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Volunteers urge community to save Minong library

MINONG – For five years, the Minong Area Library has served the community and visitors at its home at 212 W. Fifth Ave.

Now, the library is in danger of losing its home, since the building is up for sale, and the entirely volunteer-run nonprofit is seeking support from the community to help keep it alive.

Background

Sheryl Beglinger, who acts as lead volunteer for the library, said it was founded in spring 2009 by local parents. It opened June 20 of that year in Henson's Foods, with 800 used books, a staff of three volunteers and a four-member board. It was open seven hours a week.

In November 2009, the library moved to the Greenhaven Building, and the staff increased to five. They added children's story time and a Summer Reading Program the following year.

In March 2011, they moved into a larger space within the building, and began offering even more books, including large-print, audiobooks, DVDs, local newspapers and magazines, computers with WiFi and English as a Second Language and GED classes.

"We saw the biggest increase in patronage ... from about 2013-15 when we were getting a lot of support," said volunteer Linda Havlicek.

An unknown benefactor donated 4,000 titles of a collection, and when the quality and amount of material increased, so did patronage, she explained. The former police chief recently donated four large tubs full of books.

The current building on Fifth Street was originally a funeral home, then a community center. When it opened up about four or five years ago, local businessman Jack Link purchased it.

"He didn't want to see an empty building on Main Street," Beglinger said.

The volunteers rent out the library from Link. The Chamber of Commerce uses it for meetings and events, as well, and the back room is an office for Link's employees.

"It has grown and expanded in the years," said Havlicek. "It was a positive move for us."

The space is larger than any of their other locations.

"We have a nice children's area," said Havlicek. "We have exceeded the space that we have there."

Sale

Beglinger said she didn't know the building was up for sale until she saw a realtor's sign outside the front in August.

"We were kind of blindsided," she said.

Volunteer Vonnie Clements added, "People walk in and are very surprised and very concerned."

Havlicek asked if they could extend their lease for at least five years, but that wasn't an option. They did learn that they could purchase the building themselves.

However, the library is not in a spot to purchase the building, which has an asking price of $179,900, and even if they could, Beglinger said all the volunteers are older and they would need some younger volunteers to keep it up and running for the future.

"We're kind of at a loss for what we're going to do," Clements said.

Funding for the library

The library receives about $5,000 from the Town of Minong and $3,000 from the Village of Minong, "which there is no guarantee for," depending on the yearly budget situation, said Havlicek.

"Beyond that, we rely solely on donations," Clements added.

The library does receive a grant, which they apply for each year through Washburn County, which garners about $850 to $1,000, and Clements added that the county has been wonderful helping with activities. The library was able to put on four events this summer: the Summer Reading Program, which had 30 children and prizes generously donated by area businesses, a magician during Minong Summer Days, a visit from the Balloon Lady and a visit from the Lake Superior Zoo in which families learned about bugs and created their own works of art.

Their monthly rent payments help pay for the utilities, Beglinger said.

The library does book sales every Memorial Day weekend.

Visitors

Clements said she provides an annual patron count to the village and town for funding. This year, patronage was over 1,300, with more than 300 books checked out. Havlicek added that they keep a daily tally of how many people come through the door, as not all visitors check out books.

"A lot of people in the area do not have Internet," said Clements, so they need to use the library's computers.

This includes vacationers, and there are many who pop in to the library with a need to communicate with those back home.

"They're just ecstatic," said Clements.

Tourism is so important in the Northwoods, so providing these kinds of services to visitors and part-time residents "makes Minong much more attractive," she said.

"We constantly have new people applying (for library cards)," said Beglinger. "Since June, we've had 31 new applicants. People are showing up."

Beglinger said they see roughly 20-25 people dropping by daily, and once they had three days in a row of 40 visitors.

Clements said there are two families who home school their children and come in regularly to use the Internet, do research and complete their daily reading, and their children love getting together when they see each other.

"The moms said they met right here," she said. "And both families read a lot."

Another family next door to the library said they bought the house just to be close to it.

What's next

Havlicek said they looked into renting out space in Henson's again, but the room they used was unheated, another reason they originally moved to Greenhaven. Clements said they made proposals to other businesses, many of which said no, and one said yes, but the space is one-third the size of the current library. Also, bookshelves have to be anchored to the floor for insurance purposes, and Clements said that would be hard when leasing a building.

So, the only options are outright buying the building, or to have a different buyer willing to rent out the space to the library. Beglinger said the library could even be named after the buyer, or in honor of someone.

The library has a GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-save-the-minongarea-library?utm_campaign=p_ cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer, or people can donate through the library's website, https://www.minonglibrary.org/, via Paypal. People have also been dropping off checks at the library.

