A warm sun and cool breeze greeted 37 family and friends May 25 as they gathered in a freshly cut Douglas County Forestry area near County Highway B to plant trees in memory of Steve Rydberg, who died Sept. 7, 2017.
“I’m glad we didn’t plant last weekend” was a common refrain because the original date scheduled May 18 was canceled due to snow – I blame those who swapped their snow shovels for patio furniture).
“We couldn’t have asked for a more gorgeous sunny day to do it,” said Marion Rydberg, Steve Rydberg’s wife.
Steve was an avid hunter and fisherman with a passion for the outdoors. He hunted turkeys since 1994 in Wisconsin, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona and Wyoming. He passed on this passion and dedication to his sons, Jeremy and Chris.
Rydberg, along with Oscar Shield, Bill Makovek and Pat Kukall established the local Gitchee Gumme chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in the early 1990s, making it the farthest north chapter in North America at the time.
“The thing about Steve, he just lived to teach people about turkey hunting. He was what I would call a very unselfish hunter. He would turn himself inside out to make certain you harvested a bird,” said Pat Kukall, co-owner of Shooter’s Supply in Superior and a longtime friend. “I remember how he told me about how they raised those boys. Wherever Steve went hunting and fishing, the boys were with him. We came back from a trip to Montana; it was late and we pulled into his yard. All the lights were on in the house. I said, ‘the boys aren’t having a party, are they?’ He said ‘naw, one is in the basement working on his taxidermy and the other one taking care of the fish they caught that day.’”
The family donated $2,000 and this amount was matched by the National Wild Turkey Federation to purchase and plant high bush cranberry trees for wild turkey and other wildlife habitat in an area of Douglas County forest where Steve and his sons enjoyed hunting ducks, grouse, and turkeys in the spring and fall.
“It meant a lot to him to see turkeys abundant in an area where they never existed before,” Chris Rydberg said.
Half of the trees were planted this year and the other half will be planted in another area in 2020. Permission is being sought to erect a memorial sign of the planting in the area.
The Gitchee Gumme chapter worked with Keb Guralski of the Douglas County Forestry office in Solon Springs for the planting area research and permission, and they lent planting poles and bags for the project. The chapter ordered the trees, provided lunch to the volunteers and helped plant.