Goodbye Otto Wenz, Jr., Wisconsin Cycling Superstar

Otto Wenz, back in the day.

Wisconsin cycling said goodbye to a legend Wednesday night. Otto’s health had been deteriorating in recent years, and I am very sad to report he passed away in hospice. If you raced a bicycle in Milwaukee, anytime from the 1960s up to last year, you probably knew Otto as the visionary who started Super Week and the Downer Classic. While Super Week will probably be Otto’s greatest legacy in Milwaukee, he did much more than that for the sport.

Otto raced himself when he was younger, but his real talent was his vision for improving and growing the sport of cycling in the US. For instance he was instrumental in bringing the Junior World Championships to Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1978, which was the first time the world championships were held in the United States in 66 years. Otto also served as president of the U.S. Cycling Federation, and as chairman of the 1986 world cycling championships in Colorado Springs, the first time the Worlds had been held in the United States since 1912.

Eddy Van Guyse (l) and Otto Wenz at the races. What a team those two guys made!

For his countless contributions to the sport, in 1999 Otto was inducted into the US Bicycling Hall of Fame.

I didn’t know Otto very well during my brief and unremarkable days racing crits, but I did get a chance to work with him more in my role running the Milwaukee office of the Wisconsin Bike Fed and when I worked as the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Milwaukee. I’m not afraid to say Otto wasn’t always the easiest guy to have in a meeting room. Despite his sometimes blunt demeanor, I always looked forward to my meetings with him because I always knew that he never had anything but the best interests of the sport in mind. It was never about Otto, it was always about better racing for the participants and bringing more attention to the sport.

Thanks for the sweater Otto, and for so much more.

It is unlikely we will see another person in cycling with as big a vision as Otto Wenz any time soon. I am proud to have known him and proud that his Super Week legacy lives on in spirit with the Tour of America’s Dairyland. More than that though, we owe Otto a huge thank you for the health of the sport of cycling in Wisconsin and even the US.

I worked pretty long hours this week already, so I suggested to a coworker that Friday morning he and I take the time to bike from Milwaukee up to Saukeville for our meeting with Rebel Wipes. It looks to be a chilly ride, so in honor of Otto, I will wear the vintage wool warm-up sweater I got from his huge collection of cycling memorabilia a year or two ago. Thanks for the ride Otto, I owe you.

Funeral: Wednesday Feb 3rd, 4pm-7:30 at Krause Funeral Home, 12401 W National Ave, New Berlin

Burial: Thursday Feb 4th, 10:30am at Highland Park Cemetery,  14875 W. Greenfield Ave.

 

 

 

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

5 thoughts on “Goodbye Otto Wenz, Jr., Wisconsin Cycling Superstar

  1. He was a huge and positive influence in my life and the lives of riders and racers in Milwaukee/Midwest. James raced the “Super Week” series in Milwaukee and parts of Illinois. Otto helped influence the final race on a busy, hip street where he owned a grocery store. I loved that evening Criterium on Downer Avenue where I watched Eric Heiden race. That is where I learned to love Lycra and sculpted, shaved bike legs. Otto lived near me and I shopped in his store, Sentry. I believe he even worked the register and bagged my groceries on occasion. I am profoundly sad. “Another rider disappears over the horizon.” Don’t rest, keep riding in peace.

  2. I am sad to hear of Otto’s passing and dismayed to have missed his funeral. In the early eighties, Otto asked me set up a few local bike tours, to draw attention to biking and Superweek specifically. During that time, he was approached by representatives of the MS Society, about starting a new bike tour. Out of that association, The Best Dam Bike Tour was established. Since then, about 27 million dollars has been raised, and 11 drugs to fight MS have been found. Most of the dollars raised, stay in Wisconsin because of the researchers at UW Madison. I am so blessed for having known Otto, and experienced his passion for all forms of cycling. We all miss you Dear Friend !

    • I didn’t know that Dennis, just one more example of how Otto touched so many lives in a positive way. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Thanks to David Schlabowske for his great post in memory of a great friend and race director of the Super Week Bike Races in the midwest, Mr. Otto WIenz.

    I was fortunate to have attended numerous Super Week bike races in Wisconsin and Illinois organized by Otto in the past few decades. It was exciting to attend and talk with international cyclists after his races.

    Were it not for Otto, I never would have met Eric Heiden or Frankie Andreu. One of his early Super Week races was held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the early 1980s right along the lake front.

    It was an honor to finally meet Otto and his wife in person in the spring of 2010 at the George Webb Restaurant in New Berlin. It was fun listening to Otto’s cycling stories about the Kenosha Velodrome where he raced in his youth. He promised me on that day to again organize his original Lake Geneva race that summer. AND HE PULLED IT OFF!

    I hope you find time to race on a velodrome on the other side, Otto!

    GOD BLESS YOU

    Frank Dobbs
    Sarasota, FL

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