Researched by Michael J. Caylor Jr
What would normally be a quiet election cycle will roar to an end this coming Tuesday as voters head to the polls to decide many contested races. The big question facing city voters is will incumbent Mayor Ralph “Fata” Voigt end what has become the longest term in office for any mayor in the city’s history? Voigt was first elected mayor in 1960 after serving as alderman for eight years. Prior to Voigt’s tenure, W. H. AuBuchon was the longest tenured mayor having served from 1932-1946. Challenging Voigt is Alderman Patrick Nugent who is completing his fifth term as alderman of the fifth district and having previously served as the sixth ward county board supervisor including a year as that board chair. Both candidates are partially retired. Voigt sold his insurance agency several years ago and Nugent retired from the military on a disability discharge. At least two new aldermen will also be seated after the election as Nugent and Alfred Kohler are leaving their seats in the fifth and fourth wards, respectively. Incumbent alderman Jean Rogers and Gilbert Sabatke face opposition in the first and sixth wards as well. Donald Hanneman and Phillip Erickson are vying for the street commissioner post that was vacated by the retirement of Kermit Meyer, but the winner will only take office if the voters approve keeping it an elected position in a separate referendum question. For the MAPS Board of Education, incumbents Roger Zuelsdorff and Roger Gutknecht face four challengers, Robert St. Clair, Edward Norris, Diane Mikkelson, and Elmer Kahre in at-large voting for three seats on the board. At least four new faces will appear on the county board after the election with four more possible. David Moravec, LeRoy Meier and Floyd Lemon did not seek re-election and incumbent Harold Hanson was defeated in the primary. Four other incumbents are being challenged. Polls open at 8 a.m. in the city and 9 a.m. in the county. Chief of Police Charles Johnson also announced his department will charge anyone caught removing political signs with theft; so far 100 of the signs have been reported missing around the city.
In local briefs: The Merrill Insurance Advisory Committee did not violate state law and will not be disciplined, so says the state insurance committee. The investigation began after allegations were lodged by alderman and mayoral candidate Patrick Nugent. MAPS Board of Education has reached an agreement with local educators for a new contract, although the BOE still must approve the deal when they meet in April. The two sides met with a mediator to hammer out the agreement which calls for a 7.1% salary increase this year and a 8.6% increase the second year of the contract which runs through 1979. The Federal Housing and Urban Development has announced the approval of funding for a high rise apartment building which will be constructed on Scott Street. Construction is set to begin on May 1 and the building should be completed about a year from now. The area where construction will take place was a city parking lot after homes there were removed or demolished. Candidates for the MAPS Board of Education met with 100 interested voters this past week. Of the six seeking terms on the board, all but one opposed a proposal to flip flop the junior and senior high buildings. It is estimated the switch, which would include a field house at the junior high site and make both buildings handicapped accessible and remodel both buildings, would cost $7.2 million.
If the road to the White House goes through Merrill, it isn’t well lined with observers. Super Tuesday is next Tuesday, and Wisconsin was full of democratic contenders looking to take on Vice President George H.W. Bush as he steps out from under the shadow of President Ronald Reagan to seek the office of President of the United States. Three of the larger names stopped in Merrill on Saturday, but the front runner Michael Dukakis who was rumored to be on the schedule stayed in Wausau for his campaign effort. Around 150 visitors and 140 delegates listened to the candidates as they gave stump speeches at the Merrill Junior High School, a much smaller crowd than what was expected. Richard Gephardt, Albert Gore, and Illinois own Paul Simon all made their case on why they should be the next president. This is the second time in four years a major presidential contender has traveled the streets of Merrill seeking votes as Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro visited on Labor Day in 1984. Pictured in the paper besides those running are Congressman Dave Obey, former Governor and Senate candidate Tony Earl, and a host of Secret Service agents. (We must have been spoiled from the Mondale visit or everyone went to Wausau to see Dukakis. I remember this well as I attended. My dad worked with the Secret Service at this event, but the crowds were really small, those who know my political leanings will appreciate I was most inspired by Al Gore. Not so much anymore.)
Locally eyes will be focused on the mayoral election as eight year incumbent Richard Holt is being challenged by retired Marathon Electric executive Kenneth Sparr. Five people are running for three seats on the MAPS BOE, they include incumbents Lester Voigt, Bruce Severt and Thomas Wardall along with challengers Bill Johnston and Pauline Kruger. Seventh ward alderman Robert Monti is being challenged by Paul Proulx, and in the first ward incumbent Cheryl Kanitz is being challenged by Ray Kulawinski.
The ballot will be full for voters next week as several contested seats and a city wide referendum await voters along with county board races. In the city voters will decide if the city should borrow money to aid in the construction of a $3 million expansion of the T.B. Scott Library. The Merrill City Council will have incumbent Susan Kunkel facing challenger Bill Bialecki in district one, incumbent Mike Willman facing a challenge from Scott Doerr in district two, Thomas Schotz and David D’Amico will face off for the open seat in district four, Mark Sherfinski is challenging Phillip Krause in the sixth ward, and Bryan Stimers is taking on incumbent Robert Colclasure in the seventh. Mayor Patsy Woller is being challenged by long time police officer Michael Caylor Sr., and newcomers Bill Heideman and Susan Kunkel are facing off for the city clerk seat held by Judy Stockowitz. Ralph Sturm, the elected city street commissioner, is facing a write in campaign by Rod Burgener.
In briefs: The Town of Harding may settle a controversial subject of an expanded boat landing by binding referendum. The plan to expand a boat landing on Lake Alexander north of the dam is opposed by many residents with much confusion over who actually owns the land. WPS has offered to build the parking lot if DNR funding becomes available. Sacred Heart Hospital in Tomahawk has won an initial victory in a federal law suit over on call hours. Two EMT’s on the ambulance contended the on call provisions were too restrictive and they should be compensated for their on call time at a full pay rate instead of an on-call rate. The County Board has taxed their public property committee with a quick report on the feasibility of selling Jack Pines to MAPS. The school board made an offer of $65,000 for six acres of the pines in order for them to develop a recreation area. MAPS wants to move fast as they want to begin the transition of the property by May. Good Samaritan Hospital saluted Mary Ann Schaper on her retirement after 50 years of service. She began her employment at Holy Cross Hospital while she was still in high school and got paid .36 an hour as she worked in the kitchen. Back then she hauled wood and coal up from the basement for the stoves used to cook the meals. Schaper also remembers using a dumb waiter to haul the dinners upstairs for the 75-100 patients who were inpatients at the time. She also spent many a night setting the linens and place settings in the fifth floor dining room tables for the sisters. By the 50s the sisters no longer resided in the hospital and Schaper was making a dollar an hour and to her co-workers she was a workaholic before the word was even imagined. During her tenure Schaper worked under seven administrators and saw three major renovations.