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.
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.
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.