While he may not be the namesake of 22,379-resident Vilas County, Chicago native and longtime seasonal Presque Isle resident Logan Archbald "Jack" Vilas (1892-1976) holds a prominent place in Vilas County history.
Vilas made a big splash on the world stage in June 1915, when he made his history-making first forest fire patrol flight in his $7,000 open cockpit Curtiss Model F Flying Boat, taking off from North Trout Lake in Boulder Junction.
Vilas made a huge impression on Wisconsin Conservation Commission chief forester Edward M. Griffith, who dubbed him an "official aviator" as the state's first "flying fire warden."
Vilas flew nearly daily patrol flights during July and August 1915 from the state's conservation headquarters at North Trout Lake. By his own request, Vilas received no salary for his work, other than "many thanks."
Vilas had his Curtiss Flying Boat shipped from Chicago to Trout Lake on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific "Milwaukee Road" railway, as the 350-mile flight from Chicago would have taken several days and a crew of special mechanics following in a train to keep the aircraft going. The plane was shipped in 13 crates and assembled by a mechanic that Vilas has brought north.
Vilas' historic flights over Northwoods forests from his Boulder Junction base at Trout Lake marked the first use of aircraft for detecting and locating forest fires over large forest areas.
By 1917, Vilas' pioneering "Wisconsin Plan" for the aerial detection and location of forest fires was adopted across the U.S. and around the globe.
"One hundred years of aviation technology has not diminished what Vilas accomplished," said Richfield author and technical writer Mary J. Schueller, a UW-Eau Claire alumnus who serves as co-organizer of Saturday's second annual Jack Vilas Day observance in Boulder Junction. "Pioneer aviators like him were stepping stones of courage for all who followed."
Schueller, who is co-organizing the 2008 Jack Vilas Day festival alongside Presque Isle hydroplane aviator Don Puls, is the editor of the August 2007 reprint of Vilas' public domain 1934 memoir, "My Life to My Children."
Vilas wrote and re-wrote the memoir several times between 1929 and its 1934 publication.
Schueller's revised Rustic Books L.L.C. edition of Vilas' memoir adds a variety of complementary materials, including a preface, a listing of Jack Vilas historical markers and a timetable of major events in Vilas' life.
The book also includes a foreword written by Vilas' granddaughter, astronomer Dr. Faith Vilas, a former NASA Johnson Space Center Planetary Astronomy Group chief who now serves as director of the Mt. Hopkins, Ariz.-based MMT Observatory, a joint venture of the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Arizona.
Festival organizers have announced the schedule for this year's Jack Vilas Day celebration, slated for Saturday, Aug. 9.
Festival activities will be held at the Wisconsin Historical Society's Jack Vilas marker at the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest Campground boat landing at North Trout Lake, located on Hwy. M, south of downtown Boulder Junction.
The activities at North Trout, free to the public, will be held on a weather-permitting basis. Storms or high winds may cancel events.
Festivities begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, with Schueller providing a festival-opening welcome and a brief biography of Vilas and his contributions to aviation and Wisconsin forest conservation.
From 1:15-1:45 p.m., Terese Barta, public affairs officer for the Wisconsin Civil Air Patrol's Stevens Point Composite Squadron, will give a presentation on the history and function of the Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. She will also speak on the Civil Air Patrol's integral role in responding to the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the Hurricane Katrina devastation in New Orleans.
From 2-2:30 p.m., the Civil Air Patrol will provide an interpreted demonstration of its search-and-rescue capabilities.
At 2:30 p.m., Chicago aviator Steve Whitney, president of the Meigs Field Historical Society, will perform a fly-by, landing and take-off re-enactment of Jack Vilas' historic forest fire patrol flight. A companion presentation will be made on Vilas' life.
From 2:45-3 p.m., festival attendees will have the opportunity to view exhibits on Vilas and the Civil Air Patrol and mingle with Civil Air Patrol members.
