Hometown: Williams Bay
Occupation: Vice president and general manager of Lake Geneva Cruise Line, where he has worked for 42 years
Family: Wife, Cheryl; three children; two grandchildren; and Odin, a chocolate lab
Hobbies: "Anything that involves the outdoors." But cross-country skiing tops the list—so much so that he has skied in almost two-dozen American Birkebeiner races.
Favorite thing about nature: "It never fails to amaze me…how plants and animals in our eco-systems survive ice, drought, floods, heat—extremes of all sorts—and manage to come back as strong, healthy and beautiful as ever."
Philosophy on life: He says the best way for someone to get the most out of life is for them to give 100 percent as long as they are able. "I feel that the longer one is able to live, work and be active, the more one wants to do his or her part to leave the world a better place," he said.
Three words to describe yourself: "I love life."
A sensitive environmental area survives and thrives thanks to the efforts of a Williams Bay's Harold Friestad. Friestad is featured as one of the Janesville Gazette's "People Who Matter". Kyle Geissler reports.
WILLIAMS BAY Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy would not be a natural wonderland if not for Harold Friestad.
There would be no trails that wind through wetlands and woods.
There would be no boardwalk across ponds filled with fish, frogs and ducks.
There would be no tower overlooking a native prairie.
Friestad had his head, hands and heart in all of it.
"I've always loved nature, and once you get involved, it grows on you," he said. "You can't back away."
A smile emerges from beneath Friestad's white mustache as he recounts the storied transformation of an abandoned farm into a beloved retreat.
Williams Bay residents watched for years as developers proposed building high-rise condominiums, hotels, a golf course and even a marina on the fragile wetland property north of the bay. A final proposal in the late 1980s pushed residents over the edge: It was too much for the quaint lakeside village.
Friestad, the village president at the time, learned that the property was for sale. He urged the village to consider buying it because it would stop the unwanted development and protect a sensitive environmental area.
The village in early 1989 bought the 230-acre property—the largest intact wetland remaining in the Geneva Lake watershed—for $1.575 million and promised it would not become a financial burden to the village: Everything would be done with donated money, labor and time.
Mary King, former executive director of the Geneva Lake Conservancy, said she never thought the property would be restored to a pristine natural area where people would flock to hike, snowshoe and bird watch.
"But with Harold in charge, I was so wrong," she said. "He just inspires you. ...He just gets so excited, and that excitement rubs off on you."
Lois Morava, chairman of the conservancy management board, said it's not uncommon to find Friestad cutting down invasive box elder trees, planting wildflowers or showing pictures of the ongoing restoration to a potential donor.
"He is so cranked up about that place," she said. "If there's any work to be done, he is right there at the front of line."
George Johnson, who also served on the village board when the property was up for development, said the conservancy is where Friestad is at his finest.
"This is a project that's of his namesake, really," he said. "From the inspiration to the perspiration, it's Harold's bailiwick. His eyes just light up whenever he talks about it."
All accolades aside, Friestad is just pleased to have a haven in the middle of his hometown.
"It's turned into my opportunity to really do something—a legacy I can leave," he said. "It's my chance to just make the world a better place on a small scale."