2012 year of change in the Wisconsin Rapids area

11:37 PM, Dec. 31, 2012  |  Comments
Wisconsin Rapids Mayor-elect Zach Vruwink (right) smiled while hoisting his little brother Michael Vruwink in the air Tuesday April 3, Brandon Vruwink (center) while awaiting early election results in Wisconsin Rapids. Vruwink was later declared the winner.
Wisconsin Rapids Mayor-elect Zach Vruwink (right) smiled while hoisting his little brother Michael Vruwink in the air Tuesday April 3, Brandon Vruwink (center) while awaiting early election results in Wisconsin Rapids. Vruwink was later declared the winner.
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It's a new year, but today, Daily Tribune Media takes a look back at the biggest local stories of 2012 by month.


>The Wisconsin Badgers played in their second Rose Bowl in two years. The team is scheduled to play in Pasadena, Calif., for third year in a row today, with the broadcast starting at 3:30 p.m. today on ESPN.

>Jeffrey R. Raasch, the former executive director of the Wisconsin Rapids Housing Authority, was sentenced Jan. 3 to four years in prison for child pornography possession charges after investigators discovered he had downloaded illegal videos of young children on office computers.

>On Jan. 14, Greg A. Senn, 29, Wisconsin Rapids, disappeared while walking along Whitrock Avenue, near 75th Street. After a subsequent investigation, Wood County officials suspended a dispatcher, who took a call that morning from a person who reported seeing a man walking down the middle of the road near that area. In March, authorities found Senn's body in nearby Lake Wazeecha. An autopsy ruled that drowning was the cause of death and authorities said they didn't suspect foul play.

>Riverview Medical Center celebrated its centennial, with a Jan. 26 ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception to mark the opening of the newly renovated Riverview Family Clinic in the center's East Medical Building. Founded in 1912, the community hospital association was created from the efforts of a group of concerned citizens, led by George W. Mead of the Consolidated Water Power and Paper Co.

>On Jan. 30, McDonough Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Center in Wisconsin Rapids joined the Marshfield Clinic system and changed its name to Marshfield Clinic Wisconsin Rapids Orthopedic Center.

>The Wisconsin Rapids School Board granted its final approval Jan. 9 for a new charter school in Rudolph, which later became THINK Academy, the district's third charter school.


>After a referral from Wisconsin Rapids Finance and Property Committee Chairwoman Jean Young to dissolve the city's Water Works and Lighting Commission, a Daily Tribune Media report uncovered that commission members approved pay raises for utility managers of as much as 14 percent and bonuses of as much as $10,000. The measure sparked a citywide discussion about the level of authority the five-member panel should have and the level of accountability it has with the City Council.


>About three years after announcing it would enter the wind-energy market by manufacturing wind-turbine blades, ECC Corrosion Inc. announced it had parted ways with Energy Composites to refocus on its core fiberglass business.

>Board members of the South Wood County YMCA selected Bret Salscheider on March 13 to serve as the local YMCA's new executive director and CEO, completing a three-month search. The Port Edwards-based agency's former chief executive, Bryan Bailey, previously accepted the position of executive director at the Woodson YMCA in Wausau.


>In a historic election in many respects, Wisconsin Rapids voters elected 24-year-old Zach Vruwink on April 3 as the city's youngest mayor in an unprecedented four-man race, after incumbent Mayor Mary Jo Carson decided not to seek a fourth term in office.

>Al Marcoux succeeded incumbent Nekoosa Mayor Gordy Freeman, who decided not to seek re-election to the mayoral post.

>Adams County Circuit Judge Charles Pollex entered not guilty pleas April 9 on behalf of Michael H. Rose, 66, Wisconsin Rapids, who faces charges of second-degree reckless injury, second-degree recklessly endangering safety and causing injury by negligent use of explosives, after a fireworks malfunction in 2011 at Romano's Pizzeria in the town of Rome. If convicted of all three charges, Rose faces a maximum of 26 years in prison. A jury trial is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2013.

>On April 17, Solarus announced the launch of its MediaShower service, an investment of about $34 million to upgrade its fiber optics capabilities, which will increase Internet speeds to 200 MB a second - twice the top speed currently available in the community - as well as full high-definition channel lineup, whole-home DVR and an expansive video-on-demand collection.

>In her last act as Wisconsin Rapids' top executive, Mayor Mary Jo Carson cast a deciding vote April 17 against locating an outdoor performance stage at the south end of Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Wisconsin Rapids. The proposal had garnered severe criticism from opponents, including George Mead, who said it violated a 1980 agreement with then Consolidated Papers Inc.

>More than four years after the U.S. Department of Energy awarded it a $30 million grant to build a small-scale biorefinery at its Wisconsin Rapids mill, NewPage Corp. announced April 24 it would discontinue plans for the project. The plant would have produced 370 barrels of renewable diesel fuel a day - about 5.5 million gallons a year - from mill residue and wood chips, according to the Energy Department.

>On April 25, Element Mobile and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection announced they had reached an agreement for the Wisconsin Rapids-based cellphone service provider to pay $248,000 as part of a settlement aimed at resolving the complaints about the company's transition from Alltel Wireless in 2011.

>Acting as a substitute judge in the Wood County case, Clark County Circuit Judge Jon Counsell dismissed Renaissance Learning board member John Grunewald as a defendant April 26 in a civil case against the Wisconsin Rapids-based educational technology provider regarding its sale to London-based private equity firm Permira Funds.


>A group of local artists, through the Cultural Center of Central Wisconsin, launched the Vision 2020 project, asking people in the Wisconsin Rapids area to develop their visions for what they would like to see in the year 2020. The project culminated with an exhibit at the center at the end of the summer.

>With the May 3 retirement of John Reimer after 33 years, Shawn Woods took over the reins as chief of the Nekoosa Police Department.

>On May 10, the Nekoosa School Board selected former Rudolph Elementary School and Vesper Community Academy Principal Terry Whitmore as the district's new superintendent. Whitmore succeeded Superintendent Wayne Johnson, who retired at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

>After months of court proceedings, the disorderly conduct case against four Lincoln High School wrestlers concluded May 18, after a Wood County judge ordered Zachary Benitz, Kasey Einerson and Rylan Lubeck to serve 100 hours of community service, pay a fine and write a three-page essay. Devin Peterson was sentenced to one week in jail. The four, who reached plea agreements with the prosecutor, were accused of taunting and harassing a freshman teammate during the 2010-11 season, according to the criminal complaint.

>Several months after the November 2011 death of 8-year-old Max Wipfli, a group of city and state officials and concerned citizens formed a grass-roots Pedestrian Safety Committee to develop ways to improve the safety of West Grand Avenue.


>Brent Gulenchyn, 8, Wisconsin Rapids, was the 100,000th fan to come through the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters gates on June 6 at Witter Field. He got to throw out the first pitch at the game, received four free tickets to a future game and a Rafters goody bag and will be featured on a bobblehead for the 2013 season.

>Also on June 6, the Wysocki Family of Cos. announced plans to build a large-scale dairy and produce farm along highways 13 and 73 in Saratoga. Opposition quickly spread throughout the town, from residents who were concerned about property values and environmental issues, to Town Board members who were upset the company did not contact them first. Multiple court cases are pending.

>Tyler C. Enkro, 22, Grand Rapids, was charged in June with homicide by the intoxicated use of a firearm after authorities say he shot and killed his friend, Nick Hoffmann, 31, Wisconsin Rapids, while drinking Dec. 18, 2011.

>On June 26, the Wisconsin Rapids City Council approved the creation of a new executive coordinator position to replace the previous executive secretary post. With so many duties previously assigned to the mayor, Mayor Zach Vruwink said an executive coordinator would allow the mayor to focus on marketing the city to outside businesses.


>The Wisconsin Rapids School Board hired two new Lincoln High School principals, after an administrative shake-up within the district. Former Principal Ryan Christianson became the district's human resources director, and former Lincoln Associate Principal Kevin Yeske became principal of East Junior High School.

>Kyle Cronan started July 1 in his new role as principal of John Edwards Middle/High School in Port Edwards, succeeding former Principal Gus Mancuso, who retired earlier in the year. In Pittsville, Mark Wedding took over the principal position at Pittsville High School.


>On Aug. 21, The Wisconsin Rapids City Council changed the terms in office for the city clerk, treasurer and attorney from two years to four years, with Marion Hokamp and Andrew Kirkpatrick voting against the measure. Kirkpatrick said the positions should not be elected at all. Meanwhile, a proposal to increase the length of the mayoral term from two years to three years was shot down on a 5-3 vote.

>Allan Jason Koskela, 42, Wisconsin Rapids, an inmate at the Wood County Jail, escaped Aug. 31 through a door that had been left open for ventilation during a painting project. Authorities caught him about 27 hours later after he tried to cash a check made out to someone else at a Wisconsin Rapids business. Lt. Andrew Netz, the jail administrator was placed on 30 days of unpaid administrative leave as a result of the incident. Netz later resigned from his position.