Schueller will be selling copies of Vilas' memoir. She will also be selling the book at the Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce's Musky Jamboree festival on Sunday, Aug. 10.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the Boulder Junction Historical Society's museum and historic Milwaukee Road depot, 5370 Park St. (Hwy. M), will be open for the viewing of historical displays. Food will be available at the neighboring Boulder Junction Community Center, 5386 Park Street.
Schueller said the Boulder Junction Aero Society, a major festival partner, is hoping to have its one-fifth scale replica of Vilas' Curtiss Model F Flying Boat assembled in time for tomorrow's festival.
Civil Air Patrol at festival
The Wisconsin Wing of the Civil Air Patrol will figure prominently in tomorrow's Jack Vilas Day observances at North Trout Lake.
An organization with a long and rich history of service, the Civil Air Patrol was established on Dec. 1, 1941, less than a week before the Japanese attack on U.S. Navy operations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii brought the U.S. into World War II.
During World War II, aviator Vilas, then 51, volunteered to serve with the Illinois Civil Air Patrol, performing courier work and reprising his 1915 forest fire patrol flights over Illinois, Wisconsin and other Midwestern states to protect forest products industries vital to the war effort.
"It was a duty, a responsibility, that he took very seriously - keeping our forested lands free of fire," Schueller said.
During his wartime tenure with the Civil Air Patrol, Vilas also participated in a mission of dropping "flour bombs" over major east coast cities to demonstrate how easily it would be for Axis forces to invade U.S. border states.
No stranger to wartime duty, Vilas served the U.S. Navy during World War I in 1917-18, serving as an aircraft mechanic for the Navy's aviation regiment at the Great Lakes Naval Training Academy in north suburban Chicago.
Chartered as the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force in 1946 by the U.S. Congress, today's Civil Air Patrol performs 90 percent of inland search and rescue missions tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in the continental U.S., credited with saving 107 lives in 2007.
In addition to their search-and-rescue duties, Civil Air Patrol volunteers perform Homeland Security, disaster relief and counter-drug missions at the request of federal, state and local authorities.
The Civil Air Patrol also plays a leading role in aerospace education, with members serving as mentors to more than 22,000 youths participating in the Civil Air Patrol's cadet program, which trains youths in teamwork, moral leadership, aerospace education, emergency services technical skills and military history and customs.
The Civil Air Patrol's Wisconsin Wing, feted nationally as a "Wing of Excellence," has over 1,000 members, one-third of whom are cadets.
Noted Schueller, "The Civil Air Patrol is a wonderful thing..."
Vilas fans led charge
Boulder Junction's fledgling Jack Vilas Day festival had its roots in a chance August 2006 encounter that author and technical writer Schueller had while selling her books, including her Civilian Conservation Corps history "Soldiers of Poverty," at the Boulder Junction Historical Society's "History Days" festival.
Late Boulder Junction resident Lynn Engdahl, founder of the Boulder Junction Aero Society, was circulating a petition to gauge local interest in creating a Jack Vilas Day celebration.
Schueller, whose parents owned a Hazelhurst vacation cottage for more than 50 years and later retired to Boulder Junction, added her signature, calling the Jack Vilas Day proposal "an awesome idea."
She endeavored to learn more about Vilas, who is often mistakenly believed to be the county's namesake.
"I realized I knew no more about Jack Vilas than what is written on that historical marker at North Trout Lake," Schueller recalled. "Many people don't know who Jack Vilas was."
A longtime local landmark, the Wisconsin Historical Society marker at the North Trout Lake boat landing was dedicated on Saturday, Oct. 15, 1955, in a 1:30 p.m. ceremony headlined by Evanston, Ill.-resident Vilas and the Arbor Vitae-Woodruff High School Band, directed by Keith Daniels.
Her interest piqued to learn more about Vilas, Schueller went online to the Wisconsin Historical Society's website and discovered two famous Vilas' worthy of remembrance."
Most famous is Jack Vilas' uncle, Lt. Col. William Freeman Vilas (1840-1908), an expatriate Vermont native chosen as the namesake for newly-created Vilas County in April 1893.
