Mr. Snowmobile

Longtime Fredonia leader who is among pioneers in winter motor sports to join international hall of fame

Wally Thill
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press Staff

Once upon a time, snowmobiles weren’t  as ubiquitous in Wisconsin winters as they are now.

Just ask Wally Thill. He was there in 1968 when the first snowmobile rolled off the assembly line at Mercury Marine in Cedarburg, where he worked.

“That was in my early working years,” Thill, now 82, said last week. “I knew they were coming out with a machine.

“I was reading a story in Popular Science and I said, ‘Hey, I gotta try this.’ It turned out I liked snowmobiling.”

Thill was in on the ground floor with snowmobiles. He began serving on committees, organizing clubs and building trails.

“It was a total new adventure. I could see the vision for what this all could turn out to be both recreationally and commercially,” he said.

“I thought there was a future here. I thought I’d help it grow and make it acceptable to the public.”

Thill will be recognized for his efforts when he is inducted into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 21, in Eagle River.

Thill is the longest-serving director of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs (AWSC) and remains in that position today. 

Thill went on to a successful career in real estate, which he continues to practice, but his love of snowmobiling has never been far away.

He also served many years as chairman of the group’s Legislative Committee, Insurance Committee and its Audit Committee. 

“In the early days of the AWSC, Wally was instrumental in the forming of many area clubs,” a press release announcing his induction stated.

“Always promoting safe and responsible snowmobiling, he recognized the importance and value of clubs and organized snowmobilers. 

“Wally has championed the sport from the grass roots of its formation and early struggles through its many legislative victories and has been at the front of each effort.”

The systems of snowmobile trails are maintained by snowmobile clubs, which obtain permission from landowners and local officials. Tax dollars are not used to build or maintain the trails.

It’s a system Thill helped develop.

“We don’t use taxpayers’ funds to pay for the trails,” he said. “We ask (officials)  to approve these things to make the sport safer.

“I can’t say enough for the landowners. There are still people out there who don’t realize the work we have to do.” 

Thill has also been active in the community as a former Fredonia Village Board trustee, helped start an area-wide ambulance and emergency medical service serving Fredonia, Random Lake and Belgium and became an emergency medical technician.

“It was wide-open territory back then,” he said. “We had outstanding people.”

At his age, Thill said he doesn’t get out on the trails much anymore.

“Not like I used to. Last year, we had good snow,” he said.

Snowmobiling continues to grow in popularity, Thill said, thanks to the good economy.

“I just came back from the International Snowmobile Congress. The fastest-growing (snowmobile) industry is in Russia. The economy is doing good there. People have disposable income,” he said.

After a career supporting the sport he loves, Thill said the induction is “very emotional” for him but shared the credit with others.

“I feel humbled and honored to receive this award,” he said. “Thank you to the people who put a lot of trust in me. I worked with the right people at the right time.”

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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