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Parade cancellation can't keep CF veteran from completing Memorial Day route

A little rain wasn’t about to stop Chippewa Falls veteran Wayne Steinmetz from accomplishing his Memorial Day mission.

When Steinmetz, 66, a retired U.S. Air Force captain, heard Sunday night that the annual Memorial Day parade in Chippewa Falls was canceled because of the rainy forecast, he decided to honor his fallen comrades on his own.

So when Monday morning arrived, Steinmetz put on his uniform, rustled up an American flag from his employer and walked the entire parade route himself.

“When I heard the parade was canceled, I said to myself, ‘That’s not what we do. We should be out there.’ Yeah, some people are going to get wet, but I thought we should support those troops who didn’t come home,” Steinmetz said.

After checking with leaders of the American Legion Post 77 in Chippewa Falls and getting the green light, Steinmetz elected to march forward with his plan.

“This was just my way of honoring those folks that made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Steinmetz, a member of Post 77 and the Military Officers Association of America.

Asked about his inspiration for the one-man parade, the Chippewa Falls native mentioned American soldiers who endured miserable conditions during World War II and the Korean War, the nearly 900 sailors who died at sea when the USS Indianapolis sunk after being hit by a torpedo in July 1945 and his uncle, John Naset of Chippewa Falls, who was killed at age 19 by friendly fire in June 1945 while on guard duty in Nuremberg, Germany.

“Look at what they endured for our country. My point is they had a lot more to deal with than a little rain,” Steinmetz said. “I figured I could carry our American flag in the rain a little bit.”

Steinmetz’s hope is that his gesture will motivate other veterans to participate in the parade next year. Steinmetz, a 1971 graduate of Chippewa Falls High School, has been part of the event nearly every year since moving back to Chippewa Falls in 1994 after a 21-year career in the Air Force.

Stacy Pickerign, owner of Pederson-Volker Funeral Chapel in Chippewa Falls, said Steinmetz, who works at the funeral home, is well known for his patriotism and concern for proper American flag protocol. She said Monday’s parade only made her more proud of how Steinmetz continuously honors the nation and its veterans.

“Wayne just took it upon himself to pick up one of our flags and march the parade route,” Pickerign said. “He did it all on his own.”

An unexpected highlight of Monday’s march for Steinmetz came when Greg Mazur spotted him walking near the Chippewa County Courthouse, thanked him for his service and joined the parade, holding an umbrella over Steinmetz when possible.

Shortly thereafter, Sharon Bejin pulled her car next to Steinmetz, thanked him for carrying on the Memorial Day tradition and asked if she could join the tiny procession as well. Steinmetz happily agreed.

“I think that speaks to what our community and our nation are all about,” he said, drawing a parallel with the all-volunteer force that steps forward to protect the country.

At the courthouse, Steinmetz said, he made a point to replicate an event that happens every year in the official parade by stopping to pay his respects at a plaque that recognizes Chippewa County troops who have died in combat.

While Steinmetz minimized his Memorial Day deed, noting that he and other aging veterans walk instead of march in parades, he acknowledged that the wet flag blowing in the wind was getting heavy toward the end of the roughly one-mile slog from downtown to Irvine Park.

“I had to reach down and make sure I didn’t dip the flag,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

One more surprise awaited Steinmetz when he arrived at Irvine Park, where a few people were gathered, apparently after not getting word that the parade had been canceled.

Trying to keep his eyes focused straight ahead, Steinmetz said out of the corner of his eye he noticed a Vietnam veteran saluting the flag Steinmetz was carrying.

“That touched me,” Steinmetz said. “It really did.”

Likewise, Steinmetz’s determination to go above and beyond the call of duty on Memorial Day, clearly touched many Chippewa Valley residents, as more than 140 people had commented on a Facebook post by Pederson-Volker Funeral Chapel about his solo parade by 5 p.m. Tuesday, with most saluting his service or patriotism.

“The soldiers who fought for us didn’t give up because of rain or anything else and neither did you,” Linda Lewallen wrote. “God bless you.”

Colleen Krejci summed up the reaction with her comment: “Absolute true dedication no matter the circumstances. Truly proud of you Wayne and thanks so much for serving our country.”

