April 16, 2007

Mayor of Winsted follows in his grandfather's footsteps

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Steve Stotko can remember when he was very young following behind his grandfather, Arnold Guggemos, putting up fence posts on his grandfather’s hobby farm west of Winsted.

Now, as mayor of Winsted, Stotko once again is following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Guggemos was mayor of Winsted from 1938 to 1954, a total of 16 years.

The 2006 election was actually the third time Stotko, a 1968 Holy Trinity graduate and lifetime resident of Winsted, has run for mayor. The first time he ran, he was only 22 years old.

He and two of his friends, Alan Fleischacker and Larry Zimmerman, decided that they should run for mayor and city council because no one else was willing to. Stotko doesn’t recall how it was determined he should be the one to run for mayor. Their ploy was to “just get things stirred up.”

“Thank God, I didn’t get in then, now that I realize how much there is to it,” Stotko said.

They had hair down to their shoulders and had never served on the city council before, but the idea was that somebody had to do the job and why not them? They were hoping that maybe by them running for office, other residents would step forward and run for office too.

Stotko remembers a number of letters to the editor from the nuns at Holy Trinity.

“The nuns were bragging about us. Telling everyone ‘we at least have these three young people trying to do something for the town,’” Stotko said.

It didn’t take long for their plan to work. Kohler stepped forward again to run and suddenly, there were people willing to run as council members, too.

During the campaign, Stotko went door-to-door with his brochures. His message was, “even if you don’t vote for me, get out and vote.” He was called a “long-haired hippie” during one of his house calls, but overall, he recalls the experience as a good one.

When the election results were in, Stotko received only about one-fifth of the votes. However, he thinks that campaign is what “sparked” his interest in running for a city council spot in the late ’70s, when he served for four years.

Stotko did not run again for city council when his term was up. He decided that he needed to take time off to spend with his wife and family, which he regards as his number one priority.

He met his wife, Nancy Salonek of Waverly, his junior year of high school. Nancy was a sophomore at St. Mary’s High School in Waverly.

They started dating soon after that first meeting, although Steve said it did take him awhile to get up enough nerve to ask her out.

They were married in August of 1971. About a year later, while they were living in an apartment down the street from their present home, they purchased property on Winsted Lake.

Shortly after that, they began building their home, where they have lived since 1974.

Steve and Nancy have three sons: Jamie, married to Shelley, and living in Winsted; Joe, married to Katie, and living in Owatonna; and Jeff, married to Julie, and living in Waconia. The Stotkos have one grandchild, Alexis, who is 18 months old, the daughter of Jeff and Julie. Alexis is to have a new brother or sister in October.

“I think if there was an accomplishment I was the most proud of, it would be the three kids. I can’t take all of the credit for them though,” Steve said. Then, with a smile, he added after a slight pause, “Only half.”

Since the boys were very young, the Stotkos have gone on family vacations. Both Steve and Nancy are pleased that the tradition has continued.

“Now they are grown and married and they come to us and still want to go on vacation with us,” Nancy said. “We start planning around Labor Day. We went to Seattle last year. We rented a beach house on the Puget Sound area and watched the whales. It was wonderful.”

Steve worked for Sterner Lighting in Winsted for 27 years. He is now employed at Medallion Cabinetry in Waconia, and has been there for eight years.

He is the receiving warehouse distribution supervisor, but also helps out where needed.

“It is a huge warehouse full of many, many parts, and my job is to make sure we get truckloads in daily and get everything unloaded and put away the same day it comes in,” Steve said.

Steve’s work day begins at 5:30 a.m. and ends around 2:30 p.m. He is back home to Winsted by 3 p.m.

Besides being very involved with the family, Steve likes to do yard work. He did the lake bank when he was younger.

“I dug everything by hand and put in retaining walls. I like doing things like that. I like being outside cutting lawn, raking,” he said.

“He walks every day – rain or shine, no matter what the weather,” Nancy reported. “He is outside all of the time. He never comes in.”

Steve also likes to paint. He finished painting the inside of their home not too long ago. He has even tried oil painting.

“I haven’t done it for a while now, but I did some landscape oil paintings. No people. I was self-taught by a guy on channel two, Bob Ross. Some turned out pretty good,” Steve said.

Two years ago Steve started thinking about giving something back to the community. He was also thinking about all there was to still learn about city government and how it fascinated him when he was on the council before.

“What I learned in those four years never left. What I took away from the experience is that local government is extremely interesting. There is a whole lot more to it than anyone realizes.”

In 2004, Steve tried a second attempt at running for mayor. He lost by a very slim margin. So slim that he decided that he owed it to himself to try it again.

For his third try as mayor, family and friends worked together. They made it a point to contact everyone in the town.

“So many people the last time said, ‘I didn’t even know you were running,’” Steve said.

“I really did want to win. This time, I put a lot more effort into the campaign.”

So in 2006, with his hair shorter and now gray, he was elected mayor of Winsted.

As mayor, Steve has definite things he thinks are important and wants to be part of his term.

Communication within the council and with the residents of Winsted is the first thing he mentioned.

“What I am going to try to do for the next 21 months is to continue to listen to people. If there is information people are lacking, I think it is up to the council members to make sure that information is communicated to the people.

“One of the nicest things that I have seen over the last couple of years is the city administrator and staff, who do such a great job preparing the council with the facts,” Steve said.

“The council gets a packet every Friday so we know what is coming. It gives the council time to read what is in the packet and listen to people who have called or people that we meet on the street. Then, to make a decision in what you hope is for the better of the community. They do a super job,” Steve said.

He would like to see communication between council members, as well. Steve was really impressed when the city council and staff went on retreat to St. Cloud. He thought it was fantastic because they were able to set city goals and they came up with a city motto.

“Everybody got to see how everybody was thinking,” Steve said.

“I want the council members to speak during our meetings. I am not the guy in charge. We are all equal.”

Another legacy Steve would like to leave to Winsted as its mayor is to keep it moving forward.

“Winsted has always been a progressive community and I don’t want to see us lose that.

“We want to build a city hall and do the lakefront promenade and those are right on the horizon, but one of my functions is to lead us out 15 or 20 years from now, and let’s plan for those things now. I want to see us think more about the future,” Steve said.

And lastly, but something Steve has thought about since the beginning, is to get young people involved with the city and its government.

He wants to see the younger generation join city groups they have an interest in. That way, they would have input on things they would like to see in Winsted that would make it a good place for them to live and raise their families.

“Possibly start out on the planning commission or even city council. If they like that, they will take the next step. I don’t want to see what happened when we were young and have no one willing to run for mayor or council,” Steve said.

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