Ashland Middle School student Leah Anderson was relieved finally to go outside for recess in the spring of 2021 after a long stretch of social distancing during the pandemic.
After a few days at the playground — if anyone could call a couple swing sets a playground — she got fed up with the lack of things for her and fellow students to do during their daily breaks.
“I would sit and stand,” she recalled.
Her friend Elvin Baca would try to grab one of the few swings available, but they were always hard to claim.
“Sometimes I climbed on them because I was bored out of my mind,” he said.
Leah, Elvin and their friend Tabatha Lawver decided the school needed a new recreation area, but they had no idea how to start or where to find money for one.
Their teacher, Amanda Popovich, who now works for CESA 12, heard them talking about their dream and helped them determine first if other kids even wanted a new playground.
They sent the entire student body a Google survey and found they weren’t alone. The vast majority of their peers wanted to new playground equipment to enhance their social time with other during recess, Popovich said.
Anderson and company got to work asking students about what new equipment should be added. Other kids said they wanted places to sit and hangout in the shade, jungle gyms and swings.
Students in each class looked through playground-equipment catalogs and made wish lists. It turned out many wanted the same equipment, so they grouped equipment into themes.
Once they had everything narrowed down, the group put pictures of options into another Google form and let everyone vote. When the results came in, they sent a proposal to administrators that included all their research to support the need for a new playground.
It took some time, but the new playground was installed over the summer and began being used at the start of the school year. With purple posts and many ropes, the $91,000 playground features two climbing apparatuses with walking paths connecting them so kids can run between both next to a shaded place to sit and hang out off to the side.
Leah, Elvin and Tabatha said they’re a little bummed they didn’t get a chance to play on the new gear — they’ve all moved on to high school — but they’re pleased to know they made a difference for kids coming behind them.
“I want students after us to have more fun than we did and have more opportunities to be kids,” Elvin said.
Middle School Principal Angie Parduhn said she was proud that kids from her school took the initiative and saw the project through, knowing it would benefit other students.
“It’s an opportunity to show the community that students with guidance from a teacher can create something. The whole thing came to fruition. It’s amazing,” she said.
Every time he sees kids playing the new equipment, Elvin glows with pride.
“They look happy. We made a huge difference at the middle school,” he said.
What started as an idea to consolidate local hospitals under one roof has led to a half century of care to the Bay Area.
Memorial Medical Center in Ashland was built on the legacy of the services that were here before it arrived — and on hard work by staff and providers every day for the past half-century, CEO Jason Douglas said.
“We are our community and our community is us. I am proud that we’re dedicated to providing great local healthcare for many years to come,” he said.
To celebrate its golden anniversary, MMC will host an Oct. 1 party at the hospital, with the entire community invited.
“The celebration is a way to honor the past — especially seen in the pre-MMC history wall panels — and to celebrate what’s next as we continue on as a strong, independent, critical access hospital,” MMC Marketing Specialist Abby Miller said, referring to a project underway to create a wall of photos tracing the hospital’s history.
Care before MMC
Several hospitals scattered throughout the Bay Area, operating in buildings that would come to cost too much to repair, provided healthcare to residents prior to 1972. That led local health care providers to create a board tasked with finding a solution.
A local physician, Dr. William Tucker, was put in charge of organizing a drive to raise $600,000 to merge Ashland Community Hospital, built in 1886, and Trinity Hospital, constructed in 1916, under one roof with one staff.
“The day and age when illness can be treated in the home is gone with the horse and buggy doctors,” Tucker said at the time. “Medical practice requires a modern hospital for first-class care.”
As part of the process, a group of people known as the Auxiliary donated funds. Today that group is known as the Partners of MMC.
The community rallied and eventually raised $12 million to build MMC. Ground-breaking and construction commenced in 1970.
Over the course of two years, the project transformed a vacant on the southwest side into a medical center. Former staff member Carole Huhn remembers walking around the construction site, helping plan where things were going to go. Now a partner of MMC, Huhn said the building was revolutionary.
“It was very exciting. The whole community was excited about it,” Huhn said.
MMC opened its doors on Oct. 9, 1972. On opening day, it welcomed the first babies born there, a set of twin girls — the Sellung twins.
MMC had 105 medical/surgical beds, 10 mental health beds, and 36 beds at the treatment center. In charge of the operation was first CEO Clarence Jouppi, followed by CEO Lowell Miller.
Through the ‘80s and ‘90s, MMC continued serving the community as new doctors, services and staff came aboard.
“We got a bunch of new doctors who brought in new ideas and taught us how to do things. It was so nice,” Huhn said. “We had a lot of pieces of equipment being developed. Every year there was something new.”
Through out the ‘90s and 2000s, MMC underwent a series of transformations as its services continued to grow.
The family birthplace and behavioral health building were remodeled. In 2016, MMC collaborated with Essentia Health to open the Northwest Cancer Center, providing care so patients didn’t have to travel to Duluth or beyond for cancer treatment.
Plans got underway in 2020 to construct a multi-level advanced surgical services addition that was opened a year later, with 18 recovery rooms, a robotics technology room and more.
Then COVID-19 put Ashland in lock down. Preparing for an influx of patients, the hospital erected an enormous tent. And as the pandemic profressed, MMC offered free vaccine clinics and tests to those affected by the virus.
