A1 A1
Namekagon Transit receives $99,540 grant for workers

Namekagon Transit in partnership with Jack Links Inc., Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe, Sawyer County Sherriff Court Services Division/Huber, and Sawyer County/Lac Courte Oreilles Economic Development has received an award of $99,540 from the National Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP) Community Rides Grant.

The grant is for the Minong Access Commuter Project that will establish a transportation service to Jack Links in Minong. The public-private partnership will provide access to employment for Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) tribal members as well as Sawyer County inmates on the Huber work-release program and those with a criminal record who are having difficulty finding sustainable employment.

Jack Links, the Mining food manufacturer that distributes products internationally, has expressed an interest in helping individuals with criminal backgrounds and current Huber inmates to gain employment within the company.

The project will establish a new transportation route from LCO to Minong with two leased 10-passenger vans. The vehicles will be driven by volunteer Jack Link employees vetted and trained by Namekagon Transit in defensive driving and passenger assistance.

The volunteer drivers, working two shifts, will receive an incentive of $50 per week for the responsibility of driving, riders and proper care of the vehicles. Drivers will pick up employee passengers at designated locations, drive to the Jack Links plant, work the shift, then return after the shift in reverse order. Another driver will do the same for the second shift.

Each van will also have a backup driver with the same credentials to ensure uninterrupted service. Namekagon Transit will provide project management.

All partners are committed to the success of the project to provide sustainable employment opportunities for individuals who have struggled to find employment due to past legal issues.

Her husband has been missing for nearly a year
She questions why there is so little support to find him. Walk to raise awareness is set for Monday, Oct. 11

The last time Amanda Thayer, a Sawyer County resident, spoke to her husband, Aaron "AJ" Johnson, was over the phone the evening of Oct. 10, 2020. The last confirmation of Johnson's whereabouts was at 5 p.m. Oct. 12, two days later.

On Oct. 12, someone driving a vehicle north on Fire Lane Road, north of Perch Lake Road near the Audie Flowage-Perch Lake Campground in the Town of Murray in Rusk County, came upon Johnson, who was wearing a white T-shirt and plaid underwear/boxer shorts and walking in dark socks on the gravel road. The driver took a photograph of Johnson walking ahead of him.

Thayer said she was told by the Rusk County Sheriff's Office the driver reportedly asked Johnson if he was OK and needed help. Reportedly, Thayer said, her husband responded he didn't need any help and he was looking for his truck.

The truck Johnson had been driving was found three weeks later on Dec. 2 nearly a mile north of where the last documented encounter with Johnson occurred on Fire Lane Road.

But no Johnson.

The Oct. 12 photo surfaced sometime in mid-December after the truck was found. Thayer said authorities will not tell her who took the photo or if that person has been interviewed.

Ensuing searches of the area in early December would reveal several clothing items belonging to Johnson — including a glove, pants, clean boots and inside identification cards and driver's license, and nearby some cash and a check, left in the county forest over a trail of intermittent evidence a mile long south of the truck west of Fire Lane Road.

It appears Johnson drove his truck off Fire Lane Road to a logging road near a swampy area and then proceeded to walk south and intermittently disrobed until he came out of the woods and then made a loop back on Fire Lane Road.

A year later, there is little more to report about Johnson's disappearance, but there are lots of questions: Why hadn't he called his wife and mother, both whom he had communicated with daily. Why had he removed his clothing? Why hadn't the driver who took the photo called the sheriff's office over what appeared to be a person who needed help? And where is Johnson?

Officially, there is an ongoing Rusk County Sheriff's Office investigation into his disappearance.

"There is nothing new," said Rusk County Sheriff Investigator Steve Gronski.

Initially after Johnson's disappearance, Gronski said, his office was "bombarded" with leads, as often occurs in the case of a missing person. One of the leads came from someone in southern Wisconsin who thought he had seen Johnson, but upon viewing other photos the person said it wasn't him.

