organization decided to make a move from a small space shared with the Nativity of Our Lord parish thrift shop. “We needed more room and our subcommittee looked at over a dozen vacant buildings in the area,” says Guy.
“Once we selected the former Golden Harvest store site, we brought in local contractors and our own experienced volunteers, and we partnered with the Nicolet College Management and Marketing Service Learning class to help plan the interior layout,” he says.
“We got started late in the construction season,” Guy explains, “but the contractors were great. Each donated part of their work, or gave us a great deal, and with lots of help from volunteers, we were able to get up and running in October.”
That worked out well for RASTA, when Guy and other organizers had to swing into gear with the early snow in November. A few years ago, the group took over grooming cross country ski trails for Oneida County. “We work with the county forestry, land and outdoor recreation department,” he says.
Guy is one of the founding organizers of RASTA. “I was on the county board of supervisors when a number of community members decided to form a group to address improvements to the county trail system for mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing and hiking,” he says. “There were six of us then and three of us are still active in RASTA today.”
The group received a federal stewardship grant to build a shelter plus improve and connect existing trails in the Washburn system to new trails near Perch Lake. “We designed a shelter that included three areas under one long roof,” says Guy. “At the ends we have an open-air picnic shelter with a fireplace and a large garage where we house the equipment for trail grooming.”
But the best part, according to Guy, is the middle section which includes a changing area and tables for eating and gathering, all warmed by an under-floor heating system. “People like to have a shelter where they ski,” he says. “We also put in nice handicap accessible toilets nearby.
“RASTA had to make concessions early on,” he recalls. “We had to let the trails at Enterprise go and consolidate our activity to focus on the Cassian area. We now have the Cassian trail connected to the Washburn/Perch Lake trails. We’ve improved the layout of the Nose Lake trail system, too, and made a new parking area with a building.”
Guy’s efforts with RASTA have him working with county officials and employees as well as with other groups. “There are always compromises to make,” he explains. “We traded trails with a snowmobile group to make things easier for everyone.
“We’re also working with area ATV clubs,” he continues. “I think part of my success can be explained by the fact that I’m not so much an environmentalist as a conservationist. We need to recognize that everyone has their self-interests; we just have to find that common ground and work together.”
Sue Schneider lives and writes in Rhinelander. Her articles have also appeared in Northwoods Commerce and Living on the Lake magazines.