Kemmeter Column: Holdridge retires as Hull chair
By GENE KEMMETER
A long-serving public official in Portage County has retired.
John Holdridge provided more than 43 years of public service, beginning with his appointment to the Portage County Board of Supervisors in 1977 and then serving as chairperson of the town of Hull from 1991 until he stepped down from that position in April, deciding not to seek re-election for a 16th term. He was succeeded by Dave Wilz, a town supervisor.
“Citizens obtain no greater honor in a representative democracy than to be elected by their peers to represent their interests at the seat of government,” Holdridge said. “I have had that honor after fifteen elections and thirty years of service as Hull chairperson.”
Hull had the largest population of the 17 towns in Portage County in 1991, and remains the largest town today. Only the city of Stevens Point and village of Plover have larger populations today and held a similar position in 1991.
“Thirty years was a pretty good run,” he said. “We were able to work with the city and had a good relationship.”
Holdridge, 81, graduated from Baraboo High School and served in the U.S. Air Force for four years before coming to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) to get a degree, then received a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and returned to Stevens Point as assistant director to the finance officer at UWSP.
He worked as director of federal programs for the Stevens Point Area School District and then spent nine years teaching advanced placement courses and comparative government at Stevens Point Area Senior High School before retiring.
Holdridge was appointed to the County Board in September 1977 to fill a vacancy for a Stevens Point district after a supervisor died. He was elected to two more two-year terms in that position until 1982 when he moved to the town of Hull and was elected to a supervisor position for Hull for seven more terms.
He declined to seek re-election to the County Board in 1996, leaving him with nearly 19 years of service on the board. He served on multiple committees during that time, including Finance, Personnel, Health and Human Services, and Law Enforcement.
While on the board, Holdridge was elected to the Committee on Committees as second vice chair with Robert Steinke as chair and Russell Lundquist as first vice chair, and they worked to spread committee assignments among board members, trying to give each supervisor at least one major committee assignment.
He said his time on the County Board was valuable because the board was mainly a rural group at a time that urban populations were starting to expand. “Rural areas held a lot of sway, and city supervisors didn’t get many committee assignments,” he said.
That changed as urban issues spread into the rural areas, and the board needed to deal with increasing matters beyond the traditional ones of agriculture, roads and law enforcement, he said. Board members worked together, he said. “There weren’t grudges.”
Holdridge gives Hull residents credit for his length of service to the town. “I am concluding my career as chairperson with sincere appreciation to Hull citizens for the honor they have bestowed upon me,” he said.
“All governments have two major functions. The first is to bring order to the population they serve. The second is to provide services to that population,” he said.
Hull has promoted order to the population through updated ordinances, policies and practices, providing opportunities for citizens to address their concerns at board meetings, through petitions and direct contact with officials, he said. He pointed to the weight limit ordinance to regulate heavy truck traffic in the town and employing the Sheriff’s Department to enforce speed limits.
Providing public services which cannot be provided to individual households include maintaining and plowing all 82 miles of Hull roads by a four-member road crew and picking up refuse and recycling through a contracted company.
Three major issues dealing with preservation will continue to confront Hull Board of Supervisors, he said, listing preservation of the town’s political/geographical boundaries; preservation of reliable, drinkable and uncontaminated water; and preservation and continuation of democratic practices in Hull.
The annexation of land by the city of Stevens Point presents a continuing challenge to the town, he said, and the decrease in Hull’s population since 1991 can be attributed to annexation. Typically, an annexation involved a Hull property owner with substantial land annexing to Stevens Point for sewer and water so they can develop their land on small lots and thus make more money, he said.
“In thirty years, I have seen little, if any, households leaving Hull voluntarily going into Stevens Point,” he said. “Although annexation has slowed down considerably in recent years, it is still a threat to Hull’s boundaries and existence.”
Private water supply is a staple of Hull households, he said, and Hull officials need to continue to analyze the water throughout the town, determine threats to that water and encourage good practices that protect the water supply. “The Well 11 agreement with Stevens Point set an example of intergovernmental cooperation and is unique in Wisconsin,” he said.
Preserving representative democracy is an ongoing task, and Hull officials need to continually promote democratic practices and procedures, he said. Hull citizens need to continue active citizen involvement by serving on commissions and committees and volunteering on the Hull Fire Department.
Holdridge decried the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol and said he had witnessed only one incident of unruly behavior in his 30 years as chair. That incident involved an individual who disrupted a board meeting before it was adjourned. Holdridge said he arranged to have a sheriff’s deputy present at the next meeting. “The first meeting was like being in a bar, and the second was like being in a church.”
“The key to representative democracy is citizens active involvement in governmental activity,” Holdridge said.
“There is no question the year-long pandemic has interrupted and interfered with Hull government and citizen interaction. However, citizen involvement must continue to sustain representative democracy at the local level.
“Over my 30-year elected service in Hull and my 18 years as an elected member of the Portage County Board, I have always had faith and confidence in the good sense of the American people.”
He also thanked Hull citizens for their strong support and active participation in government and the Hull Board and Hull staff for their active, informed and committed participation in government.