LGIA President Phil Wirtanen has passed away

MERRIWEATHER, Mich. – Philip Laurie Wirtanen, 75, of Merriweather, passed away suddenly on Saturday evening, Feb. 1, 2020. Philip was the beloved son of Toivo Richard and Siiri (Johnson) Wirtanen and born in Ironwood on July 15, 1944. He attended Ironwood schools and was active in the ski club and debate team at Luther L. Wright High School from which he graduated in 1962.

   Phil received an Associate of Arts degree from Gogebic Community College, 1964; Bachelor of Science, University of Wisconsin, 1966; Master’s of Science, University of Wisconsin, 1967. He was an instructor for the University of Wisconsin from 1967-1969. Phil began his illustrious career with Employers Insurance of Wausau in 1969 as a sales representative. He assumed positions of increasing responsibility over the tenure of 29 years until his retirement in 1998 as the Sr. Vice President of the Southwest Region in Dallas, Texas. He earned a number of professional designations and achievements during his time with Wausau. He enjoyed his job and the many friendships he made through his association with the company. Phil joined Reidman Insurance, in Onalaska, Wisconsin, as the managing director and officially retired in 2002 when his focus shifted to where he felt called and could be a significant contributor.

   Lake Gogebic held a special place in his heart. He would spend each summer of his life at his family’s cottage on the west shore and, ultimately, his cottage and home. Many good family hours were spent at the lake. He was fortunate to be surrounded by his elementary school friends, many of whom also lived near the lake.

   Phil was very involved as the longstanding President of the Lake Gogebic Improvement Association, and his legacy will be written in its waters, which he intensely protected. He was always willing to contribute effort and time. That dedication also extended to his charter membership and subsequent chairmanship of the Western U.P. Citizen Advisory Council for the Michigan DNR. His commitment was driven by a love of the outdoors, especially fishing and the tradition of hunting, which began with his father and uncles and continued with his brothers. On the sports side, he was an avid skier, golfer, and active member of the local horseshoe and dart-ball leagues.

   His faith and service to God and his Church were also a significant part of his life. He served faithfully in various roles and as Church and Parish Council President. He also served at the National convention for the Great Lakes Synod as a representative. His most current position was a council member on the ELCA National Church Council. The people of St. Paul Lutheran Church were an extension of his family, and he looked forward to spending time with them over a homemade bowl of Kalamojakka.

   Phil was the consummate stoic Finn. He was 100% Finnish and wore his heritage like a badge of honor. From his participation on the Finnish Council to being a member of the Sibelius Men’s Choir, he was fervent in perpetuating Finnish-American culture in America. He would talk to anyone who would listen to him pontificate about the virtues of being Finnish. Often seen wearing a Suomi t-shirt, he was a true Finn who loved a hot sauna and a brisk jump in the lake afterward.

   He is survived by his loving wife of 55 years, June (Exworthy); two daughters, Wendy (Timothy) Evans, of Wheaton, Illinois, and Erika (Bradford Pokorski) Wirtanen, of Yorkville, Illinois; grandchildren, Alex Evans, Emily Evans, Siiri Strebel and Beatrice Strebel; one sister, Sandra (Bernard) Mitchell, Ironwood; two brothers, Christian (Betty Lou), Merriweather, and Ralph, Ironwood; as well as nephews, Michael, Nick, Christopher, Ross and Andrew; and nieces, Melissa and Aliisa. He was preceded in death by his parents; and his son, Grant Philip.  

   In accordance with Philip’s wishes, cremation has taken place.

   A memorial service will be held Saturday, Feb. 8, at 11:30 a.m., preceded by visitation at 10 a.m., at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 111 S. Curry St., in Ironwood, with the Rev. Douglas Norquist officiating.

   Memorial contributions may be made to the memorial fund of St. Paul Lutheran Church.

   Phil was a central and important figure in many people’s lives as a husband, father, brother, son, grandfather, uncle and friend. His intellect, humor, strength, constant support and unwavering love will serve as an inspiration for many years to come. Our faith is certain that he is now with his beloved son and parents. Godspeed and welcome home.

   Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to Jerald Rocco, owner and manager of Lakeside Memorial Chapel Inc., in Wakefield. Condolences may be expressed online at lakesidememorialchapel.com.

The LGIA has also set up an online forum where reflections and experiences with Phil can be shared at lakegogebicia.com

2019 LGIA Fall Gathering – October 3rd













$14.95 Per Person (cash OR check made payable to Gogebic Lodge)

Cash Bar

Appetizers, tip & tax paid by the LGIA

PLEASE RSVP By Thursday, September 26th to Kathy Brown at

715-551-0015 or email me at:


Everyone is welcome. See you there!!

LGIA is Protecting Lake Gogebic

 The Lake Gogebic Improvement Association.  What is it?  What does it do? Is it a homeowner’s association? Does it have rules and requirements?  Do you have to live on the lake to become a member? The answers to these questions may surprise you.

It exists for the sole purpose of monitoring the lake and maintaining and improving its wellbeing. With members and volunteers from other organizations, it monitors the quality of the water, works to control and eradicate terrestrial invasive plants and shrubs and with the assistance of the Forest Service and Bergland Township provides boat washing and boater education of aquatic invasive species.  It also provides fish cribs and positions them in the lake to improve the fish habitat. We’ve even added loon nesting platforms in an effort to grow our population of this beautiful, popular bird.

So no, it is not a homeowners association.  In fact, you don’t have to live on the lake to be a member.  If you love Lake Gogebic and wish to see it maintained in its current state, then you can be a member, too.

The board meets monthly from May through October and two annual gatherings of members are held.  A July picnic is held with a pot luck and cookout at Gogebic County Park.  In October, members join in one of the nearby establishments for a Fall Banquet.  Both of these events provide an excellent opportunity for members to gain information from board members and meet other members.

The LGIA has the benefit of working with a number of partner organizations which support or assist in accomplishing many of its objectives; Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO), White Water Associates, US Forest Service, MDNR and  Bergland and Marenisco Townships. The association also belongs to a number of related organizations; Michigan Lakes Stewardship Association (MLSA), Westerrn Peninsula Invasives Coalition (WePIC), Michigan Swimmers Itch Partnership (MISIP), Coordinated Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP) and others.

Ten years ago the State of Michigan created a pair of Citizens Advisory Councils to the DNR. The LGIA was invited to submit an applicant for membership. It began a presence on the Western Upper Peninsula Citizens Advisory Council for all of those ten years. The relationship has provided benefit to Lake Gogebic in a variety of ways, most frequently related to our fishery.  

This year, The Boat Washing Program continued to have the very capable staff of Stan and Pat Wontor, Carol VanDonsel and Nancy Miskovich and Gene Kauranen.  They care very deeply about this lake and speak highly of their interactions with the public, telling often of the appreciation shown to them by you, the public. Almost 1,700 people were educated at various landings and although heavy rains and bad weather lowered our numbers, we still had a very receptive turnout.

The terrestrial invasive battle continues, targeting purple loosestrife, buckthorn, garden valerian and garlic mustard. While eradication may not be possible in the long run, the LGIA continues to find innovative ways to prevent their spread. We also go on field trips to do preventive measures, and volunteers are always welcome and appreciated.As a homeowner, you can become familiar with some of the invasive terrestrials that may inhabit your property and if you choose to, you can work to eliminate them on your land.

There’s a very popular U.P. television show called Discovering that airs on Monday nights on Channel 6 WLUC out of Marquette.  On July 3rd, 2018, they came and recorded a program that aired this summer. It provided an overview of the LGIA with a focus on invasives control. It was produced by Brian Whitens who said that if he could get good narrative and good video he would give us a great episode. He outdid himself and if you missed seeing it this summer you can go to http://906outdoors.com/Discovering.shtml and look for Episode 309 which aired July 15th entitled Preserving Lake Gogebic.

We also have a website:  http://lakegogebicia.com/

LGIA Featured on “Discovering”

It will never happen if you don’t try. It was on a lark when I sent a Facebook message to Brian Whitens, host of the “Discovering” show featured on WLUC, Channel 6, Marquette. This television program is well known to residents across the U.P. for bring programming that highlights what the Peninsula has to offer when it comes to nature. I wanted to know if the activities of the LGIA would be a good fit for a Discovering episode.

After contacting Brian through Facebook, I was both eager and concerned as to the portrayal of our area and our efforts. Would we have enough material to make an entire show and make it interesting? Brian seemed to think that we did and agreed to come to Lake Gogebic to do a segment on the LGIA.

While the initial focus was aquatic invasive species, we were able to pull in many talking points and activities of the Lake Gogebic Improvement Association. Boat washing, fish cribs, loon nesting platforms, fishing and terrestrial invasive species were all addressed in the show. It was a wonderful representation of what the LGIA does for Lake Gogebic.

If you haven’t seen it, please try to do so. Look for it below or on 906outdoors.com, search Discovering episode #309. Or go to the Facebook page “Protecting Lake Gogebic” and find the post.

Many thanks to Brian Whitens for coming to cover us. He’s an impressive one man show who films, edits and narrates all by himself. He even brought a drone to film the beautiful stretch of the Slate River that houses a current loon platform.

Thanks also to Phil Wirtanen, Jack Kurtz, Kent McDonough, Carol Van Donsel, Nancy Miskovich, Stan and Pat Wontor and Gene Kauranen for being available for the filming.

