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For the love of pickleball: Major donation to help transform EC park

EAU CLAIRE — A year and a half ago, Dave Markquart had never been to McDonough Park.

These days the president of Markquart Motors can be seen at the north side park playing pickleball about five days a week, often for three or more hours a day.

He doesn’t just like his newly adopted hobby. He is passionate about the fast-growing sport that combines elements of tennis, ping-pong and badminton.

Markquart, 60, credits pickleball with improving his fitness, widening his circle of friends, helping him lose 70 pounds in the last 18 months and adding more fun to his life.

After all the game has done for him, Markquart is returning the favor in a big way: Markquart Motors on Thursday will donate $50,000 and pledge another $50,000 matching donation in 2021 to upgrade the park and transform it into an active aging fitness area. He also recently paid for the L.E. Phillips YMCA Sports Center to put in a new floor on its multi-sport court that can serve as the site of six indoor pickleball courts.

“Pickleball is a big part of my life,” Markquart said. “It’s good for the community and it’s added such a positive element to my life. I’m happy to support a place I use all the time.”

Markquart said his company, which has grown from 10 employees in 1970 to more than 425 today, makes it a priority to give back to the Chippewa Valley, so he was excited about the prospect of donating to McDonough after hearing about plans for the park and a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grant that would match all donations up to $204,578.

“We’ve been blessed with very good business for many years and when we see opportunities to give to somebody in need or to improve the quality of life in the community, we try to support those causes,” Markquart said.

Marilyn Skrivseth, the retired UW-Eau Claire athletic director who is leading fundraising efforts for the McDonough project, called Markquart inspirational for both his generosity and the way pickleball has transformed his life.

“How he has improved his health over the last 18 months through pickleball and hard work has been amazing,” Skrivseth said. “He has become a walking poster for the benefits of active aging.”

Plans for the active aging park, which already has 12 heavily used pickleball courts, call for potentially adding walking trails, bocce ball and shuffleboard courts, sand volleyball, table tennis, sand tennis, bean bag toss, restrooms and other amenities intended to encourage older adults to live healthier, more active lives. When folks need a rest, benches are planned with scenic views of Dells Pond.

The Eau Claire City Council in January 2019 approved plans to add active aging features at McDonough, 800 Centre St.

But the new concept for McDonough is about more than just games, Skrivseth said, explaining that the mission is more about quality of life and helping people maintain their independence as long as possible through activities that help to maintain critical skills like strength, balance, reaction time and cognitive functioning while also helping them build connections and social support. Accessibility also will be an important factor in designing park improvements.

“I call it a can-do park because there should be something there that everybody can do,” she said. “It will be a place where older adults and adults with mobility issues or facing cognitive decline can get off the sidelines and into the game.”

The idea, Skrivseth said, is to change the way people think about what seniors can do.

“We want it to be a park where seniors can laugh, sweat and have fun like they were kids again,” she said.

The social aspect of his time at the park is a big part of the appeal for Markquart, who now keeps contact information for at least 50 pickleball friends in his cellphone.

“It’s just a place to connect,” he said. “Pickleball people are just so friendly and welcoming. It’s been awesome.”

But make no mistake, Markquart is serious about his game. He has attended pickleball camps, taken lessons and worked hard to become a high-level player. He also has tried to help other local players improve by bringing Barry Waddell, his friend and one of the nation’s top senior pro players from Florida, to Eau Claire multiple times to conduct clinics and offer instruction to competitors of all levels.

With the $100,000 pledged by Markquart Motors combined with a $20,000 Hometown Health Grant given by Mayo Clinic Health System and other donations totaling about $30,000, fundraisers need to collect roughly $50,000 more to maximize both the Markquart and DNR matching grants and reach the project goal of just over $400,000, said Dawn Comte, superintendent of recreation for the Eau Claire Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

Skrivseth noted that the double matching grants mean that every $1 donated will generate $4 toward the project.

The addition of pickleball courts in the past few years has led to a revival of what for years was a little-used neighborhood park with a pair of dilapidated tennis courts.

“Once the pickleball courts were put in, that was kind of the spark that ignited the ideas for this active aging park,” Comte said. “Seniors today want to be able to do active things outdoors, and we’re trying to bring that to Eau Claire with this project.”

Markquart, for one, is eager to see the proposed improvements come to fruition, in part so even more people can enjoy the park that has become such a desirable destination for him and hundreds of other pickleball players in the Chippewa Valley.

“Improving the amenities and facilities of the park will make it an even more attractive place to go,” Markquart said. “It’s about making it a better place for everyone and continuing to improve our community.”


Politics
AP
Wisconsin election clerks rush to mail ballots after delay

MADISON — Election clerks across the presidential battleground state of Wisconsin rushed to mail absentee ballots Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the state Supreme Court lifted a temporary freeze on sending them while it considered a legal challenge.

“Oh, we’re busy,” said Wendy Helgeson, the Outagamie County town of Greenville clerk who also serves as president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association.

