As others in this issue have noted, 2020 was probably the strangest year in anyone’s memory. COVID-19 affected everyone’s life in some way, but with determination, imagination, creativity, and more, we’ve learned to work around many of the obstacles the pandemic presented us. So, looking at the January through December 2020 issues of the Jensen Community Spirit, here’s a look back at the year just past:
• The Jensen Community Center was busy as the year began with a pair of presentations on January 18. The Point Dance Ensemble presented its members’ original choreography in the afternoon and that evening the Tomorrow River Concerts featured Claudia Schmidt and Sally Rogers.
• The members of the Hidden Studios Art Tour donated more than $900 to the Friends of the Tomorrow River.
• Flight Fitness, coordinated by Travis Stuczynski, began January 7, running on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
• The Tap Talks at Central Waters Brewery featured a presentation on Cooper’s Hawks by Dr. Robert Rosenfield January 19.
• Siren Shrub Company won an award for Innovative Local Sourcing at the 6th Annual Feast Local Foods Marketplace.
• United Way of Portage County announced that its 2019 Community Campaign had raised more than $3.2 million, exceeding the campaign’s goal of $3.05 million and the 2018 total of $3.125 million.
• Karen Jastromski was named the 2019 Friend of 4-H for her many years of work with the Portage County 4-H Leaders and associated agricultural groups.
• Woodwork by Bill McKee and paintings by Jim McKnight graced the Jensen Center’s display cases through mid-January, while the art of Amherst High School senior Ashlyn Chandler was featured in the lobby.
• The Iola Winter Carnival held its annual festival January 31-February 2.
• After an impressive Rose Bowl performance as a Badger, former Falcon football standout Tyler Biadasz announced his eligibility for the NFL Draft. Falcon and Badger teammate Garrett Groshek also garnered attention at the Rose Bowl, but opted to play for the Badgers another year.
• The Central Wisconsin Model Railroaders held their annual show February 1 and 2 at the Holiday Inn and Convention Hotel in Stevens Point.
• The Amherst Bible Church sent a mission group to Haiti from February 4-11.
• The Jensen Center held its 2nd Free Polka Sunday February 8 with music from the Richie Yurkovich Band.
• A new local business, The Swarm, opened next door to The Village Hive, as an expansion of the latter business.
• Farmshed held its local Food Fair February 8.
• A Farmer Appreciation Night was held at the Jensen Center February 13, coordinated by several area ag-related organizations. More than 130 attended.
• The Tomorrow River Concert Series featured Small Potatoes on February 15.
• The animated Addams Family film was shown February 16 as part of the Jensen Center’s Free Movie series.
• In a guest editorial, David Wright urged readers to buy local.
• The Jensen Center’s Bean Bag Tournament was held February 22.
• The art of Alaina Katrina and the tie-dye designs of Jenny Vater were shown in the Jensen Center’s display cases.
• Johnathan Farkas and Mason Haas competed at the WIAA State Wrestling Meet February 27-29 at the Kohl Center in Madison. Farkas finished fourth in his weight class, while Haas finished fifth in his.
• The Jensen Center completed an update of its large Community Room that had begun with the installation of new windows in November 2019. The wallpaper was taken down, new bead board was added along the bottom of all walls, texture was sprayed on the upper walls, and all surfaces received a fresh coat of paint.
• A modular classroom for seventh-grade students at the Tomorrow River Community Charter School was named in honor of former Tomorrow River School Superintendent Mike Toelle. The classroom was built through a collaborative effort by Mid-State Technical College, Blenker Construction, Ace Carpentry, and Tomorrow River High School students.
• Speaking of the Charter School, the school’s Executive Director, Chamomile Nusz, promoted the school’s Waldorf-inspired program in the Jensen Center’s display cases. Later in the month, art from Amherst school students was featured in the Jensen Center display cases until the Center closed to the public.
• Wisconsin musician Sam Ness performed at the Jensen Center March 7.
• Harvey Olson was honored for 50 years of service to the local banking industry by the Wisconsin Banker’s Association. International Bank of Amherst President Butch Pomeroy reflected on Olson’s history with the bank and noted that Olson was the first director to receive the award.
• The Jensen Center sponsored a bus trip to the Paine Art Center to view its Rooms of Blooms exhibit March 12.
• Ben Villnow was named to the Dean’s List at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
• The first precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19 began to be felt by mid-month as events, including a Tomorrow River Concert (Mustard’s Retreat) and a Free Movie (Frozen 2), were cancelled at the Jensen Center. The Aging and Disability Resource Center also discontinued its three-times-a-week meal program and twice-weekly Strong Bodies program. By month’s end, all events were put on hold through May and Jensen Center staff began to work from home with limited hours.
• Blenker Building Systems merged with Drexel Building Supply of Little Chute.
• Jensen Center Associate Director Mariah Singer-Brown began a series of YouTube videos in which she walked around Amherst, visiting with area business owners and residents from a safe distance to see how they were coping with and adapting to the pandemic.
• Debra Helbach began her “Who’s Your Farmer?” column in the Spirit.
