By Joe Bachman
Out with the old, in with the new.
A consistent theme for Wisconsin Rapids this year, as the city looks forward to continue work on downtown redevelopment, an outdoor aquatics facility, and a new recycling service for residents. 2016 said ‘goodbye’ to landmark taverns, police chiefs and superintendents — and ‘hello’ to a new and hopeful outlook to the future of Wisconsin Rapids.
With that, here is part two of the 2016 year in review:
*to read part one, click here.
Aspirus Announces $25 Million in Expansion for Wisconsin Rapids
Aspirus Hospital stated in an announcement on July 1 that they will put $25 million into facility upgrades and expansions in Wisconsin Rapids.
According to Riverview CEO Todd Burch, the upgrades will bring the hospital up to date with state-of-the-art quality care which will include an expanded emergency department, a new family birthplace, and additions for the cardiovascular institute which was completed in December of 2016.
“The announcement is great news for our community on many fronts — new investment will bring new jobs both during construction and on a long-term permanent basis while also making our community a destination for expanded and improved health care services,” said Mayor Zach Vruwink. “We know health care spending has been leaving our community and this announcement validates Aspirus’ early belief that services can and should be delivered right here.”
Sheriff’s Department to Wear Body Cameras
Personnel of the Wood County Sheriff’s Department were approved to wear body cameras.
During a report given to the public safety committee on July 11, Sheriff Thomas Reichert announced that officers will sport body cameras for reasons of public safety and accountability.
“More often than not, it’s been our experience that any type of recording has vindicated officers,” said Reichert. “I think it’s important that we get the individual body cams on the officers to supplement the ones in the car, currently.”
The cost for the body cameras have already been accounted into the 2016 budget, and will run approximately $1,000 per unit.
“This body camera system is a huge component of protecting the county’s interest while our people are out there,” said Captain Quentin Ellis.
Ellis also alluded to the benefits of body cameras in court where conflicting testimonies could potentially be cleared up, as in some cases with squad car cameras.
Rafters Win Their First League Championship
It was a year of domination for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, as they claimed their first Northwoods League Championship on Aug. 19.
The Rafters routed the Eau Claire Express 11-4 to sweep the summer series, and bring a championship home to Wisconsin Rapids. Led by Jake Lumley and Rob Calabrese, the Rafters shined in 2016, sending multiple players to the all-star game. General Manager John Fanta was named Northwoods League Executive of the Year, cementing his success this season.
The Rafters stayed at the top of the standings, bringing in the most wins of the year, and look to continue their success in 2017.
City Chooses to Build Future Outdoor Aquatics Facility
City officials picked a direction for Wisconsin Rapids aquatics on Aug. 22 — a direction that will give residents an outdoor aquatics facility.
“Why can’t we have both? has been asked many times,” said Mayor Zach Vruwink. “Both the city’s aquatics consultants and the YMCA’s consultants have determined that there is the market and desire for a regional aquatics facility as well as an indoor facility.”
As residents spoke out in favor of an outdoor facility built at Witter Field the consensus stayed with that, and the council ultimately approved an outdoor facility at Witter Field with the addition of splash pads in other locations.
“Kids need to be outside,” said Alderperson Tom Rayome. “It’d be nice to do both — but my support is for the outdoor regional option.”
The city later chose MSA Professional Services, headquartered in Baraboo, to lead the charge for the outdoor aquatics facility design, which will include splash pads at Mead. Founded in 1930, MSA Professional Services has 14 locations across Wisconsin, and is considered a nationwide top 500 firm.
“They’re very familiar with pool design, and in fact, their sub-consultant Water Technology is a common name in facilities like the Dells and other outdoor water parks and aquatic facilities,” said Mayor Zach Vruwink.
Oertel Sentenced to 30 Years for Reckless Homicide
On Aug. 29, 18-year-old Miguel Angel Oertel was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for the reckless killing of his ex-girlfriend’s mother.
The incident report showed a mentally unstable Oertel run into the home of 47-year-old Theresa Coates with a loaded shotgun only to threaten to take his own life. After a brief struggle, the gun went off and fatally wounded Coates. Oertel would then turn the gun on himself, though he would survive his injuries.
On April 20, a jury found Oertel guilty for reckless homicide, stating that while Oertel was suffering from a mental illness at the time, he was fully responsible for his actions.
