By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN The Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce has chosen Tom and LuAnn Ollig as this year’s 2008 grand marshals for the 20th annual Winsted Winter Festival.
The Olligs will be honored for their years of service to the community at the Christmas parade Saturday, Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m.
Tom and LuAnn became a couple in 1971 after they met each other at Bunny’s Burger Shop (now known as the Pantry) in Winsted.
At the time, they were both home from college for the weekend and were out with friends.
Tom had graduated from Holy Trinity High School in 1970 and was attending Mankato State University, and LuAnn (Gillman) had graduated from Cokato High School in 1971 and was attending St. Cloud State University.
They exchanged phone numbers and addresses. Because there weren’t any cell phones back then, and long distance telephone calls were expensive, Tom made his first move in a letter asking LuAnn for a date.
After that, the couple would come home on weekends to see each other and eventually married in 1973.
They decided to make Winsted their home, and both began working full-time at Sterner Lighting.
LuAnn stayed on at Sterner for a total of 32 years, until Sterner closed in 2005. Today she works in payroll and human resources at K-Way Express in Winsted.
Tom left Sterner after five years and went to work at what was then called the Winsted Telephone Company, which was owned and operated by his parents, John and Tess Ollig, and originally owned by his grandparents, Mathew (Judge) and Toni Ollig.
When TDS Telecom bought Winsted Telephone Company from the Olligs in 1993, Tom stayed on with TDS and is now market manager with responsibilities in Winsted, Monticello, St. Cloud, and Duluth.
Even though the couple both worked full-time and were raising a family, they always found time to volunteer.
Olligs’ friends and neighbors for more than 30 years, Dick and Judy Langenfeld, have worked on many committees with the couple and said:
“Tom and LuAnn’s love for family, friends, church, school, and Winsted show in all that they do.”
“Whether using their leadership skills when sharing a project or just being there to help, you can always count on them.”
When the Olligs’ children were younger, many times committee meetings would take place in the Olligs’ home so they wouldn’t need to hire a babysitter.
“Our kids grew up with meetings here in our dining room,” Tom said. “People and papers all over, and that was just normal.”
There have been numerous committees and meetings over the years for Tom and LuAnn.
Some of the organizations they have served were listed when the Olligs received the Bishop’s Medal for service from the Diocese of New Ulm in 2005:
• Winsted Winter Festival
• Winsted centennial committee
• Winstock Music Festival committee co-founders
• the parish pastoral council
• Holy Trinity founders capital campaign
• Holy Trinity dinner auction (more than 20 years)
• Holy Trinity Boosters Club
Tom was recognized for being active on the Winsted City Council, Holy Trinity Education Committee, Winsted planning commission, co-founder of the Winsted Bratbusters, and the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce (currently he is on the board of directors).
LuAnn was recognized for her service for Holy Trinity marathon, homecoming committee, Holy Trinity parents night and Winsted queen committee.
Of all of the committees the Olligs have served on, the Winstock Country Music Festival is the largest and best known.
They have been committee members of the country festival since the beginning.
Winstock will be celebrating its 16th year and has earned more than $2 million for Holy Trinity School.
Every year it brings approximately 14,000 visitors to Winsted for just one weekend in June.
“It brings a lot of commerce into town. Many businesses profit from it. It is a revenue-maker for not just Holy Trinity,” Tom said.
The idea to have a country music festival in Winsted was conceived by Dick Langenfeld and Tom after a Holy Trinity budget meeting where they had been trying to come up with ways to raise money for the school.
Tom and Dick decided to continue the meeting’s discussion over a cup of coffee at Keg’s Bar.
“Make no mistake, this was Dick’s idea originally. I just happened to be sitting next to him,” Tom said. “Dick had known of a festival in Regal, MN called Cornstock and said, ‘Let’s have a country music festival.’”
Tom agreed and both went home to tell their wives, LuAnn and Judy, who have been part of the plan from the beginning.
