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Friends, colleagues gather in tribute to Zunker

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CHIPPEWA FALLS — Chippewa County Deputy Jason Zunker was remembered Friday on the 10th anniversary of his death, as colleagues and friends met at noon at a memorial erected on the south side of the Chippewa County Courthouse.

Zunker, who was 31 at the time, was killed on duty on Jan. 5, 2008. He was directing traffic on U.S. 53 near Bloomer when he was struck by a southbound vehicle Jan. 4 and suffered massive head trauma. He died the next day at an area hospital.

Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said about 75 people, including retired officers who worked alongside Zunker, attended the ceremony. There is a permanent memorial for Zunker in the cul-de-sac, which features an inscription that Zunker wrote.

“I read his statement on the north side of the plaque,” Kowalczyk said. “It’s very touching and resembles what type of person Jason was. We miss him sincerely — he was a breath of fresh air every day.”

Mark Johnson, now a retired Chippewa Falls police officer, was among Zunker’s closest friends. They went on a hunting trip to Tennessee about a year before Zunker died.

“It’s important to remember that day because it was so tragic,” Johnson said. “The anniversary brings back the hurt and pain of losing someone close to you.”

Zunker had been working on getting a “shop with a cop” program started for Christmas 2007. After his death, the program was renamed as “Jason’s Presents,” which just completed its 10th anniversary. Johnson said it is a fitting, long-lasting tribute.

“Jason’s Presents has blown up — they do more and more every year,” Johnson said. “His legacy will live on through that.”

For the past eight years, Chippewa Family Restaurant has held an event where all proceeds collected that day are donated to Jason’s Presents. Kowalczyk said this year’s event generated $16,000.

“That puts a lot of smiles on a lot of kids’ faces,” Kowalczyk said.

Zunker was struck by a vehicle while trying to set up traffic cones to direct traffic around a semi-trailer truck fire near Bloomer. 

A group of Zunker’s family and friends raised money to erect the three tables in July 2009 in the cul-de-sac. 

The center piece — which is about 5½ feet tall — has an engraved phrase that references God and the Bible. That led to a challenge by the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sought to have it removed. However, the county refused to remove it, and it remains in place today.

After Zunker died, theCommunity Foundation of Chippewa County established two funds. Combined, the accounts raised about $55,000. The monument cost about half that amount, with the remaining dollars going toward scholarships in Zunker’s name.

Contact: 715-723-0303, chris.vetter@ecpc.com


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