2023: The Year in Review

By Brent Frankenhoff

Looking at the January through December 2023 cover-dated issues of the Jensen Community Spirit, here’s a review of the year just past.


January 2023

  • The Portage County Parks Commission honored UW-Stevens Point Professor Emeritus George Kraft for 16 years of service as Parks Commissioner.
  • The Tomorrow River Conservation Club partnered with the Tomorrow River School District to promote outdoor involvement by area youth with a “Fur, Fin, and Feather” photo submission contest.
  • Spirit columnist David Wright wrote of his experiences singing in the community choir for a holiday fundraiser for the Amherst Opera House.
  • The Local Goat Company was the featured business profile for January.
  • The Tomorrow River Community Charter Schools’ eighth-grade class presented The Ramayana at the Jensen Center January 27 and 28.
  • The winners and other entrants in the first of three facial hair contests, this one focusing on Brilliant Beards, were spotlighted in a full-page feature.
  • Amherst High School Junior Alex Martin received his Eagle Scout rank in a ceremony at the Lions Camp in Rosholt.
  • In his column, Tomorrow River Schools District Administrator Mike Richie explained how miscommunication caused the excess property tax increase for District residents and how it would be addressed on the 2023 property tax bills.
  • Two full pages of student-written news, including several photo essays, rounded out the Spirit’s school section.


February 2023

  • Awards dominated the news in the February Spirit with the Amherst Fishing Club registering two of the biggest fish — a pair of Northern Pike measuring at least 35 inches each — at an ice fishing tournament in Minoqua, Amherst High School Junior Jen Omernik earning a National History Day honor, and Abigail Helbach being chosen as an FFA Chapter Farmer.
  • Ryan Ruggles was hired as the Tomorrow River Schools’ District Administrator, effective in July. Ruggles came from the Milton School District, where he had served as director of instruction. He replaced Mike Richie, who was retiring.
  • Timm and Michelle Raddatz celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary with a trip to Maui.
  • A new Freddie Falcon mascot costume, the fourth in Amherst High School history, was introduced at the boys basketball game February 17.
  • The Iola-Scandinavia Musical Theatre Department presented Grease: The School Version February 17-19.
  • A letter from “Dangerous” Bob Sauer of Iola began a series of such missives, which led to his becoming a regular columnist later in the year.
  • Beard Bros. BBQ, which shares space with the Local Goat Company in the former Tomorrow River Supper Club, was the focus of February’s “Buy Local” feature.
  • The art of Alannah Olson was on display in the Jensen Center lobby, while Jensen Center Executive Director Brent Frankenhoff’s John Deere toys and memorabilia collection added a touch of green and gold to the Center’s display cases.
  • The winners and other entrants in the Jensen Center’s second facial hair contest, this one focusing on Prodigious Partial Beards, were shown.
  • Noah Spoelstra constructed an outdoor classroom and pavilion area at the Tomorrow River Schools as part of his Eagle Scout project.
  • Appropriate to the time of year, columnist Paula O’Kray offered tips on dealing with dreary winter days.


March 2023

  • The Amherst High School music department presented High School Musical On Stage! on the Jensen Center stage March 9-12.
  • The Iola Winter Sports Club Nordic Ski Team boys and girls each took third place at the state distance ski meet in Cable.
  • The Jensen Center’s trio of Fantastic Facial Hair contests concluded with the Marvelous Mustache contest with the winners and entrants pictured in the center of the Spirit.
  • Several Amherst High School band and choir students participated in the Central Wisconsin Conference All Star Honors Concert in Plainfield.
  • Brian Brown was ordained as a Minister of Healing after completion of a Pastoral Healing Training Program March 1.
  • The Jensen Center started a Pokémon League and resumed its Middle School Gaming Club.
  • The Amherst Fire District acquired a GPS alert system for one of its trucks.
  • The Orsund Memorial Basketball Camp helped train girls in grades K-3 in basic basketball skills March 4 and 11.


April 2023

  • Village of Amherst President Mike Juris retired from his leadership role April 18 after more than 20 years.
  • Construction began on the Tomorrow River Schools’ STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics) addition.
  • Continuing the Eagle Scout news for the year, John Carlson of Amherst built benches and tables for the Speckmann Dog Park.
  • Student pilot Lainie Zinser, a junior at Amherst High School, completed her first solo flight on her way to earning her private pilot’s license. Her parents, Robert “Bam Bam” and Michelle, remarked on her fascination with flying from an early age.
  • Tomorrow River School District bus driver Pat Stuczynski marked 50 years of driving for the District.
  • The Jensen Center hosted its annual Variety Show April 15, a Migration Day event April 23, and kicked off its annual Youth Soccer program April 22.
  • The views of Village of Nelsonville Trustee candidates Mark Brueggeman and Mark Pearson were presented.
  • Central Sands Community High School Administrative Director Amy Boelk presented a review of the school’s inaugural semester.
  • Amherst’s Own Child Care marked 33 years of business. The daycare has served more than 1,000 area children in its 1/3 of a century existence.
  • The Nelsonville Village Hall was demolished April 20 to make way for a new 1,500-square-foot structure.


