The Fox Valley Rowing Club traces its history to 1988. That year, Peter Nordell Jr., a 1984 graduate of Appleton East High School and a member of Yale University’s crew, rowed in the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea as a member of the United States’ Men’s Eight. Peter’s parents, Peter Sr. and Jan, together with community members including Hans and MJ Wurster, Peter Hensler, Walt Gary, Fred Shaffer and others started the club, together with several students from Lawrence University. Lawrence had inherited an illustrious rowing tradition through its consolidation with Milwaukee – Downer College in the late 1960’s. Downer women had rowed the Milwaukee River for much of the twentieth century.
The new club purchased two eights and two fours from the University of Wisconsin and began rowing from the remains of a warehouse under the College Avenue bridge, on the site of what is now Riverheath. Over the first several years of its existence, the club acquired additional boats and relocated to Telulah Park, on land leased from the City of Appleton. The club’s current boathouse was constructed in 1996. By the time the boathouse was built, the club’s fleet had grown to include two additional fours and two pair/doubles.
At about the same that the boathouse was completed, Lawrence’s rowers split from the club and formed a separate organization. Lawrence’s rowing club continues to row out of the Fox Valley boathouse, however, however, and the two clubs have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship.
Many of the boats in the boathouse pay tribute to the histories of rowing within the Lawrence and Appleton communities. The Althea Heimbach is named for a prominent Downer alumna, and the Ellen Sabin is named for Downer president. The Sit Lux takes its name from Downer’s motto. The Walt Gary is named for a Fox Valley Rowing Club founder, and the Emmett Finn was christened in honor of Hans and MJ Wurster’s first grandson.
The Fox River at Appleton is ideally suited for rowing. From the College Avenue bridge to the Kimberly dam, our section of the river stretches approximately four miles. The river is largely sheltered from all but the worst winds, and although the Appleton locks are now open to boat traffic, our section of the river is relatively quiet. Eagles, osprey, herons, pelicans and other wildlife are common sights.
From time to time, the club has hosted regattas, including the Tail of the Fox (which originally alternated between Appleton and DePere) and the Badger State Games. Club members race annually in the Tail of the Fox (DePere) and the Head of the Rock (Rockford, IL), and have periodically rowed in the Grand Regatta (Grand Rapids, MI), the Chicago Sprints, the Head of the Charles (Boston, MA), USRA Master’s Nationals, and other national (and occasionally international) competitions.
The Fox Valley Rowing Club is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization and a member of the United States Rowing Association. Every year, we offer “Learn to Row” classes for the community. Learn to Row classes cover sweep rowing, that is, rowing in eights and fours with one oar per person. For those who join the club following the Learn to Row class, individualized instruction in sculling (smaller boats, two oars person) is offered. Most years the club has a dues-payment membership of approximately 30 individuals, ranging from novice rowers to folks that have been rowing for decades.
The 1964 Milwaukee-Downer women’s crew on the Milwaukee River.
Hans and MJ Wurster christening the Emmett Finn, named for their first grandson.
Board of Directors:
Erica Slesar – President
John Ohlson – Vice President
Kathy – Head Treasurer
Diane Mandler – Secretary
Greg Anderson – Membership Coordinator