Meanwhile, Thayer has continued the search for her husband using social media, as she has from the start of her husband's disappearance. In fact it was Thayer posting photos of her husband's truck on social media that led to a woman from Bruce recognizing the vehicle after her husband had noticed it while hunting in that area.

"I fell to my knees and cried when the truck was found," Thayer said.

A year later, Thayer said she has joined over 50 online missing person sites, has attempted to elicit help from private investigators and has printed numerous posters.

"I've been like a oneman army looking for Aaron," she said.

Thayer is frustrated by the lack of resources for searching for Johnson. She's sought funding from online sites to pay for a billboard or posters but has received very little. She's organized searches but few volunteers show up.

Thayer is also frustrated with what, she said, was the slow response from local law enforcement over her missing husband. She is equally frustrated by the lack of media attention to her case, when other cases of young missing white women occupy nearly daily coverage in newspapers and on nightly TV coverage.

"If they would have put half as much effort into finding Aaron right away who knows what might have been the outcome," she said.

The Sawyer County Record also was slow in its coverage with the first and only article on the front page of the Dec. 16, 2020 issue titled "Man missing since October."

Thayer believes the reason for the slow response is that Johnson had been in prison. He had been a drug addict who had been sober in prison but had relapsed in the months before his disappearance. In reality, she said, his case wasn't as appealing as that of a young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed cheerleader-like missing person.

"I really think law enforcement thought his disappearance was about a marital dispute or Aaron's drug use and they thought he had ran off," she said.


One of the agencies that has been in contact and working with Thayer is Crawlspace Media, which produces the podcast "Missing." In August Crawlspace did 40-minute show on Johnson's case featuring interviews with Thayer by Jennifer Amell, director of development.

Amell is also research coordinator for private investigations for "Missing." She said a private investigator for the podcast had been in contact with the Rusk County's Sheriff's Office.

One of the theories Amell has for why Johnson might have disrobed is he could have experienced hypothermia. One reaction to cold is called "paradoxical undressing" an unexplainable response of removing clothes that leads to more heat loss.

NOAA Online Weather Data for nearby Ladysmith shows that the high temperature on Oct. 11 was 65 during the day and 39 at night. On Oct. 12 the high was 60 and the low was 39.

Paradoxical undressing has been known to occur during "extreme hypothermia." Could have 60-degree weather during the day and nearly 40-degree weather at night result in that state of hypothermia?

Another possible explanation for why Johnson disrobed is methamphetamines or meth. Thayer said he had been using meth, but was trying to go sober again. A common reaction to meth is an elevated body temperature a feeling of warmth. Meth users have been known to take off their clothes while using.

"It baffles me," said Thayer as to why Johnson would have removed his outer garments. "He was really insecure about being in his undergarments, even around the house. He always had something on, so why would he take his clothes off and walk away with that?"

The Oct. 12 photograph of Johnson wearing just his boxer shorts and T-shirt, she said, is "very disturbing" for her.

"That photo traumatizes us," she said. "When I see it, I start crying."

What happened?

Nearly a year later Thayer is still baffled by what happened to her husband.

"I've been wondering for a year straight," she said. "I don't know. In my heart, I really don't know because he would never go long without speaking to me or to his mother. He really loved me and loved his mother. He was a big momma's boy. He was always in contact with her or me."

Thayer would like investigators to pay more attention to the people Johnson was last known to have spent time with, people, she said, who subsequently left the area after the truck was found and the Oct. 12 photo was published.

Rusk County Sheriff Jeffery Walls said he could not comment on whether the two persons Thayer mentioned have been investigated, because the case is still an open investigation.

Thayer also said she had passed on information of a possible sighting of her husband in a red car either Oct. 11 or 12 with a couple near the campground, but Gronski said he only recently heard that information from Thayer. On Tuesday morning, Sept. 28, Walls said he had never heard of the information.

The Wings of Hope search and rescue group has also been in contact with Thayer. The group conducted a search in December and did a search of nearby lakes after spring melt. Thayer said the group believes it is likely that Johnson is dead and all future efforts will be for recovery.

