Bill Tefft

In 1977, Bill accepted a teaching position in Ely and his family moved to the one place that he knew the most about without ever visiting there.  Previous to that move, he had earned degrees in Wildlife Management and Parks and Recreation Resource Management from Michigan State University.  He had worked for two years as an interpretive guide at a city nature center and another year as the assistant director of a Nature Conservancy nature By the time he reached Ely, he had read the writings of Sigurd F. Olson and studied issues regarding wolves, wilderness, acid rain, and Reserve Mining.

At Vermilion Community College, Bill taught courses in wildlife, parks, and outdoor recreation.  While raising a family and teaching, summer work was available as an interpreter at the Voyageur Visitor Center and a mine guide at Soudan Underground Mine.  There was time to write nature articles in local newspapers, conduct a radio show, Birding With Bill, on WELY, serve on local boards, coach youth sports and attend music, art and sports events.

Since retiring from college teaching, Bill continues to put community service at the forefront.  He explores what can be accomplished in the Ely Field Naturalists, Minnesota Naturalist Association, Listening Point Foundation, International Wolf Center, Dorothy Molter Museum, Parks and Wilderness Program at VCC, Ely Festivals, Master Naturalist Courses and programs for children during the summer and school year.


  • What brought you to Ely and why have you stayed?

Vermilion Community College offered a teaching position for its new Parks and Recreation Associate of Applied Science degree program.  Ely provided good K-12 and college education for my family and a rich mix of opportunities to develop our interests.

Upon retirement, there are many ways to stay involved in citizen science, community service, education and tourism.


  • What is your favorite thing about Ely in the summer?

Lasting friendships have developed with the people who live here all year and the growing number that return each summer.   We can explore the area and I can share outdoor experiences in the forests and on the lakes, rivers and wetlands.


  • In the winter?

Real winter exists in Ely, and winter months provide temperatures that stay below freezing.  I can count on snow and ice that will support outdoor activities, festivals, star-filled night and scenic landscapes.


  • What advice would you give to someone moving to Ely?

Over and over again I have seen Ely absorb the people who attend classes, group meetings, social programs and other avenues to meeting people and connecting their interests.  The people of Ely are welcoming, helpful and generally optimistic.  Elyites like to get to know new people and be of assistance.


  • What has been your most memorable experience living in Ely?

There have been so many but in recent times, past experience drives me every Tuesday night in summer to visit Whiteside Park.  The community flows into the park for the Farmer’s Market, Community Band Concert, and play areas.  That is just a catalyst for additional music in the business district and sports on the ball fields.  This weekly burst of uplifting energy recharges the local sense of community.


  • Where do you see Ely in the future—20 years from now?

I better see it coming, because I don’t know what I will be able to see in 20 years.  In recent years there have been an increasing number of people attracted to Ely attributes.  They arrive with optimism, enthusiasm and desire for contributing to this community.   By Ely, I mean Ely and adjoining townships and communities.  I want to believe that the strong-minded, hard-working residents and visitors to this area will have found a way to play as a team with a cooperative game plan, teamwork, and leadership that draws from community players bringing their strengths to support a common good.

I grew up in a small town in Michigan that lost its economic vitality as nearby towns grew in size.  Ely has some similarities in the past with changing times.  Joined by the surrounding area and agencies, I see Ely building on its outstanding location and its unique character.  The northern parts of the Arrowhead Region have a magnetism that will continue to build and grow prosperity into the future.


  • What else would you like to tell folks about living in Ely?

Many of the improvements and the opportunities in Ely derive from the generous giving nature of its residents.  They may disagree on direction at times, but they all are willing to work for solutions to needs.  Since Ely was originally settled its population has grown to a mix of old and new that struggle to work together at times.  Like any small town, the future of Ely depends on everyone taking part.  Don’t sit back.  The strength of this community stands upon citizen involvement.  Good leaders and workers are playmakers with everyone having a say and making their contribution.