Granite bench honors efforts — Wetzel’s retirement years spent as lake advocate

LIKE A ROCK — A granite bench was dedicated to Lew Wetzel, who first discovered the leak at the Pleasant Lake-Parker Pond Dam. On July 7, the Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond Association (PLPPA) Board of Directors met at the new dam. Seated are (from left) Lew Wetzel, Mimi Wetzel, and Peter Barber; standing are (from left) Deborah Shapiro, Denis Bergeron, Treasurer David Randall, Steven Turner, Cindy Begin, Bob MacGregor, Eric Dibner, President Anne Fritts, Secretary Marygrace Barber, Holly LeBlanc and Connie Sasser. (Photo courtesy of Peter Barber)
Pleasant Lake meeting
CASCO — Residents living on Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond have another reason to get out of the house on Saturday.
Living on a lake there are so many activities one could be doing on any given Saturday.
The 2018 Annual Meeting of the Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond Association will take place Saturday, starting at 9:30 a.m. Per usual, the meeting will be held at the Casco Community Center, 940 Meadow Road. The community center is located in Casco Village in the same building as the Post Office.
This year’s featured speaker will be Scott Williams, the executive director of the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (MVLMP).
After being in existence for more than 40 years, that organization has changed its name to Lake Stewards of Maine.
Williams will speak on what has transpired during the 25 years since water quality monitoring has been taking place on Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond.
— DD

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Longtime Casco resident Lew Wetzel is typically observant and aware. He is the person who figured out the old dam in Casco was leaking when no one else had noticed it.

But, it took some pointing out by friends for him to clue into the fact that a granite bench at the new dam had been dedicated to him.

“I was very surprised because it was a complete secret as far was I was concerned,” Wetzel said. “I found out about it when we went over to the bench and they told me to read the inscription.”

“None of my family has seen it yet. They will be coming in a week and a half for Casco Days — and I’ll show them then,” Wetzel said.

His wife Mimi said, “They know about it and they are very proud and excited.”

The bench will be formally dedicated to Wetzel during the upcoming annual meeting of the Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond Association (PLPPA). That meeting takes place Saturday, starting at 9:30 a.m., in the Casco Community Center.

Wetzel is deserving of the honor because he was PLPPA’s longtime treasurer, was instrumental in eradicating milfoil growth from Lily Brook in 2000, and continued to be involved in monitoring and maintaining the water quality of the two lakes, according to Association Vice President Peter Barber. Plus, he alerted the association — which led to alerting the state and the towns to the failing dam that has since been replaced, Barber said. “Lew was a catalyst for that,” he said.

“He has resigned as treasurer of our organization,” he said, adding that Wetzel is 93 years old.

“He is a wonderful person. He is inspiring to many of us,” Barber said.

Wetzel was 89 years old when he realized that the old dam was no longer holding back water.

“I had an interest in what might happen if we lost that dam. It would have been much more complicated to put in a new dam if the old one had failed,” he said. “I also walked up there for exercise. It’s only a five-minute walk for me.”

“Actually, about four years ago, I noticed the dam was having problems. The dam on the north end was leaking quite a bit of water, and it was getting worse over time. I think if we had exceptionally high water, it would have broken through,” he said. “The concrete of the old dam did not go from one bank to the other. The concrete went three-quarters of the way then the rest was filled in with earth, and it was starting to wash out.”

“I asked Peter [Barber] to go down there with me. Peter took the ball and ran with it,” he said.

“We got the state to condemn the old dam. The state [the Maine Department of Transportation] came out with directions to the towns of Otisfield and Casco to replace that dam. They gave them a time period and a fine for every day that they didn’t try to fix it,” he said. “The two towns got together and decided to replace it. It took four years from the time we knew we had to do it until it was finished.”

During the construction period, Wetzel continued his walks to the dam.

“I have almost daily pictures — at least once-a-week pictures of when they started to build the coffer dam, and when they started to put the foundation in for the dam. I took pictures on a regular schedule,” he said.

“I am an engineer by trade. I am an electronic engineer. I had an engineering interest in the dam. I learned from the consultant who designed the new dam. They had calculated that the overrun from the old dam was one-third of what we needed to keep back,” he said. “The new dam will take care of unexpected high water.”

In 1971, Wetzel and his wife purchased their current home on Pleasant Lake in Casco Village. They moved to the area because of Wetzel’s work, which is in the field of electronic engineering.

“We were up here in February 1971. We looked at different houses. I was committed to do work that didn’t release me until August. We liked this house. We wanted to buy it, but couldn’t move until August. They took it off the market for us,” he said.

He told his employers in Philadelphia about the dream house in Maine.

“They arranged to give me my early severance pay for leaving the company so I could put a down payment on the house. That is the way we got the house,” he said. “We moved Aug. 5, 1971. Our kids all went to high school here.”

For the next 30 years, Wetzel focused on his career, starting with his new job at Shively Labs, which at the time was based in Raymond.

“I came up to take over sales. I tripled his business in one year,” he said. Later, Shively Labs was sold to another company and relocated to Bridgton.

“I started out in the electronic industry for RCA. At RCA, we designed television antennas. I left RCA and went to a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. I would love to spend more time talking about how going from one industry to another has led from 1947 to 2000. I touched three or four different industries. It’s been a very interesting lifetime,” he said.

Wetzel’s personal hobby — that is tied to his career choice — is using a HAM radio with an “antenna mounted on the barn. I can talk to people at the South Pole or talk to people in Europe and Africa,” he said.

In 2000, Wetzel retired from the work force at age 75. Little did he know that some real physical labor was about to begin in the form of environmental volunteerism.

“In the year 2000, we found out we had milfoil growing in Lily Brook, the water between Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond. Nobody knew what to do because this was new,” he said.

Wetzel was careful to clarify that the milfoil was only in Lily Brook, and none was found in Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond.

Otisfield resident Joel Bloom was president of the lake association at the time.

The lake association ordered 400 feet of geotech material to make covers to put on the bottom of Lily Brook. The geotech “blankets” were 10-feet by 12-feet with heavy, steel rods laid on the material to keep it in place.

“We started making barriers and putting them in. The DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) didn’t know what to do, and they looked over our shoulders. In three months, it started getting rid of the milfoil. It took six years until we got completely rid of it. If it happened today, it would take two years because of what we learned from doing it the first time,” Wetzel said.

“In 2001, I got interested in the water quality. I got involved in the Maine Volunteer Lakes Monitoring Project,” he said.  “I didn’t have any knowledge of anything prior to that. When we found we had milfoil is when I got interested in the lake water.

We have had the boat inspections here for 16 years — we have never found a piece of milfoil on the boats going in and out of Parker Pond and Pleasant Lake.”

Many Mainers were born and grew up in the Pine Tree State. In Wetzel’s case, he is a transplant whose career led him to Casco, where he took on a pivotal role in taking care of the lakes so all could enjoy the clean water.

“I grew up in central Pennsylvania — there were no lakes nearby,” he said. At his home on Pleasant Lake, “we have kayaks. We have a motor boat. We have taught many, many people to waterski here.”

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