She added if they find Johnson's body it would bring peace to her family and to Johnson's mother. They both agonize every day over what has happened to their husband and son.

Resource Center

Thayer said she and others would like to create a resource center for missing people that will help get the word out sooner.

"The ideas is to advocate for missing people right away instead of waiting," she said. "We can't wait 48 or 72 hours just because someone is an adult. Why wait that long before looking and getting the word out? That's wrong. People could have been saved if there had been a quicker response, if the news would have been posted sooner to Facebook and the media."

Support Walk

A walk to support the search for Johnson will be held Monday, Oct. 11, on the one-year anniversary of his disappearance.

Those interested should meet at the LCO Quick Stop gas station at 9:45 a.m. and then travel to Express Mart station in Bruce at 11:30 a.m. The group will depart in a caravan to the Perch Lake Campground and then walk Fire Lane Road where Johnson was last photographed walking.

The group will depart at 4 p.m. for a feast at New Post Elderly Center in New Post.


Thayer has a couple of Facebook Groups for finding Johnson: BringAaron "AJ" Johnson Home and MissingAaron "AJ" Scott Johnson.

To lend financial help, several sites are available:

"Help Fund Aaron's Case" at facebook.com/donate/1548245558870321/and a GoFundMe page: "Missing Person's Aaron "AJ" Johnson at gofundme.com/f/missing-persons-aaron-aj-johnson?utm_campaign=p_cp+sharesheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_ source=customer.


Anyone with information about Johnson's disappearance is asked to call the Rusk County Sheriff's Office and speak with Investigator Steve Gronski at (715) 532-8504.

Pfizer approved as booster shot

For those who have received the two dosages of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19, a booster shot has now been approved, said Julia Lyons, Sawyer County Public Health Officer.

The booster shot can be given to those who have taken the two-dose Pfizer vaccine at least six months after completing the series of two shots.

Other requirements for the booster shot include the following:

• 65 years of age or older.

• 18-64 years of age and at high risk of severe COVID-19.

• 18-64 years of age with frequent "institutional or occupational" exposure to the coronavirus putting them at high risk for complications due to COVID-19.

Last week in the article "New COVID cases triple in a week" it was reported public health was gearing up to give booster shots for those who have taken the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but at this time only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for the booster.

Half the cases

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the county over the last week is less than half of the cases from the previous week.

On Monday, Sept. 27, 2,229 cases were reported for the county, including 2,064 confirmed cases and 165 probable cases. That is 56 more cases than reported on Sept. 20, but less than the number of new positives reported from the week before, Sept. 13-20, when 122 new cases were reported.

But Sawyer County remains in the high "red" risk level for transmission with a seven-day average of 73.3 cases per 100,000 while the state's seven-day average is 53.7 per 100,000.

Breakthrough infections

More "breakthrough" infections, or infections of those who have been vaccinated, are also being reported, Lyons said.

And Lyons herself has personal experience with this, having recently contracted COVID, even after being vaccinated, while on a trip with her mother and aunts in Wyoming. Lyons said she is certain she was exposed at a family meal while visiting two relatives who later tested positive for COVID.

Lyons and her mother both tested positive and both had symptoms, though Lyons' were more severe..

"But neither of my aunts, who were also vaccinated and also at that same meal, tested positive," she said.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) says no vaccine is 100% effective, and vaccinated persons were expected to also become infected and test positive.

DHS says a number of factors determine the "likelihood" of being infected, including vaccination, level of transmission and vaccination coverage in an area, masking, being in close contract with others and other factors.

"On average, fully vaccinated individuals are less likely to be infected, hospitalized and die from COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated individuals," the DHS website states.

Based on Aug. 15 findings per 100,000 adjusted for age, DHS says, persons fully vaccinated came down with 360.7 positives cases with 11.5 hospitalizations but non-vaccinated people recorded 1,413.7 cases and 98.5 hospitalizations.

