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Kevin Porter, Washburn

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Ashland officer retires after nearly 29 years




Michelle Tutor has a unique distinction among all the officers in Ashland Police Department history.

"I am the only grandma ever to patrol the streets of the city of Ashland," she said.

Tutor, who began with the department Aug. 25, 1990, retired in June with just shy of 29 years of service. She wasn't the first female officer in Ashland— that distinction went to Jodeanne Janecek who started a year earlier. Both joined when female officers were the exception to the rule, and Tutor went into the job knowing she might face some resistance.

"It was what I knew; I worked with the guys. I dispatched for three years before I became an officer," she said. "That was good, to get to know the guys, their personalities, and I didn't take their behavior personally. It takes a special breed to be a police officer. When I started on patrol, I can't say I was taken in with open arms, but I also felt that I was, for the most part, treated respectfully. The guys I worked with provided the guidance I needed to learn how to do my job. I am the officer I am because of their fairness."

Tutor said her experiences in the community were much the same.

"They didn't see a female, they saw a uniform. I thought for the most part, they treated me the same as they did my male counterparts," she said.

Tutor was determined to make the roster — so determined that she took on the rigorous training needed to become an officer while still working full-time as a dispatcher.

Then-Police Chief Gordon Gilbert son noticed, particularly when she came out on top among officer applicants who took the department's test.

"I certainly did not hesitate to hire her," he said. "She has had an outstanding career, and I think we can all be very proud of what she has accomplished."

It hasn't always been an easy career.

Current Chief Jim Gregoire said Tutor has proven able to act under pressure. In 2013, she was forced to trade gunfire with a juvenile who had killed his granduncle.

Tutor said that episode was the most difficult of her career. She arrived at the scene at an east-side residence shortly after 9 p.m. on the evening of Dec. 16, 2016, only to see William S. Saari stagger out the door before falling into the snow. As he exited, 14 year-old Joseph Ackley, his grandnephew, fired at him with a .22-caliber rifle. Tutor then drew her pistol and fired at Ackley, who fired back. When Tutor fired another round, Ackley retreated into the house.

With police closing in, Ackley shot himself in the stomach and was then arrested by officers. He was not seriously injured and later was sentenced to life in prison for killing his relative.

Tutor said her reactions at the time were driven by her training.

"I knew that if I had to withdraw my gun and shoot it, somebody had it coming," she said.

Three years later, she still doesn't remember drawing her weapon and aiming it, but does recall making the conscious decision to fire.

In many ways, the investigation that followed — which found Tutor's actions justified —was more difficult than the incident itself, she said.

"The shooting part I was trained for, I emotionally handled the shooting part well. I did not handle the investigation well. When they took my duty belt, it was like they took part of my identity," Tutor said.

At the time, Tutor was awaiting a Christmas visit from her daughter.

"I waited to tell her about it until after she arrived," Tutor said. "I told her the good news was that I was able to have the entire time of her visit off from work. The bad news was that I was off because of the administrative suspension because of the shooting."

Tutor said her daughter took the news in her stride, saying what was important was that her mother was able to celebrate Christmas with her.

While the shooting was the only time Tutor had to fire her weapon, it's not the only time she was involved in a hazardous situation. Gregoire recalled another instance in which, with a flying tackle, she successfully disarmed a suicidal man armed with a rifle.

Tutor was also the first officer on scene when a man attempted to burn his girlfriend to death with gasoline as she slept in July of 2018, Gregoire said.

"She actually saw the fire ignite from the street," Gregoire said. "The woman who was burned ran out on the street, and the first person she saw was Michelle Tutor."

Gregoire said the victim couldn't have encountered anyone better. Gregoire himself has come to admire Tutor's character and integrity.

"I can tell you that I have leaned on her a lot as chief, to see if I am moving in the right direction or not. She's always been very honest in her responses and a police chief needs that kind of assessment about what is going on," he said.

Tudor credits family not only with her character but with making her entire career possible by helping to care for her daughter after her divorce and while she was going to school and working night shifts.

Her daughter Ranndi Fritchen, who works for hospice in Charlotte, N.C., said growing up with as mom who was a cop was perfectly normal.

"I thought my mom was a tough woman, and that's how all women were," she said. "I never really had the stereotype of the stay-at-home mom."