"We've just got so much going for us and I don't want to lose it," said Beglinger.


Broadband access update given

SHELL LAKE – Full access to broadband Internet in Washburn County is still a ways out.

At the Washburn County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Nov. 15, Mosaic Technologies CEO Preston Pearson gave an update on the county's broadband project.

Mosaic, based out of Cameron (formerly Chibardun), has been working on installing fiber optic cables for broadband in this area.

The American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds covered the first round, and the second grant was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At Tuesday morning's meeting, Pearson said that in 2021, Mosaic installed broadband in the Birchwood/Red Cedar area along Highway 48 and Balsam Lake. The northern part of Washburn County along Highway 53 east in Sarona has been nearly completed, and on Big Chetac, Mosaic took care of almost the entire lake properties.

Next, Mosaic will install cables east on County Highway E, and then everywhere west of Highway 53, hopefully activating this winter.

He said the project works south to north, and they have to get through Haugen first from Barron County.

"Your participation in that has been extraordinarily important," he told the board. "Things are moving along."

However, Pearson said, Mosaic did not get a grant for County Highway M east of Spooner to County Highway A, which would have included Spooner Lake.

Board Vice Chair David Wilson said when he attended the recent Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) meeting, officials weren't impressed with some of the maps indicating where broadband was being placed, as they weren't fully accurate. He asked that, when presenting future maps, Mosaic indicate where the entire area has connectivity, not just a few properties.

Pearson said this was a census matter, as the maps were drawn in the 2020 census. He said the company understands the census block and that the maps go rooftop by rooftop, but it will be awhile before they are redrawn.

Supervisor Linda Featherly said that in her district, CenturyLink got a grant several years ago and installed miles of fiber optics that are "literally connected to nothing."

Pearson said that since CenturyLink owns that asset, Mosaic would have to install its own lines.

When asked, Pearson said that the City of Spooner already has some fiber optics stranded, but the community has to invest in it themselves at this point. He said the cities of Spooner and Shell Lake are not eligible for these grants.

He added that there is never 100% of household customers using their broadband services, estimating it is around 60-70% of residences.

"We don't usually see high percentages that first year (of installation)," Pearson said.

The Village of Birchwood was at 15-20% usage when its broadband was first installed, and now it is close to 50%, he said.

Supervisor George Cusick said he was at a Sarona Town meeting the other night and the residents want to know whether they can choose where they don't want the lines to go in.

Pearson said Mosaic will send letters to home owners asking their permission before installation, and there is no cost to a home owner because nobody is committed to taking this service when Mosaic makes the drop, since it is grant funded.

Wilson asked if there was an option for mergers or buyouts with other broadband companies, and if they could procure CenturyLink's lines in this case. Pearson said yes.

Wilson then said the original timeline for broadband installation was seven years to have Washburn County fully covered.

"Can you give us a ballpark?" Wilson asked.

"Again, that would still probably have to be in that seven-year timeline," Pearson replied, as the supply chain issues slowed things down.

He then updated the board on the ReConnect Grant, provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and said they are in round four, with another coming up.

Featherly asked if the county is "realistically ever going to bring rural broadband," with how expensive it is.

"There are people in this county who will never have access to broadband, bottom line," she said.

Pearson said there hasn't been anyone else jumping on board with a grant opportunity.

"We're looking at this from a bigger perspective," he said.

Supervisor Clint Stariha asked when grant funding will end, as it will put the next generation in debt.

"I'm sorry, folks, somebody's got to pay for it someday," he said. Supervisor Bob Olsgard thanked Mosaic for "doing what you're doing here in this county." He said the main value bringing new families to the county is high-speed broadband.

Pearson said Mosaic views Washburn County as a highly valuable partner.

Supervisor Brian Melton asked how the board can help push other counties to help out.

"We are just bleeding money," he said. "What can we do as a county board ... to help you ... so we're not just wasting money on more lines?"

Pearson said the board can ask for people's testimonials and contact state representatives.

In other action, the board:

• Approved the 2022 tax levy at $11,337,462 and mill rate at $3.298.

• Heard a presentation from Eagle Scout candidate Jack Cusick, who rebuilt the Washburn County Historical Society World War II Memorial with Troop 468. With the help of local veterans organizations, volunteers and donors, Cusick said they redid the eagle on the sign, replaced the roof, repainted it and more. The cost was $2,529 and 118 man hours with 15 volunteers.

• Approved ratification of the 2023-24 Sheriff Deputies Local 225 labor agreement.

• Formalized the 2022 loan to the Historical Society for replacement of siding and the roof on the parsonage.

• Increased the fees for marriage licenses issued by the county clerk to more of what surrounding counties charge.

• Approved the acceptance of the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund revenue and increasing the 2022 budget.

• