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Big Risk in a Small Town

Gordon Schluter of St. Croix Rod inducted into Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame

One of the many programs of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, based in Hayward, Wisc., is recognizing individuals, organizations and institutions who have made significant and lasting contributions to the sport and heritage of freshwater fishing.

That criteria certainly applies to St. Croix’s Gordon Schluter.

“Gordon Schluter’s impact on the fishing world did not revolve around his fishing prowess,” Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame Induction Committee Chairman, Tim Lesmeister. “His significance focused on his wisdom and ability to create a climate that would foster the best in a business. This is why St. Croix Rod is a leader in the industry today.

“Through Schluter’s expertise and his willingness to give of himself and create a business with staying power is what propelled him into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.”

In the beginning

Gordon Schluter possessed an unbreakable entrepreneurial spirit, and never feared risks. And he was particularly passionate about a rod company nestled in the center of the small Wisconsin town he loved. That passion led to building the largest American made rod company: St. Croix Rod Company.

Gordon Schluter was born on Aug., 29, 1921, in the small town of Sedan, Minn. He served his country during World War II as a Marine carrier pilot, flying torpedo bombers in the Pacific arena.

In 1945, Gordon attended the college of business administration at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He later completed a management training program with the Gambles-Skogmo Company, after which he accepted a position with them as the manager of one of its retail stores in Edina, Minn.

In June 1947, Schluter married Irene Nelson. Through a company transfer, the couple first came to Park Falls in 1951 and were quickly captivated by the small, industrious town.

In 1960, Gordon Schluter was among a group of five Park Falls businessmen who invested in St. Croix Rod Company. He would work for St. Croix Rod several times, eventually becoming the CEO, before leaving in 1968 to pursue business opportunities in New Mexico.

During a vacation to Albuquerque, Gordon Schluter became enchanted with the area. They purchased the Crossroads Motel and moved the family to Albuquerque. The Crossroads Motel is seen today in episodes of Breaking Bad.

“My father was a risk taker,” said Pam Schluter Smylie about her driven dad. “He purchased and ran radio stations, as well as a restaurant and three hotels. I remember sitting with him in the car looking at the 12-year-old Gas Light Hotel as he explained his vision to renovate and turn the property around. “Like all his business ventures, he was successful. When he had a business vision, he made it happen.”

The Call

In 1977, Schluter, living in New Mexico at a time when he was ready for retirement, received a fateful call from Park Falls, Wis., community leaders.

St. Croix Rod, they said, was in deep trouble and planned to close at the end of the year. St. Croix risked the potential of being reduced to a name on a foreign-made rod. Its workers, mostly women, would be out of jobs.

The company persuaded Schluter to purchase the company.

“I remember my father telling me that he was moving back to Park Falls to help St. Croix. I knew this would probably be his last business to turnaround, and I prayed that it would once again be successful. He used his retirement and mortgaged the house to invest into the company,” notes Schluter Smylie.

Gordon and two associates bought the company. According to Gordon, “We put a lot into that company over the years. A lot of heart. Thinking about moving back and driving past a boarded-up building really bothered me.”  

In the early 1980s, Gordon purchased complete interests and ownership from his partners and subsequently became the sole owner of St. Croix. Eventually, he brought on sons Paul Schluter, Jeff Schluter and David Schluter, who remain at the helm today, perpetuating the family legacy.

“A unique manufacturing story, St. Croix had gone from nearly broke in 1977 to a very viable company,” said Paul Schluter, now company President. “A lot of companies in such dire straits in the late 1970’s and 1980’s went under. St. Croix would have gone under, too, if it weren’t Gordon Schluter’s dedication. He literally poured his life’s saving into it and risked everything he owned at a time when he could have taken a comfortable retirement.”

In 1990, Gordon officially retired at the age of sixty-nine. His four children bought the company from their father. The St. Croix story now continues with the next generation of Schluters. Together, they share a commitment to St. Croix's mission of delivering high-quality, hand-crafted products for fishing enthusiasts. They believe employees and stakeholders should grow professionally, personally and financially as a result of their association with St. Croix.

Gordon Schluter passed away on April 8, 2005.

Gordon joined an esteemed group of individuals in the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. Collectively, they’ve made a major impact on the growth of sport of fishing. This March, Paul Schluter accepted the plaque on behalf of his father during the Northwest Sports Show in Minneapolis, Minnesota.