Aqua Skiers Host World Ski Show Tournament
State Champions, Wisconsin Rapids Aqua Skiers hosted their first ever World Water Ski Show Tournament on the weekend of Sept. 11.
The tournament featured five countries — Belgium, China, Australia, Canada, and of course, the United States. The ski show is estimated to have brought anywhere from 3,000-7,000 people a day to the region over the weekend. The weekend will be hosted exclusively by the Wisconsin Rapids Aqua Skiers, and much like the state tournament in July, they are no stranger to preparation.
“The Aqua Skiers set up the entire tournament, and planned the entire thing — it’s all the aqua skiers.” said WWSF delegate Jordan Becker.
According to delegate Maggie Muleski, much like state, they essentially turrned Lake Wazeecha into a small ski village. This included installing walkways to the ramp, bringing in unique food choices for all guests, and a partnership with the Grand Rapids Lions Club to take part in their “Music Fest” over that weekend.
The tournament was won by the United States.
City Welcomes New Health Food Store to Area
With fall comes a change of colors, but a new grocery store on 8th St. South plans to stay green year-round.
The Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce welcomed Green Tree Natural Foods to the Wisconsin Rapids community on Sept. 22. The health food store opened in August of this year, and offers organic and natural foods, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and other specialty options.
“You can either pay it on the front-end, or at a doctor,” said owner Liz Umlauf, who made a promise to herself to eat healthy at an early age as she watched her mother battle cancer. “Our philosophy is to do it on the front-end.”
Green Tree Natural Foods is located at 2020 8th St. South.
New Voting Locations Announced for 2017
Wisconsin Rapids polling places will see new homes as of 2017.
In an effort to increase efficiency, the city approved the use of only two polling places that will utilize two voting tabulators each — currently, three polling places use only one voting tabulator each. It is a move that is expected to quicken the voting process, and also make it easier for residents to vote.
“Two larger polling places was considered by myself, and others, as a smart route to go on in an effort to curtail lines at the polling places,” said City Clerk Paul Przybelski. “Often times the lines at polling places happen because the tabulation machine takes five to 10 seconds to read your ballot.”
With the addition of an extra tabulation machine per polling place, the venue will be larger as well. Woodlands Church will be used for eastside voters, while the Centralia Center will be used for westside voters. Wards 1-10 and 22-23 will vote at Centralia Center, while wards 11-21 and 24-29 will vote at Woodlands Church.
First Ward School Featured in ‘Local Haunts’ Series
The First Ward School House on Irving St. is known as one of Wisconsin Rapids’ most active haunts — as it’s now featured in U.S. Cellular’s “Local Haunts” series.
The school was finished in 1896, and since endured many setbacks — including the dismantling of the bell tower from a lightning strike in 1910, to a roof fire in 1921. The school was eventually shut down in 1977, and vacated in 1979.
“We did a lot of research online trying to find the most haunted places inside our footprint,” said U.S. Cellular Social Media Manager Mike Herron.
Craig Nehring, of Fox Valley Ghost Hunters, recommended the site as a prime location for one of a few featured in the Local Haunts series.
“We wanted to have some fun around the Halloween season,” said Herron. “We thought there might be a really cool opportunity to check out these local stories inside our footprint for potential paranormal activity.”
Lassa, Testin Debate at Local Candidates Forum
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Rapids held a special candidates forum on Oct. 24, pitting Wisconsin State Representative of the 24th District, Democratic incumbent Julie Lassa, against Republican challenger Patrick Testin.
The two tackled issues from groundwater safety, gerrymandering, and job creation in the area, to voter ID laws and negative campaign advertising. Surprisingly, the candidates did agree on multiple issues, from moving to a non-partisan Department of Natural Resources, to keeping veterans care in county control.
On Nov. 8, Lassa would be defeated by newcomer Patrick Testin.
Krug Wins Re-Election
Scott Krug held his position as the representative for the 72nd Assembly District.
On Nov. 8, in a heated race, Krug edged out challenger David Gorski by less than a thousand votes in Wood County. The total vote for Wood County gave Krug a 8,705 to 7,758 victory. This will be his fourth term in this position. The total vote tally gave Krug a 15,972 to 12,278 victory.
“We need to make sure the economic development and recovery of central Wisconsin keeps moving ahead,” said Krug, who stated Skyward and Sand Valley Golf Resort as recent examples of economic success. “We’ve been working really hard on growing our economy and making sure businesses know that central Wisconsin is a great place to come.”
