West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition Co-Chair, Owen Ayres, died on July 21 at the age of 87. Founder of the national engineering consulting firm, Ayres & Associates, he was also a former Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Bill Anderson, Rail Coalition Steering Committee Member, knew Owen well and penned the following tribute:
“On behalf of the members and friends of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, we want to express our deepest sympathy to his family on his passing. To a person, we sincerely appreciate the wisdom and guidance Owen has contributed to the Coalition’s considerable success over the past 13 years as our Co-Chairman.
The formation of the WCWRC is largely due to Owen’s desire to do all things Eau Claire. He understood what our previous train service meant to the community, and he traveled on it frequently, but he also had the foresight to see how important it will again be as our travel needs have changed over time. So it was important to him to that he organize a small, interested group of attendees, following a public information presentation in Eau Claire regarding the newly organized Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, an organization involving nine Midwest states, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration and charged with developing a passenger rail system in the Midwest.
The WCWRC has met every month since that 1999 start, and by 2002, Owen had spearheaded meetings and discussions with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation which resulted in commissioning a nationally recognized rail consultant to study our area and make recommendations. The consultant’s report made it clear that a route including Eau Claire should be a part of that system.
Although we have not yet secured our train, it is inevitable that we will, and when that day arrives, it will be in great part due to Owen’s dedication and influence.
Personally, I enjoyed working with Owen on the development of the proposed Eau Claire Transportation Center, a new passenger rail depot which will include interchange with all others modes of transportation at the same site. His encouragement and support was truly appreciated.
But above all, we remember a modest and humble man who never talked of his own accomplishments, but was always quick to recognize those of others. He was a good friend and we will miss him very much.”