According to the secretary’s minutes, at the Park Falls Volunteer Fire Department meeting of June 9, 1959, a motion was made, seconded and carried for the department to have a beer and lunch stand during the annual Flambeau Rama celebration. Chief Murlin Boettcher appointed Glenn Wells and Hugo Zenker as co-chairmen to appoint the necessary committees to oversee such an undertaking.
The July 14, 1959 minutes indicate Assistant Chief Wells appointed Flambeau Rama committees as follows: Stand building -- Hugo Zenker, John Schmidt, Erwin Taft, Arnold Stueber, Anton Schmidt, Walter Weiberg, and Lawrence Weik; Zenker and Weik would acquire necessary lumber; Zenker, Ron Burbey and Harry Samelstad would procure food, beer, and pop; Almon Pepper and Perry Greenwood would organize a work schedule; Anton Schmidt would provide refrigeration; and Harry Greenwood would provide ice.
In the ensuing years there has been a fireman’s stand at each and every Flambeau Rama celebration, save one, serving hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, potato chips, and beverages to festivity-goers.
This year, “the stand” will even host two class reunions.
No concrete reason is given in the department’s minutes for the lack of a fireman’s stand during the 1960 Flambeau Rama celebration although one was certainly being planned. As early as the June 14 meeting, Chief Boettcher entertained a motion that was seconded and carried to again have a stand present during the three-day celebration. He appointed members Ron Burbey and Orville Phillips to check on a site for the stand, but following a meeting between Burbey, Phillips, and Dan Vicker, local businessman and Chamber of Commerce member, the minutes simply read “no stand.”
But the stand was back at Flambeau Rama 1961, when firemen Hugo Zenker and Harry Greenwood acquired lumber from Hines Lumber Co. to build it and in addition to food sales, the firemen put on a water fight for entertainment purposes. During the 1962 celebration the local firemen asked a neighboring department, unnamed in the minutes, to help feature another water fight. This became an entertainment venue off and on for many years to follow.
During 1964, not only did the firemen sell food and beverages from their stand they also offered rides for kids on the fire trucks. Fireman James Lucas had charge of the youngsters while they were on board.
The minutes for the Flambeau Rama stand of 1965 include a small weather report: “July 30, rain; July 31, cold; Aug. 1, the day we were in business.” That year they netted $737.18 in profit. In 1967 the weather was not much different than in 1965 but the profit margin was a bit higher at $783.18.
In 1971 helium balloons were available at the stand for the young and young at heart. In 1973 a new tarp was purchased for $69.81. Dale Mrotek of the town of Eisenstein was paid $15 for his help and the use of his hamburger patty press that year too. Mrotek owned a local locker plant at that time.
It can be noted that Flambeau Rama has not always been held at its present location, near the swimming pool/tennis courts. In its earliest days it was held in the heart of downtown at Triangle Park, which had no buildings. The portion of 3rd Ave. between Division St. and Hwy. 182 was closed to traffic and the carnival and food booths were located in that area. It kept the celebration in the center of the business district of those days. For the local firemen it didn’t matter. There was no permanent structure, only a lumber frame, a tarped roof, grills to cook on and a metal tank for pop and beer. The whole thing had to be set up and torn down each year. Set up usually took place two days prior to the event, as did food prep, and the August meeting was often used solely for the purpose of teardown and storage of stand parts. Later the carnival moved to the space adjacent to and where the Park Falls Recreation Arena now sits.
By the 1970’s profits had grown to more than $1,000 a year, 1976 had seen a net profit of $1,326.57 and the firemen felt they needed added participation by members and more stream-lined organization. The stand had proved to be a viable, self-supporting fundraiser that also helped support other community causes, perhaps it could be made bigger and better. In the late 1970’s plans for a new fire hall were being considered, located at the site of the former Washington School on Highway 13. The new building was moved into in 1981. It was an exciting time for the department and the little stand at Flambeau Rama was meant to be a part of that.
