When Uniroyal (Michelin Tire) was closing its Eau Claire facility in the ‘90s, Bill Rowlett was given the option to keep his position and relocate to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But are we lucky he chose to stay.
At that time, Rowlett was president of the Eau Claire Cavaliers, a local baseball organization since 1971. Their board was contacted in 1994 by Dick Radatz, who was hoping to start a new Northwoods League, saw promise in our market and facilities, and hoped we’d become a charter member. The Cavaliers decided to wait and see how the league progressed. Radatz returned a few years later, and invited interested parties to a game in Rochester, MN. “They wanted us to see how that community had embraced it,” Rowlett recalls, “and I came back more convinced than ever that this could work in Eau Claire.” With La Crosse, Duluth, and Madison newly on board with Northwoods, the Cavaliers had Rowlett create an exploratory board. But they once again opted against it.
So it was then, in early 2004, that Rowlett sought a financial partner (and found one in Dr. Jeff Jones) to begin the Express on his own. In November of that year, Northwoods officially added Eau Claire and the following summer they fielded a team. While there have been lots of big supporters over the years (especially city parks and rec directors Ken Van Es and Phil Fieber), as the founder and managing director, Rowlett is the driving force behind the Express.
His decision to start the Express brought a new kind of experience to the Chippewa Valley. One that not only appealed to fans of the game, but that catered to families as well as fan deck “partiers,” who might leave the game not knowing the score or who won, but leave smiling regardless. Now entering their eighth season, the Express has brought our community a championship (2010), brought physical improvements to our facilities (concessions, scoreboards, etc.), and added an item to our collective summer checklist.