Looking back at Marquette’s Mayor Fred Begole

Mayor Fred Begole

MARQUETTE — The city of Marquette switched to a city commission in 1914. The first mayor elected under the new system, Fred H. Begole, beat incumbent William Fassbender in the January 1914 election. Begole is believed to be the first popularly elected deaf mayor in the United States.

Fred Hurlburt Begole was born in Mount Morris, Michigan in 1866. He grew up on the family farm in a politically active family- his uncle, Josiah Begole, was a Congress member and served as Michigan’s governor from 1883-1885. After attending Flint High School, Fred started teaching school at age 18 in order to pay for his own education at the State Normal School in Ypsilanti.

In 1885, 19-year-old Fred arrived in Baraga to teach and serve as the principal of the Baraga Schools. During his time there, he also edited and published the Baraga County News. After the end of the school year in June 1887, he was hired by some railroad contractors to keep their books over the summer. They were building the DSS&A line from Nestoria to Duluth. Because the railroad was still being built, he had to walk 30 miles from Baraga to Kenton, where he was based for the summer.

In the fall he returned to Baraga to teach for one last year. The following summer, after teaching for three years, Fred decided to travel and see the country. He took $100 in savings with him for his trip. He later wrote “I went to work for Rand & McNally map publishers, selling United States and state maps through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Dakota and as far west as Montana. I bought the maps for forty cents apiece and sold them for $1.50 and $2.00. Hotel rates was [sic] $2.00 a day and I always paid with a map. I sometimes made as high as $10 a day. I did not intend to make any more than my expenses. Sometimes I would just look at the country.” When he returned to Michigan late that year, he still had $98 out of his original $100.

Following his travels, Fred established a timber claim in Matchwood Township, near Berglund in Ontonagon County. He put up a small cabin in the late fall and the following spring began logging his land. On May 7, 1889, he was chopping wood when a neighbor, John Lochrea, told him of an approaching wildfire.

Fred initially hoped to save his cabin but he recalled “When the fire struck my clearing, it was running right through the tops of the big pine trees. I saw at a glance that it was only a question of saving my life. I grabbed a blanket from my bed and slid into the trench which I had dug the day before [to hold water after the creek had run dry], with only my nose out of water. A pig pine tree fell across the creek fifteen feet from where I lay. I was in the water about fifteen minutes when a tremendous rain came and put most of the fire out. As I was running for the trench, I saw John legging it across the end of my clearing. I called to him but he was running for his life. He got into a slashing about forty rods away, found where a big pine tree had uprooted and left a pool of muddy clay at its base. He wallowed in this and while most of the hair was burned off his head, he got out all right.”

Fred lost his cabin and almost all of his personal property aside from a few things that had been left in storage in Marquette. His dog died in the fire, although his three chickens escaped to a swamp.

His clay covered chicken coop survived the fire as well, but the heat had cooked the two eggs in the nest as if they had been hardboiled. Prior to the fire, the timber had been valued at $7,500 but afterwards it only brought $4,500.

After a brief respite visiting his family downstate, Fred returned to the Upper Peninsula where he began working with Peter White, selling insurance as White & Begole in Marquette.

This partnership lasted until 1896. Fred also worked for the Lake Shore Engine Works, serving as a director from 1899-1900, as vice-president from 1900-1903 and as president from 1903-1904 and again from 1911-1928. He also worked in banking, mining and lumbering interests in the Upper Peninsula.

When the city voted to adopt a city commission, Fred was asked to run because “his business and executive abilities and his keen interest in Marquette were well known.” In the ensuing election, he beat the incumbent and went on to serve as mayor from 1914-1919.

In his inaugural address he stated “Commission government has been offered both as a protest against and a proposed remedy for a condition of affairs in municipal politics all over these United States which every thinking man knows is wrong. We have in this city 12 million dollars of assessable property. We have 12,000 lives. We must not place commercial supremacy above human well-being. The problem of reducing the tax rate on property is a simple one, easily solved. The problem of reducing the death rate on our 12,000 lives is of vastly more importance and will require much thought.”

It is not known exactly when Fred lost his hearing, while serving as mayor in 1917 an article indicated it had been “so many years.” According to the author, Roger M. Andrews, few people were aware of his disability due to his skills with lip-reading.

All of his life, Fred was an outdoor enthusiast, hunting and fishing. After retiring, he spent most of his leisure time in the woods, particularly at his camp on Conway Lake. It was there, after walking several miles through the woods, that he suffered a minor heart attack in early June 1938. He appeared to recover quickly before suddenly dying a week later.

Editor’s note: The Marquette Regional History Center is hosting our Third Annual Trivia Night with Jim Koski at 6:30 p.m Wednesday, June 8. Form a team, join us, and win some great prizes! Registration open now until 6:00 pm that night. $5/person; teams of 4-5. Bring your own libations. We’ll have snacks! Call 906-226-3571 for more info or to register, or visit marquettehistory.org. No notes this year! We are drawing all questions from our Mining Journal “Superior History” column (including this one!) programs, exhibits and Harlow’s Wooden Man quarterly newsletter.


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