Nov 12, 2018

Fort Blando

A special place for family and extended family to create long-lasting memories


My brother, Joe, and I own 84 acres in Marquette County. We bought this property with two friends 10 years ago and set up a company to manage it. My friend was asked – when setting it up – what the entity would be called.

Since he hadn’t given it much thought, he said the first thing that came to mind: Ranch 484. I’m not sure why he used the word “ranch,” since Merriam-Webster defines a ranch as “a large farm for raising horses, beef cattle, or sheep.” We don’t have any of those. The “484” makes more sense. There were four guys and we have 84 acres. Pretty clever, eh?

But we never call it Ranch 484. Over the past 10 years, our little slice of heaven has become a nature factory for the development of fond memories, treasured in the mind’s eyes of family members and friends who frequent the woods, fields and marshes of what we have also called “The Land,” “The Farm” and, most recently, “Fort Blando.”

Since Joe and I bought our friends’ remaining shares a few years ago, we figure we can call it whatever we want. My daughter, Kate, came up with the idea to call it Fort Blando since Joe and I collectively have 44 years of Army service.

Additionally, my wife, Jeannie, served six years, and Kate is currently an Army nurse. Kate’s husband, Joe, has four years of service thus far and is training to become a Green Beret. My daughter Ali’s husband, Ryan, is a lieutenant in the Wisconsin National Guard, and instead of joining us for the gun season this year, he will be deployed to Afghanistan by the time you read this. Please keep him and all other servicemen and women in your prayers.

Homecoming, of sorts

So Kate’s suggestion to name our property Fort Blando makes perfect sense, given our family’s extensive Army background.

And it also makes perfect sense for other “family” reasons. You see, the military is just that – one very big family. It doesn’t matter if you served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard. Once you join this extended family, you will forever be a part of it.

I was reminded of this recently when Jeannie and I visited Kate and Joe at Fort Bragg, N.C. Like every military base, Fort Bragg is heavily guarded, and everyone must go through a gate for an identification check. I handed the young sergeant my retired military ID card. He looked at it, saluted, and said, “Welcome back, sir.”

After I drove through the gate, I had to pull over for a moment. Jeannie asked what was wrong and I said, “Nothing, everything is exactly right. I’m just a little choked up by the sergeant’s words. Since I retired from the Army over 13 years ago, I feel like the prodigal son returning home to his family.” That’s the feeling I get every time I drive onto any post, base or fort. It’s also the feeling Joe and I get every time we enter Fort Blando.

Joe and I have hunted our property with our father, Sam, for the past 10 years. Our kids also learned to hunt, shoot, drive four-wheelers, build forts, identify flora and fauna, and find treasure in the Little Lunch Creek that meanders through the property. At one time or another, all of our children have exclaimed, “There are more stars here than any place in the world.” That alone makes the cost and work required to maintain Fort Blando worth every penny.

Most recently Joe, his boys Nicolas and Anthony, and I convened there for opening weekend of the archery deer season. At 86 degrees, it was the warmest weekend I’ve ever hunted in Wisconsin, and the swarms of mosquitos were far worse than anything I could remember – and I’ve hunted extensively in the swamps of Georgia!

During the hunt, Jeannie sent me a text to see how things were going. I responded, “No deer, but a great couple days despite the heat and bugs.” She text back, “Isn’t it more about making memories anyway?”

She is absolutely correct. Despite the heat and bugs, we all felt an encompassing sense of peace the entire weekend as we created memory after memory.

Building a tradition

A year ago Jeannie and I moved to Washington, D.C. Although we enjoy living in our nation’s capital, we also agree that we want to maintain a place in Wisconsin to share with our children and, eventually, grandchildren.

Initially we talked about purchasing a lake cottage “up north” because, according to our daughter Mary, “Everyone has a cottage up north, except for us.” But I have several friends who own lake cottages and all have offered to let me use theirs. My brother, Bill, owns a lake house five minutes from Fort Blando, and he allows us to use it anytime we want. It does not appear prudent to re-create that which already exists.

So we scrapped that idea and decided what we have at Fort Blando is different than anything else we have in the family, or that friends would let us use. Instead, we have decided to focus on making Fort Blando even more special than it already is.

There are two structures on the property. We have a beautiful old barn and what we understand was an old chicken coop that we refurbished into our hunting shack. Today we just call it “the Coop.”

We were seriously thinking about building a house, but have decided to build a lodge instead. Merriam-Webster’s definition of a house is, “a building that serves as living quarters for one or a few families.”

Living quarters is not what we are looking for. The same Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a lodge as, “a house set apart for residence in a particular season, such as the hunting season.” Now that sounds more like it!

As Jeannie reminded me, it doesn’t matter what we call the place as long as we keep foremost in our minds that it’s really more about the memories made there, and the sense of peace everyone seems to feel when they drive through our gate.

If you’re reading this, you probably either are getting ready for the deer gun season, or you’re headed to your favorite hunting grounds, or you may even be already sitting in the glorious autumn woods in your favorite deer stand. You may be at your own cabin, shack, lodge, trailer or tent, or you may be sharing one of those as a guest with extended family and friends.

Regardless, you are at your own special place, and although we at Badger Sportsman hope you harvest a buck that qualifies for the Boone and Crockett Club, we hope you also remember that it truly is about the memories you will make with family and friends, and the peace that abounds and is available to all who seek it in the Wisconsin woods.

Have a safe, memorable and peace-filled hunt.

Tony Blando is a retired soldier who currently serves as the Chief of Staff for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin). He lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and hunts and fishes when he’s not working and when his very understanding wife, Jeannie, allows him.