By Michael J. Caylor Jr.
Church Mutual Insurance Company will officially move into their new world headquarters this weekend, and according to President Dieter Nickel the company will be up and running in their new 54,000 square-foot building by Monday. What was just a pile of dirt on State Rd. 17 last May has been transformed into a state of the art facility which has Valder’s White Rock from Wisconsin and bronzed tinted windows. Nickel stated the company’s locally based 110 employees will all make the move this weekend but he strongly believes with the pace the company is growing it will outgrow the three story building in eight to 10 years. The Church Mutual building on East First Street has been sold to the City of Merrill who will now work on moving City Hall to that location in the coming months. Work on that move has stalled as the needed remodeling to the building is much more expensive than anticipated. City Engineer Charles Pierotti said only one bid was received for the work and the price tag of $98,550 was rejected due to the cost.
Workers are still on the picket lines at Weinbrenner Shoe Company as the union and company continue to try and hammer out a new contract. Ron Kautz, President of Local 688, has asked workers to return to work saying the company and union are bargaining in good faith. A union employee stated the offer of a .40 per hour raise over two years was not enough with the average worker only making $2.30 an hour on average. Company President Lance Nienow disputed that average wage saying it was higher.
The City of Merrill Common Council has approved the annexation of nine acres of property in the Town of Pine River. The area is on the north side of State Rd. 64 east of the Wisconsin Public Service building to the west of Gene’s Refrigeration extending north to where Thielman Street will be extended. In other council action the city will sign all cross streets on First Street west of Sales Street to make it a through street; because of rising costs the city has okayed a 20% increase in health insurance rates. The council also recognized Meter Maid Marie Golde who is retiring from the police department after eight years of service.
One of the biggest supporters of area athletics and a Merrill business owner has passed away. Floyd Grunenwald, who attended spring training for the Milwaukee Brewers each year in Arizona, died early today at Good Samaritan Health Center at the age of 63. Grunenwald owned and operated the Beacon Bar with his wife Val for over 25 years on County Rd. I in the Town of Scott. In his early years Grunenwald was a decorated veteran of service, having seen action and been twice wounded while serving in the South Pacific in locations such as the Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal and Bougainville before being discharged in 1945. Through the Beacon, Floyd and Val sponsored local sports teams for hard ball, slow pitch, bowling and pool. Besides his love for the Milwaukee Brewers, Gruenenwald was also described as being a firm fan of the Green Bay Packers. A visitation will be held on Friday at the Taylor Funeral Home, with the funeral service being scheduled for Saturday at Trinity Lutheran Church. Survivors include his wife, Val; his mother, Mrs. Ruth Grunenwald; and his sons, Robert and Michael.
And the winner of the bad news for kids this year is MAPS themselves as they are the first to mention in the Foto News that summer is coming to an end and school will be starting in a few weeks. In an article on the front page MAPS reminds you that if your children are new to the area they must register starting next Tuesday at the central office. Orientation day for Junior High students will be on Aug. 25. You will learn your home room assignments that day and you will need to report to that classroom no later than 11 a.m. Sophomores will meet on that same day at 9 a.m. and juniors and seniors will report at 8 a.m. on the 26th.
The employees of the Merrill Walmart store have rejected efforts to unionize that facility. For the last few months members of the Steel Workers Union have been trying to organize local Walmart workers into a union which would be the first such union at a Walmart store in the United States. When voting was completed last week, 54 had voted against the unionization while 27 for it. Ten employees abstained from voting. The co-manager of the store Emily Cook reported that Walmart allowed employees and associates to have a dialogue on the topic but most of the questions and comments came from employees. She reported the store was extraordinarily busy on Friday as three shifts of workers voted on the measure and others milled around waiting for the results of the vote.
Thirty five extra pages greet readers this week as the paper looks at the progress of Merrill. Community members, city department heads, and the Chamber have articles mixed in with ads. Some of the stories included tell of progress and some look to the future. Some of the highlights from the city include: creation of the municipal court, proposed sale and future re-opening of the Ward Paper Mill, reconstruction of the Center Avenue bridge, further development of the MARC Center, improvements of the TIF districts and the industrial park, continued efforts to control costs in city operations and development of new resources, more accountability of public servants, the city, county and school district working together to build a stronger community, and the acceptance of various grants including community development grants.
Merrill Chief of Police Neil Strobel has an article in the Progress Edition about the new squad cars on the streets. Strobel has replaced the traditional blue cars with new white ones in what he calls a new “bold look.” Besides the appearance the cars now carry the department’s new motto “Focusing on the Future.” Strobel states that although there have been several significant changes in the department he remains committed to the youth of the community as they are the future for all of us.
Lincoln County Bank has something to celebrate in their full page ad. The bank is celebrating 100 years of service in the community. The bank was founded in 1897 by A. H. Stange and other men who envisioned the future of our city. In the early years the bank held the funds of the lumberjacks, river rats, and all those early settlers to Merrill who dreamed of taming the rugged wilderness. Yet when those who first came vanished along with the white pine, Lincoln County Bank stood the test of time and now is one of the premier financial institutions of Merrill in today’s high tech world. Church Mutual Insurance is also celebrating 100 years in Merrill; their ad simply states what we all know: One Company, One Specialty, and now One Hundred Years. (Might I add on, One Community)