Fritchen said she didn't worry about her mother being a police officer.

"She had a bullet proof vest and a firearm, and she had other officers who would have taken a bullet for her. I honestly worry more about her visiting Charlotte," she said.

Fritchen said her mother's example had a large impact on her own life.

"Having a mom who is so resilient has taught me I can take anything," she said.

Madeline Island chapel memorializes couple's daughters
Open-air structure constructed at Greenwood Cemetery

Ted and Dawn Michael have endured the unspeakable pain of losing a child twice.

The first of their twin daughters, Kirsten, died in 2003 from respiratory problems, and 14 years later they lost their other daughter Heather after she suffered a major seizure.

The Michaels, who split their time between Florida and Madeline Island, found a way through their grief and pain just a few days after their second daughter's death.

"Heather passed on a

Thursday, and the following Sunday we attended services at St. John's United Church of Christ," Dawn recalled. "Pastor Marina Lachecki called the little kids up the way she always does. She asked the kids to go into the congregation and stand next to somebody and ask that person what is the most beautiful thing you'd like to see."

Dawn said one youngster stood next to Ted in the La Pointe church and asked him the question.

"Ted said, 'The most beautiful thing I'd like to see is a little chapel built in the woods in memory of my daughters where I can go and feel closer to them.' I looked at him and asked him where that came from, and he said he had absolutely no idea; he just opened his mouth and the words came out," Dawn said.

After the service, a town official told the couple that a previous resident named Mary E. Russell had donated land for the Island's Greenwood cemetery in 1903, setting aside half an acre for a chapel.

A seed had been planted. By the end of that summer, the couple contacted Lachecki who urged the couple to come up with a message to which the chapel could be dedicated.

"We sat down and started talking about what we wanted this place to be," said Dawn. "We wanted it to be open to everybody. People said they wanted to be able to see into the cemetery, they didn't want to have their view blocked."

Ted came up with a concept for a six-sided, open structure with expansive openings that could be seen through from the entrance to the cemetery and that also offered views of the cemetery and surrounding woods for those in the chapel, an open-air setting where the calls of birds and sighing wind in the trees could be heard.

"We wanted it to be a spiritual place where people could come for meditation, for funerals and prayer, whatever their needs might be," said Dawn.

Putting up a chapel on a town-owned cemetery wasn't easy, though the Michaels committed to paying for all of the costs including a maintenance fund.

After all the approvals were obtained, there was still the small matter of the message.

"I started thinking of that, and it just popped into my mind — 'Let his light shine upon you and grant you peace,'" Dawn said.

The blessing is adapted from the Old Testament Book of Numbers and lends itself to the openness of the chapel, Dawn said. It is written on the chapel's interior, just below a circular stained glass window of sunrays coming down over the red rock cliffs of Madeline Island, leading down to the sandy shores of Big Bay, looking over the water and skies of the big lake. The window was built by the famed Conrad Pickel Studio of Vero Beach, Fla. At the center of the chapel ceiling are a starburst and a dove of peace hanging over the pulpit. A feature the two had seen in several churches in Sweden, the starburst was painted by Holly Marie Trudeau of Madeline Island and the dove sculpted by Leah Creger of Gustavus Adolphus College.

Completed and dedicated June 22, two years to the day after Heather's death, the chapel is a white clapboard structure that recalls Island architecture. It is also a valued addition to the cemetery, said town Chairman Jim Patterson. He said residents have been supportive of the project, and the structure has already been used by residents and visitors.

"This is a beautiful addition to the community; we have always tried to keep the cemetery well maintained, neat and tidy. The chapel is just a plus on top of a plus. It is something we are going to be proud of for a long time," he said.

Paddleboard events honor local legend Tom Blake

Tom Blake made a name for himself in international waters by designing innovative paddleboards and surfboards, pioneering surf photography and working as a stunt double — among other things. But to his family in the Chequamegon Bay area, where he grew up, his name was "Ed."

Bill Blake, Tom's nephew by his youngest half-brother, said the itinerant surfer and swimmer "was on the different side — but a good different" and offered insights from the home front about the iconoclastic nomad who left his hometown of Washburn in 1918 at about 16 or 17 years of age.

