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Notable deaths 2017: Chippewa Valley lost leaders who enriched their communities by giving their time, talent and hearts

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    The Chippewa Valley lost many notable residents in 2017, including, from left, football coach Pete Adler, retired state Rep. Tom Larson, retired U.S. Rep. Al Baldus and philanthropist Mark Phillips.

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    Steve Kinderman

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Chippewa Valley communities from Menomonie to Stanley and Black River Falls to Bloomer lost leaders in 2017 who helped make their hometowns special.   

They were auto dealers, chiropractors, teachers, business owners, lawmakers and philanthropists. 

Here are some of them:

Former U.S. Rep. Al Baldus of Menomonie is remembered for his sense of justice and fairness. He died in February at age 90.

Baldus served two terms in the state Assembly and six years in Congress as a Democrat. 

“He was very committed to his sense of good government, of doing things the right way,” said Al Zepp, who was part of Baldus’ congressional staff.

State Rep. Tom Larson of rural Colfax was a soft-spoken, humble man who didn’t fit the stereotype of a politician. He died in February at age 69 after a battle with cancer.

Former Rep. John Murtha, R-Baldwin, said Larson was well-liked in the state Capitol.

“There are a lot of big personalities in the room down there, so it was refreshing to be with him,” Murtha said. “He was just easy to talk to. I really thought highly of Tom.”

Pete Adler dedicated much of his life to the students and residents of Durand and Pepin County. Adler, a Hall of Fame football coach, teacher and longtime County Board member, died in November at age 82.

“He was a terrific competitor,” said Tom Bauer, a quarterback on some of Adler’s best Durand football teams. “He believed in what he was doing, and he took care of everybody — managers and water boys — not just the athletes.”

Eau Claire’s Mark Phillips grew up with cerebral palsy but never let anything stop him from doing things his way.

Phillips, who died in May at 69,  is remembered for his philanthropy and his contributions to the community.

“He was a very caring, generous man,” said Dave Pender, Phillips’ caregiver for the past 18 months. “He would help anybody out. He was very giving and active in the community and donated like crazy to so many organizations.”

David “Bud” Morgan, the founder of Morgan Music who rubbed shoulders with greats like saxophone player Charlie Parker, had a passion for sharing his music with others. He died in February at age 98. 

“He loved playing music, giving lessons, just talking about music with people,” said his son Rich Morgan. 

Don Litchfield was much more than an Eau Claire auto dealer. He was a Badgers quarterback, a World War II bomber pilot and “a consistent gentleman,” said friend David Weiss of Eau Claire. Litchfield died at age 93 in February.

“He was a very successful auto dealer and was for years and years,” said friend Dick Cable. “His forte was always service. He took care of the people he did business with.”

Perkins restaurant manager Greg Kotecki put his heart and soul into everything, especially his work and his family. He died in May after a sudden illness at age 56.

“He would drop everything to help somebody else,” said Kotecki’s father, Frank. “He was one of a kind, and he touched everybody’s life.”

Osseo businessman Roger Swett was dedicated to helping the community grow and flourish. Swett, who owned the Osseo SuperValu and the Alan House Motel for nearly 30 years, died in October at age 79.

“You have to have people willing to put their livelihood on the line to make it work,” said Nels Gunderson, Osseo fire chief. “Guys like Roger are very important pieces of the puzzle. If there was a community event going on, he’d be there to do it.”

William Peterson helped start the Stanley Rodeo because he knew it would be good for the community in which he grew up and supported his entire life. He died in June at 81.

“Bill was a tireless promoter of Stanley,” said former Stanley Mayor David Jankoski. “He was a ready volunteer in this community dating back 50-plus years. Not only was he a promoter, but he also put his money where his mouth was when it came to community investments.”

Jerilyn Brost of Chippewa Falls wasn’t afraid to be among a handful of women on the traditionally male-dominated Chippewa County Board. Brost, a board member for 30 years, died in July at age 71.

“She had a spark about her,” said former board member Marilyn Holte. “She had the demeanor where she was never feisty with anyone. Everyone always respected her. She was so sincere, so genuine and so caring about other people.”

Eau Claire chiropractor Dave Nanstad, who had health problems much of his life, was so loved that one of his patients donated her kidney when he needed a transplant. Nanstad died in July at age 59.

“I truly think he was a blessing to this community,” said his younger brother Tom. “A lot of people are, but he’d be one of the people on that list who made this community a better place.”

“Lucky 13 Fishing Show” co-host Karl Holbrook was a student of the sport of fishing and loved the outdoors show during the 1960s and ‘70s, said fellow co-host Steve Henry. Holbrook died in August at age 89.

“We had a lot of fun with the show, and I think people really enjoyed it,” Henry said. “I believe it was one of the more popular and longest-running fishing shows in the country.”

Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox had a big, booming voice with a southern drawl, making him easy to find the courthouse, according to fellow lawyers. Fox died in September at age 56.

“He was a Southern gentleman,” Chippewa County Judge James Isaacson said. “He was always polite and no-nonsense.”

Former Altoona schools Superintendent Bob Bredesen put his heart and soul into pushing for a new high school in the district in the late 1980s. Bredesen died in October at age 88.

“That beautiful school is because of the work he did,” said Jim Martell, who worked with Bredesen for 16 years.

Ray Miller launched the agriculture program at Bloomer High School in the 1950s, training future farmers and educators. Miller, who was inducted into the Wisconsin FFA Hall of Fame, died in November at age 87.

“I would travel all over the country with FFA and the ag teacher association, and everywhere I went people knew where Bloomer was and who Ray Miller was,” said former colleague Merle Richter. “We really have lost a legend.”

Bernie Trettin worked hard to revitalize his North River Fronts neighorhood so it was a better place to live. Trettin, 82, died in March.

“Bernie loved the Eau Claire community and was a strong advocate and supporter for positive change in his … neighborhood,” former City Manager Don Norrell said.

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