It’s a safe bet that Gary Rudy won’t be caught with his pants down during Oktoberfest’s Maple Leaf Parade on Sept. 30, as he was before he was unveiled as parade marshal Wednesday.
Fortunately, Rudy’s lederhosen lapse occurred in the privacy of Oktoberfest’s chalet office instead of during the parade marshal festivities at Loggers Field in Copeland Park a few hours later. Few people saw the wardrobe malfunction.
Rudy jovially voiced an alibi involving something about buttons, suspenders and crossed straps to explain his plight. And he took it in stride when Torchlight Parade Marshal Tim Colgan quipped, “That’s the difference between the North Side and the South Side,” during the 3 p.m. press conference announcing the marshals at Copeland.
“He’s a great guy,” confided Colgan, so proud of his heritage that he calls the procession he will lead the North Side Torchlight Parade.
Colgan’s wife, Debbie, described her husband as a “true-blue North Sider” and said the “selections were awesome” of him for the North Side and Rudy for the South.
While Rudy and his wife, Theresa, are South Siders, the Colgans are in a mixed marriage, with her roots in the South.
“My brother always says I’m the only South Sider accepted on the North,” she said with a smile, although she added the qualifier with a laugh, “I’m sure that’s not true.”
Colgan, on the other hand, traces his North Side heritage to the births of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
The Colgans, who have owned Colgan Air Services at the La Crosse Regional Airport since buying it from the G. Heileman Brewing Co. in 1992, have made it into a family business, with Debbie working as accountant, son Christopher being chief pilot, daughter Kelly, president, and her husband, Derek Hammen, also working at the field.
Colgan, a graduate of Logan High School, joined the Army in September 1968 and went to Vietnam in 1969. He received the Bronze Star Medal for heroism in helping remove fellow wounded and fallen servicemen as a helicopter pilot undergoing enemy fire.
An avid angler and hunter, Colgan said he usually has been fishing instead of participating in Oktoberfest activities during the fall, but he will readjust his priorities as parade marshal.
Colgan, who now lives on French Island, expressed pride in being selected parade marshal, saying, “I’ve spent most of my life hanging around Copeland Park here.”
An Airfest board member, Colgan is on the pastoral council of St. James Parish, now serving as president, supports Freedom Honor Flight and has been inducted into the Boys and Girls Club Alumni Hall of Fame.
Rudy, a Central High School graduate who served in the Army National Guard’s 107th Light Maintenance Unit for six years, owns Rudy’s Drive In. His grandfather, William, opened his first A&W Root Beer stand in Chippewa Falls in 1933, and operated variations in different sites, including several in La Crosse, over the years.
The drive-in at 10th and La Crosse streets was built in 1966, with Gary’s dad, Dale, succeeding William before passing the tradition on to Gary.
Rudy, who was named the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year in 2012, is involved in a variety of state and local activities, including the WRA, Freedom Fest, ThunderRide for Juvenile Diabetes, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Shelby Youth Baseball, The Pump House and the La Crosse Community Theatre, among others.
Rudy acknowledged a flood of emotions — “honored, excited, ecstatic, surprised” — at being selected to lead the Maple Leaf, adding, “You don’t go around doing things for a specific purpose — other than playing golf to get the ball in the hole.”
Asked about his success on the links, he said, “I do OK for somebody who doesn’t get out too often.”
Reflecting again on his selection, he said, jokingly, “I think they didn’t have anybody else.”
Wife Theresa said, “We’re definitely looking forward to it. We’ve got a lot of friends in Oktoberfest. It should be a blast.”
From Tribune files: La Crosse Oktoberfest through the years
Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.
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