>The trial for Larry W. Clark, 61, Big Flats, who is accused of killing his mother and hiding her corpse, was put on hold Sept. 7 when he asked for a new attorney after firing two previous attorneys. Juneau County Circuit Judge Paul Curran, acting as a substitute judge in the Adams County case, warned Clark about prolonging the proceedings.

>Longtime south Wood County benefactor and wife of the late Gilbert Mead, Jaylee Mead, died Sept. 14 at her home in Washington, D.C., of congestive heart failure.

>After closing its doors several years ago, Little Pink Restaurant reopened Sept. 20 for a one-day benefit for Wayland Villars, the 3-year-old grandson of restaurant owner Helen Ponczoch. Wayland is undergoing monthly experimental treatment at Stanford University Children's Hospital for an inoperable brain tumor. Organizers served more than 800 hot beef sandwiches and mashed potatoes.

>Christopher R. Collins, 22, Adams, was charged Sept. 24 in Juneau County Circuit Court with homicide by the intoxicated use of a vehicle after authorities say the boat he was driving on Castle Rock Lake in July crashed into a pillar and killed his friend, Michael J. Miklavicic, 23, Friendship.


>A group of former hospitality industry managers, known as SKD Hospitality Management, bought Hotel Mead from the real estate arm of WoodTrust Bank on Oct. 1. The sale marked the conclusion of more than a year of bank ownership, following the foreclosure of the property.

>The next day, Nekoosa Coated Products announced the sale of the papermaking business from Appleton-based Dunsirn Partners to Dallas-based investment firm Wingate Partners. Nekoosa Coated President and CEO Paul Charapata, Vice President John Danio and other company leaders joined in the purchase, becoming part-owners of the company.

>For the first time since her election, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch visited Wisconsin Rapids on Oct. 10 as part of the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce's first annual Heavy Metal Bus Tour as part of the state's October Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin to teach junior high school students about the importance of the manufacturing industry.

>All public schools in the central and south Wood County areas that received accountability ratings Oct. 22 from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction were given "meets expectations" or higher ratings. THINK Academy, formerly Rudolph Elementary School, was the only school in the area and one of 68 statewide to achieve a rating of "significantly exceeds expectations."

>Katie Bakunowicz was crowned Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area 2013 during the annual pageant Oct. 27. The event also served as the last local pageant under the direction of Helen Zimmerman and Diane Schroeder, who oversaw the event for 29 years.


>John P. French, 23, formerly of Wisconsin Rapids, Stevens Point and Plover, was sentenced Nov. 12 to 10 years in prison for causing a fatal crash while using his cellphone. According to the criminal complaint, French was looking at his cellphone and traveling about 60 mph in what he thought was a 45 mph zone, when his vehicle ran through a stop sign at the intersection of highways 73 and Z in Saratoga at about 2 p.m. Dec. 6, 2010. The crash caused the death of Robert R. Walker, 32, Saratoga.

>Incumbents dominated the Nov. 6 elections, with state Reps. Scott Krug, R-Rome, Amy Sue Vruwink, D-Milladore, and state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, each narrowly retaining their seats in the state Legislature.

>Grand Rapids residents voted 3,238 to 1,093 against a referendum to allow the town to raise property taxes beyond the levy limit in order to make its Police Department a full-time agency. Police Department leaders say they will have to rely more on the Wood County Sheriff's Department.


>Wisconsin Rapids police arrested three women Dec. 1 on suspicion of prostitution after an undercover investigation led authorities to a hotel in Wisconsin Rapids.

>Incourage Community Foundation bought the former Daily Tribune Media building Dec. 14, the Wisconsin Rapids-based nonprofit agency announced. The foundation plans to work with people in the community to determine an appropriate use for the building. Meanwhile, Daily Tribune Media moved to a new office building, 101 W. Riverview Expressway, Suite 131, near the Rapids Mall.

>After an analysis that took several months and tens of thousands of dollars to complete, the Wood County Board voted against a proposal Dec. 18 to change how the county classifies and compensates its employees.

>After more than a year in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, NewPage Corp. emerged Dec. 21 from bankruptcy with a new board of directors. The Miamisburg, Ohio-based papermaker entered Chapter 11 protection Sept. 8, 2011, after months of uncertainty surrounding its financial situation.

Compiled by Nathaniel Shuda, Daily Tribune Media reporter

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