The Ho-Chunk called it Wonk-sheek-ho-mik-la, “where the man lies.” In 1834, Surveyor Orson Lyon called it Fourth Lake. We call it Lake Mendota. 9,847 acres, 26 miles of shoreline along five municipalities, it’s the eighth largest lake in Wisconsin and the largest body of water in Dane County. And it now has a biographer, my friend Don Sanford, whose book On Fourth Lake: A Social History of Lake Mendota is a truly stellar piece of work, combining social, geological, technological, cultural, maritime and economic history in 340 lavishly illustrated pages. It is that rarest of books, one you can buy at both book stores and bait and tackle shops. If you’ve been here a while and not taken advantage of the lakes, this book will make you wistful for what you’ve been missing, and give you the inspiration to not let another season go by without getting out on the water, whether frozen or flowing. And if you have been joining Don on the water and ice over the years, this book will remind you how well you’ve spent your time. And it is published by Commodore Press LLC, an operation just as local as the book’s author.
Don, a former production manager at Wisconsin Public Television, is supremely qualified for the task. He is a life long river rat, a member of the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club, past commodore of the Mendota Yacht Club, and the International Nite Ice Yacht Class Association, and in fact just took second place in a big ice boat regatta.
His mastery of all things maritime even led to a co-starring role in the Rodney Dangerfield/Sally Kellerman epic Back to School. And once summer comes, if the world ever gets back to normal, he’ll be back as a boat captain for Betty Lou Cruises. Had Don on my old show a few years back, it is a pleasure to welcome him to WORT and Madison BookBeat.