Samsel Family Took the ‘Long-View’ Fifty Years Ago and Changed the Future of the Land
Written By Pat Pintar
October 2005

     If you had been on the land that spring day in April of 1952, looking towards the west from Beechnut Drive in the Town of Deerfield, you would have seen 80 acres of open field and oak savannah sprawling over gentle hills. It took the conviction of true visionaries, L.G. Samsel and his son Clyde Samsel to imagine that same view fifty years into the future.

     Since that first tree planting demonstration on the Samsel farm on that day, over two hundred thousand trees have been planted in that section of Waushara County, changing the landscape completely. Now, after over fifty-years and three thinnings, mature trees are being harvested and coming into the Samsel’s own sawmill.

     L.G. Samsel bought his first 40 acres in Waushara County in about 1950. An avid conservationist, he bought the property in Deerfield Township to develop as a hobby farm. He had an agricultural degree and worked for the J.I. Case Company in Racine as a copywriter, working in advertising, and producing educational films for farmers. His son, Clyde was sixteen at that time, and he shared his father’s dream. Taking all of his college savings, Clyde bought the adjacent 40-acre section and started tree farming with his father. Clyde then had to work his way through college. After completing military service in the US Army, he obtained his Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In 1957, Clyde married his junior high school sweetheart, Janet Flynn, after she earned her nursing degree. The couple settled in Racine where Clyde worked for S.C. Johnson & Company for the next 27 years. Two children were born, Barbara and Jay, who both loved coming up to the ‘farm’ for vacations and to work along with their parents.

     Always looking to the future, Clyde was instrumental in changing some hiring practices at S.C. Johnson & Company including hiring the first female chemical engineer in the industry. “I hired her in 1972 and took a lot of flack for that one, but she’s still working there today. We also started hiring handicapped individuals and they were some of our best employees over time,” said Clyde. Both Clyde and Janet were involved in activities in Racine County while raising their family. Janet taught Red Cross ‘new baby’ classes and became president of the Lakeshore Chapter of the Red Cross and Clyde served on the County board for 18 years.

     Life changed for the Samsels in 1987 when Clyde decided to take an early retirement. They built a home near the site of the original barn and garage on their property and moved permanently to Deerfield Township.
     “My dad had died at 72. He had a stroke earlier at age 58 and another at 68 because of a lot of stress. I decided to retire from Johnson’s to hopefully avoid the kind of stress he had been exposed to,” Clyde said.
     “The first thing we did when we retired was start planting trees for our neighbors,” said Janet. “By 1973, the original trees we’d planted in back in 1952 were ready for the first thinning and we’d go out and cut down a couple [many] trees each day to sell for pulpwood,” she said.

     Meanwhile, their daughter, Barbara experimented with growing ginseng, an herbal root used in making tonics. As the forest around the plantings grew and thickened, the ginseng was harder to grow and Barbara started growing shiitake mushrooms instead. The mushrooms fared much better in the cool, wet woodland spring and fall seasons.

     Over the years, with each successive thinning of mature trees, they cut log-cabin logs and took them to a sawmill in Wild Rose. When that sawmill closed, they decided to build a sawmill of their own. What had begun, as a retirement hobby-business now became a full-blown logging and sawmill operation.

     Shortly after this, their son, Jay Samsel left his Army career and moved back to Wisconsin with his family to take over the wood business. Jay built his home on the foundation of the old barn near his parent’s home and to the delight of Janet and Clyde, they had almost daily contact with their grandchildren. Mary Grace is now a student at UW Stevens Point* and Charline at age fifteen, a talented musician. Tina, age 13 is especially close to Clyde and Janet as she is challenged with childhood autism. The business has grown to include not only the sawmill but the mill has dry kilns and moulding and a complete saw shop selling saws and logging tools. After Jay took over the day-to-day operations, Clyde began to take the ‘long view’ once again and started to concentrate on helping people with logging and conserving the land.

     “One of the first and most important things in the logging business is safety,” said Clyde. To promote this, Clyde began offering safety classes developed by Soren Eriksson, called The Game of Logging.
     “There are different levels starting with just one class or going on to level four. So far, several hundred students have completed all four levels and have a chance to go to regional and national competitions,” Clyde said.
     “Logs are produced during the final competition of the classes when students demonstrate what they’ve learned…different techniques of using the saw.”
     As a result, when you take a trip to the Samsel Saw Mill, you will see something that looks remarkably like exotic Easter Island monoliths standing along the side of the largest building. A long row of these log monoliths, each three to four feet high, are carved by chainsaw and look as if they were etched in ancient tribal writings.

     Learning that part of the Ice Age Trail (IAT) crossed their land, Clyde and Janet joined the Waushara County Chapter as charter members and Clyde still serves on the board of directors. Each February, the Samsel family hosts the Waushara Chapter’s popular annual Candlelite Event on lighted trails through their woods.

     Clyde talked about another project that he was instrumental in developing with neighbor Martin Pionke about seven years ago. Members of the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association, (WWOA) both men had a strong desire to see that organization grow and saw a need to address issues of sustainable forestry on a local neighbor-to-neighbor basis.

     Wisconsin Family Forests (WFF) was organized to support private landowners interested in learning and applying the concepts of sustainable forestry for both resident and non-resident landowners. Through local alliances that focus on sustainable forestry practices, neighbors work with neighbors, strengthening community connections and improving the management of local natural resources and wildlife habitats.

     “WFF currently has about 300 members and it is open to everyone, not just woodland owners. My dream is to see the two organizations work together and have a combined membership of 20,000 someday,” said Clyde. Clyde encourages interested people to check out the WFF website at to learn more about this organization, A visionary, as defined by Webster, is “one with ability to perceive something not actually visible, as through keen foresight.” Taking the long view once again, the Samsels have a history of making things happen.

Mary Grace graduated from UWSP.