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Notable people from the Chippewa Valley who died in 2018 include, from left, Lee Markquart, Henry Lippold, Lois Hodgins, BJ Farmer and Billy Noss.

The Chippewa Valley in 2018 lost community-minded philanthropists, a face of Eau Claire theater, a tip-top journalist and the man known simply as "Billy."

Lee Markquart spent 70 years in the automotive business, but he also was known for his philanthropy. Markquart died at 87 in May. 

“He was a wonderful man, and he was always very kind and very generous,” said Sue Bornick, the Eau Claire Community Foundation’s executive director.

Sara Antonson worked at Markquart Chevrolet before becoming executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Chippewa Valley.

“He taught me not only how to run a business … but he also taught me what it was like to be a leader,” she said.

Brian J. "BJ" Farmer was a community-minded businessman and philanthropist who made things happen. He died in September at 97.

“He really was an example of the best of that generation,” said Ann Kaiser, director of philanthropy for HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, who knew Farmer and his wife, Bea, from their donations to the medical facility. “Being a World War II pilot, an entrepreneur, a business leader, a philanthropic leader — his life was a tremendous example of service and pouring yourself into others.”

Former Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce President Bob McCoy said Eau Claire is a better place because of Farmer.

“This community wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for people like BJ Farmer," McCoy said.

Lois Hodgins, who for 35 years acted in productions and was group sales director for Fanny Hill Inn & Dinner Theatre near Eau Claire, died in May at age 61.

“I think Lois was certainly the face of theater in Eau Claire,” said Dennis Heyde, who owned the business before it closed in 2014. “Her whole life was Fanny Hill.”

Henry Lippold, known for his upbeat personality as he trained future journalists at UW-Eau Claire, died in October at 89.

Mike Rindo, a Lippold disciple who worked in television journalism for 25 years before joining UW-Eau Claire, where he is assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, called his former professor “one of a kind.”

“His passion for journalism was as intense and expansive as anyone I knew in the profession all the years I worked in it,” Rindo said. “He ate, slept and drank journalism all hours of the day. It was all-encompassing.”

Billy Noss was a fixture at the Carson Park baseball stadium for decades, shagging balls hit out of play by local baseball teams. Noss died in May at 78.

“Everybody knew Billy,” said local sports announcer Hayes Callaghan. "All the coaches, all the people everywhere we went, they seemed to know who he was. And after games, Billy would have more girls hanging around him than the athletes.”

Billy’s popularity was due to his energetic personality and kind heart, Callaghan said.

“His energy and his kindness, it totally trumped any kind of disability he had,” Callaghan said of Billy, a longtime Special Olympics athlete. “He was so energetic that nobody could believe he was 78.”

The Chippewa Valley lost many other notable people this year.

Developer Dan Clumpner used his vision on many Chippewa Valley projects, including Oakwood Mall and the Pablo Center at the Confluence. He died in September at 74.

“He’s such a visionary and humble person,” said Jason Jon Anderson, executive director of the Pablo Center. “He’s been involved in almost every major project that has moved Eau Claire in the past decade and likely the past three decades.”

Menomonie historian John Russell was instrumental in the creation of the Russell J. Rassbach Heritage Museum in Wakanda Park and in restoring Mabel Tainter Theater. Russell died in August at 93.

Jack Holzheuter, retired member of the Wisconsin State Historical Society, said Russell always had a fresh story, rarely repeating himself.

“His enthusiasm for state and local history was remarkable,” he said.

Carol Gienapp of Chippewa Falls dedicated her life to serving the community through her work starting the Chippewa Area Mentor Program and later as leader of the Community Foundation of Chippewa County. She died in August at 74. 

Rich Chryst, a TTM Technologies engineer, has volunteered as a mentor for 25 years and worked alongside Gienapp for years.

“She was just a woman who cared about children,” Chryst said. “That program is still there because she cared about children so much. She was just someone with unbelievable passion for kids, especially at-risk children.”

Art Gunderson lived his 93 years dedicated to his family and friends, his faith and his community. The Pleasantville native died in September.

“It doesn’t matter what life threw at him — he always got up and went back to work the next day and kept doing the right thing,” Nels Gunderson said of his father. “If you did things the right way and worked hard, to him, you were living right. He lived to serve his community and do good, and that’s exactly how he raised us.”

John Neihart, who was Chippewa Fire District chief for 22 years and a firefighter for 51 years, died in January at 72.

“He was capable of great generosity and a good mentor to young firefighters,” said John Andersen, the Chippewa Fire District’s deputy chief of prevention, who worked alongside Neihart. 

Mahlon Peterson, longtime Eau Claire County agricultural agent, devoted much of his career to promoting the ag industry and education. He died in January at 71.

“He certainly was a person who was very dedicated to his work, and he was well thought of by the people he served,” said Colleen Bates, an Eau Claire County Board member who knew Peterson for years. “He was a good, good guy.”

Barry Lynn, founder of ChaliceStream dance studio in Ladysmith, died in January at age 103.

Lynn combined his artistic talents and costuming to create unique, theatrical performances.

