A look at 2018 people, events that made news in the Northwoods
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
It’s 2019! New Year’s resolutions are being made (and perhaps broken already), holiday decorations tossed aside and diet and fitness goals honed. But before we move too far ahead, let’s take a quick look at some of the Northwoods people and events that shaped 2018. From all of us at the Star Journal, thank you for your continued readership and support. Cheers to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019.
Shoreland zoning ordinance passes after nearly a year of hearings
The Oneida County Board voted in January to approve changes to the county’s shoreland protection ordinance. Ordinance wording was revised over the course of seven public hearings held in 11 months before final approval was given by the board. The revisions in the county code were in response to a provision in the biennial state budget approved in 2015 that forbid counties to have stricter shoreland zoning standards than the state. The shoreland protection provisions in the ordinance amendment apply to structures and properties within 1,000 feet of the ordinary high water mark (OHWM) of a lake and/or 300 feet from the OHWM of a navigable river or stream.
Drago retires, Odin joins force
Rhinelander Police Department K-9 Drago, a German shepherd that served the city for nearly nine years, retired in early 2018. His handler, Sgt. Angela Mertz who remains his owner, said there was a period of adjustment for both of them once Drago retired. Officer Chad Brown was selected to be the handler of the next dog in the department. Fundraising by the community and the police department allowed for the purchase of K-9, Odin, who joined the force late last summer.
The intersection of US 8 and WIS 47 will become a roundabout. The Department of Transportation chose the roundabout as the preferred solution over a signalized intersection. The eight-month construction project is set to begin this year, but the discussion, input gathering and studies used to improve the intersection started in January 2018. The estimated cost for the
project is $2 million to $2.5 million.
City hires golf management company for Northwood
Green Golf Partners was hired by the Rhinelander City Council to manage the city-owned Northwood Golf Course and to manage the restaurant at the course. The contract included a flat fee of $31,000 to the company for the first year of operation and incentive pay based on the increase in gross revenue over the prior year. The council vote was unanimous.
Cold murder case reopened
With the help of television program “Cold Justice,” the Oneida County Sheriff’s office arrested Robin D. Mendez in February for the murder of his wife in 1982. Barbara Mendez was found dead at the Park City Credit Union in Minocqua. According to the criminal complaint, an autopsy report concluded Mendez died of “multiple blunt injuries, abrasions and lacerations of head, with extensive skull fractures.” Mendez remains in jail on a $250,000 cash bond. A court trial, in front of only a judge, is scheduled for April 2019.
Rhinelander High School and James Williams Middle School students joined students around the country March 14 for a national student walk out, one month after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and faculty were killed. The walk out, which took place during homeroom period, was organized by RHS Student Council President Emma Hjelle, who said, “For many people, the purpose of walking out is to honor those who lost their lives in Parkland. For others, the purpose is to create a narrative for gun reform.”
Write-in Frederickson wins Rhinelander mayoral race
Chris Frederickson’s name did not appear on the ballot for Rhinelander
mayor when his nomination papers were declared invalid, along with those of candidate Scott Counter. The decision followed a challenge by then-District 6 alderman and mayoral candidate Alex Young. Frederickson registered as a write-in and beat out Young for the job.
Mayor Johns retires
Longtime Rhinelander mayor Dick Johns retired after more than 50 years in service to the city. Johns was first elected to the city council in 1964. As mayor, his legacy included having a hand in such community cornerstones as Nicolet Technical College, Rhinelander’s state of the art wastewater facility, Tri-County Human Services, and – one of his favorites – the historical mural stretching across an entire wall of the council chambers at City Hall.
Three killed in air ambulance crash
Greg Rosenthal, Rico Caruso and Klint Mitchell lost their lives April 26 when the Ascension Spirit air ambulance helicopter they were in crashed in a wooded area in the town of Hazelhurst. According to preliminary National Transportation Safety Board reports, released in June, investigators believe the engine was working up until impact and there was no indication of a fire.
New director at Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport
Longtime airport director Joe Brauer retired in 2018, handing over the reins to Rhinelander native Matthew Leitner. Brauer worked in the airline industry for 48 years, 28 of them in Rhinelander. Leitner got his aviation start at ROCA as a child, working odd jobs and taking flight instruction. He comes back to Rhinelander with airport management experience, having been director in Jamestown, N.D., and Crescent City, Calif.
Rhinelander city administrator hired
Daniel Guild, former village administrator in Weston, was hired by the Rhinelander City Council as the city’s administrator. Guild said he sees the administrator wearing many hats, including as a senior advisor to part-time elected officials, the CEO of the city and economic development champion. Keith Kost resigned his position as interim city administrator abruptly April 25, opening the door for the city council to find a replacement.
Oneida County mining ordinance revised
The Oneida County Board approved a new mining ordinance in June. The re-write brings the county into compliance with Wisc. Act 134, passed in 2017, which removed the metallic mining moratorium in the state. The board also authorized a non-binding referendum on the November 2018 ballot, which asked whether the county should allow leasing of county-owned lands for the purpose of mining. That referendum failed, 12,007 against to 7,129 in favor.
Forward Rhinelander names ‘Top 10 under 40’
The citizen advocacy group Forward Rhinelander celebrated a population that doesn’t get a lot of press, but one it saw as important to the community’s future: Young people who are living in the community and making a positive difference. Thirty-five adults under age 40 were nominated as “Top 10 under age 40.” Winners included Brett Aylesworth, Matthew Berth, Mike Cheslock, Josh and Jen Clark, Jessie Dick, Tarsie Goes, Brandon Karaba, Ben Meyer, Dwight Webb and Matt Whalen.
Finnish company purchases paper mill
Helsinki, Finland-based Ahlstrom-Munksjö acquired Expera Specialty Solutions in October. The $615 million purchase of four Wisconsin paper mills included Rhinelander. There are approximately 1,800 people employed by Ahlstrom-Munksjö in Wisconsin, where specialty paper products for the industrial and technical, food packaging and processing and pressure-sensitive release liner sectors are manufactured.
Ellen Tran sentenced
Ellen Tran, convicted by a jury of first degree negligent homicide in the 2017 death of her stepson Avery Edwards, was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by seven years of extended supervision. Tran’s husband Trung Tran faces felony charges of child abuse, failing to prevent bodily harm and neglecting a child, consequence is death.
Hartman re-elected Sheriff
Incumbent Sheriff Grady Hartman easily won re-election in November, with a nearly 10,000 vote margin over his closest competitor Tom Wakely. Hartman, Oneida County Sgt. Greg Gardner and former Oneida County Medical Examiner Larry Mathein all ran as Republicans, with no Democratic opposition, so the results were in little doubt when Hartman won the primary in August. Wakely ran on the Constitution Party ticket. After the primary, Mathein was reportedly accused of campaigning in the courthouse during work hours and was placed on administrative leave. He later resigned his position as medical examiner and ran for sheriff in the general election as a write-in Independent.
Packer memorabilia display unveiled at airport
A local Green Bay Packer fan donation a portion of his sports memorabilia collection to the city of Rhinelander, and now is displayed at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport terminal. Bill and Pat Spars donated the items and area businesses donated time, talent and money to make the collection look like a work of art. The Spars Collection is a permanent display at the airport.