Dickmann Retires From Superintendent Position
26 years is a long time to build a legacy — a legacy in which one superintendent will leave behind at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
At the end of the 2016-17 school year, Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Colleen Dickmann will be retiring from the school district. After seven years in the position, Dickmann will be taking a step back to spend more time with her family, as well as to pursue other interests and career goals.
“I have always made decisions with students at the forefront, while at the same time trying to care for our employees.”
State Superintendent Visits Wis. Rapids Schools Over Exceptional Science Program
Science rules — and State Superintendent Tony Evers agrees.
Evers made a trip to Washington Elementary and Woodside Elementary on Nov. 30 to take a peek at how Wisconsin Rapids schools are leading the way for science curriculum.
“Wisconsin Rapids has a well known elementary science program,” said Evers. “In our schools across the state it’s really hard to find high quality programs, so I came here to see what’s going on — it’s great.”
Part of the superintendent’s job is to visit schools to gather information on what they’re doing and relay success stories throughout the state. According to Evers, science should be a higher priority in public schools.
“To the credit of Wisconsin Rapids they’ve decided that science is a top priority,” said Evers. “It’s a great program and I want to tell people around the state.”
Chief of Police Kurt Heuer Retires
“I just want to thank the community for the opportunity to be their chief, and to say thank you for the support they’ve shown us.”
Humbled words from Chief of Police Kurt Heuer, who will take a final bow from the Wisconsin Rapids Police Department on Jan. 13, 2017, as he retires from 33 years working in law enforcement. From leadership to team building, Heuer has been the guiding force behind Wisconsin Rapids’ finest since 2005.
“I’m looking for opportunities for community outreach,” said Heuer. “Right now we are working hard in the substance abuse arena, and specifically, my passion is substance abuse prevention and education — so on the civilian side I’m hoping to find an opportunity and a role to play in that work.”The time has come for other ventures, as the police chief simply feels like it’s time to move on. However, plans have been made to stay involved with the very community he has served for over three decades.
Heuer will be succeeded by current Deputy Chief Randy Jahns.
Historic Schmidt’s Jewelers Closes Its Doors
Two days before Christmas, Schmidt’s Jewelry left behind a shining legacy.
After opening in 1894 as the first jewelry store in Wisconsin Rapids by J.R. Chapman, in 1921, Edward “E.J.” Schmidt bought out and opened what would become one of the oldest businesses in the area. 95 years later, the doors of Schmidt’s Jewelry would open and close for the final time, and with it decades of lasting memories.
The crew of six employees reflected on past memories, most of them positive.
“The customers — I would like some of them to be my neighbors,” said a teary-eyed Kim Shepard. “I’ve actually went to some of the homes because I’ve gotten close to them.”
As with many long-time businesses, nothing can replace the bond created between co-workers, and a bond that serves as family.
“I never had a sister, and these two are my sisters,” said Shepard, in reference to her co-workers Darlene King and Jean Orlowski.
After 95 years and thousands of customers served, the ultimate takeaway is the hard work and dedication put into the craft by self-taught jeweler Randy Carpenter.
“Randy is an exceptional jeweler and goldsmith — they trusted him, and he was the best.” said Shepard.
Phase One of Riverfront Project Presented
Phase one in the future of the Wisconsin Rapids riverfront project is underway.
Representatives from Supermass Studio and MSA Professional Services joined together for a special presentation of phase one of a revitalization of the Wisconsin Rapids riverfront on Dec. 14. Dozens of concerned and involved residents packed a conference room at the Hotel Mead for this presentation, which laid out the potential designs and framework of the entire project.
“It’s important to recognize that it’s just not about the beautification of the park, but it’s an investment into the riverfront infrastructure.” said Supermass Studio Representative and Harvard graduate Taewook Cha.
Overall, the project will oversee new fishing jetties, bike lanes, trails, picnic areas, boating access, community recreation, and a place for live events. Putting an emphasis on social, physical and economic health, the city is optimistic for the riverfront project as it progresses.
“I’m really excited that this project embodies the three of those,” said Mayor Zach Vruwink. “It’s really the trifecta in a community development, so we’re very excited for a multitude of reasons why this project will make Wisconsin Rapids a more successful place, not only to live, work, and raise a family, but also to start and grow a business.”
For more information on Supermass’s plan, click here.