Ponschok paid it forward

Fred Ponschok was a teacher at Shawano High School when I attended in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I never had a class with Fred, but the kids I knew liked him.

Thirty-five years later, in 1996, our paths crossed. We both had an interest in the proposed copper mine that was being planned near Crandon. For two years Fred, along with about a dozen active members, launched a campaign to protect the Wolf River from the undeniable dangers of sulfide mining.

We formed an environmental group called POWR, Protect Our Wolf River. Our goal, along with many other environmental groups and Indian tribes, was to get a sulfide mining moratorium bill passed through the Wisconsin Legislature and signed by Governor Tommy Thompson.

A vast majority of people in and around Shawano do not know what our small concerned group went through in the two years of our battle to get this legislation passed. The POWR group met weekly; there were state-wide monthly meetings, trips to Madison and legislative committee hearings around the state to voice our concerns.

On one occasion, Fred rode along with me to Crandon. You never really know someone until you get some one-on-one time with them. Fred and I began to bond. I asked him one time why he was involved in this fight.

He told me, “John, it’s for the future generations. We have to keep the Wolf River clean so the kids of today can appreciate it when they’re our age.” Fred was talking about the kids of the late 1990s, who are grown up today and may have children of their own.

The battle to stop the Crandon mine was successful. Tommy Thompson signed the Sulfide Mining Moratorium bill into law on the banks of the Wolf River, in Shawano, on April 22, 1998.

With his time and out-of-pocket money, Fred paid it forward to protect the Wolf River for the children of the future. It’s unlikely the City of Shawano would have the logo City on the Wolf had Fred and other POWR members not fought the big fight.

John J. Mutter Jr.,