Earl W. Brakken, 89, long-time seasonal resident of Cable, Wisconsin, died on September 7, 2020 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Earl was born in Ashland, Wisconsin on August 12, 1931. It was the beginning for him of a decades long seasonal migration by his family each year between Berwyn, Illinois and Cable.
“Every June at precisely the first morning after school ended,” Earl wrote, his parents would pack him and his two younger sisters into their Chevy sedan with whatever else might fit “after the real necessities…rods, reels, rain gear, gas tank, and 3 HP Johnson motor…had been accommodated.” Then they’d set off on the 450 mile trip to Cable, at the time a grueling all-day journey.
The motivation behind this annual family relocation was Earl’s father, a high school biology teacher by profession, who enjoyed returning each summer to the place he was raised to pursue his true passion as a fishing guide. While the rest of the family may not have shared his zeal for fishing, they certainly did for Cable and Lake Namekagon. For Earl this charmed childhood life in the Northwoods grew into a lifelong love affair with the area. It was an affinity for place he would come to pass on to his own children in due time.
Earl put himself through Northwestern University in Illinois with the partial assistance of an academic scholarship. He subsequently served in the U.S. military during the Korean conflict. Stationed in Germany, he was proud to be a member of the Army basketball team that won the European championship. Upon returning home he followed his parents into the field of education, initially working as a science teacher and coach in Minneapolis. But he soon decided that educational administration would be a better fit and went on to earn his PhD at Florida State University.
After initially landing an assistant superintendent of schools job outside Chicago, Earl was hired two years later as superintendent of the Lake County School District in northern Minnesota, encompassing Two Harbors and Silver Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior, all the way north to just outside Ely. As the head of the largest geographical district in the state, he was often called on to testify about various educational issues at the State Capitol in St. Paul.
After serving in that position from 1968 to 1978 Earl was recruited to be the new superintendent of the fast-growing Kettle Moraine School District just west of Milwaukee. His leadership there during a time of great transition resulted in Earl being named Kettle Moraine Person of the Year for 1987. Upon formally retiring in 1991 he worked several more years as an interim superintendent for school districts in need of a temporary leader.
Throughout all these chapters of his life Earl always felt a pull to return to the Cable area whenever possible. He and his family first owned a cabin on Jackson Lake, and later a condominium at Lakewoods Resort. In his later years Earl purchased a home in Hayward. From that base he enjoyed driving north to Cable each week to participate as the oldest member of the Telemark men’s golf league. He also could be found frequently at the Rookery, his son’s restaurant east of Cable, where he enjoyed helping out and regaling guests with his many stories of the good old days in the area.
Earl was preceded in death by his parents, Earl Sr. and Ruth (Johnson) Brakken. He is survived by his two sisters, Mary Harris and Flo (John) Kostel; six children, Bill, Suzi, Rick (Kristi), Eric (Jessica), Marc (Sarah), and Joel (Whitney); and six grandchildren.
Pursuant to his wishes, Earl’s ashes will make one final trip home to Cable, where a memorial service will be planned for early November. It will be on a Saturday, in more normal years college football game day. One of Earl’s greatest passions was following college sports, and cheering on his beloved Wisconsin Badgers in particular. What better way to remember him than to throw a virtual tailgate party in his honor, Badger attire encouraged.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations might be made in Earl’s name to the Cable Namakagon Historical Museum, Forest Lodge Library, or Cable Natural History Museum.