Researched by Michael J. Caylor Jr.
Despite a stagnant economy, one local employer saw significant growth in the past two years. At their yearly meeting held last week at their home office, Church Mutual President Dieter Nickel announced a 20% growth in premiums with over $13,000,000 being written this past year. Along with that, the company continues to expand, now being licensed and opening an office in the state of Pennsylvania while also expanding their sales teams in Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio. Employment at the company has also increased 10% with a similar growth expected this year. Additional space to accommodate this growth of the Church Mutual team comes by way of a new building which Nickel expects to break ground on in 60 days. The Board of Directors of Church Mutual is also changing with the retirement of director Don Boldon. Robert Savaske, president of M&I Citizens American Bank, will fill that role. W.W. Schuster is Chairman of the Board of Directors; Thomas J. Young is Executive Vice President.
The Lincoln County Board has delayed a decision to build low income public housing at the current Normal Park in the City of Merrill. The county currently owns the park which the Lincoln County Housing Authority has identified as a possible location of a new housing project. Henry Meier of the housing authority has indicated that if the county refuses to turn over the land they will seek additional land for the proposed project. The board voted down the measure 9-12. Neighbors to the park spoke about the negative effects the project could have on their neighborhood. County Board member Harold Burton of Tomahawk stated he expected Normal Park to be used to accommodate growth of county offices. (This was the search for the future Jenny Towers spot; I think we all can agree they made a much better choice to leave the park alone and building it downtown)
Jim Karau will now be the Standard Oil driver for the Merrill area. The local distributorship has been purchased and will be now operated out of the A.H. Rusch Company of Wausau.
On the sports page Merrill High School varsity wrestling Coach Norris Hattlestad has been named the Wisconsin Valley Conference Coach of the Year. The pick was made by a survey of the conferences’ wrestling coaches. Hattlestad recently completed his 14th year as a wrestling coach, his fifth in Merrill. His teams have amassed a 160-11-1 record. Also on the sports page there is a sure sign of spring, the Merrill golf club is seeking a greens keeper and two bartenders for the season. Call George Dietrich if you’re interested.
Some local businesses are celebrating. M&I Bank has opened a fifth drive through lane. The lane does not have a canopy overhead and as a picture clearly shows you can drive your semi-tractor up for immediate service. Gene Block Insurance is celebrating their grand opening at 918 E. Main St. in Merrill with an open house to be held tomorrow. Wally’s Video is celebrating their fifth anniversary with specials throughout the month. Weekend specials include rent one tape get the second free during the week and on the weekend rent three tapes and the fourth is free. Membership is also half price. The whole works is out of Wally’s location at 207 S. Park St. In other video news, Video City will soon open its doors at Furniture World.
County Board member Paul Garner may be leaving the board, but he went out with a bang yesterday at one of his last meetings. Garner made one last final effort to control spending by introducing a resolution concerning the way the county hires new employees. Currently the process for hiring goes through the legislative and personnel committee, and Garner feels they have done nothing to cut the budget and the buck should stop at the board. Garner’s proposal failed on a tie vote. Requests to reclassify two employees in the Clerk of Courts along with Judge Michael Nolan’s judicial assistant were approved but not without debate led by Garner who stated the union should be asking for these reclassifications, not the department heads. Harry Osness cast the tie breaking vote to go ahead with the change in classification. The board did agree to a pay increase for Pine Crest administrator Elaine Roskos. She had been deleted from the list of administrators who got raises in the current budget. The meeting, which celebrated student in government day, was also the last for 9th district supervisor Ewald Katke who chose to end his 12-year run on the board.
The Merrill Bluejay girls’ basketball team has seen their season come to an end with a loss at the WIAA State Tournament in Madison. The girls took on Whitefish Bay in the opening round on Thursday. The girls took a 23-19 halftime lead into the locker room with a strong 12 points from Merrill’s Jolene Hanig, but the second half saw Coach Bob Yuska’s team start to decline, scoring only three points in the third quarter. Robyn Schulze had foul problems in the second half, and Gena Rusch was injured which led her to be pulled from the game. The Jays finished with a 19-5 record on the year as the team clearly made their mark on the state as a powerhouse. Coach Yuska notes that he will only lose two girls to graduation, Sandy Schmidt and Joan Luterbach, and he hopes their success continues into next year.
Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Merrill has a new shepherd. Rev. James D. Weiland took over as pastor of the church in mid-January replacing the Rev. Joel Lillo who received a calling to the Fox Valley area. Pastor Weiland’s brother-in-law, Pastor Timothy Mueller of Grace Lutheran Church in Waupun, conducted the sermon at the installation ceremony; 12 area pastors of the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod were in attendance. Originally from the Menominee Falls’ area, Pastor Weiland graduated from Northwestern College in Watertown and from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon. Previously he served in Racine at First Evangelical Lutheran Church. Weiland hopes to erase the debt his church took on when they built their building in 1986, prior to which the congregation worshiped at the Northland Lutheran High School. An outdoor person, Pastor Weiland also hopes to build a deck on the back of the parsonage complete with fire pit so he can enjoy the northwoods and all it has to offer. (With a newly expanded church I think he accomplished all those goals along with being a good neighbor.)
A Merrill businessman has passed away. Gordon Brandt of the Town of Pine River died on Friday at Wausau Hospital in the Hospice unit. Gordie was born in Antigo and served as a pilot with the United States Airforce. He was originally a breeder with the Curtiss Breeding Company before he took ownership of Merrill Fuel Mart North and South.