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Ski jumping legend gets fly-fishing award

Dr. Dave Luehr (standing, from left), Perry Rowlison and Rueben Swenson, founding members of the Arrowhead Fly Fishers Club, present the Founders’ Award to Joe Nowak (seated, center). On hand for the occasion were Nowak’s brothers, Jerry (left) and John. Contributed Photo

The Arrowhead Fly-Fishers Club gave The Founders’ Award to Joe Nowak earlier this month for being one of the individuals who organized the club in the 1980s. Not only did Cloquet skiing coach emeritus Nowak help organize and publicize it, he also gave the club its name — The Arrowhead Fly-Fishers.

Nowak later went on to set up fly-fishing classes through Cloquet Community Education, and he organized a fall banquet for fly-fishers for many years at the Joe Nowak Ski Area in Cloquet. He mentored youngsters in the art of fly-fishing.

For numerous summers, Nowak set up camp on Pine Mountain Lake in Cook County in the very tip of Arrowhead Country. There you might see him with a 90-year-old companion like Charley Williams, who in hot July during the hexagenia limbata mayfly hatch would be wearing green wool pants, suspenders and a long-john top in 90-degree weather. Joe would fish for the mighty brook trout with a dry fly — and visit in spirit a buddy whose urn he had placed at Rainbow Point.

Joe Nowak was one of nine brothers and he started skiing when he was 6 years old in Duluth. He played softball and basketball as a kid. He loved ski jumping. At the age of 16 he joined the Chester Park Ski Club. He matured and developed a solid physique, like middleweight champion Rocky Graziano.

Nowak went on to participate in ski-jump competitions in the north central U.S. and Canada. Later in 1952, while in the service in Germany, he skied at Garmisch-Parkenkirchen. When he took the elevator to the top of the jump and got off a voice called out loudly, “Hello Joe!” It was the Swedish champion whom Joe had squired around Duluth the year before.

Nowak competed in the German National Tournament at Garmisch and took fifth place. He broke the hill record at the jump in Berchtesgaden in Bavaria — he sailed some 400 feet. He broke slope records in Canada and has a ski hill named after him there.

In 1962, Nowak founded Pine Valley amid the tall timber near Highway 33. He was the man who proposed building the ski jump there in Cloquet. He got free steel-structural elements to do so from a railroad company when they disassembled their water towers in the 1950s after the advent of diesel locomotives. Northwest Paper Company donated the land. Later that ski-jumping place was named the “Joe Nowak Ski Area,” and still is.

Some of the founders of the Arrowhead Fly-Fishers Club — Dr. Dave Luehr, Perry Rowlison and Rueben Swenson — presented Nowak with the Founders’ Award earlier this month at his residence in Esko. Also present were Nowak’s brothers, Jerry and John.

Nowak coached the Cloquet High School boys ski teams to 14 state championships. His teams whipped such powerhouses as Edina High School. The Edina ski coach complained that Edina had sent its teams to train during the summers in Chile in South America, but still they could not beat Nowak’s Cloquet skiers.

In the past, Nowak was asked many times what method he used to develop his champion skiers.

“Well,” he’d say, “I’d talk to them on the bus before the events and told them to do their best.”

This month, Nowak was asked again what the real, true coaching secret that produced so many champions.

He replied softly, “I’d go down [the hill] first. And I’d show them how to do it.”

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