Pat Meeker was a large man, weighing in the neighborhood of 300 pounds.
But the Milton man’s cheery disposition and his contributions to Milton High School and many other organizations dwarfed his physical presence.
The man who designed, built and managed Oak Ridge Golf Course, and later Bonny Meade Links, died June 18 at the age of 81. His legacy will live on with the thousands of people he affected with donations and good times.
One of those people was Bob Johnson.
Johnson was a young teacher when he was hired by the Milton School District in 1980.
He first met Meeker and his wife, Barb, at the “Cornhusker”—a fundraiser held each year at Oak Ridge.
Johnson was the head of the Future Farmers of America program—which at the time had only 38 students involved and was in danger of being eliminated by the school district.
Meeker and Wally “Big Wally” Schilberg—another Milton philanthropist who died in 2001—took Johnson aside.
Johnson held a fundraiser in the FFA classroom, which raised about $800.
Meeker and Jerry Fredrick suggested the next fundraiser be held at Oak Ridge.
The second event raised between $5,000 and $6,000.
“Pat was so instrumental in organizing that and getting people to support it,” Johnson said. “It was gigantic.”
But that was the type of man Meeker was.
Johnson, who grew up on a livestock farm, also pushed youngsters to participate in the Rock County Fair. Unfortunately, in some cases, the youngsters were losing money when their livestock was sold.
“I always wanted to see the kids make a little profit,” said Johnson, who owns Badger State Auction and calls the auctions at both the Rock County and Wisconsin State fairs. “It was a great learning experience and taught the kids responsibility and leadership.”
Johnson voiced his concerns to Meeker and Fredrick at one of the Thursday night golf league outings that sometimes went into the morning hours.
Meeker called early the next afternoon. He told Johnson he “got the plan rolling” and he already had a list of people willing to donate $4,000 to ensure every youngster who brought an animal to the fair would make a profit.
All the donors agreed to purchase the animals at a profit for the youngsters who raised them, and then resell the animals with that money going to the FFA chapter.
“People thought we were crazy that first year,” Johnson said. “But the next year, every other city was doing it.
“The thing grew and grew. The kids were making money. There was more participation.”
All thanks in large part to Pat Meeker.
When Johnson retired from teaching and the FFA in 2007, that original 38-student program had almost 200 participants and—along with the FFA Alumni program that grew out of it—were among top programs in the nation.
“I had a big group of supporters back then that made it come together, but Pat Meeker, along with Wally Schilberg, initiated the things to get it done.,” Johnson said.
Wrestling program benefits
In 1989, Milton High principal Tom Kemppainen asked Johnson to take over as head wrestling coach for long-time coach Dan Pernat who was stepping down.
Johnson, who had been assistant for six years, did not think he had enough time to be the head coach. Milton had never won the Southern Lakes Conference wrestling title, so Johnson put a waiver in when accepting the post.
His team would win the Southern Lakes Conference title within five seasons, or he would give the job up.
Pat Meeker became a tag-team partner. That was like having a combination of Hulk Hogan/The Rock/John Cena in your corner.
Meeker approached Johnson.
“Tell you what I want to do,” said Meeker, who along with Schilberg, had purchased new wrestling uniforms for the junior varsity team one year. “I want to have a fundraiser. You pick the date, and I’ll give you the course. Any dollar you make that day is (the wrestling program’s).”
“Well,” Johnson thought, “here we go.”
And go it did.
The first wrestling fundraiser had 50 golfers and raised between $7,000 and $8,000.
The wrestling fundraiser at Oak Ridge became an annual event. It grew and so did the Milton wrestling program.
Within two years, there were 150 golfers. One year, the event raised $60,000.
And that elusive Southern Lakes title?
“We did it in three,” Johnson said. “Then we went on a run to win 13 straight conference titles. The program just got bigger and bigger and bigger and everyone got on the bandwagon.”
The money ensured the program would be first class.
“We never, ever left the high school--whether we were going 10 miles down the road or a tournament three hours away—the team always rode in a coach bus.
“When I had the real good teams, and we went to the Ironman in Ohio—the elite tournament in the country at the time—we flew.”
When Johnson first took over the wrestling program, the Milton wrestlers shared a practice room with the gymnastics team.
The Bob Johnson Agri-Science & Tech Ed facility took care of that problem. Johnson, an agriculture science teacher, had his own building and the wrestling team practiced upstairs—and it was all through donations.
Getting to know UW sports
Meeker got Johnson involved in the Mendota Gridiron Club, a booster club for the University of Wisconsin football team. The club was dissolved in 2019, but it gave Johnson an “in” with the UW.
In 1990, Barry Alvarez was named head football coach at the UW. Meeker had held fundraisers at Oak Ridge during the tenures of Dave McClain, Jim Hilles and Don Morton, but Alvarez had a spark that none of his predecessors had.
That first year, the Oak Ridge event was the biggest fundraiser the Mendota Gridiron Club had in the entire state.
Johnson now is the auctioneer at many UW fundraising events. He considers Alvarez a close friend.
“I’ve learned through Pat Meeker and Wally Schilberg that if you center yourself around good people, good things will happen,” Johnson said. “We had so many good people, but those two there were the spearheads that came up with ideas that people thought were totally off the wall for a small town like Milton, Wisconsin.”
Meeker and Schilberg were instrumental in getting the Carl F. Anderson football field renovated, the construction of the agriculture building at the high school and building the FFA programs to nationally recognized levels.
“Oak Ridge Golf Course has probably raised more money for non-profit organizations that any other establishment in Rock County,” Johnson said. “That little golf course.”
Pat and Barb sold the golf course in 2015 to their daughter, Andrea, and her husband, Kirk Wieland.
‘Heart of gold’
Pat’s influence will never be forgotten.
“Everybody liked Pat Meeker,” Johnson said. “He had a heart of gold. If he liked you, he would do anything for you.
“What people don’t know, he did a lot for the city; a lot for people that people would never know.”
Not all of Meeker’s charitable inspirations involved fund raising.
When the Wisconsin FFA Foundation was first founded, Johnson was president of the Wisconsin Ag Teachers Association. Meeker helped get a new truck donated and several other large items.
Johnson had planned to raise $20,000 at the annual convention, but the items raised $105,000.
Also among the donated items were 300 John Deere toy tractors that a Woods Equipment salesman Jerry Haugland, and Duff Fanning had collected from dealers throughout Southern Wisconsin for that event.
When the auction finished, about 40 toy tractors remained.
Johnson figured he’d take them home. Meeker had a better idea. He loaded the tractors in his car and told Johnson to get in.
“He drives to the Children’s Hospital in Madison,” Johnson said. “He went up to the front desk and asked them how many kids were there. We didn’t have enough tractors.
“What does he do? He took the average cost of the tractor and wrote a check and made sure every one of those kids got a tractor.”
Johnson has one final tribute planned for his good friend.
The Meeker family is establishing a scholarship fund for a Milton High wrestler and golfer.
“This fall I’m going to hold a one-day event at Oak Ridge Golf Course to raise money for that scholarship,” he said. “I owe it to him and his family.”
Bob Johnson is not the only one with that sentiment.