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Pequot Lakes Citizen of the Year

Dick Wilske’s friends and acquaintances are familiar with the quick and ever-present smile and laugh that light up his entire face.

It’s likely they don’t often see Wilske with a stunned expression or momentarily speechless, but that was the reaction when the Ideal Township man learned Thursday, Dec. 29, he had been chosen as the 2011 Pequot Lakes-Breezy Point Citizen of the Year.

“I can’t believe it,” Wilske repeated, after being interrupted while playing cribbage with his wife, Kay, in their bright and cozy family room.

Those who know Wilske won’t be surprised at the honor. After all, he’s likely helped them out more than once over the past 35-plus years.

“He’s sociable. He always has a joke. People like having him around,” said Wilske’s daughter-in-law, Taren Saccoman, who nominated him for the annual Citizen of the Year honor, which is sponsored by Echo Publishing & Printing.

Wilske can’t say no when someone asks him for help, whether it be with a quick move or a more complicated long-term project.

The Wilskes made the permanent move to the lakes area in 1976, and Dick has left his mark ever since, though he is humble about his volunteer efforts.

Wilske was a charter member of the Ideal Fire Department, spending 30 years as a firefighter and serving as captain before retiring from the department in 2006. He helped build the fire hall and is helping with the fire hall museum.

He continues to help with the fire department’s annual Ideal Beef Feed each August.

“I haven’t missed one of those. I still help with that,” he said.

He also was a charter member of the Ideal Community Service Organization, which started as a scholarship foundation. He was the organization’s Ideal Volunteer of the Year in 2008 for outstanding volunteer services within the community.

He’s helped with the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway bog walk at the Veterans Trail on County Road 16, Fourth of July and Bean Hole festivities in Pequot Lakes and breakfasts at the Pequot Lakes American Legion. He helped one year at Breezy Point Ice Fest as well.

Wilske joined the Ideal Sno Pros Snowmobile Club in the mid-1970s and is currently president. He is a past trail coordinator. He’s helped with snowmobile safety training, too.

He was an umpire for youth softball, and he helped organize the Ideal-Crosslake Youth Softball Association. He helped construct the ballfields in Ideal Township.

“And he cut the grass every week on his falling apart lawn mower,” Kay said.

Wilske helped with landscaping and the wild game dinner at his church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Crosslake.

And he delivered toys for two years and dressed as Santa for the Nisswa area kids’ toy drive.

“I just like doing this,” Wilske said, “especially if a friend asks you. How do you say no?”

When Wilske moved to the area, he got in with a group of friends that was raring to go. “Everything took off,” he said.

During the devastating Badoura fire in 1976, he and two friends wondered what would happen if such a fire started in their own community. That’s when they got together and established the Ideal Fire Department.

“I grew up with a bunch of guys who were always looking for something to do,” Wilske said. “It was a great group of guys and that’s how we got things going.”

Kay also served the fire department as dispatcher until 2006.

“Between the two of us, we probably have 110 years of service,” Dick said.

After living in the Twin Cities, the Wilskes moved to Ideal Township to become part owners of the Old Milwaukee Club. Their partner bought their share of the business after six years, and in 1982 the Wilskes bought North County Sanitation.

“The first year we doubled our business. It just exploded,” Wilske said.

In 1995, the Wilskes split the business and sold half to son and daughter-in-law, Robbie and Taren Saccoman, who started Pequot Lakes Sanitation. Then the Wilskes sold the rest of the business to the Saccomans and started North County Rolloff Service.

Eight years later, in 2003, Dick retired at age 60. He didn’t remain inactive, though. He has worked part time for Larson Group Real Estate in Crosslake for the past seven or eight years.

Dick and Kay enjoy traveling with their dogs, Molly and Millie. They’ve been to the Caribbean, Florida, Mexico and Alaska. They both enjoy fishing, especially bass fishing.

“But Kay catches them all,” Dick readily admitted.