More than 200 persons gathered at the Cedarburg Cultural Center on February 26, 2004 to honor Carl W. Edquist, the recipient of the 2004 Civic Award of the Cedarburg Foundation. All his children, some of their spouses, two brothers and several grandchildren were in attendance.
Carl has been a quiet, effective source of good things in Cedarburg for many decades. He is a successful industrialist, having founded the Carlson Tool Co. here in 1958. He is a successful parent, the father of eight children and grandfather of 19. The partnership of Carl and Rita Edquist lent essential support to Cedarburg’s cultural and artistic life until Rita’s death in 2001. They were the primary founders and longtime benefactors of the Cedarburg Cultural Center. Carl continues the Edquist family legacy of public giving today.
Carl was born in 1918 in a two-room house in Saskatchewan, Canada, the oldest child of Swedish parents. He lived in Canada for 10 years and memories of his Canadian childhood remain the subject of many stories he tells his children and grandchildren today.
A series of droughts drove the family off the farm and the Edquists immigrated to the United States, settling eventually in northern Indiana. Carl was graduated from high school at the age of 16 and then held a series of jobs in the Great Depression, including, at the age of 18, at the Wilbar Manufacturing Co., Chesterton, Indiana, where he learned tool and die making. It was on an outing with friends to the nearby Indiana Dunes that Carl met Rita Anne Valenzano, a budding young artist of Chicago, and thus began a long courtship that culminated in their marriage in 1944 during World War II.
In early 1945, Carl was recruited as a tool and die maker at the Los Alamos Laboratory, which assembled the first atomic bombs. Rita, pregnant with their first child Paul moved in with her parents in Chicago. The mission of Los Alamos was so secret that it could not be discussed even with family members, but it became apparent on July 16, 1945, when the first human-caused atomic explosion took place at Alamogordo, New Mexico. This led quickly to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of the war.
Carl worked in Chicago and Milwaukee and moved his family to rural Cedarburg in 1947. Carl founded Carlson Tool and Manufacturing Co. in 1958. Today its president and chief executive officer is Jerry Edquist, Carl’s son.
Carl Edquist is a founding member of Forward Cedarburg, a founding board member of the Ozaukee Bank, founder of the Carlson Fine Arts Foundation in the 1980s, and he and Rita were the essential founders of the Cedarburg Cultural Center. He donated land for the Ozaukee Ice Center in 1995, and began the Rita Edquist Memorial Fund in 2001 to “support with grants and scholarships the visual and performing arts benefiting residents of the City and Town of Cedarburg….” He was a founding contributor to the Cedarburg Foundation, and he has contributed to many other civic projects and programs.
Since Rita’s death, he has become curator of her life’s production of art, and he arranged for her paintings, drawings and sculptures to be exhibited in
at the Cultural Center in a major show called “Rita, a Retrospective.”