Wausau Pilot & Review

2022 is a banner year for Wausau, marking its 150-year anniversary and presenting a unique opportunity to honor the city’s past, present and future.  A lot has happened since 1848, when George Stephens came to survey the area. From the first mill established on the Wisconsin River to the first county fair, first telephone company, the first Hmong families arriving in the city, the establishment of Wausau Events and the first Wausau-based World Cup Kayak Races, there is a great deal to be proud of. In that vein, ‘Celebrate Wausau’ is a year-long series of happenings that commemorate the sesquicentennial. Throughout the year, Mayor Katie Rosenberg and Executive Assistant Jean Frankel have worked closely with the Marathon County Historical Society, Wausau Events Executive Director Ali Aderholdt and members of the public to hold events that detail the city’s rich history. The Historical Society has provided detailed information on the city’s past and developed monthly programs geared toward the sesquicentennial, while Wausau Events helped plan a community celebration that will be held July 23. The day-long event  features a “parade through time,” leading participants on a chronological history lesson that culminates with a fantastic party at Marathon Park.

Mayor Rosenberg said there are many lessons to be learned by celebrating the past.

“Not only can we learn about how our previous city and community leaders solved complex problems, but we can also learn about gaps in decision-making that weren’t apparent then so we can do better,” Rosenberg said. “In the past 150 years, women and people of color have been recognized as integral to our democracy and we are lucky to have much more diversity in our decision-making, even if we still have work to do. 

Rosenberg said Wausau can also build on proven solutions. “We recently had a committee meeting dedicated to learning about how our community prepared for Hmong Refugees in the 1970s to help us strategize about how to welcome Afghan, Congolese, Ukrainian, and other refugees,” she said. “One of the members of the committee talked about how the successes of our community directly helped him and his family after they moved from a refugee camp in Thailand to Wausau.”

The investments our city’s founders and leaders made in our city have helped us grow and thrive as a community. They invested in our parks system, in the arts, and built homes and businesses that are still around today. We have had congressional representatives who have advocated for our natural resources and for opportunities for everyone, she said.

“We know because we can see it in our history that when we pull together and build on the legacies of those who came before us, Wausau can be successful.”

Read on for more about the year-long celebration of Wausau’s history – and how to get involved. Click here to see a timeline of Wausau’s landmark moments over the past 150 years.

Courtesy of the City of Wausau

‘Celebrate Wausau’ is a year-long event that marks the city’s 150-year anniversary. Why is celebrating the city’s history so important to the community?

You can’t walk anywhere in Wausau without seeing something that harkens back to the origins of our city and as a community gathering space before European Americans settled here.  There are trees around here older than our city, there are streets named after the loggers who founded our city, and the name Wausau itself is an Anishinaabe word that means ‘far away place.’ Our history points to who we are. 

But we also have the opportunity to dream and strategize about what we can be. We have a history of welcoming immigrants, welcoming refugees, and being a great place for folks to start new lives filled with purpose and success. We are still that community. In the past, Wausau was known as a place to harvest old white pines, now those same white pines are features in Marathon Park and we’re once again using the Wisconsin River and our outdoor features as a draw to our community. 

Our history shows us our shared values and allows us to take pride in our community together. 

What’s happening on July 23? What can party-goers expect to see? 

The parade will feature everything from lumberjacks to the current mayor, and lots of things in between.  We want to have every era of Wausau represented. Any group or business is welcome to be in the parade – you will be placed either when your group came into existence in Wausau, or you can choose to represent something in Wausau’s history.

There will be music from noon until 10 p.m. featuring the Wausau Concert Band, The Allen Brothers, an Airkraft reunion, The Brady Luke Band, and Vic Ferrari with special guest The Positions. There will be a Business Showcase in the Exhibition Building, carnival games, family activities, train rides, activities at the Little Red School House, vehicles from the Wausau Police and Wausau Fire Departments, the I.S. Horgen Farm Museum, and of course, food and drink.

Tell us about some of the other events this year. What have you done so far, and what’s coming up?

In February, our Poet Laureate, Dawn Anderson, and the Public Library had a virtual poetry reading; Dawn wrote a poem about Wausau’s history and read it. In May, there was the Tales Between Two Depots walking tour that had seven stops and was pretty amazing.  In June, we had a free pool day and pop -up Splash Pad with the Wausau Fire Department.  In the months ahead, there will be a Cemetery Walk, Poetry Walk, and A Grand Evening of Wausau. We are also hoping to have Santa come in on a special conveyance for the Holiday Parade.

Ultimately, what do you want people to come away with when they attend an event or get involved?  

I would love for people to learn something new (yet old) about Wausau. There is so much history and I find it fascinating how Wausau keeps reinventing itself to stay relevant, yet continues to be an amazing place to live, work and play.

We want people to have pride in some of the things Wausau fostered and also resolve that we can all work together to make Wausau a great place to live, work, and find purpose. 

How to Connect:

Follow the Celebrate Wausau Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/CelebrateWausau

Online here: https://www.celebratewausau.org