By Kathy Lowery

Lake Gogebic Improvement(?) Association

Lake Gogebic Improvement Association. That’s a curious handle for an organization. Most of the name I can understand. ‘Lake Gogebic’. Well, that should be rather obvious to anyone who’s dipped a toe or thrown a line in the Lake, this big bulge of water that feeds the West Branch of the Ontonagon River. And ‘Association’. This, too, seems pretty clear. This oddly appealing assortment of people who over several generations have at least one thing in common, put simply: the well-being of the Lake. But ‘Improvement’? That’s the part of the name I stumble over. Maybe you do, too. Why is this word Improvement in the name??

My father and mother were members of the LGIA. In fact, I still have one of their membership cards–dated April 1964 and signed by John Weber. But my father is the reason I was never inclined to join the Association. OK, that’s not quite the truth. To be perfectly honest, I’m the reason I never signed up. Dad and I would have an occasional conversation about the LGIA; but my question to him was always: What do you mean by ‘improvement’? And because I never got an answer that, by my standards, measured up to the question, I wouldn’t become a member. (I know, it’s a rather lame excuse; but it’s the truth. I’m also quite certain that mine is not the only weak excuse for non-membership floating around the Lake. But that’s another matter for another time.)

As it happened, however, a couple of years ago the LGIA was looking for a warm body to be on its Board of Directors. And because I happened to have a warm body, they agreed to have me come on board. (But largely recruited, I suspect, because my dear and far less inflexible wife, Terri, had already ably served on the Board–and, of course, signed me up for membership.) Before going to my first meeting, however, I drafted a few questions–mostly for myself, to sort of guide my interest in the Association; but for the Board, too, if the occasion ever presented itself. And my first question, you might well guess, was: What do we mean by ‘improvement’?

What do we mean by ‘improvement’? What do I; what do you mean? My hunch is that most all of us reflexively connect ‘improvement’ and ‘Lake Gogebic’. And so, the question is: How might we improve Lake Gogebic? Hmmm. Improve Lake Gogebic. The words do have a congenial flow to them. But the more I mull it over, the more I’m inclined to think that this might not be the only connection. Maybe ‘Improvement’ should also be connected to ‘Association’. So then, the question becomes: How might we improve the Association? And arguably, this might be the even more crucial connection. In other words: How might we improve our ways of caring so that we can hear the Lake, in its own muted way, whisper a grateful “thank you” in our collective ear?

A little less reflexively, part of me wonders if it’s not just a little presumptuous to even ask the question: How might we improve Lake Gogebic? However possible that may be. As if there’s some unarguable answer out there somewhere just waiting to be revealed. And what would the Lake look like if we did ‘improve’ it?

If a person were to let the imagination get the better of oneself, we might wonder, for example: Would the Lake be ‘improved’ if it were somehow magically restored to pristine condition? Like we might picture it carved out in the wake of the last retreating glacier, before the first human footstep ever left its first trace on these shores. (Indeed, I can almost hear the Lake whispering in my ear: “Hey, I was doing just fine until you people showed up!”) The Lake-as-untouched thought is enchanting. Until I realize that this would also mean that my cottage–and yours, too–would no longer be here! Nor would I; and nor would you. Or would the Lake be improved if only it could be returned to that nostalgic golden time of our younger years? Before the place got all wired up. Back to the more wistful good ol’ days–perhaps even wood stoves and kerosene lamps and outhouses and cane poles. Unfortunately, the arrow of time moves in one direction; and it’s not toward the past. Besides, speaking only for myself, I’m not very sure-footed walking down memory lane. Or would the Lake be improved if, say, the population density doubled, tripled, quadrupled; or if it became the mirror image of urban comfort and bug-less convenience? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. What do you think?

‘Improvement’. It’s a tricky word, isn’t it? The more I wrestle with it, the more I understand Dad not being able to give me the straight, clear answer I wanted. Because I also know that I could do no better if my children asked me what ‘improvement’ means. And yet, there it is, in the middle of the name: Lake Gogebic Improvement Association.

Some years ago, the LGIA Board fleetingly entertained the idea of eliminating ‘Improvement’ from its name; but the mess of legalities took the wind out of that sail. So, it seems, we’re all stuck with the name; and ‘improvement’ is indelibly part of it. But that’s good, I think; because otherwise too much would be lost. And oddly, after all these years, I find myself rather falling in love with the word. Nor is the irony lost on me. For years I refused to join the Association because no one could tell me what the word means. But now I think the word is strategically–and wisely–lodged in the middle of our name to give us pause. And I like the challenge of trying to figure out anew what it means, or, better, what I mean by using it. Go figure, huh!

I’m beginning to see ‘improvement’ as a metaphorical bridge of sorts, spanning, connecting ‘where we are’ and ‘who we are’: a way for this ‘place’ and its ‘people’ to reach each other. ‘Improvement’ turns into a critical word that helps us traverse, but won’t let us separate, this body of water and what we’re doing here. So, there you have it: Lake Gogebic Improvement Association. The name has an agreeable flow to it, don’t you think? (And at one or our meetings I might just ask the question: What do we mean by ‘improvement’? Clearly, I’ve not yet finished that conversation with my father!)

By Ken Carlson