Looking to the future
With the pandemic seemingly over with, MCC is looking to rebrand itself with its sister hospital in Hayward, Miller said.
As plans for that continue to be developed, “MMC continues to remain an independent, thriving medical institution in this beautiful area of the world we call home,” Douglas said.
“We’re looking forward to an exciting future ahead of us, and it feels great to have accomplished this 50-year milestone. Of course, we know this would not have been possible were it not for the incredible leaders, stakeholders, staff, and community members who came before us and those who have remained committed to MMC throughout these 50 years,” Douglas said.
Bay-Area police resumed searching Monday for a suspect who led officers on a chase through three counties and then fled into the woods near Washburn.
Police identified the suspect as Seth Genereau and said officers in Iron County first spotted him Thursday afternoon in a car that earlier had been reported taken during a carjacking in central Wisconsin. Officers chased him until he bailed out of the stolen vehicle near Washburn, starting the hunt that continued Monday morning.
“We haven’t had any sightings since Friday – nothing over the weekend,” Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Andy Runice said Monday. “So whether this guy is even out there still is hard to say.”
People who identified themselves on social media as friends and relatives of the suspect said Genereau, 23, is not violent or dangerous.
“He is a typically a chill person who has a twinkle in his eye, a kind smile on his face who keeps to himself,” one wrote. “He is the child of my friends and as a mother my heart aches for them and for him. I hope all of you practice caution and offer grace because he clearly isn’t in his right mind and needs help.”
Others who said they were relatives wrote that Genereau suffers from schizophrenia and had some sort of breakdown — even as some local commenters called for Genereau to be killed by police or even wolves.
The hunt on Friday led administrators at Washburn schools to take extra safety precautions, closing campus and moving to indoor recesses.
“In close communication with Washburn Police, we kept kids in school, limited outdoor activities,” Superintendent Thomas Wiatr said Monday morning. “We did communicate with parents about the steps we were taking. We’ve since been given the OK to return to normal operations.”
Runice said officers from several local and state agencies, using dogs and drones, began combing the Maki Road area late Thursday afternoon. If he’s still in the area, Genereau — a white, bearded man last seen wearing a flannel shirt, jeans and sneakers — likely suffered through an uncomfortable weekend with low temperatures in the 40s and several downpours Sunday.
“There hasn’t been any reports he broke into anyplace but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible,” Runice said Monday morning. “We still have people out now, checking cabins, talking to people. But none of the locals have seen any sign of him. We kind of believe he might be really out in the woods or someone picked him up. It’s possible he stole another vehicle and it hasn’t been reported yet.”
Runice said police have found nothing to suggest Genereau had obtained food or additional clothing, but also said the woods of Bayfield County are extensive and have plenty of cabins, cottages and sheds in which he could have sought shelter and found supplies.
Police don’t know if Genereau had a phone with him when he fled; they have tried calling his number without success, Runice said.
“I don’t know that he has any local knowledge of the area,” Runice said. “We don’t think he has any connection up here. We’ve spoken to family members and they haven’t said anything like that.”
The hunt began after charges were filed Wednesday in Waupaca County against the New London man, accusing him of strong-armed robbery of an elderly victim, vehicle theft and aggravated battery of an elderly victim, according to court records. Police in Clintonville, a small city between Green Bay and Stevens Point, said Genereau stole a van from a gasoline station there. A warrant for his arrest was issued the same day.
Iron County deputies chased the stolen car on Highway 2 through Ashland County and then north on Highway 13 in Bayfield County, where it crashed into another vehicle and continued fleeing, police said. Officers finally found the vehicle abandoned in a driveway on Friendly Valley Road where the suspect stole another vehicle and tried to get away, but got stuck and ran into the woods.
Clintonville Police Chief Craig Freitag told the Daily Press Friday that Genereau’s escape actually began Tuesday when he stole his first vehicle – a 1965 Ford — from a home in Hortonville, near Appleton.
He drove that car to a gasoline station on the north side of Clintonville, Freitag said.
“There, a gentleman was filling up with gas,” Freitag said. “The suspect, who we were able to identify soon after as Seth Genereau, approached the victim as he was pumping gas and said there was something wrong with his car, or that he had dropped something under his car. The victim went to look and when he did, the suspect got in the driver’s seat of the victim’s car. The victim returned and confronted him and an altercation ensued.”
Freitag said the victim, an 81-year-old local man, struggled with Genereau but was thrown to the ground. Genereau then drove away, he said.
“I spoke with the victim last evening,” Freitag said Friday. “His injuries were minor and he’s recovering from those. But emotionally and psychologically, it’s been pretty tough on him — and understandably so.”
Freitag said police in the Northwoods aggressively chased Genereau because there was a warrant for his arrest accusing him of violent crimes, and he already had stolen at least two vehicles.
“Speaking for all law enforcement, we take pursuit, high-speed or otherwise, very seriously,” he said. “In this case, we don’t want there to be other victims.”
Runice on Monday again urged local residents to keep homes, vehicles and outbuildings locked up and to report any sightings immediately.
“We don’t believe he’s necessarily a danger to anyone out there unless he gets behind the wheel again,” Runice said. “For right now we think he’s just trying to elude any contact with anyone at all.”