Embarking on a life of adventure on the road, Tom swam, surfed and invented his way into the history books as well as the name of the Board Across the Bay paddleboard event in Washburn. But that's getting ahead of the story.

The story really begins more than a century ago on the shores of Lake Superior.

Water sports

Tom's prowess as a swimmer set up his careers as surfer, lifeguard, stuntman, writer and photographer.

At one point in Tom's life, Bill said, he was the highest-paid lifeguard in the U.S. and invented several life-saving devices. It was while working on the shores of Santa Monica, Calif., as a lifeguard that Tom cultivated a friendship with famed Hawaiian surfer and Olympian Duke Kahanamoku, the lifeguard on the beach next door.

Kahanamoku invited Tom to Hawaii, where Tom's passion for surfing and the history and design of surfboards and paddleboards flourished. After researching historical paddleboards, Tom began to experiment with making them lighter and is credited with creating water-rescue boards and production-worthy windsurfers.

On land, Tom's well-toned, rugged physique and handsome face put him before the movie cameras as a stunt double for the likes of Clarke Gable, but he gave up that career after another stuntman died, Bill said.

And in the meantime, Tom wrote a handful of books and shot stunning photographs from a surfboard after building a waterproof camera housing. He devoted this art to perfecting self-portraiture, much from his days surfing.


Bill met his nomadic uncle that relatives called Ed — to distinguish him from the other Toms in the family — in the early 1960s when Tom finally returned to Washburn for a family reunion.

Tom's sister, who was known for having the "best chicken in the county," Bill said, went through "a month of hell" trying to figure out what she could serve Tom to eat. He was a staunch vegetarian before vegetarianism was cool, and became known as the "garlic man" for his mass consumption of the Allium.

But Bill remembers him best at that family reunion for letting the teen test out a surfboard in Lake Superior.


In the 1960s Tom began to make Washburn a yearly summertime destination, camping in Memorial Park and taking up a place within the community once again. He reserved winters for the warmth of the California desert until at age 84 he finally settled into an Ashland apartment.

But he didn't exactly settle into the great indoors.

Bill said Tom would come to visit the family home near the entry to the golf course on the west side. Tom always hoofed the five-mile hike, and once there, he'd talk about life, nature and living on the ocean — but never while sitting indoors.

The only time Tom ever stepped foot in the house was when Bill's stepmother dragged him inside for a home-cooked meal, Bill said.

Tom remained active into his 80s, but age catches up with everyone and he spent the last few years of his life in the Washburn nursing home. When he died at age 92 he was buried in Woodland Cemetery.

Board Across the Bay

Although Tom died in 1994, his name lives on in Washburn with the annual Board Across the Bay honoring Blake's paddleboarding legacy — an event coming up later this month.

Plans for the first Board Across the Bay began in 2011, and Tom's name immediately popped to mind when the race was discussed, said Mary McGrath, who counted herself among its organizers.

It seemed natural for the inaugural 2012 race to bear his name considering Tom's fame in his hometown for his world-renowned accomplishments, especially for his paddleboard designs.

Seven years later, Board Across the Bay is going strong and keeping Tom's memory alive and well.

To start the event, Greg Weiss will lead a free paddle starting at 6 p.m. July 26 at Memorial Park for a tour of Blake's favorite destination — Houghton Point.

The non-competitive tour will be a leisurely paddle of about an hour, taking in the sights and sounds of the Chequamegon Bay shores to the north of Washburn.

Paddlers — who can participate in any kind of craft as long as it's propelled by paddle — also have the option to step on shore and hike up to Echo Dells. Stand-up paddleboard rentals are available if advance notice is given.

Saturday comes with the main paddling competition.

The 3-mile and 14-mile races start at 8 a.m. at Thompson's West End Park on Washburn's south side, while the 7-mile race launches at 9 a.m. at Bayview Beach in Ashland. Safety boats will patrol the course.

At stake are bragging rights and cast-iron awards in the shape of a stand-up paddleboard.

First-and second-place awards are given to men and women in three stand-up paddleboard classes and one prone paddleboard class. Only first-place awards are given to winning competitors in the unlimited watercraft class.

For more information or to register, contact the Washburn Area Chamber of Commerce at 715-373-5017 or, or visit

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