“He was not concerned with what other people were doing,” said Michael Doran, who co-owned ChaliceStream with Lynn. “He showed them how modern dance could carry a story as well, or at least an idea. A concept.”

Michael Maresh, known in the local music scene as “The Piano Man,” died in March in a traffic crash. He was 68.

"He made friends on the spot,” said Gary Jungerberg, who played in various bands with Maresh beginning in the ‘70s. “He was an entertainer. People were drawn to him.”

John Richie, an Eau Claire attorney and County Board member, died in May at 62.

Among those saddened by Richie’s death was state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, an attorney who practiced with Richie since 1998.

“John was a brilliant lawyer and an absolute wonderful human being,” Wachs said.

Ray Szmanda was known by millions for an enthusiastic smile and energetic exclamations of “Save big money!” during TV sales pitches for Menards. He died at his home in Antigo in May at 91.

Menards spokesman Jeff Abbott called Szmanda “a steady fixture” in the company’s advertising for 22 years before retiring in 1998.

“To this day, Ray’s friendly, enthusiastic and fun-loving personality have made a lasting impression on our customers and all of us at Menards,” Abbott said. 

Former UW-Eau Claire professor Kenneth “Jerry” Foote was a key figure in launching the Chippewa Valley Habitat for Humanity in 1992, and the organization has since built 46 homes in the Eau Claire area. He died at 83 in May.

The Rev. Jeanny House said the organization was important to Foote.

“He had a natural, deep compassion for people and the belief that people deserve to be well-housed,” House said. “It’s housing for people who just need a break. His email signature signoff was ‘Keep on hammering with H4H.’”

Chippewa Falls attorney Julie Anderl was committed to helping her clients not only in her capacity as a lawyer but on a personal level, often offering assistance to them financially and emotionally. She died in August at age 59 of Alzheimer's disease.

“She was such a kind, kind soul,” said David Raihle Jr., a Chippewa Falls attorney. “She always cared about her clients personally as well as professionally.”

Lloyd Joyal was an educator and Eau Claire school board member who never lost contact with his former students. He died in October at 85.

“He was a real people person," said his wife of 61 years, Yvonne. "Lloyd could connect with people, and he was able to do that with his students. Their keeping in touch with him all these years always meant a lot to us.”

WEAU-TV weatherman Howard Trickey became a local celebrity in the 1950s and '60s by drawing cartoons on air and wearing zany hats while sharing weather updates. He died in October at 93.

“People who grew up in Eau Claire, when TV was in its infancy, they remember Howard Trickey,” said former area radio personality Marty Green.

Mike McGrouary, founder of Mike's Smokehouse restaurant, turned the barbecue joint into an Eau Claire institution for more than two decades. He died in November at 73.

“Mike was part of a dying breed of independent restaurateurs who was there at the start and built his restaurant from the ground up,” said Joanne Palzkill, owner of Draganetti’s Ristorante and Za51 Pizzeria.

Michael Christensen, chief executive officer of Grace Lutheran Communities, led the organization through multiple expansion projects during his 20 years at the nonprofit. He died in November at 65.

“He could have gone somewhere else and made way more money,” said Diane Rowe, who worked with Christensen. “But he chose to stay at Grace ... He was so loyal to this place.”

Former Leader-Telegram Editor Eugene Ringhand was known as a quiet leader of the newsroom, working at the newspaper more than 40 years. He died in December at 82.

“He loved the newspaper,” said his daughter Karen Preston. “He’d work six days a week, and on Sunday he’d sit and read it at the kitchen table with a red pen, making corrections.”

The sports world lost some giants.

Glenn St. Arnault was a big baseball man, and for nearly 60 years, played a key role at all levels of the sport from Little League on up in Eau Claire. St. Arnault, who was the first manager of the Eau Claire Cavaliers, died in May at 79.

“He is on the Mount Rushmore of Eau Claire baseball,” said Mark Faanes, longtime American Legion baseball coach in the city.

As Bill Rowlett, executive director of the Eau Claire Express, said of St. Arnault: “He was a friend to everybody. He had an influence on an awful lot of kids in town.”

Dan Conway of Superior, who taught and coached in Chetek for many years, was a world-class masters runner who always returned to Eau Claire to run the Buckshot Run, which he won in its first year in 1983. He died in May at 79.

Buckshot Run organizers dedicated a race to him with the “The Dan Conway 5-mile” Labor Day weekend.

"It salutes Conway’s dedication and loyalty to a cause," Leader-Telegram sports reporter Ron Buckli wrote. "He earned it."

Dwain Mintz, the winningest basketball coach in UW-Stout history, was credited with turning the university's program into a powerhouse that gained nationwide attention. Mintz died in October at 90.

“I have known Dewey for 46 years, and he has always been there for so many of us,” said Ed Andrist, who was an assistant coach under Mintz before becoming head coach for 18 years. “Our success has been his success. He taught us well so we could go out and teach others. His legacy will live forever.”

Johnson can be reached at 715-833-9211 and gary.johnson@ecpc.com.