Priest’s legacy lives on, after life’s work was nearly thrown away

BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WBAY) -- Back in October, an Appleton Goodwill employee made a startling discovery: an otherwise ordinary binder, chalk full of the life stories of Lt. Col. Eugene Tremblay, a WWII veteran and priest.

Steps away from being thrown into the trash, the employee saved the documents, and shared them with her coworkers. After reporting those findings, the National Museum of the United States Air Force collected the records, with intention of displaying them at the museum in Dayton, Ohio.

Action 2 News first reported the story on Monday, and since then our station has received an outpouring of phone calls and emails about the legacy Tremblay left behind.

After that, our crews decided to do a little more digging on Tremblay’s history.

“I think the good Lord works in different ways, and I think it was time it all came out, and people really realized who the man himself was,” says Kriss Schorer, who knew Tremblay for many years.

Born in Cornell, Wisconsin in 1913, Tremblay would go on to receive a degree from the Chaplain School of Harvard University.

In 1943, Tremblay joined the U.S. Military services in the Army Air Corps. After its founding in 1947, Tremblay was called into the United States Air Force, with which he served until 1967.

During his service, Tremblay traveled across the United States, Europe and Asia, as a Chaplain. After his retirement from the service, Tremblay continued religious work, eventually finding home in Baileys Harbor.

“It ran through the whole parish, more or less. His attitude towards everyone,” says David Niedzwiecki, a parishioner.

After his time in the Air Force, he became known as Father Tremblay – a Priest at St. Marys of the Lake in Baileys Harbor from 1969 to 1987.

Parishioners remember him fondly, saying he specifically worked well with children.

“They really got interested in their faith,” Niedzwiecki says. “That it's not all just sitting there and listening and reading the gospel, it's going out and mingling with your friends, your neighbors and whatever, to get along.”

Parishioners say Tremblay didn’t talk much about his time in the service -- instead worked to bring a sense of community to his church.

“He never talked too much about his service stuff, but he always talked about people in the service and different guys and stuff,” says Paul Gray, a parishioner. “But he never talked about himself.”

Instead, parishioners remember him as someone who was quick with cards – teaching card tricks, and playing hands of cribbage.

“It was always kind of a three-ring circus when they got playing,” Schorer says of Tremblay and his three siblings. “Because it was, "Now you shouldn't do that, you know. We were going to move there! And that's going to cost you four Hail Marys when you get done with this.’”

Even today, Tremblay’s mark is still outside St. Marys of the Lake, where the nativity scene he bought decades ago still stands every Christmas.

“He bought all the pieces, and we've been putting it up ever since,” Gray says. “I put it up yesterday.”

After he retired from St. Marys of the Lake, Tremblay moved to Manitowoc, where he died in 2011, at age 97.

But today – his impact is still felt through the community he left behind.

“He was a very special person. He was very special to all of our family. He was a very compassionate man, and very concerned about all of the people here in Baileys Harbor,” Schorer says.