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2020 Year in Review: PART THREE
2020 Year in Review, part three: A muted summer
  • Updated
  • 4 min to read

EAU CLAIRE – A quiet summer arrived in Wisconsin as most public events remained on hiatus and people tried their best to avoid coming into contact with COVID. Headlines began to shift as the spring surge in numbers receded, though the pandemic was still very much an issue.

July

Jamf announced plans to seek listing on the Nasdaq stock market.

Staff photo by Dan Reiland  

Keagan Parkins of Fireworks Liquidators arranges fireworks Tuesday at a tent next to Festival Foods on Mall Drive in Eau Claire. The company is based in Cadott and has steady sales this year compared with previous years.

  • Fireworks sales held steady as compared to prior years.
  • Bill Priest became the new chief administrator for Marshfield’s Eau Claire hospital.
  • A house explosion in Chippewa County killed two people.
  • Eau Claire proposed an anti-racism task force for the city in the wake of large protests over the death of George Floyd.
  • A Menomonie store sold a very lucky lottery ticket that snagged the $22 million Powerball jackpot.
  • A fertilizer spill caused by a truck rollover on US 53 forced temporary evacuations.
  • Federal prosecutors filed additional charges against the former Altoona superintendent.
  • Blue Ox officially postponed its festival until 2021.
  • The Chippewa Valley marked the 40th anniversary of an event it would rather not see again. A massive windstorm in 1980 left more than $150 million in damage in its wake.
  • There were no injuries, but the fifth structure fire in Chippewa Falls took place within a month.
  • The Eau Claire Children’s Theater found an outdoor venue to put on a production of “Newsies” while keeping both cast and audience reasonably safe.
  • Area farmers were encouraged as crops looked good for the 2020 growing season.
  • Concerns rose about the potential effect of the upcoming school year on the ongoing pandemic. Numbers in the Chippewa Valley remained relatively stable.
Staff photo by Chris Vetter  

A portion of the roof at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church was ripped off Tuesday night during a tornado that struck the village of Cadott. However, none of the church’s stain-glass windows were damaged.

  • Tornadoes touched down near Osseo and Prescott. There was property damage, but no one was killed. Days later another tornado hit Caddott.
  • Jamf made good on its announcement about being listed on Nasdaq , making its debut for traders.
  • Marty Green retired after 60 years on the radio in the Chippewa Valley.
  • Eau Claire County approved furloughs as economic damage from the pandemic continued.
  • The Red Cross pleaded with area residents for blood donations. Closures of schools and businesses hit blood drives hard, and the need for donations continued unabated.
  • Eau Claire’s Children’s Museum closed again. Restrictions on attendance meant staying open wasn’t economically viable. This time the museum announced the closure would last until its new building was completed.

August

Nursing homes began to weigh visitation options. Many had been closed to non-residents and non-staff since March.

Staff photo by Dan Reiland  

Gloria Hulett of Altoona visits her husband, Donald, on Thursday at the Country Terrace memory care unit in Altoona. Gloria says she is sad that they still can’t hug more than four months into the COVID-19 pandemic. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

  • The United States approached 5 million COVID cases.
  • Realityworks, makers of a popular baby simulator, turned 25.
  • After a massive blast in Beirut did incredible damage, an Eau Claire woman who spent 15 years living in the city spoke about her memories of the area.
  • The census launched household visits in an effort to count all Americans.
  • Mass COVID testing took place at the Eau Claire jail. Outbreaks in correctional facilities had emerged as a major concern in the pandemic.
  • More than 700 people were under quarantine in Eau Claire County.
  • A member’s outburst at a Menomonie school board meeting created controversy. The board eventually censured the member, though the vote was not unanimous.
  • Officials said high numbers of absentee ballots were being returned for the primaries, a precursor of the absentee avalanche in the general election.
  • UW-Stout announced its exchange programs would go virtual.
  • Pat Ivory retired as Eau Claire’s senior planner after spending more than 35 years with the city.
  • County supervisors began considering a forensic audit of the Eau Claire Department of Human Services.
  • New movies began appearing in theaters, but low attendance convinced most studios to hold off on major releases.
  • Blue Ox held a modified event with a limit of 250 people.
Matt Milner 

Members of the Regis High School football team protested outside the Eau Claire County Government Center in Eau Claire on August 20, 2020. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

  • Regis football players protested outside Eau Claire’s county courthouse in a bid to be allowed to play the 2020 season.
  • Plans for new housing in the southeastern part of Eau Claire had city council members considering the future of public transit for that portion of the city.
  • New protests spread across the country in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
  • Wisconsin Main Street recognized Chippewa Riverfront Park for its revitalization.
  • The L.E. Phillips Public Library unveiled designs for its planned expansion.
  • Eau Claire schools pushed back the start of virtual classes as the school year began. Students were back in classrooms for the first time since March.