• In lieu of an in-person event, the Jensen Center’s annual Variety Show became an online showcase with local musicians and performers submitting short videos which were assembled into a two-part 45-minute show that was uploaded to YouTube.
• Connie Simon and Ceil Adams’ combined 199 years of life experience was spotlighted by the inclusion of a photo of the two friends painting ceramic eggs at the Tomorrow River Villa.
• Tyler Biadasz signed with the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the NFL Draft April 25.
• While Iola’s Kristian Welch was not signed by any NFL team during the draft, he was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens immediately after the draft ended, and placed on its practice squad as its only inside linebacker.
• Patricia Shaw and Barbara Toftum were named directors emeriti of the Tomorrow River Scholarship Foundation. Both ladies had served on the board for more than 20 years each.
• Judy Floistad shared memories of Amherst’s Main Street in a letter to the editor.
• The Amherst High School Class of 2020 was featured in the Spirit’s centerspread. The class held its graduation ceremony August 1 on the new Falcon Field.
• The Tomorrow River Scholarship Foundation awarded $72,600 in scholarships to the class of 2020, bringing the total amount of scholarships awarded over the past 27 years to $739,405. Among those scholarships were five new ones, comprising a memorial for Mike Toelle, a scouting scholarship, a nursing or education scholarship from the Frizzell family, and a pair of scholarships from the Tomorrow River Business Association.
• The Tomorrow River Schools acquired River, the first of two therapy dogs, through private donations and a generous donation from Rob Helbach of Kraze Trucking and Johnson Towing.
• Amherst High School freshman Drew Lewallen was chosen for the Wisconsin State Soccer Team, part of the Olympic Development Program.
• With the decreased, almost non-existent traffic on Amherst’s Main Street due to the pandemic, the Amherst Fire Department was able to conduct a training session downtown the evening of May 11.
• Amherst native and Tomorrow River Schools graduate Eric Konkol was named the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s coach of the year.
• After being closed to the public throughout April and May, the Jensen Center began making plans and setting new policies for reopening, accepting reservations for limited gatherings later in the summer.
• Heartland Hospice honored area healthcare workers by placing yard signs, luminaries, and other care packages at the homes of those essential frontline workers.
• In addition to her “Walking Amherst” YouTube videos, Mariah Singer-Brown collected oral histories from area residents on life during the pandemic.
• The library resumed limited hours June 1.
• A two-part series on the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 began in the Spirit.
• The Michael Toelle Classroom was moved from the Tomorrow River Schools parking lot to its final location at the Tomorrow River Community Charter School. The structure’s finish work was then completed in time for school to begin in September.
• To ensure the safety of all participants, the 2020 River Run was turned into a virtual event. Registrants received a t-shirt and sticker in the mail and were able to pick up a can of River Run beer at the Jensen Center October 10, the day that the race would have been held.
• State Representative Katrina Shankland received the Wisconsin Counties Association’s “Outstanding Legislator Award.”
• With the death of their long-time director John Lay, the Stevens Point Barbershoppers hired Julie Stoffel of Nekoosa as the group’s first female director in its 67-year history. Stoffel is Director of Choral Activities at Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools.
• A trishaw program began through the efforts of Cycling Without Age Portage County. A grant that allowed for the purchase of two new vehicles made one (appropriately named “Lettie”) available in Amherst, housed at the Jensen Center. Jake Barnes was the local coordinator of the program and recruited several volunteers to give rides to area residents.
• The Process General Store, offering zero-waste natural products, opened in Nelsonville. The business would relocate to downtown Amherst before the end of 2020.
• The Tomorrow River Schools prepared three separate plans for reopening for fall classes, with a full-time face-to-face option, an all-online option, and an option that blended the prior two options.
• The Kiwanis Club of Stevens Point planted a pollinator bed at the YMCA’s Camp Glacier Hollow in rural Nelsonville.
• The Portage County Fair at the Amherst Fairgrounds focused on animal exhibits with limited attendance. The market sale was modified to comply with COVID-19 regulations.
• The month ended with the unexpected death of Spirit Editor and Publisher Bonni Miller.
• Nominations opened for the Jensen Center’s 2020 Person of the Year, Business of the Year, and Junior Person of the Year.
• The Jensen Center reopened to small group gatherings (fewer than 50 participants and only one event per day) as of August 1.
• Sciortino’s Amherst Café was sold to Holly Hurda and her cousin, Corey Shoemaker. The duo planned to remodel the interior and reopen as Fleming’s Café, a business run by their grandmother in the same location many years earlier.
• The Midwest Renewable Energy Association launched Grow Solar Central Wisconsin 4.0, to educate area residents of the benefits of solar power.
• Eleven area runners participated in the virtual Antigo Tater Trot on August 4, by running socially distanced on a 10K route on Smokey Road laid out by Janet Glodowski.
• Ray and Betty Przekurat celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary August 13.
• No Where Man by Wisconsin native Stephen J. Piotrowski was released. The exploration of the isolation and rejection felt by many Vietnam War veterans is available for purchase locally through the Tomorrow River Valley Historical Society.
• The Little Britches Rodeo returned to the Amherst Fairgrounds August 15 and 16. Amherst’s own Haley Peskis was crowned Rodeo Queen.