More than 1,850 clerks in municipalities big and small were working to meet a Thursday deadline in state law to mail ballots to the more than 1 million voters who had requested them so far. Absentee ballots can be requested until Oct. 29, but election officials have urged voters to act more quickly given the expected large numbers and delays with the mail.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Sept. 10 ordered a stop to all mailing of absentee ballots while it considered whether the Green Party presidential candidate should be added. Clerks had started to mail ballots in some cities, while others had to stop massive mailings they had ready to go.

The court lifted its freeze just before 5 p.m. Monday, declining to put Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins on the ballot.

In Madison, the state’s second-largest city, the clerk’s office tweeted pictures of employees working to prepare ballots just minutes after the ruling.

“We are working late so we can start mailing out absentee ballots first thing in the morning,” the clerk’s office tweeted Monday evening. One image showed a sign that said “Rush” on a line of folders.

Clerks also face a Saturday deadline in federal law to send ballots to military and overseas voters.

“I’m working on it right now,” Helgeson said of her town’s 2,500 absentee ballots. “I’m trying to post it.”

Helgeson said that while clerks were waiting for the ruling, they were doing all the work necessary to prepare the ballots for mailing, including initialing every one. Now she expects clerks are hustling to get them sent, Helgeson said.

Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said the commission told clerks immediately after the ruling that they could move ahead with mailing ballots.

“We’re assuming that it’s all systems go,” he said.

Rapper Kanye West also filed a lawsuit to get ballot access in Wisconsin. He lost Friday in Brown County Circuit Court and has not yet filed an appeal. His attorney, Greg Erickson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The uncertainty of the West lawsuit, and whether it could result in an order to reprint ballots, weighed on the mind of La Crosse City Clerk Teri Lehrke. She was busy Tuesday preparing about 9,000 absentee ballots to mail on Wednesday and Thursday.

“That’s out there,” she said of the West lawsuit. “But we have to move forward.”


State
AP
Evers: UW reopening was right call despite virus surge

MADISON (AP) — UW-Madison officials made the right decision to reopen the campus even though there’s been a surge of COVID-19 cases among students and university employees, Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday.

The state’s flagship university reopened Sept. 2 after officials sent students home in March to finish the spring semester online. As of Tuesday, 2,160 students and 31 university workers have tested positive for COVID-19. The university has been forced to suspend in-person classes in lieu of online instruction and quarantine multiple fraternity and sorority houses as well as two large dorms. Campus leaders voted Monday to cancel spring break this coming March.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank has blamed the outbreak on students attending parties, refusing to social distance and refusing to wear masks. She’s been intensely criticized for opening the campus for the fall semester after other colleges across the country that opened earlier saw similar outbreaks. She has said students with off-campus leases would have returned to Madison anyway, and in-person instruction is the best method of education.

Evers, a Democrat, defended the decision during a video conference with reporters, saying the reopening came with a massive effort to test students and trace infected students’ contacts. Students should also take more responsibility for their behavior, he said. Everyone knew reopening K-12 schools and universities would be “bumpy,” the governor said.

“If we’re waiting for (the coronavirus) to be gone, we could be waiting until next year at this time,” Evers said.

Asked if the decision to cancel spring break was premature, Evers said he supports that move too, signaling again that the nation’s struggle with the virus won’t be over by spring and students could bring the virus back to Madison if they’re given an opportunity to travel.

“It’s a wise step,” Evers said.

But the virus continues to spread unchecked across Wisconsin. State health officials reported 1,348 new confirmed cases Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections in Wisconsin since the pandemic began to 91,304. Ten more people died, bringing the death toll to 1,220.

Evers said there’s little the state can do to help prevent the spread of the virus after the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court in May struck down his stay-at-home order. Evers issued an executive order on July 29 requiring people to wear masks indoors until Sept. 28, sparking a legal challenge from a conservative law firm. That lawsuit is still pending, but Evers said he’s looking for ways to extend the order after it expires later this month.

He added that he’s considering other options “for us to do something different at that time,” but didn’t elaborate.

He also complained that President Donald Trump likely won’t be wearing a mask when he appears at a rally Friday at an airport in Mosinee, saying leaders’ actions send messages. He didn’t mention that his mask order allows speakers at political gatherings to go without one.

Chicago cautions about travel

Chicago officials cautioned city residents Tuesday about travel to Wisconsin, citing a recent COVID-19 spike in Illinois’ neighbor to the north.

The Chicago Department of Public Health stopped short of adding Wisconsin to a travel advisory list. There are 16 states on the list, including Utah, which was announced Tuesday. City officials said Sith some exceptions, Chicago residents who travel to the states must quarantine for two weeks upon return. Visitors from those states are expected to quarantine while in Chicago.

Wisconsin was previously on Chicago’s list in July and removed the following month when cases dropped. On Sunday, Wisconsin reported its highest one-day case count with 1,582 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and a 21% positive test rate. The overall seven-day average for positive tests that week was 14%.

Meanwhile, Illinois reported 1,466 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and 20 additional deaths. Illinois’ seven-day average of positive tests is 3.6%. Overall, Illinois has reported 264,210 cases and 8,332 deaths.