September

  • Wisconsin saw a surge of new COVID cases at universities and colleges as students returned to campus. But the rise on campuses was relatively short lived locally.
  • Lois Peloquin celebrated her 50 years of service as a nurse.
Contributed photo  

Lois Peloquin, 82, of Chippewa Falls got certified in nail and foot care a few short years ago.

  • Chippewa County saw a death from eastern equine encephaly.
  • Medical professionals expressed concerns about a drop in cancer screenings during the pandemic, reminding people that early detection was critical.
  • Eau Claire County passed 1,000 COVID cases.
  • The community’s homeless shelter moved from the Hobbs Ice Center to the former Hansen’s IGA.
  • The Eau Claire Police Department announced a series of reforms it hoped would help prevent situations like what occurred in Minneapolis and Kenosha earlier in the summer.
  • Dale Peters set a new retirement date after postponing it in the spring to help the city deal with the first wave of the pandemic.
Staff file photo  

The Cobban Bridge, located halfway between Jim Falls and Cornell, is shown in this July 2017 photo. The bridge was shut down in August 2017. It remains on schedule to be replaced in 2022.

  • Wisconsin officials offered the Cobban Bridge for free to anyone who would move it in a bid to save it from becoming scrap.
Staff photo by Dan Reiland/  

Mike and Brandi Wolf reflect in September on their struggle with COVID-19 at their home in Strum. Mike suffered from blood clots, a collapsed lung and his heart stopping during a 43-day hospital stay that included 11 days on a ventilator. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

  • Mike Wolf warned area residents to take COVID seriously. He was hit hard by the virus, spending 11 days on a ventilator.
  • County sales taxes weren’t as bad as had initially been feared, officials said.
  • McDonough Park saw renovation of its pickleball courts in large part thanks to a donation from Dave Markquart.
  • Ted’s Pizza Palace celebrated 50 years in Menomonie.
  • The regional development authority signed an agreement with the Children’s Museum. The agreement paved the way for construction of the museum’s new home.
  • Vice President Mike Pence visited Eau Claire. He was the highest-ranking candidate to visit the area during the 2020 presidential campaign.
  • Draganetti’s, a longtime fixture of the Eau Claire restaurant scene, was put up for sale.
  • Officials announced Wisconsin’s summer home sales had hit an unexpected record.
  • UW-Eau Claire dug in to plant a new arboretum as part of a nationwide study on the effects of climate change.
  • The River Prairie Ginormous Pumpkin contest brought massive gourds, though crowds were discouraged.
  • Milan “Shorty” Mueller snipped his final heads as he retired after 65 years of cutting hair.
  • Eau Claire was shortchanged on state property tax relief funds to the tune of $1 million.
Staff photo by Dan Reiland  

Eau Claire barber Milan “Shorty” Mueller, 85, owner of Shorty’s Barber Shop on Birch Street, is retiring Wednesday after 65 years in the business. He is shown last week cutting the hair of longtime customer Bob Barfknecht, 82, of Eau Claire. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.


Donald Trump and Michelle Obama named 'most admired' in Gallup poll
  • Updated

He lost the popular vote and the U.S. election, but Donald Trump was named “most admired” man of 2020 in a new Gallup poll that left Democrats divvying up mentions.

Former first lady Michelle Obama won the title of most admired woman for the third year in a row, according to the annual poll released Tuesday.

Overall, Trump received 18% of mentions while former President Barack Obama and President-elect Joe Biden received 15% and 6%, respectively.

Three percent of respondents named Dr. Anthony Fauci as their most admired man while 2% chose Pope Francis.

Billionaire businessman Elon Musk, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, basketball superstar LeBron James and the Dalai Lama rounded out the list of top 10 men with 1% each.

Trump’s first-place title ended Obama’s 12-year streak as most admired man, a record run he shares with only former President Dwight Eisenhower.

