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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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012914SWANSON.jpg

HONORED—Fire Chief Stu Swanson was honored at a retirement gathering Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Crivitz Village Hall. Approximately 100 family members, friends and fellow firefighters attended. Pictured from left are Luke Deschane, Crivitz Assistant Fire Chief, Kevin Bierce, Pewaukee Fire Chief, Jeff Mursau, state representative, Stu Swanson, John Deschane, Village President, and Danielle Weddel, Crivitz Rescue Squad.

Crivitz Honors Long Time Fire Chief Stewart Swanson

Nearly 100 well-wishers gathered at Crivitz Village Hall Saturday, Jan. 25 to honor long-time Fire Chief Stewart Swanson, who retired on Jan. 1 after 40 years as chief of the Crivitz Fire Department. He has served on the department a total of 47 years, and will continue as a member, but turned the Chief’s duties over to Assistant Chief Rudi Jensen. The formal reception at the Village Hall was followed by an informal gathering with lunch at the Riverside Bar, sponsored by Crivitz Fire Association.

Among dignitaries participating in the formal portion of the evening were Village President John Deschane, State Representative Jeff Mursau; Chief Kevin Bierce of Pewaukee Fire Department, representing the Wisconsin State Fire Chief’s Association; Danielle Weddel, President of Crivitz Rescue Squad, and Crivitz Fire Department Assistant Chief, Luke Deschane, who gave the keynote address. Luke is the son of village president, John Deschane.

Sharing the evening also were Crivitz Village Board members, Clerk/Treasurer Marilyn Padgett, who organized the reception; village employees, Swanson’s wife, Sharon, and children, grandchildren and other family members; Jensen’s parents, Pegi and Tim Pier of Wauwatosa, and representatives of other fire departments from throughout the county along with nearly all current members of the department that Swanson shepherded for so many years.

Playing in the Board Room adjoining the Village Hall was a video depicting history of the department from 1966, when Swanson joined, to the present. Swanson’s tenure dates from before the Village of Crivitz was incorporated. What today is the Village of Crivitz Fire Department started as the Town of Stephenson Fire Department, and was reorganized and renamed when the village incorporated in 1974.

“I don’t think Crivitz could have found a person more dedicated than Stu to protecting the safety and well being of our community,” Deschane said in his introductory remarks.

“We gather today to honor Stu’s service to the Crivitz Fire Department and his community over the past 47 years, serving 40 of those years as Fire Chief,” Deschane said, “but to those of us who know Stu, there is more to it than that. He did more than just wander around wearing a big white hat and looking important.”

“The list of things Stew has done for Crivitz for nearly 50 years is long and impressive,” Deschane continued, noting that the fire chief has also been an active member of Faith Presbyterian Church, which he served in many leadership capacities; he serves on the Board of Directors of the Crivitz-Stephenson Historical Society and continues to be a willing helper on any project that comes up, and is an active member of the Masonic Lodge, the State Fire Chiefs Association and the Marinette County Fire Fighters Association.

Deschane said the word “dedicated” is often overused, but in Stu’s case, “I am comfortable using it. He has been dedicated to our community and to his job as our fire chief. He has spent countless hours with the children in our school during fire safety week, talking about what to do in case of a fire, what the fire department does and how to make their homes safer to prevent fires.

“I have witnessed his dedication in fund raising events sponsored by the Fire Department, from the Smelt Fries of the ‘70s and selling of French fries on the 4th of July to the Department’s Golf Outing and Casino Nights of today,” Deschane went on. “Stu also led the department in community events such as their Ice Skating Party and Christmas Tree Burn and their fall Appreciation Day.”

Deschane noted when the fire phone rang years ago or the pager goes off today, “regardless of the time of day or temperature outside, Stu responded and led his fire fighters to do what was necessary to save lives and property. For that our community says ‘Thank You!’ Thanks for the times when you went out in temperatures so cold that you couldn’t bend over because your gear was solid ice, or so hot that you lost five pounds of sweat battling a stubborn barn fire in the heat of an August sun. Thanks for going out, away from family gatherings, Christmas dinners and other places you would rather have been, because the pager called.”

Deschane also saluted Swanson’s wife, Sharon, for standing beside him throughout his tenure, “often putting in as much work as Stu on some of the events.” She coordinated cooking for the smelt fries, was there with food and hot coffee during major fires, “and has been standing by her spouse at all times.” His call for applause received a hearty response.

