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Tragedies, changes, and causes for hope: Our 2020 stories that hit home
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Farming Community comes together to harvest Albany family’s crops

Albany farmers Glenn and Joann Brewer died months apart in 2020, but surrounding farmers gave up their time and equipment to help the remaining Brewer family harvest their crops Oct. 6. The 170-acre bean crop was harvested in just three hours. “A lot of work got done by a lot of people in a short time because everyone worked together. It was a tribute to what mom and dad mean to people,” said Tony Brewer, the couple’s adult son.

Monticello man dies in farming accident

On Oct. 7, John Marty, 62 of Monticello, became pinned under his combine while trying to repair a mechanical problem. He was able to call 911 for help, but died a short time later after “quite a few life-saving measures” were tried, according to Monticello Fire Chief Kevin Komprood. Komprood called Marty “a big member of the community here.” A longtime dairy and crop farmer in the area, Marty also owned rental properties in and around Monticello, and was the decades-long owner of a tavern on Main Street, The Rathskeller.

Monroe parents launch mental health app to prevent suicide

Teri and Kurt Ellefson introduced a new app in 2020 aimed at helping teenagers struggling with mental illness and depression. The pair lost their only son Jacob to depression in 2012, and have since created the Jacob’s SWAG (support with awareness and giving) Foundation. The app features 24/7 connectivity and assistance, from setting up a “squad” of friends to look after one another, to options to call 911 or call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. “We want people to just always be able to feel like they can turn to someone. There’s someone out there,” Teri said.

Controversial wind project scrapped; separate solar project eyed

EDF Renewables, a French-based company with North American headquarters in San Diego, had taken charge of the Sugar River Wind Farm, which was to be built in Jefferson Township southeast of Monroe. In September, landowners who had leased their land received a letter informing of the company’s termination of the project. A few miles north in Albany, Alliant Energy announced plans to build a solar farm that would be up and running in the second half of 2023.

Brodhead’s Kintzle named Teacher of the Year

Brooke Kintzle, a middle school special education teacher in Brodhead, was named one of the 86 recipients of the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation’s Teacher Fellowship Program and was one of five named 2021 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year. She was presented her award from State Superintendent Carolyn Standford Taylor. Kintzle is a Brodhead graduate and returned to her hometown after graduating from UW-La Crosse.

Monroe mom forms nonprofit group to support NICU parents, staff after traumatizing experience

Megan Schilt, owner and therapist at Avenues Counseling, created the nonprofit group Project Quiet Warrior to advocate for other “NICU moms” and get resources into hospitals to help parents and medical providers. “There’s not enough support for parents and for the staff” in the NICU setting, and the problem is systematic, she said. “I’m working on making some changes in the system on this.”

Schilt’s daughter, Lennon, spent the first five weeks of her life in 2017 in the neonatal intensive care unit at Unity-Point Health-Meriter in Madison. There, Christopher Kaphaem, a nurse, physically abused newborns and was later charged with 19 felonies and sentenced to 13 years in prison. She left the courtroom feeling foggy and emotionally exhausted. “The following week that fog lifted and I felt really clear and focused,” she said. “That’s when it came to me: we can collaborate with nurses. ... There’s no reason why we can’t come together and improve the system.”

UTV crash kills two Darlington teens

An Aug. 29 UTV crash killed two Darlington teenagers. Jordan Beesecker, 14, died at the scene on private property outside of Belmont on County G. Beesecker was driving the UTV and lost control of the vehicle in a pasture, causing the UTV to roll over and eject both him and his passenger, Mikayla Stephens, 16. Stephens died a week later at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.

Orangeville house fire claims three lives

A Sept. 16 house fire in Orangeville took the life of Jonathan Robey, 40, and two children, 11-year-old Garrett Johannsen and 4-year-old Beaux Robey. Firefighters were dispatched to the house shortly before 3 a.m. About three dozen firefighters worked to put out the fire, responding from Cedarville, McConnell, Winslow, Davis, Dakota, Freeport Rural and Monroe, and were on the scene for nearly seven hours.


Man drowns tubing in Sugar River

For the first time in more than 40 years, a drowning occurred in the Albany portion of the Sugar River. Benjamin Belzer, an assistant for Gov. Tony Evers, was in a group of at least six people using rented tubes from S&B Tubing on July 18. As the group was getting out of the river, Belzer went missing underwater and did not resurface. His body was found about 300 to 400 yards down river later that day.