Michelle Obama took top honors again after receiving 10% of mentions. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris came in second with 6%.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held the No. 1 spot for 16 consecutive years before handing the title to Obama and has ranked first 22 times in total.

Meanwhile, current first lady Melania Trump came in third this year with 4% of mentions. She joins Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson as the only former or current first ladies with no No. 1 ranking.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey received 3% of mentions this year while Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Queen Elizabeth II each received 2%.

Newly installed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and climate change activist Greta Thunberg completed the top 10 list with 1% each.

Dolly Parton, Condoleezza Rice, Malala Yousafzai, Nikki Haley, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Betty White and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also received 1% of mentions this year, but they still ranked lower than Barrett and Thunberg with fewer overall votes.

The yearly Gallup poll asks participants to name, without any prompting, the man and woman living anywhere in the world that they most admire.

Incumbent presidents tend to be top of mind. Over the poll’s 74-year history, the open-ended question has pushed the sitting president to a first-place finish 60 times.

When current presidents don’t finish first, it’s typically a reflection of low approval ratings. Such was the case with Trump in the first two years of his presidency, when his approval ratings hovered around 36% and 40% respectively, and he lost to Barack Obama.


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Marriages down slightly during pandemic
  • Updated

EAU CLAIRE — Couples may have delayed their nuptials when the COVID-19 pandemic began, but ended up still saying “I do” by the end of the year, based on statistics from counties in the Chippewa Valley.

Eau Claire County is lagging behind the number of marriage licenses issued last year, but both Chippewa and Dunn counties are close to last year’s tally.

“Surprisingly we’re doing pretty well for the year,” said Lisa Merrell, a deputy clerk in Chippewa County.

As of Tuesday, the county had issued 356 marriage licenses, which was only 11 less than it did in 2019.

While pandemic-related restrictions on large gatherings prompted many engaged couples to change their plans for large dream weddings, it didn’t stop people from tying the knot in front of smaller crowds.

“A lot of people are doing smaller weddings and we’ve had quite a few courthouse weddings, too,” Merrell said.

Fewer happy couples showed up at the courthouse after the pandemic began in mid-March, but the pace picked up by the end of the year.

Normally there are about a dozen couples that apply for marriage licenses in December, but Merrell said it was twice that this month.

Dunn County also came close to issuing the same number of marriage licenses that it did last year. As of Tuesday, the county had issued 210 licenses — just three shy of last year’s tally.

Eau Claire County has issued in excess of 600 licenses in recent years, but is notably behind that for 2020. With its 520th license granted for 2020 on Tuesday afternoon, the county was 89 short of last year’s figure.

Though the pandemic is leading to more stress on relationships as families have experienced economic hardships and less time socializing outside of their households, that didn’t result in a spike in divorces this year.

Three hundred couples had filed for divorce by Tuesday in Eau Claire County, according to statistics from Wisconsin’s online court records database. While that is more than the 276 that filed during 2019, it was still below the numbers for the four years before that.

A few more days are left in 2020, but divorce filings in both Chippewa and Dunn counties were both lower this year than the previous five years.

Jennifer Schulz-Johnston, executive director and a counselor at Marriage & Family Health Services in Eau Claire, said pressures put on relationships during the pandemic are more complex than statistics on marriages beginning and ending.

The pandemic’s impact on personal budgets, especially in the early spring when a statewide order shut down “nonessential” businesses, impacted households.

“It seems there’s a lot more strain between couples because of the financial burden,” Schulz-Johnston said.

Getting laid off from a job and worrying about making mortgage payments are among the problems that families are dealing with, she said.

More adults teleworking from home and children learning online also raises concerns for Schulz-Johnston. Aside from the socialization and emotional outlets that going to a workplace and school provide, she said they’re also often places where people report problems of domestic abuse.

The virus itself even complicated family life for people with careers on the frontline of dealing with the pandemic.

One family she’s counseled had the wife, husband and their child all living in separate homes for two months as a precaution against potentially spreading COVID-19 among them. The drastic measure was taken because one parent has a job in health care, the other works with a population especially vulnerable to the coronavirus and the child goes to school where he’s around many people.

“That was very hard on that family,” Schulz-Johnston said. They are now all living under the same roof again, she noted.

With vaccines already being given to health care workers and plans to make them more widely available next year, Schulz-Johnston is hopeful that is restoring a much-needed sense of normalcy for people.

“The mood is starting to lighten,” she said.


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