May 2023

  • The Jensen Center reignited its concert series with a performance by Good Morning Bedlam May 6.
  • Drilling began in early May for a series of seven water monitoring wells in the Village of Nelsonville.
  • Amherst’s annual Swap-o-Rama added new events, including a Boot (Trunk) Sale, antique appraisals, and help with online posting of items for sale.
  • Amherst High School Sophomore Addison Brock earned two medals at the Level 9 USA Gymnastics Western Championships in Boise, Idaho, May 7.
  • The Amherst Opera House held a Thrifter’s Ball May 13.
  • The Amherst Falcon High School Soccer program partnered with the Jensen Center to offer an extended soccer season for sixth through eighth graders May 23 to June 8, focusing on skill and tactical development followed by 3v3 play.
  • The Rising Star Mill in Nelsonville held its annual art show and sale May 27 and 28.
  • Eighty-six members of the Amherst High School Class of 2023 were featured in the Spirit’s centerspread.
  • Bill and Ann Patoka’s children and grandchildren sent the Spirit a pair of pictures to celebrate the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.
  • The month was rounded out by the official groundbreaking for the Tomorrow River Schools STEAM addition. The event was highlighted by the news that Herbert Wolding had donated $500,000 to the project. The Tomorrow River School Board had to revise the project’s plans after a significant rise in the cost of materials pushed costs $3.2 million over budget.


June 2023

  • After a series of thought-provoking letters, “Dangerous” Bob Sauer received his own column.
  • The Harleigh Games, a fundraiser for the Harleigh A. Firkus Memorial Scholarship Fund featuring crossfit competitions for all ages and skill levels, was held at the Amherst Fairgrounds June 25.
  • The Jensen Center coordinated a bus trip to the New Life Lavender and Cherry Farm and the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo.
  • A hummingbird landed in Judy Floistad’s palm while she was in the parking lot at Amherst Family Foods.
  • Words with My Father, a collection of memoirs by father and son co-authors Lowell and Lukas Klessig, was released.
  • An electronics recycling event, held June 1 at the Town of Amherst Town Hall, brought in more than 21.42 tons (42,842 pounds) of material from 204 residents, representing 26 of Portage County’s 27 municipalities.
  • The Amherst High School Spanish Club visited Costa Rica for several days.
  • Matthew Carlson of Amherst and his dog, Carmen San Diego, competed in several events at the United Kennel Club Premier Nationals June 14-18.
  • “The Sustainers,” a sculpture by Mark Fischer inspired by the Native American myth of the Three Sisters, was dedicated at Lake Emily June 13.
  • The art of Amherst High School Senior Jasmine Bertelson was on display in the Jensen Center lobby, while Dan Toftum’s nature photography graced the Center’s display cases.
  • Tomorrow River Schools eighth-grader Jesse Blenker competed with the Wisconsin Junior High Rodeo team at the 18th annual National Junior High Finals Rodeo June 18 to 24.


July 2023

  • The Jensen Center marked its 35th anniversary with the first part of a two-part historical retrospective in the Spirit, which included a look at updates to the Center’s rooms over the past six years.
  • The Town of New Hope Firecracker Parade honored Herbert Wolding as the grand marshal for its July 4 event.
  • The following weekend, the Jensen Center took a busload of fans to a Milwaukee Brewers game.
  • The Portage County Master Gardeners held its annual Garden Parade July 8, visiting six properties in the Stevens Point area.
  • More than 70 area children participated in Krazy Kamp: The Musical July 20-22 in the Jensen Center theater, straining the building’s current dressing and backstage area to its limits.
  • Chef Shelly Platten held a Farm Market Cooking Class at the Jensen Center July 23.
  • The Portage County Fair — Amherst was held July 13-16.


August 2023

  • The Little Britches Rodeo of Wisconsin held its annual event August 19 and 20 at the Amherst Fairgrounds.
  • The two-part story on the Jensen Center’s history, marking its 35th anniversary, concluded with a focus on the facility’s theater.
  • Olivia Ligman, daughter of Brian and Cheryl Ligman of Amherst and a 2020 Tomorrow River Schools graduate, received the 2023 Richard Ralph Winter Phoenix Rising Humanitarian Scholarship from the College of Letters & Science at UW-Madison.
  • The North New Hope Lutheran Church held its annual Drive Your Tractor to Church event August 13 with a tractor display, picnic, music, and more.
  • Lizzie Gburek resigned from her job as director of the Lettie W. Jensen Memorial Library and was replaced by Kristi Ruggles, whose husband, Ryan, had just started his new job as Tomorrow River Schools Administrator.
  • Spirit columnist Paula O’Kray shared some of the ways that she has fun on road trips, including a shaker egg and a very loud kazoo.
  • A pop-up splash pad provided by the Amherst Fire District in the parking lot of Peace Lutheran Church provided needed relief in record-setting temperatures August 23.
  • With the ongoing construction at the Tomorrow River Schools, a number of meetings and seminars were moved to the Jensen Center. While the school’s usual late August open house was postponed, the Center held a Back to School Night August 30.


