Brianna Wellen
May 01, 2018

Wisconsin Insider

Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism lives by its motto: When you’re having fun, they’re having fun. And no one embodies fun like Secretary of Tourism Stephanie Klett’89. She is the state’s number-one cheerleader and person-in-the-know about Wisconsin.

Her many titles, past and present, include the Green County Cheese Days’ Limburger Queen (where she’ll return to reign over the popular festival in Monroe this September). But make no mistake: Klett is extremely serious when it comes to promoting the dairy state and its friendly people, culinary hot spots, outdoor recreation, and quirky roadside attractions. We introduce Stephanie Klett and invite you to come along as she takes us on a spin around the south-central portion of our beautiful state. Wisconsin Secretary of Tourism Stephanie Klett'89 Wisconsin Secretary of Tourism Stephanie Klett’89
Credit: Lauren Justice

Stephanie Klett’89 is known throughout the state as “Miss Wisconsin.” Part of the reason for the nickname is that she did, in fact, represent Wisconsin in the Miss America pageant in 1992. But the title has since stuck, as she has dedicated her life to highlighting the best the state has to offer, first as the host of Discover Wisconsin and now as the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Klett was born and raised in Beloit and grew up as the ninth of 10 children, the only girl surrounded by a clutch of brothers. She says she was the first person to be baptized at River of Life United Methodist Church in 1967, and she’s attended the church every week since, including after late nights all the way through college.

Klett’s love of her hometown runs so deep she decided to stay local and attend the college, where she studied theater, communications, and philosophy, all subjects that she says she uses in her current position every day.

Stephanie Klett'89 will reprise her role as Limburger Queen during Cheese Days in Monroe, Wis., t... Stephanie Klett’89 will reprise her role as Limburger Queen during Cheese Days in Monroe, Wis., this September.
Credit: Green County Tourism

“If I had my way, every American person would have a minor in theater, because it’s the way you approach anything: A conference you’re putting on, or an event you’re hosting, there’s a certain theatrical element to it,” Klett says. “Also I think life is tough, and if you have a little bit of theater training, it’s OK, you can fake it.”

While on campus, Klett also became involved in HIV/AIDs activism, raising money for hospice in Beloit and for resource centers in Milwaukee. She realized that the Miss America program could give her a platform to talk about that issue while using her skills as a performer and speaker and feeding her love for the spirit of competition.

The Miss Wisconsin title got the attention of Dick Rose, the creator of Discover Wisconsin and father of her Beloit friend Rick Rose’88. The elder Rose hired Klett to host the television and radio shows. Her time on Discover Wisconsin in turn led her to participate in a Wisconsin tourism summit in 2010, when Governor Scott Walker offered her the position of secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. She’s been there ever since.

“It’s been creatively quite an adventure,” says Klett, who in her time with the department was able to turn a $12.5 million budget into $114 million in press coverage and marketing. She created a series of commercials featuring Wisconsin celebrities like filmmaker Jerry Zucker, football player Jordy Nelson, and retired basketball pro Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “But after that it was like, OK, we’ve leveraged the power of celebrity, now what? For me, it was to focus on what makes Wisconsin uniquely Wisconsin.”

For Klett that means culinary tourism, natural landmarks, and the friendly people of the state. It’s that community that keeps her coming back to her hometown, a place where no matter where she goes, people will stop to say hello and ask how she’s doing. “That for me is the lure of Beloit College and Beloit,” Klett says with a smile. “There’s that sense of community that is often lost in cities larger and smaller. That’s why I love Beloit.”

Insider’s Guide:

10 Places and Experiences Not to Miss

Beloit College itself is often considered a hidden gem in the area, says Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett, so once people discover the campus, they don’t always continue exploring the other parts of the city.

“One of my subtle missions at Beloit College was to get my friends and classmates to places in Beloit they would not have known about if they had not been with a local,” Klett says.

Even those who may have ventured out when they were on campus might not know just how much has changed since they were in school. Whether visiting the area for the first time, looking for hidden places in South-Central Wisconsin, or trying to navigate the new attractions popping up in the area, Klett gives us her list of top spots in the region not to be missed.

Beloit Farmers’ Market
State Street and E. Grand Avenue, Beloit

Because it’s been a staple in the city for decades, Klett says the Saturday farmers’ market is a Beloit offering that people in the area often take for granted. Every year from May through October, the award-winning open-air market continues growing and now hosts nearly 100 vendors plus live music, food trucks, and product demonstrations. Klett says the market also gives visitors a chance to discover more to do in the region by getting tips from farmers and sellers from just outside of the area, and the market highlights new and noteworthy businesses in the downtown area. “I think people who haven’t been to the city for a while are going to be really proud of Beloit’s evolution,” she says.

Beloit Farmers' Market Beloit Farmers' Market

Buckhorn Supper Club
11802 North Charley Bluff Road, Milton

“Nobody does supper club better than
Wisconsin,” Klett says. She recommends starting with Buckhorn, which sits along Lake Koshkonong. It offers a prime rib marinated for 24 hours and an award-winning peanut butter pie. Green Bay Packer Jordy Nelson was featured in an advertisement filmed in Buckhorn that ended up inspiring the first-ever NFL-sanctioned supper club inside Lambeau Field. While sports fans can get a taste of the delicacies at the concession stand at football games, nothing beats the menu that’s been served at the original restaurant for the past 85 years.