• Local businesses Siren Shrubs, Tapped Maple Syrup, and Top Note Tonic joined forces to offer alcohol alternative beverage kits.
• The Iola Historical Society unveiled a pair of historical markers relating to the Iola Hospital on August 19.
• Jensen Center Executive Director Brent Frankenhoff added the editorship of the Spirit to his job duties.
• The Jensen Center held its annual Plant Drop, Swap, & Shop event under its drive-through canopy from September 1 through 20. Numerous area gardeners donated items and acquired new plants for their homes.
• Ray and Lucille Patoka marked their 70th wedding anniversary September 9.
• The North Central Conservancy Trust held a grand opening of its new office at the former DNR Ranger Station in Upper Whiting Park.
• Gimme Shelter installed yurts at the Tomorrow River Community Charter School for its early childhood programs. In addition, workers from Zielie’s Tree Service cleared a number of trees from the Charter School’s property.
• College graduates from the area were listed in a special four-page section of the Spirit.
• The 2020 Community Spirit annual award winners were selected with Kris and Dave Crubaugh chosen as Persons of the Year, The Village Hive as Business of the Year, and Abigail Helbach as Junior Person of the Year.
• The traditional Hidden Studios Art Tour became a virtual event October 2-4 with attendees “visiting” participating artists’ studios online.
• Registrants for the 2020 River Run, which had become a virtual event, picked up their cans of River Run beer October 10 at the Jensen Center’s drive-through area. That same day, buyers of Central Waters Brewery’s Black Gold were able to pick up their purchases.
• A fundraiser for the Amherst Opera House began, with up to $25,000 in donations matched by the International Bank of Amherst. (We’ll have an update on how much the fundraiser collected in the February issue of the Spirit.)
• Amherst High School graduate Alexander Lutz received a $1,000 Electric Utility Worker Scholarship from the Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative.
• The Tomorrow River Community Charter School held its Festival of Courage in mid-October.
• Amherst kindergarten students weren’t able to make their annual trip to an area pumpkin patch, so the Point Pumpkin Patch brought pumpkins to the school.
• Students in Mrs. Melby’s writing class submitted essays on various subjects to the Spirit. So many students participated that the feature ran into the following month’s Spirit.
• The Future Falcons Flag Football group had a five-week season that ended October 24.
• Abigail Helbach was chosen for the Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council.
• The new bridge in Iola opened October 13 with a small parade of old cars.
• More than 60 teams signed up for the Jensen Center’s Amherst Community Scavenger Hunt November 9-15. After completing various challenges, the team Whitetail Crazy was the winner of a $75 gift card from Ambrosias. Prizes from area businesses were awarded to other teams that completed the related challenges.
• A referendum to exceed the revenue limit for the Tomorrow River School District for the next three school years passed at the November 3 election.
• The Amherst Falcons football team was named Central Wisconsin-Large Division champions.
• St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Amherst marked 160 years on November 1.
• Community policing came to Amherst with Portage County Deputy Jared Mayer holding regular office hours weekly on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to Noon. Mayer also visits other communities in Portage County.
• The Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra hired Dr. Andres Moran as its new Music Director.
• Mrs. Vander Laan’s students began their two-month series of creative stories in the Spirit.
• Heartland Hospice hired Emma Kelley as a music therapist.
• Silver Lake Lanes owner Sherry Kielblock received an Award of Excellence from the Bowling Centers Association of Wisconsin.
• Thanks to numerous area donations, Whitetail Lanes and the Iron Grille donated Thanksgiving meals to more than 20 families in need in the Iola, Amherst, and Rosholt areas.
• Spirit columnist David Wright gave local baker Vickie Vaughn a pair of rutabagas after Vaughn had taken issue with Wright’s remarks about the vegetable in the November Spirit. An update appears elsewhere in this issue.
• Fleming’s Café opened November 30.
• The Jensen Center presented a nightly series of Winter Stories each evening at 6 p.m. on Facebook with area friends and neighbors presenting a winter or holiday-themed tale.
• The annual Amherst Holiday Parade was held December 4. You’ll find photos from the event elsewhere in this issue.
• After nearly 25 years in business, the Amherst Inn Bed & Breakfast closed with the building sold by owners Bob Rausch and Tom Ashline to a family who plans to convert it into a private residence for themselves and their six children.
• H.O. Wolding donated $25,000 to Phase II of the Falcon Pride Project, earmarked for new dugouts at the Wolding Family softball field.
• The Amherst Middle School acquired a second therapy dog with the addition of Johnny.
• The Tomorrow River School District shared its spectator guidelines for the winter sports season.
• The Lettie W. Jensen Library launched its new website, www.lwjlibrary.info. Previously, the library’s website had been part of the Village of Amherst’s website.
The Jensen Community Spirit is mailed at no charge to property owners and residents within the Tomorrow River (TR) School District. Residents outside of the school district that have students attending the TR Schools will also receive issues at no charge. Gift and other subscriptions to the Jensen Community Spirit are welcome and can be mailed to addresses in the continental United States for $30 for a one-year subscription. Subscriptions are not refundable but may be transferred.
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