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Steve Lang: Remembering Mike Fluegel

“Anybody who ain’t out huntin’ and fishin’ is jest fritterin’ away his life.” – Rancid Crabtee, a.k.a. Patrick McManus

“Everyone should believe in something. I believe I’ll go fishing.” – Henry David Thoreau

There comes a time in everyone's life, and Mike Fluegel and I shared a few.

Cancer claimed Mike at the point where he probably planned to replace frittering with purpose, profession for avocation: to shelve his legal practice to more closely follow the seasons of angling, bow hunting, and ice fishing. He worked hard, but thankfully, he scheduled well and kept family, pastimes and job in proper order during his 65-plus years.

For several years in the 1970s, Mike and I spent a fair share (our wives might maintain “far too much”) time together chasing geese, pheasants and walleyes throughout west central Minnesota. And once, in the Ontario wilderness, we caught walleyes, then chased down a drifting boat that meant the difference between savoring dinnertime beers or waiting a long time for rescue.

We met in college in the late 1960s and were briefly teammates on an intramural basketball team. Mike was also a starting tackle on the football team, an accomplished golfer and I would soon learn, an aggressive rebounder. After once reaching for a rebound, then finding myself five feet from my original spot, I learned to step back and wait for Mike to pass any ball he put his hands around.

I bagged my first Canada goose while hunting with Mike and his dad, and we caught numerous fish together, both in the boat and on the ice. We watched the Vikings on Monday Night Football, enjoyed good food and brew, and at one point, learned that a waist was a terrible thing to mind.

“Time to do something about this,” Mike said, looking down in a vain attempt to see his belt buckle. I realized I couldn’t see mine, either.

“Tell you what, Langer, the UMM gym opens at 6:45 every morning. Starting tomorrow, I’ll pick you up at 6:40, we’ll run some laps, lift some weights and see if we can’t lose 10 percent of our weight in a month.”

“What’s the incentive?” I asked, smiling at my plate heaped with mashed potatoes, rich gravy and rare roast beef.

“Pure, unabashed, derisive scorn if you don’t lose enough...and the dinner check the next time we go out.”

Preliminary weigh-ins set Mike’s goal at 25 pounds and mine at 21. Every wintry, weekday morning for the next four weeks saw us loping 15-25 times around the three-basketball-court gym floor, followed by push-ups, sit-ups, curls, bench presses and other repetitions of deviously savage amusement.

On the month’s last Friday morning, Mike stepped on the scale, set the weight at 222 pounds and grinned as it registered slightly heavy. I grimaced, slid the pendulum to 184 and watched the beam click upward, a half-pound too light.

“See you after your noon basketball game,” he said.

Following an hour of full-court punishment, I stepped on the scale again just as Mike poked his head into the locker room.

“You made it!” he said, extending his hand. “We’ll pick you up for dinner at six-thirty.”

Mike and I were among the younger professionals of Morris in the 1970s, but I will quickly note that I was younger and he was professional. At one point in our careers, he served as city attorney while I was a council member, having deluded myself into thinking that I could actually help guide the path of government rather than add to the confusion. (I will note the voters were not fooled; I finished third in a two-seat race, but was appointed when one of the newly-elected solons resigned his post and left Morris.)      

Two years of public service did teach me a valuable lesson, though: to make my duties seriously but not myself. Mike and I laughed often, largely at ourselves. Save for not seeking an additional term, I cannot think of any benefits I rendered to the City of Morris during my tenure, but I see weekly evidence via the Sun Tribune that the community has not only survived but thrived since my departure. Council service did, however,  give me access to one of the stranger experiences in local government that I have observed.

One morning Mike called and said, “I’m going to be impeached.”

“What? Why? How? When?” I stammered, using most of the principal journalistic questions.

“Just as soon as the plaintiff-to-be earns his law degree,” he said. Over coffee, Mike filled in the details.

The ensuing saga turned out to be your not-so-typical-but-very-possible small town tale involving a hailstorm, shredded convertible ragtop, flippant comment about getting enough money to leave town, motel hold-up by a ski-masked robber two nights later, investigation prompting the execution of a search warrant with no results and a subsequent aggrieved announcement of the intent to seek $50,000 in damages from the city as well as impeachment of the mayor, chief of police and city attorney. Said action was to commence as soon as the aggrieved party – by his announcement – attended and successfully completed the requirements for a law degree, then returned from California to file suit.

The identified law school was found not to exist, so Mike quickly calculated a minimum of two Presidential terms to complete fund-raising, build the law school, admit students and hatch legal eagles before any possible action could begin.

“In the meantime, Langer, those curb and gutter issues won’t go away,” he laughed.

“And the walleyes are biting on Little Chip.”

Steve Lang wishes RIP to Mike Fluegel (1947-2013).