Relocated to Wisconsin as a child, lawyer and Civil War veteran William Vilas enjoyed a storied career as an educator and public servant.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor, Vilas would serve two tenures as UW regent between 1880-85 and 1989-1905.
Elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1885, Vilas would serve on the national political stage as U.S. postmaster general from 1885-88, secretary of U.S. Department of the Interior from 1888-89 and as Wisconsin's U.S. senator from 1891-97.
In his retirement, William Vilas served on the state commission formed to construct Wisconsin's current capital building in Madison.
Schueller's research also revealed a wealth of information on nephew Jack Vilas, who figured prominently in the history of Boulder Junction, Vilas County and the Northwoods.
An October 2000 inductee into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Vilas figures prominently in state and national aviation history, in part for his trailblazing June 1915 role in making the world's first forest fire patrol flight off North Trout Lake in Boulder Junction.
Vilas also achieved national and world fame for making a then-world record open water flight on July 1, 1913, flying 57 miles across Lake Michigan from St. Joseph, Mich., to Meigs Field in downtown Chicago.
Memorial markers honoring Vilas' historic achievement were erected in the two communities by the Chicago Aero Commission in July 1951.
And in honor of Vilas' many pioneer contributions to modern commercial aviation, United Airlines president W.A. Patterson named one of its Boeing 720 Mainliner jets in Vilas' honor during special June 1960 ceremonies at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
Vilas was well-acquainted with the Lakeland area as a longtime seasonal resident.
Vilas connection with the Northwoods began when he was 11, when he was invited to partake in a hunting and fishing vacation at Mann's (now Cardinal's) Resort on Trout Lake by the family of his brother's fiance.
"Once I experienced the big Northwoods of Wisconsin, I knew I was not going to be happy until I owned my own shack," Vilas wrote in his memoir.
Vilas later realized his dream, building a rustic fishing, trapping and hunting shack named "Paradise" on the larger of the two islands on Twin Lake in Presque Isle, feted as "Wisconsin's Last Wilderness."
In her ongoing quest to unravel the "who was Jack Vilas" mystery, Schueller's research with the Library of Congress turned up Vilas 1934 public domain memoir.
Schueller's Internet search of alibris.com, an online bookseller specializing in used books, used textbooks and rare, out-of-print books, turned up a musty, Vilas-autographed copy of "My Life to My Children" in the stock of a Florida bookseller
Calling it an "exciting read," immersing herself in Vilas' memoir was a lifechanging experience for Schueller, who would reprint an edited and expanded version of Vilas' memoir under her Rustic Books L.L.C. banner.
"After I read it (Vilas' memoir), I was so mesmerized by his passion for flying and his experiences that I knew the book had great value today for people interested in pioneer aviation."
Schueller said her reprint has found a ready and interested audience since its release last August.
"It's been received very well," she said. "People are still fascinated by our beginnings in aviation."
Mesmerized by Vilas' story, Schueller also found herself co-organizing the inaugural 2007 Jack Vilas Day alongside Engdahl, who passed away in March, and this year's festival, alongside Puls, her "wingman" co-organizer.
"I'm an aviation nut," Puls said of his involvement in co-organizing the 2008 Jack Vilas Day festival. "I just love all things aviation ... It's for the pure love of aviation that people are doing this."
Schueller, who wrote her "The Waterflyer" play for last year's Jack Vilas Day, calls the festival a "wonderful" educational and tourism opportunity.
"My interest in this," she said, "is to truly celebrate his accomplishments in preserving the forests in northern Wisconsin."
In short order since its 2007 founding, Jack Vilas Day has become a popular annual event in this 1,019-resident community.
Schueller credited the interest and support of 26-year town chairman Jeffrey Long in bringing the festival back for its second annual run.
"He (Long) was very impressed last year," Schueller recalled. "He said, 'We're going to do this again.'"
For more information about Saturday's Jack Vilas Day festival, call local coordinator Don Puls at 686-2955 or the Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce at 715-385-2400 or 1-800-GO-MUSKY.
For more information or to obtain a copy of Jack Vilas' memoir, call Schueller at 262-628-9396 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.