Rich Fletcher is the Vice President of Fletcher Pump Distributing, a Janesville Historic Walking Tour Guide, Board Member of the Janesville Performing Arts Center, and an Olympics Volunteer.
Where were you born?
I was born in Milwaukee in 1970.
What brought you to Rock County?
I was going to college in Whitewater and needed to make some extra money, so started working at JCPenney’s in the Janesville Mall. While working at JC Penney, I met my partner, Dan. He was my immediate manager there.
What were your first impressions when you came to Janesville?
I didn’t necessarily like it. While in college, I always thought I was going to graduate and go somewhere big and fabulous, like New York. But, that was never realistic. That’s what you think when you’re young, that you’re going to go somewhere else. But, I came in here and started working and meeting people, making a life. And I stayed.
When did you first become interested in history?
When I was a kid, I was always tuned into different things. In 1976, I was six years old during our bicentennial when so much history being showcased. Around the same time, Old World Wisconsin opened, and I remembered seeing commercials for that. From our home, it was only like five miles away, so we went there.
I also had an aunt who loved old Victorian houses and lived in a house that my grandmother had grown up in. That kind of thing always fascinated me, and there were always old things around in the family.
Who are your top favorite historical figures?
My current obsession is with the British monarchy, so I’d have to say Queen Elizabeth II with her life and experiences. She’s nearly 92 and she’s going to pass on soon. What that happens, this will be seen as a major change in history. She has an attachment back to World War II, so it’s going to be a real era change.
I also like artists and thinkers who change things. Frank Lloyd Wright is another one I admire, though as a person he wasn’t the most amiable. Still, he was able to look at the world differently and he was amazing to me.
Tell me about your career.
I graduated from college in ’93 with a degree in Political Science and German. I never studied in Germany, otherwise I think I would have the language permanently in my brain. Still, I think I could always go there and still use what I learned, get my money’s worth.
After college, I had dreams of moving on and finding a job in the United States Foreign Service or at the State Department, but my head wasn’t in the right place. So instead, I took a relatively safe bet and went to work for my dad at our family company. His company is Fletcher Pump Distributing in Waukesha, a wholesale water well pump distributor. We don’t install them, we just sell to those who do. I wouldn’t be good at installing those things, since I’m not great with tools.
I’ve worked with him at the company for 25 years. You always have dreams and aspirations to do different things, but sometimes it takes you awhile to find your direction. It’s a safe haven, it keeps the bills paid and there are other perks with that, too.
Tell me about the Janesville Historic Walking Tours and how they got started.
Those came about after I got on the Janesville Historical Commission. It’s a volunteer commission here in the city that oversees the historic districts, the National Register of Historic Places and those policies. I thought that as a bit of outreach, I could do something I’ve always wanted to do, like walking tours in our historic neighborhoods.
At the same time, the Farmers Market was starting downtown, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for people to start coming down for the tours. They could look around at the buildings and then spend a little more time than just at the Farmers Market. I saw it as a way people could combine those two things.
There’s a series of books from the Rock County Historical Society on each of the historic districts, which I relied upon. They’ve been a good, first resource. So, I began to give tours and learned the lay of the land. I’ve been doing it for at least 10 years now! The tours go from May through October, at least once a month on Saturday mornings.
What is your favorite historic area of Rock County?
I think Cooksville is a cute little town. Here in Janesville, I like the Fourth Ward or the Look West District, because they’re not as polished. The houses are just as spectacular in their original state. To me, they seem a little more authentic than the polished and restored homes of the Courthouse Hill district. Fourth Ward and Look West are nice because you get a little mix of high-end and the more middle-class homes.
In what ways have you supported the Rock County Historical Society? Why is it important?
I have volunteered at the Tallman Arts Festival and events like Snap Apple. We enjoy attending various Rock County Historical Society events. Back in the 1990’s, I also worked at RCHS as a docent at the Lincoln-Tallman House. I really got to know the house on its terms, and I was able to be there during different times of the day, understanding the picture of how the family actually lived.
The house is designed for a family to live in, it’s not just a museum. You begin to understand why rooms and windows were located where they are, based on the time of day for heat and light. People didn’t have electricity then, so you needed the light in the late afternoons and such, and as you spend time there, you begin to see the secrets behind the architecture.
It’s important to support RCHS because they are the archives of the county; they’re the keepers that show us where we’re from. The Rock County Historical Society is a great resource to have, so it is important to support organizations like that. It is equally important for RCHS to stay relevant with each new generation. We need to honor the past, but also realize that the past is always changing.
When the Lincoln-Tallman House and the historical society grew in the 1940’s and 1950’s, you would reflect back upon fifty years ago to the year 1900. But now, you go back fifty years and it’s the 1960’s. So, we need to keep up with presenting our history to keep it relevant. The later eras are just as important as the earlier ones, and the city continues to evolve and change.
What are some other local nonprofits you support?
Another involvement of mine is with the Janesville Performing Arts Center. I’m on the JPAC board and also on the Programming Committee, so I’m in charge of what entertainment we bring in there, and that’s really fun. I enjoy helping bring great artists to this community to attract the public to come and see them.
The arts are so important. We need to continue to support the arts. Whether it’s in hard times or good times, you always need the arts to help nurture the soul. It keeps everything going.
