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2019 in Review: A year of growth, change for Wausau Pilot & Review

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By Shereen Siewert, Publisher

What a year it’s been.

As we prepare for the dawn of 2020, the staff at Wausau Pilot and Review took a look at all the ways in which 2019 shaped our lives, our news coverage, and even our newsroom. For us, 2019 has been a year of incredible growth and significant change, and we’re grateful to you, our readers, for making that happen.

Looking back at 2019, Wausau Pilot and Review published more than 4,000 stories. Most were written by people in our newsroom. But we also rounded out coverage with stories from the Associated Press, Courthouse News, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Kaiser Health News, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, and other well-respected newsrooms publishing stories with huge impact for our readers.

In addition, the vast majority of those stories are local — something we take great pride in — because we firmly believe people will always care more about what happens in their own neighborhoods than in Appleton, Green Bay, Milwaukee, or any other Wisconsin community.

Our audience has grown substantially, too. Our stories were read more than 7.2 million times in 2019, a nearly 63 percent increase over 2018. That’s great news for our sponsors and advertising partners, many of whom joined us this year. Learn more about opportunities for 2020 here.

In March, Wausau Pilot and Review won four statewide newspaper association awards, including three first-place prizes. Then in October, we earned a first-place national award for investigative reporting at the annual Local Independent Online Newspaper Publishers (LION) conference in Nashville. Wausau Pilot and Review was also a finalist in the Publisher of the Year category, an award that went to Richland Source, an independent online news organization that covers three counties in Ohio.

We continued and expanded our local high school sports coverage, which means high school athletes from Wausau East, West, Newman and D.C. Everest are getting the attention they deserve for all their hard work. If you value this coverage, please consider a sports sponsorship to help keep this coverage going and to strengthen it as we move forward.

But which stories had the most impact? Here’s the list for 2019.

1. A Schofield man opened fire at a Wausau cemetery, killing his former manager and injuring two others.

In October, the Wausau community was rocked after a shooting at Pine Grove Cemetery that left the cemetery’s beloved manager dead. Police say Henry “Hank” West meticulously prepared for the attack and could have killed dozens, or even hundreds, of people had his plans not been foiled by first responders, according to a criminal complaint filed Oct. 18 in Marathon County Circuit Court. West faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if he is convicted of killing 52-year-old Patty Grimm. He is also accused of shooting William Buhse, 60, and Rosemelia Short, 70, who survived.

2. A local CNA was accused of disconnecting a patient’s ventilator to “watch him suffer and die.”

Police say See Xiong, 21, of Wausau was a caregiver at Mount View Care Center, 2400 Marshall St., when she allegedly disconnected the system for the 57-year-old patient. She faces charges of first degree recklessly endangering safety, a felony; and reckless abuse of patients causing bodily harm, a misdemeanor, in connection with the Nov. 26 incident.

The patient, whose name is being withheld to protect his identity, survived.

3. The city considered fines for hunters who hang deer in their yards.

This suggestion did not go over well with the hunting community, to put it mildly.

Hunters who display deer carcasses in their yards would have been subject to a $50 fine if the ordinance passed. But after public outcry, the proposal was scuttled.

4. A wave of violence in and around downtown Wausau, including a drive-by shooting and a baseball bat attack on a 15-year-old boy, left the community reeling.

Four juvenile suspects were arrested in connection with the beating, which sparked a retaliatory drive-by shooting in downtown Wausau. The boy who was attacked survived, but is forever changed, according to his family. And court cases for all suspects involved are moving forward.

Shortly afterward, another shooting took place, this time resulting in the hospitalization of a Wausau East student. A 20-year-old suspect is facing attempted homicide charges in that case. Read more here.

5. A beloved retired Wausau east music teacher died, prompting an unprecedented response from former students who said he changed their lives.

Jeff Krause taught music and served as chair of the music department at Wausau East during his tenure, which began in 1976. In addition to teaching at East, he organized and directed the Wausau Boys Choir, conducted and accompanied choral clinics, sang with community choirs and performed for many events throughout the area. He was a talented composer and arranger, and his choirs often performed his unique arrangements.

His legacy lives on through his thousands of students, many of whom went on to become musicians themselves.

6. Michael’s Supper Club’s closure had everyone talking.

Michael’s Supper Club in Rib Mountain closed at the end of September to make way for a Glass Nickel Pizza location, which will open in 2020.

Chef Adam Jamgochian went on to open a new restaurant in downtown Wausau, Ciao. We wish him the best in his new venture.

Our story on the sale and demolition of Mountain Lanes also carried weight with readers. Read our reporter’s take on it here.

7. A former Marathon Tavern League owner is accused of stealing thousands from the organization.

A Weston bar owner is accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the Marathon County Tavern League’s operating fund, an alleged theft that was uncovered in July.

Wausau Pilot and Review first reported on the allegations in October when Dale Eaton, an attorney for the league, confirmed a former member was under investigation after financial irregularities suggested league funds were being used for individual use. We chose not to disclose the name of the suspect until charges filed Dec. 17 identified him as Daniel T. Elliott, co-owner of Big Dan & Space’s Kelly Club, 4810 Ross Ave., Weston.

His case is continuing to work its way through the system.

8. Our Humans of Wausau series continues to be a big hit.

The series, made possible in part through a grant by the B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation, highlights the lives of ordinary people living extraordinary lives, and reminds us that all of us have a story to tell. See the entire series here.

9. Despite $40 million in debt, a former Riverlife Villages partner purchased a prime Wausau property for $2.2 million.

The former principal partner in a multi-million dollar public-private partnership with the city of Wausau purchased the property that now houses ABC Supply Co. for roughly $2.2 million in May, five weeks after filing for bankruptcy protection in which he reported being more than $40 million in debt.

Mike Frantz was part of the original development team for Wausau’s Riverlife Villages development, which included about $2.74 million in taxpayer-funded incentives. He remained a principal figure in the development until last spring and filed for bankruptcy on April 9.

10. Environmental concerns continue to swirl in the Thomas Street and Riverside Park neighborhood.

The story that was most read was one in which crews replacing utilities as part of the Thomas Street project hit groundwater on May 16, fueling concerns from local advocates and neighborhood residents that soil contaminated by decades of manufacturing practices could pose an environmental risk.

In addition, Citizens for a Clean Wausau continues their fight for soil testing in Riverside Park. We’ll be hearing more about this in January.

As always, our news continues to be free. We’ll never have a paywall — ever — because we don’t believe you should have to pay for news about your local community. Instead, we rely on voluntary memberships, tax-deductible donations (matched dollar-for-dollar through Dec. 31!) and advertising revenue to pay our journalists, our rent, our hosting fees, and other operating expenses.

Thanks for a great year, readers. Here’s to the start of another great chapter!

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