The Solon Springs community recently lost one of its champions. Frank Giesen died Dec. 12 at age 86. His most visible legacy may be the Lucius Woods Performing Arts Center, which he and his wife, Mary, started 25 years ago, but his passion for the area had a much wider reach.
"Without Frank, there would be no Lucius Woods, no Hidden Greens Golf Course. There wouldn't be a Solon Springs industrial park," said Andy Lisak, former Douglas County administrator. "Frank had fingerprints on so much in Solon Springs."
While working out of Chicago, Giesen even put in the original Solon Springs sewer system in 1978.
"He was our engineer," said James "Pat" Cosgrove, who served on the village board in Solon Springs for 40 years.
After the Giesens retired and moved to their family cabin in Solon Springs, they focused on supporting and promoting the area. Whether it was the Lions Club fish fry, an ice fishing tournament, a church bake sale or musicians performing on the Lucius Woods stage, Giesen made sure the whole world knew about it.
"He was just a very good salesman," said Gitzy Wicklund, who served on the Solon Springs School Board with Mary Giesen. "He worked diligently to bring notice to our area and bring people to Solon Springs."
Whether it was securing funding for County Highway A, supporting senior meals in the area or tapping into his web of contacts, Giesen kept Solon Springs front and center.
"His passion and enthusiasm were infectious," said Mick Salmen, director of Lucius Woods Performing Arts Center.
Wicklund said the Giesens were quick to support local students, whether it was congratulating an athlete on reaching 1,000 points or donating money so the kindergarten class could adopt a whale.
"He and Mary were both hugely into education and the school district," she said. "They were just into everything."
Giesen was serving as interim director of the Development Association for Superior and Douglas County when Lisak met him.
"What impressed me about Frank out of the gate was his passion, commitment and intelligence," said Lisak, who served as director of the Development Association for close to a decade.
Giesen became both mentor and friend.
"I think the thing I value most is Frank's friendship and just his character," Lisak said. "If you were a friend of Frank Giesen, you were a friend for life. Everyone he touched, came into contact with, was better off."
His work benefitted the entire area.
"Not only was he Solon Springs' biggest cheerleader, but Douglas County's biggest cheerleader," Lisak said, and Giesen's support was crucial to keeping the Murphy Oil refinery, now Husky Energy, in Superior.
The Solon Springs man had a can-do attitude. Cosgrove said if Giesen didn't get a grant he applied for, he kept trying until he did.
Lisak and Douglas County Board member Doug Finn told the same story to illustrate Giesen's drive. He was eating dinner at a Superior restaurant - or waiting for his table, depending on the teller of the tale - when he overheard people talking about hitting dead ends looking for a Twin Ports location for their packaging company. He introduced himself and encouraged them to choose Superior.
The company moved to the Superior Business Center, was bought by FedEx and later moved to its own building in Superior's Billings Park neighborhood. Thanks, Finn said, to Giesen.
"He was a 24/7 cheerleader and economic developer for Douglas County," Lisak said.
"He was the best negotiator I ever did meet," Wicklund said.
He was quick and witty and you wanted him for your neighbor, she said.
"You couldn't find a warmer person, a more open person with a better sense of humor," Lisak said. "He was welcoming to people from all walks of life."
The Giesens didn't have to be champions for Solon Springs. It was a choice.
"They could have lived their lives in leisure. Instead they rolled up their sleeves," Lisak said. "The community is so much better for it."
They didn't do it for attention or acknowledgment, Wicklund said, and they will be missed.
A bench in Mary Giesen's memory was placed at Lucius Woods. Cosgrove said he hopes to a bench honoring Giesen will be planted next to his wife's.
"People like that, they don't come around too often," he said.