Fort Frances town Councilor Rick Wiedenhoeft concludes his career as a town councilor this year after 15 years of service to the town. He is also stepping back from his position as head football referee for the Fort Frances High School Muskies.
Wiedenhoeft has seen a variety of changes in Fort Frances over his tenure which included four consecutive terms with a term off in the middle.
Wiedenhoeft says he ended up on council when, early in retirement, he found himself without much to occupy his time. His long-time friend, co-coach and sports official, the late Struchan Gilson suggested that Wiedenhoeft join him as a member of council as a way to fill some time so he did.
“The biggest change, obviously, was the loss of the mill,” he said. “We had an extensive fight to save the mill and we did everything in our power. But Resolute [Forest Products] just had a firm grip on the wood rights, so that was the end of that because we couldn’t get any wood rights we couldn’t get another employer in there. So that was the big thing over the course of my years, that the destruction and loss of the mill was probably number one.”
In addition to the mill closing Wiedenhoeft has been through many different challenges with council including drought, flooding and nearby wildfires. In addition to those issues the councils have been given more responsibilities by the provincial government.
“One of the things the province laid on each community across Ontario is an asset management plan,” Wiednhoeft said. “We have to look at every asset that we have in the community and make a financial plan for replacement or repair. The other thing I think was there was more downloading from the province. This happened moreso the first couple of terms I was on council. The government of the day downloaded more stuff onto the municipalities, they handed us some money but the money they gave us didn’t really cover the total needs so that was a struggle because there was more downloading than there was money provided by the government at the time.”
In addition to not seeking reelection, Wiednhoeft will no longer be refereeing football at Fort Frances High School.
“This is the first year I haven’t refereed football in probably 30 years,” he said. “I’m going to miss that for sure. There are very capable guys stepping into my place and doing a fine job of refereeing football. I intend to continue to referee volleyball at the high school level and basketball if needed.”
After a career as a physical education teacher and high school sports coach, Wiedenhoeft says he still loves to be involved with students and sports. He plans to keep officiating some sports but is excited to have more time to spend with family, traveling and at his cabin.
“I love staying involved with high school students because I just love their energy,” he said. “I think it helps keep me young-thinking. So I’m going to continue doing that as long as I can. I’m going to be a cheerleader for the Muskies no matter what sport it is.”