Glarner Stube
518 1st Street, New Glarus

On the surface, the place locals lovingly call “The Stube,” might seem like just another place to eat cheese in Wisconsin, but Klett says it’s the one place in the state cheese curds enthusiasts need to visit, and unlike other cheese destinations the restaurant also specializes in fondue. The entire building is made out of wood with a Swiss-inspired design—it also just happens to boast the largest urinal in the Midwest. Klett calls it a “sight to see” after all the beer the area has to offer.

Ironworks Hotel and 1810 Emerson House Bed & Breakfast

500 Pleasant Street and 1810 Emerson Street, Beloit

One of the changes to the area Klett says she’s most excited about are the accommodations visitors can now choose from. In Beloit, she recommends the Ironworks Hotel and 1810 Emerson House Bed & Breakfast, two places she says perfectly bring together the region’s history with modern design. Ironworks is named for a foundry started in the location in 1858, first called Merrill & Houston Ironworks and later renamed Beloit Ironworks. (The hotel’s restaurant is Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint.) Emerson House is located in a residential neighborhood, just east of the college. Built in the 1930s as a wedding present for a local couple, Emerson House maintains the Georgian colonial revival style and is prominently decorated with pineapples as a nod to the colonial belief that the fruit is a symbol of wealth and hospitality. Klett says both locations are representative of the revival and growth the city is seeing.

Minhas Craft Brewery
1208 14th Avenue, Monroe

It wouldn’t be a trip to Wisconsin without plenty of beer. The number of breweries in the state can be overwhelming, but Klett says if there’s one near Beloit College to visit, it’s Minhas in Monroe. Brother-sister team Ravinder and Manjit Minhas are the youngest brewery owners in the world, while the brewery itself, built in 1845, is the oldest brewery in the Midwest and the second oldest in the country. The brewery offers more than a dozen unique brews and malt liquors. Guests can tour the facility seven days a week and stop by the Herb and Helen Haydock World of Beer Memorabilia Museum next door, which includes more than $1 million worth of historic beer advertisements, 1800s lithographs, and collections of tap handles and growlers from around the world.

Wollersheim Winery and Distillery
7876 State Road 188, Prairie du Sac

“When you think of Wisconsin you probably don’t think of wineries, you think of breweries,” Klett says, “but we have some incredible wineries.” In fact there are more than 150 wineries in Wisconsin thanks to the founder of Wollersheim Winery, a Hungarian count who went on to be one of the founders of Napa Valley. The current winemakers recently reopened a cave on the property that was used in the 1800s to age grapes and keep supplies out of the harsh Wisconsin elements. Now the space is an exhibit dedicated to the winery’s history as well as part of a distillery opened in 2015 where the property’s wine is turned into another Wisconsin favorite: brandy. Tours are open daily, year round. Wollersheim Winery Wollersheim Winery Credit: Wisconsin Dept. of Tourism

Gravity Hill
3999 County Road U, Shullsburg

Throughout the town of Shullsburg, visitors can buy T-shirts with the phrase “I found my thrill on Gravity Hill.” That thrill involves a remote stretch of road on the outskirts of town, marked with a “GH” painted directly on the pavement. Drivers can put their cars in neutral, take their foot off the accelerator and brake, and their cars will go backward, uphill, for at least half a mile as fast as 20 miles per hour, seemingly defying the laws of gravity.

Frank Lloyd Wright
Heritage Trail

Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born and raised in Wisconsin. This self-guided driving tour offers a pilgrimage across the southern part of the state to celebrate nine of Wright’s key buildings (Wisconsin boasts more than 40 in total), including several lesser-known masterpieces. The tour begins in Racine along Lake Michigan, then stretches 200 miles west across the rolling hills to Richland Center, Wright’s birthplace, and nearby Spring Green. There, visitors will find Taliesin, the estate that includes Wright’s Prairie Style summer home and architecture school near the picturesque Wisconsin River. In April, Klett received word that Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism was recognized with two national awards for its promotion of the Wright trail, including a nomination for a Silver Anvil award, the top honor from the Public Relations Society of America. The latest honors bring the Wisconsin Department of Tourism office’s national awards tally to 106 since Klett took the reins as secretary.

Downtown Monroe Downtown Monroe Credit: Green Country Tourism

Alp and Dell Cheese Store
657 2nd Street, Monroe

Cheese is everywhere in Wisconsin, so it can be hard to know where to get your dairy fix. Klett suggests this source, which she calls one of the best cheese shops in the state. Guests can see how the cheese (and some sausage) gets made seven days a week in the viewing hall, and owner Tony Zraggen leads tours through the facility Monday through Saturday. Klett says Zraggen is also a professional yodeler and has been known to show off his skills in the store.

Beckman Mill Beckman Mill Credit: Rachel HershbergerBeckman Mill
11600 South County Road H, Beloit

This grist mill was built in 1868, and Klett says during her time at the college, the site, just six miles west of the city, was dilapidated and on its way out before volunteers got involved. “It was a whole community effort that took this working grist mill in shambles and made it a focal point and really a star among historic mills in the state of Wisconsin,” Klett says. The location also includes a community park featuring a new dam, mill pond, fish ladder, and foot bridge along with historic displays like a creamery, blacksmith shop, vintage garden, and more.


Brianna Wellen is a freelance journalist based in northern Illinois.

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