Deschane, on behalf of the Village Board, presented Swanson with a framed copy of a resolution recognizing his service, and an engraved watch.

He also declared, “In Rudi, I know you have left our department in good hands!”

Mursau, who had been Village President during 14 years of Swanson’s tenure as Fire Chief, presented him with copies of a resolution passed by the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate, on behalf of himself and Sen. Tom Tiffany. The resolution cites Swanson’s service, from his start in 1966 to 1974 when the Fire Department changed from the Town of Stephenson to the Village of Crivitz, and it was Jan. 23, 2004, when the new fire station officially opened.

Mursau noted his family and the Swansons had been good neighbors in Crivitz for many years, and he would often see Swanson leave his home on a dark, cold night to go fight a fire.

“It scares me to see the problems faced by some other communities that can’t get their firefighters to stay on,” Mursau declared, adding that thanks to Swanson, Crivitz has never had that problem.

“When someone leaves office after 47 years, the word is ‘legacy,’” Bierce declared. “To Swanson’s family, we appreciate you sharing him with the Crivitz Fire Department.” He said that sharing meant 47 Christmas celebrations, 47 Thanksgiving dinners, 47 Easters, and countless birthdays when they were prepared to be interrupted by a call to a fire.

Next to speak was Weddel. In addition to her service with the Rescue Squad, Weddel was a member of the Crivitz Fire Department for 18 years, trained by Swanson. She recalled her first fire, when the Chief personally checked her gear to be sure she was “bundled up” and suitably protected, “and then I just watched.” She also thanked Swanson for the cooperation and joint training efforts between Fire Department and Rescue Squad, and saluted the value of that partnership to the community.

Weddel and Lucas Deschane joined the Fire Department at the same time. In the keynote address, Lucas Deschane said Swanson was Crivitz third fire chief since World War II. When Swanson joined the department 47 years ago, Deschane declared, “he was a young, energetic and enthusiastic man, willing to go the extra mile and embrace new technology.”

As a beginning firefighter, Swanson took advantage of free training opportunities, and when he became chief, embraced new technology ... things like “gear”, and later, “air packs.”

“Strange,” Deschane commented. “We fight new things...Say we don’t need them... ‘We’re firefighters. We breathe smoke!’” He added the firefighters today are very glad now to have those things.

Deschane said when he joined the department his father and uncles were already members, and Swanson had been chief before he was born. He said Swanson can retire, “but for us, he’ll always be Chief!”

After his salute to Swanson, and after presenting the gifts, John Deschane read a letter from friend Andy Neumann of Crivitz, who apparently had time to write a “roast” letter, even while vacationing in Mexico.

The letter, from “Mrs. O’Leary”, thanked the department for its “service” and claimed a whole litany of mishaps. “I have been burned out more often than the Little Rock Baptist Church, and I am an expert.”

President Deschane admitted Neumann had penned the Mrs. O’Leary letter, but recalled years ago, when Stark’s Supper Club burned, he and his brother Larry were on one side of the building and Swanson was on the other. Larry shot his hose over the building, right onto the Chief, who came around the building dripping wet, even the curls on his moustache were weighted down. Swanson joked that from that time on, the guys always asked where he was when they prepared to shoot water over a building.

“I’m happy that everything has worked out so well,” Swanson declared. “I’m happy with the fire department we have now. I’m happy with the new fire station.”

He said when he was campaigning for the new fire station, he told the Village Board that it was so small he wasn’t able to get between the trucks. The village president at the time suggested then maybe they should get a thinner chief. Swanson chuckled that the village president then discovered he also could not get between the trucks.

Seriously Swanson said, his proudest accomplishment was construction of that new fire station, and he thanked the Village Board for approving it. He jokingly admitted that over the years he and Sharon “had a few discussions” over his dedication to the fire department, but very sincerely thanked her for backing his efforts and the department through all the years.

John Deschane, on behalf of himself and the Village Board, again thanked Swanson for all he has done for the department and the community. “In Rudi I know you have left your department in good hands,” Deschane went on as he admonished Swanson to “enjoy some time with Sharon, spoil your grandkids, and maybe go south in winter where it’s warmer.”


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