Leonard Katauskas, 85, of Ely

Leonard Katauskas, an only child, was born to Lithuanian immigrants, Terese Zviblis and Antanas Katauskas on April 7, 1935 in Chicago. He passed away peacefully at home on June 15,, 2020 surrounded by his family. He graduated from St. Rita’s High School and attended Lewis College in Romeoville, Illinois where he studied aviation and earned a degree in powerplant and airframe mechanics.
His interest and skills in aviation continued to 1956 when he enlisted in the US ARMY and served as a helicopter crew chief in the 2nd US Army missile command at Fort Hood, Texas until 1959. After boot camp, while in flight school, he asked and was granted permission from his commanding officer for a 3-day pass to leave the 125-mile radius of Fort Eustis, Virginia Army base to marry Patricia Burckhardt on March 2, 1957 in Berwyn, IL. In March, 2020 Len and Pat celebrated 63 years of marriage.
After leaving the Army, Leonard returned to Illinois and became employed by Chicago Helicopter, TelAutograph, Hot Point, Ingersoll-Rand, and G&W Electric where his broad knowledge of engineering, electrical, mechanical and construction skills earned him the nickname “MacGyver” among his family.
Len and Pat bought their first house and raised a son, Steve, and daughter, Linda and enjoyed suburban life, yet Len resented the rat race of Chicago and his daily drive back into big city for employment. In 1969 rumors of great fishing and fresh air led Len and Pat to a seek a wilderness vacation one summer. While shopping for a “big enough” tent, Len got distracted by a used bread truck for sale, with the aspirations to convert it to Winnebago camper. With no time for the upgrades to be implemented, the family hit the highway and drove northward where the bread truck broke down in Duluth. After too many lost vacation days waiting for parts to arrive over the 4th of July holiday, it was suggested to head to Ely and salvage the remainder of their vacation. It was Shirley and Bob Klaesges at Ely’s Timber Trail Resort who warmly welcomed the weary travelers and offered Len a parking spot at their already over booked resort.
Len, Pat, and their children continued to vacation in Ely for a few more summers until the opportunity to purchase Kat’s Liquors from Louis Zgonc arose in 1972. Since Len had been called Kat all his life, it seemed like a natural fit. At the age of 37 with no previous business experience, Len and Pat moved their family along with his Mother, Teresa, to Ely and operated Kat’s Drive-in Liquors for nearly 42 years as the longest continuously family owned liquor store on the Iron Range. Len proudly installed an inventory management and point of sale computer system in his Liquor store, the first of its kind in the region for liquor and beer retail.
Twelve years later in 1984 Len purchased the adjacent property on Sheridan Street and established his second business, Hook Line and Sinker Bait and Tackle. Len’s sense of humor led him to configure an eye-catching street side display to advertise his bait store: a fisherman sitting in a rocking Lund boat powered by an internal water pump. During the time that followed, Len earned his taxidermist license and learned to craft handmade jigs and bear skin rugs.
In 1997 armed with a standard roof rake and an old Hamms Beer plastic window banner from his liquor store, Leonard ultimately fashioned the MinnSNOWta Roof Razor and was issued a US Patent for his invention. By 1999 Len and his “build a better mouse trap device” appeared in the Duluth News Tribune and shortly thereafter on the front page of the Business section of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Together with wife Pat, Len designed, manufactured, and shipped Roof Razors out of Ely all across the United states and several foreign countries until 2019. Len’s MinnSNOWta Roof Razor was even showcased at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT. Over the course of three businesses, Len and Pat employed many Elyites during the boom years of Ely’s tourism.
As the years followed in Ely, Leonard’s passion for flying led him to earn his float plane rating, instrument rating, commercial pilot and flight instructors licenses. Len flew the surrounding lakes for pleasure in his Cessna 172 and enjoyed many fishing excursions and friendships of the local pilots. Leonard personally instructed two Ely youths, who went on to become career pilots for the commercial airlines. Len also enjoyed trapshooting and was a member of the Ely-Winton Rod and Gun Club, where he often would knock down 25 straight clays.
Leonard served the Ely community as a longtime usher and parishioner of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Starting in the late 70’s he chaired the Concerned Citizens Committee to support multiple use of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. In 1978 he co-chaired the Boundary Waters Conservation Alliance and travel to Washington DC to meet with both Senate and House representatives. Len was a cofounder of the Ely Public Utilities Commission and he was most proud of the implementation and construction of the current Ely water plant on time and under budget. He was an officer and member of the Ely Lions Club for over 40 years adding his strong organization to the pancake breakfast held during the Ely Blueberry Fest and Harvest Moon Festival each summer and fall.
Many have said Leonard was a big man (6’4”) with a big personality. Leonard is survived by his loving wife, Patricia, son, Steven Katauskas, daughter, Linda Filonowich (Mark), grandson, Paul Filonowich, and cousin Genevieve Wilson of Neillsville, WI.
Funeral Mass to be scheduled at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Ely. A Celebration of Life to be scheduled later in the summer at Veterans on the Lake, Winton. Interment at St. Casimir Catholic Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois.