TAKING A BIG RISK ON A SMALL TOWN
iBass360 salutes the late Gordon Schluter of St. Croix Rods, who was recently inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. Based in Hayward, Wisconsin, the HOF recognizes individuals and organizations that have made a lasting contribution to the sport of freshwater fishing. That certainly applies to St. Croix’s Gordon Schluter. His impact on the fishing world does not revolve around his fishing ability but rather on his ability to create a climate for his employees that gave rise to the best rod manufacturing company in a business. Making St. Croix the industry leader it is today was certainly his passion.
Schluter possessed an unbreakable entrepreneurial spirit that did not fear risk. He was particularly passionate about building a company in the center of the small Wisconsin town he loved. Today that company is the largest American made rod company. Born in1921, in Sedan, MN, Gordon served during World War II as a Marine carrier pilot, flying torpedo bombers in the Pacific. After the war, he enrolled in the
University of Minnesota as a business major. With degree in hand, he took on a management training program with Gambles-Skogmo Company, a retail conglomerate headquartered in St. Louis Park, MN that included Gambles Hardware & Auto Supply stores, Woman’s World clothing stores, Red Owl Grocery stores, and Snyder Drug to name a few.
In 1947, a company transfer took him across the St. Croix River to Park Falls, Wisconsin. Schluter fell in love with the town and its people and in 1960, he joined a group of five Park Falls businessmen and invested in the St. Croix Rod Company, eventually becoming CEO in 1968. That stint was short lived. During a vacation to Albuquerque, Schluter became enchanted with the area and he and his wife purchased the Crossroads Motel and moved the family to Albuquerque- a motel that can be seen today in episodes of Breaking Bad.
Over the next few years he purchased radio stations, a restaurant and three hotels. It was in 1977 that Schluter received a fateful call from Park Falls community leaders. St. Croix Rod was in deep trouble and planned to close at the end of the year. Its workers, mostly women, would be out of jobs. Remembering his love for Park Falls, Schluter summoned his entrepreneurial spirit and purchased the company. Ever the risk taker, he drew out his retirement savings, mortgaged the house, and bought St. Croix. He put all of his heart into the company. Eventually, he brought on his sons Paul, Jeff, and David who remain at the helm today.
In those days, a lot of companies in such dire straits, especially those in the northern rust belt
states, went under. St. Croix would have done the same were it not for Schluter’s dedication. He risked everything he owned to make St. Croix the high-quality, hand-crafted rod manufacture they are today. He also made sure that the employees and stakeholders grew professionally, personally and financially as a result of their association with St. Croix. Gordon Schluter lived his passion at through St. Croix.