Township supervisor bids farewell
CALUMET TOWNSHIP — After nearly 47 years behind his desk, Paul Lehto stepped down as township supervisor, ending his tenure as of noon on Friday.
Lehto said the township needed some change, which included transitioning the assessor to supervisor.
“Osceola Township did the same thing a few months ago,” he said.
In Lehto’s place, the township board appointed Tim Gasperich, who is currently a trustee, and also the township assessor. Lehto said he will have ample time to become acquainted with the position, and “get his feet wet in the job,” before he runs for the position in the 2020 election.
Lehto, who said he has held the position for 46 years “and nine months on Sept. 20,” will be available to assist in making for a smooth transition.
Lehto said there have been many changes in the township since he became supervisor in 1972, just three years after the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company suspended operations and sold its Michigan holdings to Universal Oil Products.
“In those days, we still had 1,700 homes on leased land. We had to plat all the property so the people had a chance to buy it,” said Lehto. “We had to buy the Waterworks Park, because the company owned all those, and Swedetown Trails; we had to acquire the water and sewer system.”
The sewer systems were a patchwork, he said. Some of them were owned by the villages, others were owned by the water companies, and the township purchased and consolidated them all under the North Houghton County Sewer Authority now, said Lehto.
When asked if he could say he was leaving a legacy, Lehto said it is probably one that nobody knows about.
“All my best work is buried in the ground in the sewer and water projects,” he said, “the treatment sites, and platting the properties.”
Lehto said he is also proud of the acquisition of recreational properties, such as the Swedetown Ski Trails, and Township and Lions Parks.
Today, Calumet Township, and the North Houghton County Water and Sewer Authority, own 1,900 acres, which comprise the Swedetown Recreational Area. The area has over 18 and a half miles of trails, of which three are lighted to allow night-time skiing. Swedetown is largely managed by a publicly-formed community group known as the Swedetown Trails Club (STC). There is a 2,200 square-foot Chalet that serves as a warm-up facility for the ski trails and the adjacent lighted sledding and snowboard hill. During the warm months, the trails are used by hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, as well as over 200 participants in the annual Great Deer Chase Mountain Bike Race. There are currently about 24 miles of single-track trails at Swedetown.
The Township also maintains other facilities, including the Wolverine and Centennial Heights playground, as well as a stone boat constructed by the Work Projects Administration in the 1930s. It is currently being renovated as a memorial for the WWI, WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans.
Additionally, the township assists in the support of two indoor ice arenas. The Calumet Colosseum on Red Jacket Avenue is now owned by the township, as is the George Gipp Arena. The two facilities provide for ice related activities such as youth hockey, figure skating, high school hockey, men’s hockey leagues, senior citizen skating and numerous spectator events from Oct. 1 through March of each winter season.
“The township never owned anything like that in those days,” Lehto said.
Calumet Township Clerk Beth Salmela she had worked with Lehto more than 10 years, and has enjoyed the time with him.
“I am going to miss him very, very, very much,” she said. “We’re like family. There’s no doubt about that. Everyone is going to miss him.”
In reference to his decision to step down at this particular time, Lehto said simply: “You never want to get to a point where you think you’re invincible, ya know,” he said. “New people come.”