Jerry Wilke

Jerry with Judy and Bob Gillette and Wilke’s yellow Husky at
Gillette’s Lakewood Lodge Airport, 14WS in Stone Lake, WI.

When Jerry Wilke believes in an organization, he invests his heart, his soul, and leans his shoulder in. He observes, finds the best fit for his experience, and has come away from his 35-year career with Harley Davidson with a mastery of what motivates people to seek and find fulfillment in a sport, a product, and a lifestyle. For a guy who has experienced life through the eyes of diverse customers from the Hell’s Angels to the California Highway Patrol and everything in between, it’s obvious Jerry has done a lot of observing.

Some are old enough to recall the shock when a beloved America-born and raised company changed hands, lost market share and prestige, and faced a potential drop into the dustbin of failed American enterprises. When Jerry Wilke and a small team took charge of Harley-Davidson’s marketing, he knew how to create sizzle as well as rekindle demand for an American icon and restore its notoriety and prestige around the world.

Jerry, a passionate private pilot, served for ten years on Cirrus Aircraft’s Advisory board, as well as the board of the AOPA Foundation. He and his wife Karen, who is always ready to act as “copilot” for the next flight, enjoy long cross-countries in their Cirrus. They spend winters in Naples, FL, and he is active in the aviation community there. Living in northern Wisconsin during summers of long daylight and plenty of lovely lakes, he added a Husky on amphibs. Jerry has committed many hours working with the local community to promote the benefits of investing in their “sidecountry” Manitowish Waters Airport, D25, where pilots must heed coyotes and deer crossing both its paved and turf runways. He also serves as chairman of the airport committee working with Wisconsin’s Bureau of Aeronautics and the FAA to provide financial support for airport improvements. 

 Left to right: Jerry, Bob Gillette, Ted Davis, Ross Wilke and RAF Director Bill Brine of Massachusetts take a photo break during a work party at Gillette’s, May 2023.

Recently, Jerry and his son Ross bought a Skywagon, but to enjoy simpler, more leisurely access to the backcountry, they also fly a Husky on Bushwheels. 

Ross is as serious about flying as his father, but Jerry admits, “I watched with a bit of apprehension as Ross did his short takeoffs and landings in our stock Husky during the STOL demonstration at Oshkosh a few years ago. These guys are landing in two hundred-thirty-something feet.” Ross shares his thoughtful approach to becoming an ever-safer pilot in a 16-minute AOPA Air Safety Institute “Beyond Proficient” video. It’s well worth the watch.

The Wilkes support the RAF because its mission aligns with their desire to access the backcountry, and to preserve the privilege. But it means even more to the family. “It’s the people connection, the relationships, campfire buddies, new lifelong friends, and kindred spirits, like knowing Bob and Judy Gillette, thanks to the RAF,” he says. 

So when Jerry says, “The RAF is clearly operating beyond its mission,” he explains that it’s an exceptional gathering of generous, inspiring, intelligent people who give back, so the next generation and beyond can experience the freedoms we enjoy, flying to these special places.

By Carmine Mowbray

1 Comments

  1. Bob Gillette on May 15, 2024 at 7:14 pm

    Wow! Jerry is all of that, and More! A great RAF’er! We look forward to his visits at Gillettes Lakewood Lodge Airport!

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