By 1980 it was decided that would-be firemen, whose names were still on the waiting list for acceptance into the department, could help out with set-up, serving and teardown of the stand. This was a labor-intensive job and the more hands on board for it, the better was the consensus of all.
Aug. 10, 1982 minutes show a motion made, carried and passed to set up a Flambeau Rama Committee with five members and a chairperson, that the stand would move downtown, that a cooler with a partition to separate pop from beer would be acquired and a new stand be built as soon as possible.
Even though the fireman’s stand kept its prices relatively low, profits increased greatly during the 1980s. In 1985 lumber was purchased to enlarge the kitchen area and in 1986 firemen began a raffle of firearms purchased from Park Falls businesses. The first two guns raffled off were a 20-gauge shotgun and a 30.06 rifle. The gun raffles continued over the next several years and by 1988, when the department was considering pouring a concrete slab on which to erect a permanent stand, music was added to the mix with local musician Bill Kelnhofer and his band, Country Gold providing entertainment.
Park Falls’ centennial celebration in 1989 was a focus of 1988 meetings, with Larry Kundinger introducing the idea of having a gun show as part of the 1989 festivities. That show never came to fruition. It was business as usual at the stand however, though meeting minutes reflect staffing problems and that year’s minutes were the first mention that those serving beer needed to obtain a temporary bartender’s license.
The local firemen were a part of the Flambeau Rama Bed Races during its long existence. The inaugural team was made up of Dan Dane, Pete Bushman, Pete Sporer, Dan Greenwood, and Greg Wirsing. Dane became a crowd favorite according to the minutes for August, 1989 and remained the “anchorman” in the bed races for many years afterward.
In 1993 a bow was added as a raffle prize, along with the 20-gauge shotgun; by 1994 a quarter of beef, a TV, and a VCR were also available as prizes. The 1995 stand found a gas grill added to the prize list.
Repairs to the stand, well-used with parts and pieces sometimes broken in the setup and teardown processes, were much needed by 1995. Building a permanent structure was again discussed, and again tabled. Raffle ticket sales were down, but food and drink sales remained steady, allowing the stand to operate in the black. Monies were used to purchase necessary supplies and equipment not only for the stand but for the fire department in general.
DJ Music was featured at the stand in 1998 and 1999.
First mention of the Fireman’s Stand playing host to the annual frog jumping contest appeared in the minutes in July, 2001. Firemen would serve as judges. That event continues into the present day, with countless children having taken part over the intervening years.
It’s been business as usual in the 21st century with one exception, no longer does the stand have to be set up and taken down each year and transported to an available storage site, most recently the pumphouse located on Singer Road in the Town of Eisenstein. In 2015 a permanent stand was built on 3rd Ave. North near the American Legion Hall, Recreation Arena and athletic complex. All work was done by department members with use of their own tools. Rupert Smith was prominent in the design and implementation and all members concur that Ron Ernst Lumber of Fifield was a huge backer for the undertaking. It is aptly named the Fireman’s Pavilion.
Over the past few years “tip jars” have appeared at the stand. These tips are used to help fund a charitable cause. Last year’s tips went to Lisa and Jake Dahlgren whose son Kaydin was born premature, weighing only a little over one pound at birth. Kaydin is now a chubby, smiling one-year old, having recently passed his first birthday. Another recipient of the tip funds was Josie Gotz, a local young woman afflicted with brain tumors. Josie lives with her parents, Sarah and Jason in the town of Eisenstein and is doing well. Prior to that tips were donated to organizations such as the Salvation Army.
Present fire department Chief is Larry Reas, who has served the department for over 30 years. Phil Bochler is Assistant Chief and has been with the department in excess of 25 years. Captains are Ken Zeirer and William Hoffman and Lieutenants are Andy Bushman, Jim Koller, Christopher Hoffman, and Grant Tesnow. Kim Cuddeback is the recording secretary.
From humble beginnings and a new idea back in June of 1959, a tradition was born. The Fireman’s Stand has been part of Park Falls’ Flambeau Rama for six decades, and if the hard-working men and women of the local department have anything to say about it will continue on for years to come.