“To be honest,” Tom said, “if our wives hadn’t supported us and been involved in it, we probably wouldn’t have done it.”
The two couples and Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich headed to Cornstock in Regal, with notepads in hand, jotting down information about the festival that drew only 5,000 people.
The general consensus of the group the next day was, “we can do it.”
Tom believes one of the reasons for Winstock’s success is because of Winsted itself a town made up of many entrepreneurs who are willing to look at most ideas as feasible.
“Some communities might say we need to form a committee and really look at that and study it,” Tom said. “But in Winsted, a group of people get together and say, ‘Let’s do it,’ and it works.”
One of the first people they told about the festival was Fr. Bob Wyffels, Holy Trinity parish priest at the time, who gave his approval to the group.
It must have taken a lot of faith on Fr. Bob’s part because the festival took four years before it made a profit.
Funds from private individuals covered the first year Winstock loss of $79,000, as well as its second year loss of $21,000.
Going into the third year owing $100,000, the festival showed a small profit and some money was paid back. By the fourth year, enough money was made to pay back all of the original people that had loaned the committee money.
“It is amazing to see Winstock blossom into a community event and a multi-faith event. We have volunteers from all over,” Tom said.
Both of the Olligs want it known that their time spent on Winstock is small compared to what others do.
There are about 800 volunteers every year who help. Some just come for a 4.5-hour shift, others spend the weekend working, and still others are out there the whole week before.
“If we didn’t have that whole group of people, it would never happen,” LuAnn said.
Besides Tom and LuAnn, the Winstock core committee members are: Fr. Bill Sprigler, Dick and Judy Langenfeld, Dave Danielson, Steve Laxen, Butch Amundsen, Nancy Neumann, Joe Rasset, Bonnie Quast, Mike Henrich, John Entinger, and Harvey Nowak.
Others who have served on the core committee since its beginning are Fr. Bob Wyffels, Kathy Bayerl Jones, Bob Mochinski, Dave Sherman, Gary Lenz, and Fr. Paul Wolf.
“Winstock is an ongoing process,” LuAnn said. “We have meetings all year long.”
Tom is responsible for getting all of the licenses and permits.
Because of where Winstock is held, he not only has to go to the county but the township, city, and state. He is also responsible for overseeing the parking, the Mini Biffs and getting the lighting and sound system.
LuAnn orders the food for 14,000 people. She works with a committee of five women who decide what the menu will offer, and then in April LuAnn orders the food.
The amount of food is ordered based on a formula using the numbers from the previous year which LuAnn calls, “simple math.”
“And we are still friends,” Tom said. “We have had some lively discussions at Winstock meetings, but when the meeting is over, we’re done. Whatever we decide on, we all agree. It has worked out really well.”
The most recent award for the Olligs was given to Tom at the Holy Trinity homecoming coronation in October. The award was the Holy Trinity School Leadership award for all that he has done for the school, as well as the community.
When Tom accepted the award, he told those attending, “Holy Trinity has given me more than I have ever given it.”
“Holy Trinity has had a positive impact on my life. It has given me my values and faith, and my children their values and faith,” Tom said.
Tom and LuAnn are dedicated to Holy Trinity church and school. With their granddaughter, Madison, attending Holy Trinity this year, it makes the fourth generation of the Ollig family to attend school there.
As far as the future goes, the Olligs still plan to keep doing what they are doing.
“I think volunteering is fun,” Tom said. “And, it is my personal opinion, that we all have a responsibility to give back some of our time and talent be it civic, church, or school.”
“The neatest thing about Lu and I volunteering for different things is to watch our children do it,” Tom said. “Maybe because they saw us do it here at home.”
Tom and LuAnn have four children:
• Michelle is married to Jeff Campbell and they live in Winsted. They have one daughter, Madison, who will be five in December.
• Beth is a manager for AT&T wireless in Eden Prairie.
• Laura works at Midway Training Services in St. Paul.
• Breanna is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire.