Wintergreen showcased at “Made in America” expo; Sue Schurke meets Cabinet members, interviewed on Fox

by Tom Coombe
Sue Schurke and President Trump don’t align politically, but the Elyite was thrilled nonetheless to be at the White House Monday.
Sue Schurke’s business, Wintergreen Northern Wear, was picked to represent Minnesota at a “Made in America” product showcase hosted by the Trump Administration.
In a whirlwind day, Schurke and her husband Paul attended a ceremony where Trump spoke, and they mingled with White House staff, members of Congress and a pair of Trump cabinet members as they showed off her products at a booth in the White House’s East Wing.
Sue Schurke was later interviewed in a feature that aired on the Fox Business Channel, a segment that prompted several hundred hits on Wintergreen’s website and numerous inquiries about the company’s unique, Ely-made winter clothing products.
It was an experience she won’t soon forget, and one she was still savoring later in the week.
“I felt so honored that our little business and our employees were recognized like this,” she said Thursday. “I’m not a Trump supporter but I went out there. This was the White House. It’s still our president and our country. I went there for Made In America, which is something I believe in.”
While Schurke didn’t get to meet Trump face-to-face, she was near the podium when the president spoke to the entire group at Monday’s reception.
According to a news release issued by Wintergreen, White House staff members told the Schurkes that the president and First Lady Melania Trump toured the booths after hours and that Melania expressed particular interest in a white Wintergreen anorak on display.
During the expo. two cabinet members - Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta- stopped by the Wintergreen booth.
Both posed for photos and Ross took a liking to the tiny US flags embroidered into Wintergreen clothing.
Sue Schurke also showed off the cards put into the pockets of each Wintergreen garment, showing when the products were made and featuring the name of the Wintergreen staff member who made them.
Wintergreen also captured the attention of Fox Business, a cable news channel that conducted a live interview with Sue Schurke following the reception.
During the interview, Schurke said her business is all about “Made in America” and when questioned by the host, she said she hoped Trump and his administration recognized the nation’s outdoor industry and its growth.
Schurke said she liked to see the administration show more attention to the importance of public lands, a stance that was highlighted by a banner they hung at their booth, carrying the slogan “America’s Public Lands Build Business.”
The banner, and all Wintergreen products on display, were approved in advance by the Trump Administration, which has been criticized by environmental advocates - including the Schurkes - who are critical of the administration’s stance on copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota.
Even so, Sue Schurke said Thursday that “I never once mentioned copper-nickel mining at the White House.”
She also disputed another media report that inferred her visit was confrontational in nature.
“We weren’t out there to confront anybody,” she said. “I’m not a confrontational person. I felt it would have been totally disrespectful if I had gone out there to get in people’s face... I was going out there to represent our country. It was an honor. I don’t care who the president is. I think you have to look beyond that.”
Schurke said she found common bonds with many of the business owners selected from other states, noting that many were family-run operations.
What Schurke described as a “surreal experience,” extended to the cable news interview.
While Sue was being interviewed, Paul Schurke sat in a Fox waiting area with U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), who was waiting to be interviewed on the same program.
In the wake of the interview, Wintergreen’s website got about 850 hits, according to Sue.
“We got some people who were watching Fox News who said they were going to buy Wintergreen,” she said.
The experience also gave Schurke the opportunity to promote Ely.
She said in towns with huge fishing, hunting and vacation appeal like Ely, firms making functional products with design features that reflect the area’s ethnic or natural heritage often flourish, citing Steger Mukluks, Razor Edge Systems, Kondos Outdoors and Brain Storm Bakery as examples of other “small batch-high quality” manufacturing firms in Ely.
“The talent pool is a key advantage in a small town,” said Schurke.. “The work ethic is strong & traditional skills like clothing design & sewing are still highly valued. We’re so proud of our Wintergreen team. It often feels we’re more like family than staff. Michelle & Marlene, twins who came to the Northwoods for timber jobs and are still known as the Chainsaw Sisters, started sewing with us at the beginning. Our sewing supervisor LaVerne has been with us nearly as long – and we think she’s the best bartender in town as well!”
Wintergreen was launched following the 1986 Steger North Pole Expedition, when Sue made garments that kept team members warm in temperatures that far below zero.
A winter clothing company was formed in its wake, and Wintergreen has been part of Ely’s business community for three decades, specializing in hand-crafted northern apparel.
The product line now includes 130 items --including winter anoraks, summer wind shirts, shell pants, canoe shorts, woolen hoodies, waxed cotton jackets, hats and mitts.
In 1996, Susan received the “Entrepreneur of the Year” award from the regional Center for Economic Development. In 2005, Wintergreen was ranked by Outside Magazine among the nation’s “Top Ten” most innovative and influential small outdoor businesses. More recently, Wintergreen was highlighted by National Geographic in its ranking of the Ely area among the world’s “Top 50 Must-See Destinations.”
The business got the notice of the Trump Administration, but the visit to Washington almost didn’t happen.
Schruke said that when she first got a message the White House was calling, she thought it was a prank.
“I just ignored it, I thought it was a scam and didn’t think about it the rest of the day,” she said.
After talking to her husband, Schurke decided to call back and found out “it was the real thing.”
In less than a week, the Schurkes prepared for the visit, sending photos of their items and getting clearance for what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime.
“It was amazing, first to be selected,” she said. “ The company is why we went. It was about Made in America and being chosen as the business from Minnesota and it was an honor to go.