World's Heaviest Ball of Twine poised to move
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the home of James Frank Kotera, JFK, to the Highland Town Hall in Douglas County.
TOWN OF HIGHLAND — One of the town of Highland’s heaviest attractions, a 24,160-pound ball of twine, may soon be on the move.
The multicolored landmark currently rests on cinder blocks in a roofed shelter at the home of James Frank Kotera, known as JFK or the "twine man."
The Highland man started building the hefty ball, which is actually oval shaped, on April 3, 1979. He collected twine from the town transfer station, where he worked for 50 years, and neighbors donated pieces. After weighing the new additions to ensure accuracy, Kotera wove each one into the densely-packed ball.
“Jim was such a good guy. Everybody loved him,” said Kotera’s sister, Rose Graves. “The doctor couldn’t believe he lived alone. I said, 'Well, he wasn’t alone. All of Highland was Jim’s family.'”
They knew him from his work at the transfer station and from the ball of twine. According to the World Record Academy , it's 10 feet high and 22 feet wide.
“It’s very well known,” said Terri Nelson, a neighbor of Kotera’s. “I mean, I remember going to it back in the '80s — I saw it for the first time.”
Like many residents, she shared the local claim to fame with others. Nelson brought her grandchildren to see the ball of twine; she brought her sister, up visiting from Texas, to see it. She and her husband Brad even contributed to it.
“We would actually bring him twine from our hay bales for our horses,” Nelson said. “We always brought our bags of twine over for him, and he was so proud of that ball of twine.”
Look up “ball of twine” and “world record” online, and Kotera’s creation comes up as the heaviest, although it's often pegged as being in Lake Nebagamon. The Highland attraction has been featured in news articles, magazines, YouTube videos and even a CBS news segment.
“Katie Couric came out. If you look on YouTube, people had him singing along with him ... if you look on YouTube Wisconsin, you’re going to find a lot of things about him,” said Kurt Graves.
Visitors from 61 different countries and states wrote their names in a series of ledgers that were kept over the years in a mailbox beside the twine ball.
“He had them from all over the world come and see the ball of twine. He was just thrilled about that,” Rose Graves said.
Kotera would tell every visitor he was “Having a ball.” He also made a 47-pound junior ball of twine that visitors could hold up for pictures.
The Highland landmark was certified as the largest ball of twine by the Guinness World Book of Records in 1993, according to Kurt Graves.
“It’s not the biggest, it’s the heaviest,” Nelson said. “And, I mean, that man amazed me.”
Following Kotera’s death on Jan. 14, neighbors questioned what would happen to his twine ball legacy.
“The first question that came up, ‘What are we gonna do with it?' And people started saying, ‘Well, we’re going to move it to the town hall …. We’d like to donate to it,'” Kurt Graves said.
A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to raise funds to move the ball of twine to the town hall and pour a concrete slab for it. Checks can also be sent to the Town of Highland, PO Box 22, Lake Nebagamon, WI, 54849. Write in the memo area that it's for the ball of twine.
The colorful ball of twine isn't the only thing Kotera is known for. The Highand man was honored in 1999 for his meticulous work packing dumpsters at the transfer station. It was renamed the JFK James Frank Kotera Transfer Station in 2021.
“He was quite the success that people never realized he would be so famous,” Kurt Graves said.
Rose Graves said she was amazed by how people respected her brother. They saw his twine landmark as a work of art, she said, and left notes in the ledger about how much they enjoyed talking with him.
“I’m just speechless to realize how famous he was,” Rose Graves said. “And the sad part about it is we don’t realize that now until he’s actually gone.”