Memorial's Jordan Pauley doesn't let hearing loss keep her from reaching her goals

Jordan Pauley is almost completely deaf.

But the 17-year-old senior at Memorial High School hasn’t let that stand in her way.

Jordan plays the flute, the piano and the tenor saxophone, and she has been selected twice to take part in the Macy’s Great American Marching Band, which performs in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

Jordan has relied on almost no interpretive services in her classes, where she has maintained a 4.0 GPA, said Michelle Moss, a counselor who called the teen — one of 372 Memorial seniors graduating Thursday — “an awesome student and human being.”

Jordan also played tennis for the Old Abes and was named a girls tennis all-Big Rivers Conference second team selection in 2018.

Jordan, the daughter of Brian and Denise Pauley of Eau Claire, will be returning to Big Sky country in August, where she plans to major in chemistry at Montana State University at Bozeman.

“I really like the research opportunities they have and the mountains,” said Jordan, who has experience skiing some and moving others.

Diagnosed with a severe hearing loss at age 3, Jordan, who wears hearing aids, “realized early on I was going to have to work harder,” she said.

Her chemistry teacher Bryan Weghorn doesn’t doubt Jordan’s hearing loss makes her do just that, “but I have never seen it discourage her or keep her from reaching her goals,” he said.

While she hasn’t yet decided on her exact career path, Jordan said she “kind of always wanted to do something science related.”

The longtime animal lover at one time considered becoming a veterinarian; however, the university’s snow science program has piqued her interest, and she also is considering going pre-med. (Her dad is a physician.)

“With chemistry, there is always something to figure out,” said Jordan, who took her first chemistry class as a sophomore and an advanced placement chemistry class last year.

“Jordan is a great all-around student and is particularly good at the sciences, and she will be successful in any of the many options she could pursue with a chemistry degree,” Weghorn said.

No matter what she decides, Jordan believes the education she earned at Memorial has prepared her for the future.

“The teachers have always been willing to help, and there have always been opportunities to learn,” she said.

Ted Theyerl, head coach of the Chippewa Valley Nordic Ski Team, a cross country ski team for students in the area that Jordan has been part of, has no doubt that whatever she does, she will do it well.

“I think she is pretty exceptional,” Theyerl said of Jordan, who joined the team in fifth or sixth grade and took a break for a couple of years before returning her junior and senior year. “We loved having her on the team. If all my skiers could be like Jordan, I’d be sitting pretty well.”

He called the high school senior a great role model and inspiration to many, not to mention talented.

“She is great at music,” said Theyerl, who watched her perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “she is a good student, and she has given her all in skiing.”

At the end of the season, Theyerl said he told her she needed to bring her skis to Montana State, and she promised she would.

“If you look at everything she has done and accomplished, it’s pretty amazing,” he said.

“I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for her,” Weghorn said.

Agreement to benefit Xcel customers

Thanks to an unprecedented agreement, typical Xcel Energy customers will see decreases in their electricity and natural gas rates over the next two years.

The utility and several customer groups filed a multiyear agreement — a first for Xcel — with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin that will keep rates below January 2018 levels through 2021. A typical residential electric bill will be about 5 percent less in 2020 and 1 percent less the following year. Natural gas bills will be about 5 percent less in both 2020 and 2021 compared with January of last year.

Business customers “will see similar savings based on their rate class, usage characteristics and type of service,” according to a news release from Xcel. A decision on the proposal from the PSC is expected later this summer.

As part of the agreement, said Karl Hoesly, regional vice president of rates and regulatory affairs for Xcel, “we’re able to add 1,450 megawatts of carbon- and fuel-free energy without raising customer rates.”

The move is made possible due to falling fuel prices and benefits from the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. State legislation two years ago set the stage for such settlement agreements.

Xcel has not had a rate case since late 2017 and is in the midst of an effort to deliver 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050.

“This agreement is significant and benefits all of our customers,” said Mark Stoering, Xcel Energy-Wisconsin president, in the news release. “It allows us to stabilize customer bills over a four-year period while continuing to make investments to maintain safe, reliable and increasingly clean energy.

“We are well positioned for the future and focused on leading the clean energy transition while keeping customer bills stable.”

In doing so, it helps clients, both business and residential, plan ahead.

“The more consistent bills are,” Hoesly said, “the happier our customers are.”