Vaccine information

Information on where to obtain a free vaccine is available by calling Sawyer County Public Health at (715) 634-4806 or going online at sawyer-county-covid-19-response-sawyergis. hub.arcgis.com/.

Stone Lake to celebrate Cranberry Festival Sept. 30-Oct. 3

After a one-year hiatus, the Stone Lake Cranberry Festival returns this weekend, as an estimated 30,000 visitors throng to the streets of the normally quiet village on the border of Sawyer and Washburn counties to celebrate Wisconsin's most famous fruit.

The festival is operated by a host of volunteers through a nonprofit community organization that raises money for charitable causes in the area. The past three years alone, the festival has donated more than $100,000 to area youth and nonprofit organizations in Sawyer and Washburn counties.

The festival is famous for its nearly 300 food and craft vendors that line the streets. This year, all vendors will be outdoors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There won't be vendors indoors.

The 43rd annual cranberry festival begins with a Cran Harvest Dinner Thursday evening at the Lions Community Center, where a Man of the Year and Woman of the Year will be honored, as well as a senior king and queen and junior royalty.

This year's senior king and queen are Bruce and Judy Gillette. The grand marshal for the parade on Saturday will be Audrey Skarda.

People can sign up for Thursday's dinner at the door. The cost is $15 per ticket, with a limit of 150 sold. The meal will include pork shanks, cranberry apple compote and apple cranberry crisp for dessert. Steve Trude will provide music.

Shirley Armstrong, chairwoman of the Cranberry Festival Committee, said, "We encourage people to wear their masks when they come in" to the hall. They then remove them when they eat.

Armstrong noted there are several changes for this year's festival: There will not be a Saturday morning pancake breakfast at the Stone Lake Fire Hall, and the Taste of Cranberry baking contest will be held Friday evening at the Stone Lake fire hall, not on Saturday as in the past. Entries will be accepted from noon to 4 p.m. Friday and judging will take place at 5 p.m.

On Friday evening, Red Schoolhouse Wines will offer complimentary wine tasting and live music and the Whistle Punk coffee and brew pub will offer free beer tasting.

Saturday's 2 p.m. parade will follow a different and flatter route than in the past. It will not go down the Main Street hill.

Parade units will line up on Gundry Road near the Stone Lake Lions Park and then proceed south past the fire hall on Highway 70 through the business district, past Main Street, and finish at the junction of First Street South.

On Saturday, cranberries, craisins and festival apparel will be available at "Cranberry Corner" at the top of the Main Street Hill. First Lutheran Church will offer baked goods, crafts and quilts from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. and Stone Lake Wesleyan Church will have a bake sale and bazaar and baby feeding and changing station from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cranberries will be available for sale in several locations, including Cranberry Corner, parking lots and at Farm Boyz Mercantile.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., visitors can ride tour buses to view cranberry harvesting on local cranberry marshes. Buses depart from and return to the municipal water tower off Sand Lake Road.

The unique Kranberry Krate Derby will follow the parade, as young drivers 10 to 15 years old will steer homemade wooden cars powered by gravity down the Main Street hill from the Stone Lions hall, go across Highway 70 and stop in a sand pit in front of Farm Boyz Mercantile. The derby is run by the local chapter of ABATE of Wisconsin.

The weather, always a factor in the festival, looks favorable on Saturday, with temperatures in the 60s and just a 30% chance of rain.

Visitors also can stop in at the Stone Lake Historical Society's museum next to the fire hall off Highway AA from noon to 4 p.m.

Traffic control for the cranberry festival is provided by Sawyer and Washburn counties' sheriff's officers. Designated parking areas are provided within three blocks of the festival activities, and the parking fees are donated to local not-for-profit organizations. Free shuttle buses are available to take visitors to and from the parking lots.

Starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, Namekagon Transit will provide round-trip bus service from the Hayward Visitor Center to the Shell Lake State Bank in Stone Lake.

The third annual Cranberry Craze 5K run-walk will be held at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, starting at the Stone Lake Wesleyan Church.



(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)