Man honored for rebuilding fire dept

News Photo by Julie Riddle Dick Nowak, center, shakes hands with and Tom Ludwig as Dick’s wife, Sandy, smiles nearby after Ludwig presented a gift from the Long Lake Association at a Presque Isle Township meeting Monday night.

PRESQUE ISLE — A local volunteer received a warm round of applause and a special surprise Monday night as he was honored for lighting a fire under his community through his efforts to re-establish the Presque Isle Township Fire Department.

At Monday night’s monthly meeting of the Presque Isle Township Board of Trustees, the annual Les Nichols award was presented to township resident Dick Nowak.

Nowak, who serves as chair of the township fire board, was commended for his extensive volunteer hours and efforts to resurrect the fire department after a shutdown of several years.

The Les Nichols award, established some 15 years ago, was named after a township resident who was an active volunteer in the area. When Nichols died, the township decided to honor his memory by instituting the award, to be bestowed each year as the township’s highest honor. The award recognizes volunteers who do extraordinary things for the township, according to Cynthia Paavola, Presque Isle Township clerk.

This year’s award, Paavola said, was “well, well, well deserved.”

At Monday’s meeting, Nowak was praised for his dedication and effort on the community’s behalf.

“Everybody knows who Dick is,” Paavola said. “And if they don’t, they should get to know him.”

Nowak is at the fire department building almost every day, according to Jennifer Wieczorkowski, township treasurer, and has pursued training to become an emergency responder. His name will be added to a Citizen of the Year plaque displayed at the township hall.

The recent effort to rebuild the fire department depended on the kind of leadership Nowak provided, according to township Trustee Lynn Morrison.

“Somebody’s got to get in there and lead, and you are not afraid to step up and say, ‘I can do this,’ or, ‘I’ll do that,’ or, ‘Here, I’ll show you how to do that,'” Morrison said to Nowak.

“A lot of people should have got this, not me,” Nowak said, accepting the award graciously, “I’m just the guy that talks a lot.”

Nowak and his wife, Sandy, have led recent efforts to purchase ice rescue equipment for the Presque Isle Township Fire Department, motivated by the tragedy that took a woman’s life on Long Lake in early January.

The Fire Board submitted a wish list of needed ice rescue items to the trustees, totalling about $7,500 for items such as ice rescue suits, additional gear, and an airboat. Of that, about $1,700 has been raised through the Nowaks’ efforts.

At Monday’s meeting, Tom Ludwig, president of the Long Lake Association, moved the Nowaks to gasps of surprise by informing the township that it would donate $5,000 for the purchase of a portable emergency airboat for the Presque Isle Fire Department.

The East Grand Lake Fire Department, located on the far side of Grand Lake, owns an airboat, which was used in the early January rescue attempt. The addition of a second emergency boat to the area will greatly increase the department’s ability to maintain safety in the township’s many lakes, Wieczorkowski said.

“Even though there was a devastating outcome to the event, there’s a positive outcome of that tragedy, that you have communities coming together to work together,” Wieczorkowski said.

Sandy Nowak, near tears as Ludwig broke the news, was all smiles as the check was presented, glad to finally know why she and her husband had been invited to the meeting.

“For two weeks, I thought I was coming here for a chewing,” she laughed, marvelling that the board had kept both secrets so well.

“We were very excited when Tom came in with the news. We were like, you have to be kidding,” Paavola said of the timing of the Long Lake Association’s gift alongside the Les Nichols award. “I believe that it’s truly meant to be. We’re being watched over.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or