Building a City Oneida County

UW Connections in Oneida County

Data Source: University of Wisconsin Service Center

Did you know that an Oneida County alumnus made an impact on what Rhinelander looks like today?

When Bob Heck ’58 saw a job that needed to be done, he didn’t shy away from it — despite the many hours it would require.

During the 1970s, and the Rhinelander–Oneida County Airport faced operational inefficiencies that put it at risk of losing airline service: its terminal was small, and runways were not long enough to support jet takeoffs and landings.

Heck — a salesperson who believes in the mantra that “airports build cities; cities don’t build airports” — knew what losing the airport could mean for his community: significant deterioration. Although he lacked an aviation background, Heck felt his sales experience could help the airport and was quick to take on the job to save it, becoming chair of the Rhinelander–Oneida County Airport Commission.

Heck started from the ground up, and today the Rhinelander–Oneida County Airport stands proud. It has a new, state-of-the-art terminal building; more than 1,200 acres of land; and a 6,800-square-foot, all-jet runway. In addition, Delta Air Lines provides 30-minute service to Minneapolis–Saint Paul — a “total home run,” Heck says, because the Twin Cities’ airport has access to more than 500 cities.

Heck — a salesperson who believes in the mantra that “airports build cities; cities don’t build airports” — knew what losing the airport could mean for his community: significant deterioration.

Since Heck started working on the airport project in 1975, more than 2.5 million people have flown into and out of Rhinelander, and the airport has led to an economic benefit of $450 million, he says. Part of this benefit, he adds, have been the 1,200 new jobs created in the area.

After 43 years, Heck retired in 2018 from his position as chair of the Rhinelander–Oneida County Airport Commission. Following his retirement announcement, city and county officials surprised him with an accolade he didn’t expect: they plan to dedicate the airport’s terminal to him, naming it the Robert G. Heck Terminal.

“It’s an honor,” Heck says. “It means a lot because I put in thousands of hours of work, and it was mostly on a volunteer basis all these years.” During the early years, Heck and his wife, June, had five children, so the time he spent away from his family was a sacrifice. “But,” he concludes, “it was a job that needed to be done.”

Heck has applied this dedication and passion for his community to other areas of his life as well. He is a cofounder, the chair, and the chief investment strategist of Heck Capital Advisors, an independent investments firm where he works with two of his sons; and he served as the chair of his church’s financial council for 45 years.

“By doing these things in a community-service type of environment, it’s really helped a lot of people,” Heck says.