What changes have you witnessed in our community over the years?
When I first moved here, Janesville was sort of stuck in the old ways. It was a stratified community. You had the old families that had a lot of money on Courthouse Hill, you had the GM workers, and then everything in between. But they didn’t co-mingle.
Your had activities that the GM workers did. And yeah, they supported the arts and JPAC, but it was always seen as something the upper class would do. I see that is changing, especially with JPAC providing more programs for children and families.
The old ways are going away, and the city has a more positive outlook. With the AriseNow projects coming into being, things are really moving in the right direction and it feels like there’s forward momentum.
How did you get involved in the Olympics?
It goes back to when I was a kid and watched TV, watching all the Olympics. I remember Dorothy Hamill and the 1976 Olympics. The main thing I really remember was that they were held in these really exotic places and that fascinated me! You would see these great visuals and it always stirred something inside of me.
In the late 80s, I started buying pins and all kinds of memorabilia from the Olympics. It then snowballed when the 1996 Olympics were held in Atlanta, because I could actually go! From there, I kept buying and collecting. Then, in 2002, I attended the Salt Lake City Olympics and had another great experience.
In 2006, I traveled to Torino, Italy for the winter games, and then to London in 2012. That’s where I got connected with the Olympin Club, which is an Olympic memorabilia collecting club. It’s a big thing, trading at the Olympics!
At that time, they were looking for volunteers to go to the games and help people trade pins. So, I got the credentials to work with Coca-Cola to trade pins.
As a sponsor of the Olympics, Coca-Cola creates their own pins and then they go to shops. The money they make goes to charity every year. There is an international network of pin collectors that go to the Olympics to collect and trade pins.
The Olympics is like the center of the world when they’re happening; you have people from all over and it’s such great energy. I had always wanted to be a volunteer for the actual Olympic Committee, so when Rio came about, I looked online and filled our out their forms to be a volunteer.
In Rio, they didn’t have a big volunteer culture there, so they needed a lot more volunteers and were willing to take people from overseas to help. Also, their population isn’t a big English-speaking culture so they needed people who could speak English. And I got accepted! I spent three wonderful weeks in Rio for the 2016 games.
What are your thoughts on the cooperation between South and North Korean athletes?
I think it’s good for the Olympics; it’s an opening. What people don’t realize is that the Olympics is the largest peaceful gathering in the world. And if it helps to lead to somewhere else, all the better! At least for these few weeks, they’re be competing together as a team and I think that could eventually change things over time.
I look at the Olympics in an idealistic way. Just being there, being a part of it, and seeing athletes up close, is truly so amazing.
Are you planning another Olympics party?
Yes! For every Olympics, Dan and I host a party for friends. The summer parties we have in our backyard, because our house isn’t big enough to entertain everyone. The Pyeongchang party will be held soon in the newly remodeled Carriage Barn on the RCHS campus.
What is your favorite Olympic moment?
My favorite Olympic moment, where I felt like I made the difference, was working in Rio as a volunteer at the archery venue with transportation. It was my duty to greet the athletes as they arrived and left the events.
One night, it got late in the evening after the competition was over. It was well after the medals had been awarded, and I wasn’t sure if another bus was coming. The gold medal women’s Korean team was sitting, waiting there and there was no bus for them.
I was working frantically to figure out how we could get them out there. I was assured the bus was coming, but there it wasn’t coming! I kept giving them updates trying to assure them that something was happening, when really nothing was.
Eventually, I got a hold of a manager and found some alternative transport. They all thanked me profusely and they gave me their special team pin, and I even got some pictures with them that night.
I was there for them. It wasn’t right to leave the gold medalists sitting out in a cool evening when they had to meet the next day. They really appreciated it, and their coaches did, too. And that’s what the Olympics are; people to people. Not every athlete is a star, but it’s better than anything I can do. It’s really impressive to see what they can do right there in front of me.
Looking back on that, it was really a cool experience to be able to talk to people from all over the world, from Kenya, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, the United States. Seeing Serena Williams win her match at Wimbledon or Usain Bolt run his race were amazing moments, but that one evening, helping the athletes as a volunteer, was my favorite moment.
What is it about volunteering that is beneficial to you and to others?
It helps get stuff done. If you see a need, you can be a part of it, a part of making something happen, part of a change. Plus, it’s important for people in the community to give back in whatever ways they can. People don’t realize that. Like at the Rock County Historical Society, you can volunteer once a week or once a year. If you have an interest, it’s a way to express that interest.
What significant historic event has impacted you and the community?
For me, one that still resonates is 9/11. I think it really did change a lot of people and their way of thinking in America. In some ways, it brought people together, but it also brought us to where we are now, with fractured views of how to deal with that fear.
Locally, I think for our community it’s been a challenge to get over the ‘trauma’ of losing General Motors. It was here for almost one hundred years. People thought it was going to go on forever. Now it’s been nearly 10 years since it shut down.
It’s taken a while, but I think things are finally looking up and people are realizing that we have to move on. We are finally making improvements along the river and for the community in general.
What is it about Rock County that keeps you here?
My house, my partner of 26 years, and the people. It’s a great community to live in, and it’s a nice-sized city. I plan to stay.