September 2023

  • The Tomorrow River Business Association held its Celebrate Amherst festival September 9 with craft vendors, a classic car show, and more in downtown Amherst. A vendor event was held at the Jensen Center at the same time.
  • A benefit for Butch Somers, who was battling liver cancer, was held at Bootleggers in Amherst Junction September 17.
  • Them Coulee Boys performed at the Jensen Center September 23.
  • The Amherst High School Classes of 1972 and 1973 hosted a multi-class reunion at the Jensen Center September 30.
  • The Tomorrow River Conservation Club acquired approximately 20 acres of land in central Portage County.
  • Several teachers marked 10 years with the Tomorrow River Schools, including Roberta Snyder, Ashley Louis (now Phelan), Travis Zellmer, and Matt Miller.


October 2023

  • The Jensen Center and the Spirit announced their 2023 Spirit Awards with Verna Toftum chosen as Person of the Year, 13 Chairs as Business of the Year, and Scout Spadoni as Junior Person of the Year.
  • The Hidden Studios Art Tour offered visits to its members’ workspaces in its annual event October 6-8.
  • Create Portage County’s Basin Short Film Festival had a screening of short documentaries at the Jensen Center October 6.
  • Kristian Welch of Iola joined the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad before being moved up to the regular team roster.
  • The Chet Krause Legacy Park in Iola was dedicated October 13.
  • The 17th River Run, a race/walk event that benefits the Jensen Center, was held October 14 with nearly 750 participants.
  • “Who’s Your Farmer” columnist Deb Helbach returned to the Spirit’s pages with a profile on Gather Farm & Flowers.
  • To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, Ron and Ann Trzebiatowski took a land and sea adventure trip in Alaska.
  • Amherst cross-country runner Max Voss finished second in his division at State with a time of 16:00.2, the highest any boy from Amherst has ever placed both in placing and time.
  • Jason Martin was selected to perform as part of the Wisconsin School Music Association’s State Honors Mixed Choir at Madison’s Overture Center October 26.


November 2023

  • H.O. Wolding founder and community philanthropist Herbert Wolding died November 17 at the age of 111. At the time of his death, he was the oldest man in Wisconsin and the only man in the state to reach 110 and 111. Only one person in the state, Ruth Stryzewski of Oshkosh, was older. She will turn 112 on February 20, 2024.
  • Barber Adam Johnson acquired Jake’s Barbershop in Iola on November 1, renaming it Johnson’s Barbershop. The change came after nearly 60 years of business by Stanley “Jake” Jakubek.
  • Canadian singer and songwriter David Francey returned to the Tomorrow River area with a concert at the Jensen Center November 16. He was accompanied by violinist Jess Wedden and guitarist Chris Murphy.
  • A pair of workshops — one focusing on fall centerpieces and the other on cooking with fall flavors — were held at the Jensen Center November 5 and 12, respectively.
  • Tomorrow River School Board member Kelly Loken received the Level A Award for her service from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
  • Tomorrow River School District counselors Shelley Swanson, Jennifer Berdan, and Kat Cibaric received the 2024 Wisconsin School Counseling Team Award from the Wisconsin School Counselor Association.


December 2023

  • The first weekend of December was busy all around Amherst with Tomorrow River Business Association’s “Tomorrow River Christmas” sales and specials throughout the community as well as a lighted holiday parade, the Tomorrow River Christmas Craft Show at the Jensen Center, The Amherst Music Department’s annual Holiday Fest concert, and a Maker’s Market at the Tomorrow River Community Charter School.
  • Fisher Aubrey Raddatz celebrated a streak of fishing for 200 consecutive days.
  • The Jensen Center hosted a Family Holiday Party with a performance by musician Randy Peterson, ornament creation, and a visit from Santa December 9. The celebration was part of an Amherst-wide event, which included a pair of concerts at the Amherst Opera House and a tree lighting that evening.
  • Tips for avoiding internet scams and protecting your computer and other smart devices were given in a pair of presentations at the Jensen Center December 13 and 14.
  • The South New Hope Church was among many organizations honoring veterans as part of Wreaths Across America December 16.
  • Alex Martin (left) received his Eagle Scout award from adult leader and past Scoutmaster Neil Denny (right).


    Left to right: New TRSD Administrator Ryan Ruggles, son Sam, wife Kristi, and son Jacob during a visit to Rib Mountain.


    Incoming Amherst Village President Dave Crubaugh presented outgoing Village President Mike Juris with a commemorative plaque for his years of service at the Amherst Village Board’s April 11 meeting.


    The official groundbreaking ceremony for the Tomorrow River Schools’ STEAM addition was held May 30.


    The Jensen Community Center


    Iola’s Kristian Welch joined the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad and was later moved to the regular team roster.


    Fans old and new attended David Francey’s concert at the Jensen Center November 16. Left to right, some of those fans included Beth and Vic Akemann, Louise and Tom Pease, and L.J. Booth, who took a photo with Francey, guitarist Chris Murphy, and violinist Jess Wedden.

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