(Photo by Curt Knoke) Greg Sturm keeps the wheels of progress — and bicycles — turning in Shawano County through his work with Shawano Pathways. The efforts to provide better roads, activities and facilities for outdoor recreational enthusiasts have earned Sturm the Shawano Area Community Foundation’s Shawano Community Service Award.
By Lee Pulaski, Shawano Leader
When you can’t find the road to your goals, you sometimes have to create your own path. That’s certainly true for Greg Sturm. As one of the founders of Shawano Pathways, he’s had to do things the hard way to shape a group dedicated to improving outdoor recreational opportunities in Shawano County.
Sturm’s trailblazing earned him the Shawano Community Service Award from the Shawano Area Community Foundation. Nancy Brown-Koeller, who nominated Sturm for the honor, noted he doesn’t like the limelight, but he is very deserving of the honor.
“Whether I look at examples of his work helping families in a food crisis so they can be more stable, independent and productive, or of his work improving the health of Shawano County citizens by advocating for safer and better walking and biking opportunities, I wholeheartedly believe our community is a better place because of determined volunteers such as Greg,” Brown-Koeller wrote in her nomination letter.
Brown-Koeller wrote that Sturm has worked long and hard on the Bike the Barn Quilts ride that takes place every fall. Sturm designs the maps, paints and puts up signs for routes, guides a tour and takes charge of the cleanup every year.
That’s not all, though.
“In preparation for the 2017 and 2018 Bike the Barn Quilts ride, he personally repaired the trestle bridge over the Wolf River,” Brown-Koeller said. “The bridge, both years, was a hazard to walkers and bikers with loose, warped boards, some missing entirely and some with screws sticking up.”
Sturm said he got more interested in bicycling after he retired, but it was quickly evident that the roads around Shawano County were not friendly to the human-powered, two-wheeled modes of transportation.
“Especially where I live by the (Shawano) Lake, going into town and what-not. Roads like Airport Road were very dangerous,” Sturm said. “I hadn’t thought of starting up any bicycling advocacy group or anything. I only wanted to, in my own little world, try to improve something that was a real safety hazard.”
Some advice from state bicycle advocates brought Sturm to the doorstep of Randy Zastrow, then the Shawano County highway commissioner. Zastrow recommended that Sturm talk with Jan Llewellyn, who was with the county’s health department and had formed a group exploring similar issues.
“She and I worked together to try to get things moving a little more forward then,” Sturm said.
Eventually, Shawano Pathways was born under a different name, SPOKES, and was formally incorporated in August 2011. Good fortune was by Sturm’s side and the side of everyone in the group, he noted.
“What guided us was a bicycle planning organization from Madison that gave us a template to follow,” Sturm said. “By following that template and developing a comprehensive plan, the rest of everything kind of fell together, although it was more due to developing a core group, and the ones we had in the group were motivated people.”
Shawano Pathways isn’t limited to walking and bicycle trails. Sturm spent a lot of time in the last two years helping establish snowshoe trails at Kroenke Lake State Natural Area, along with his son, Jesse, and fellow Pathways member Matty Mathison.
“If you know how logging roads and trails work in the woods, they tend to grow over with this thorny, kind of prickly roots that fill the open walkways and pathways,” Sturm said. “Clearing that and the branches that hang over (roads), it took four or five days to clear the paths and make them a little more accessible.”
Besides his work with Shawano Pathways, Sturm is also a lay minister at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church. He is part of the church’s Men’s Club, along with the blue ribbon committee for the church’s refurbishing. Sturm takes communion to the sick and homebound, as well as conducting communion services at The Cottages.
The volunteer award comes with a $1,000 award to give to the organization of his choice. Sturm plans to split the award between Shawano Pathways and the Helping Hands Food Pantry, which is facilitated by St. Martin.
Sturm also helped to care for elderly neighbors in their 90s. Sturm said the couple’s children lived too far away to provide much help, so he took it upon himself to provide a helping hand.
“I was there, holding (the husband’s) hand when he took his last breath,” Sturm said, noting that the wife passed away a few years earlier. “That was kind of what motivated me to help with the church and the elderly.”
Our affiliate, the Shawano Area Community Foundation, in conjunction with The Shawano Leader, has staged a Celebration of Giving Volunteer of the Year promotion for the last 10 years. Each year select area volunteers are presented $1,000 cash grants for their efforts to improve the quality of life in the Wolf River Region. The awards, sponsored by area businesses, are then reinvested back into area nonprofit organizations at the direction of the award winners. This is the final in our series profiling outstanding volunteers in the community.