Monroe, rural fire district end nearly year-long dispute and part ways

At the Oct. 19 City of Monroe Common Council meeting, the Rural Fire District informed the city it was not renewing its contract with the city. The two parties had gone back and forth debating proposals but failed to come to an agreement on a fair contract. The Rural Fire District purchased a building on Monroe’s far west side to house its equipment and vehicles and will begin service from the location at the start of 2021.

Maple Leaf Co-op, cheesemakers cut ties; co-op files for bankruptcy

On Oct. 8 it was announced that a longstanding partnership between 25 dairy farmers and Maple Leaf Cheesemakers was coming to an end. The partnership had existed since 1982. The farmers were left without a home for their milk while searching for a new cheesemaker to partner with. The farmer co-op has been in business since 1910. In early December, the co-op filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to restructure its debts. “Regretfully, I know that the cooperative farmer-owners will have to make further sacrifices in the short run, but that Chapter 11 is the only way to keep the cooperative alive and rebuild for a stronger future,” said Jeremy Mayer, President of the cooperative.

Local cheese makers earn awards at international contest

Emmi Roth of Monroe earned three awards at the World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison in March. The Roth Gorgonzola was ranked the Best of Class and a Top-20 cheese. Judges evaluated more than 3,667 entries in 120 categories. In all, local cheese makers were awarded for 15 different styles of cheese.

Wisconsin 11/81 project completed

Work on the Wis. 11/81 freeway in Monroe concluded in late May. The project began in March 2019, but went into a delay due to the winter months in Dec. 2019. Work picked back up in March 2020. The project repaved and improved intersections and ramps for much of a nearly 6-mile stretch of road from east of Monroe to the west side.


Blain’s Farm & Fleet to relocate

Announced Jan. 23, 2020, Monroe’s Blain’s Farm & Fleet purchased the former Shopko building and began renovations and construction for a move. The project was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the plans are for the relocation to occur in early 2021.

2020 local elections

Longtime Darlington Mayor Dave Breunig did not receive enough votes to advance to the spring general election after the February primary. Mayoral challengers Mike McDermott and Erin Gallagher both received significantly more votes in the primary than Breunig. McDermott received 307 votes followed by Gallagher with 119 and Breunig with 68. McDermott won the April 7 election over Gallagher 429-195.

In Monroe, incumbent Mayor Louis Armstrong defeated former Mayor Bill Ross by 72 votes in the April 7 election.

In the November presidential election, both Green and Lafayette counties saw an increase in turnout by about 10%, with absentee ballot requests accounting for about half of the votes in the area.


National protests at home

Monroe High School students led multiple peaceful protests in front of the Green County Historic Courthouse on the Square following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis. Protests both peaceful and destructive erupted around the country, but in Monroe, a couple hundred teenagers, parents and residents held a silent protest – wearing masks and holding signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” Enough is Enough,” and others. There were multiple protests in Monroe, first during a weekend in June, and then again in September.

In August, another protest came to Monroe, as local residents marched near the square with chants of “save the post office.” About two dozen people marched in the nonpartisan display, which had been planned in response to controversies surrounding the U.S. Postal Service and mail-in voting.


911 centers prepare for the next generation

Lafayette County is in the process of upgrading its emergency hardware and software. The county received $2.1 million in federal grant money through the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs Office of Emergency Communications to upgrade or replace existing “end-of-life equipment” to a NextGen 911-capable system. The county had last upgraded in 2013, and the new upgrade is expected to be completed in June 2021. Green County had already been compatible with the NextGen 911.


Monroe native wins national podcast award

Dusty Weis, a 2003 Monroe graduate, had his podcast “Lead Balloon” named the Adweek Marketing Podcast of the Year. “I am absolutely gobsmacked. I’m competing against agencies from coast to coast with tons of employees. I’m a one-man show working out of my basement in Wauwatosa.” The podcast is about public relations, marketing and strategic communication disaster stories told by the well-meaning communications professionals who lived them, Weis said.

Monroe hires a new city administrator

The City of Monroe had hoped to have a new city administrator role filled and work started by mid-June. The city hired Adam Swann as its new city administrator April 20, only for Swann to back out of the deal in late May, delaying the process. Eventually, David Lothspeich was hired in September and began serving in the role Nov. 2.

St. Clare Hospital torn down

Completing a major task in the Monroe Clinic’s recent renovation process was the final tear-down of the former St. Clare Hospital on its campus, which had stood for nearly 90 years. The current project began in 2017 of renovating the clinic building, followed by adding new parking. Tearing down the original hospital building, which had stood since 1938, was the most recent part of the project completed. A new parking lot will be built where the old hospital once stood and is expected to be available for use in spring 2021.