Dennis Conradt cast a long shadow during his 75 years.
He died March 1.
Long lines of mourners were a tribute to the man who touched many lives.
Several years ago I stood in line at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Shiocton for the funeral of his father Butch.
Their lives took different paths, but they both were respected, well-liked and definitely Shiocton ambassadors.
Dennis’ name is synonymous with Shadows on the Wolf.
Shadows is often thought of as another conservation organization, but it is more. It did start because local members of a Wisconsin waterfowl organization tired of raising funds and having to lobby for money to support local projects.
Conservation remains a goal, but Shadows also is concerned about charity, community and commitment of sweat equity that surpasses the considerable money – approaching $1 million since it began in 1992 when six people chipped in $20 each as seed money.
That is how things get done, pass the hat, get a few dollars, roll up the sleeves and go to work.
Getting Internal Revenue Service tax exempt status was difficult as Shadows on the Wolf Rod and Gun Club. Dennis asked five Shiocton school district teachers, who had written a local history “Shadows on the Wolf” about using the name. The shortened name cleared IRS scrutiny.
Arnie Neuzil, one of the teachers, spent his career teaching in Shiocton beginning in 1963. Denny was an early friend, enjoying bantering while on the same bowling team.
“He was quite a guy. We shared a love for fishing and hunting. I guess he was my boss, too, when he was on the school board,” Neuzil said. “They needed our approval to use the name.”
Neuzil said while researching the book several articles mentioned the poaching of walleye and sturgeon. “One story was about transporting sturgeon by train, which was legal at the time,” he said.
Dennis readily talked about his transition from “Shiocton violator” to valued ally of those in the DNR charged with managing and protecting resources in the Wolf River basin.
He and about a dozen peers in their 20s and 30s were ready and willing to break the rules luring walleye into traps and lifting the vulnerable sturgeon from their spawning beds. It was common along the Wolf from Fremont upstream.
Several were personal friends and shared tales of bedeviling the local warden who was “very unpopular” in 1964 when I began my writing career. I don’t recall meeting Dennis at that time, but regularly had long discussions with his dad, Butch.
“I guess I wasn’t any different than a boy growing up in Shiocton,” Dennis said in an article about his transition to Citizen of the Year. “This town had quite a reputation for poaching and violating.”
Dan Folz, a fish biologist pioneering sturgeon studies, spent springs at Bamboo Bend, tagging and collecting data on the prehistoric fish.
Folz was more educator than enforcer and many of the violators, like Dennis, became the most active participants improving the spawning habitat for sturgeon.
Dennis regularly assisted with spring tagging, especially at Bamboo Bend one of the best spawning sites on the river and best places to view the fish, particularly when the DNR is collecting data.
The bend is the most visible of the many projects Shadow has done.
Don Nollenberg was the first president and Dennis the vice president. Dennis and Shadows were synonymous. His enthusiasm and dedication infected other community-minded people.
The 225 members raised $16,000 at the first banquet in 1993. Shadows now has chapters in Clintonville and Shawano, 1,000 members and more than $900,000 invested in projects.
With his health failing, Dennis announced his retirement as president in 2013. His son Kevin was elected successor in 2014.
I don’t remember the first time I met Dennis. It could have been early in my career while I met Butch at the home farm in Bovina.
Everybody knew Butch – A.K.A. Ervin Conradt – who spent most of his life in public service for people in the town of Bovina, Outagamie County and state Assembly.
It was a pattern Dennis emulated, serving his community in many ways, including the Shiocton School Board, his church, and personal skills with woodworking and gardening through the area.
Dennis believed being a good neighbor had greater meaning than just caring about those close to home. He believed in good works and encouraged others to join in them.
It is what formed my bond with a second Conradt, as his father was more a friend than a news source. He brought reason and asked the key questions during hearings on fishing rafts on the Wolf, a long-range plan for the Wolf River basin and various other meetings about managing the resources of the river.
Jim Binder is one of many Dennis did the heavy lifting for to get a worthwhile project to reality. Binder wanted to share his passion for trapping with others, especially kids.
“Dennis set up a meeting with the Shadows board, telling me to be prepared and dress up, including tie. I did as told, the board was dressed in work clothes just off the job, and took delight in the prank,” Binder said.
“I was asking for half the cost of the program. They had a check to cover the full cost, that is the way Dennis and Shadows did business.”
Several Shadows members also took part in the program.
Shadows helped other organizations – including Wolf River Sturgeon Trail in New London that was a personal project.
It contributed $5,000 of seed money, but even more important Haze Diemel and Wayne “Ace” Van Straten gave vital advice on pitfalls experienced with their Bamboo Bend project.
Dennis missed Shadow’s banquet Saturday, but his shadow is in the good works future generations will enjoy.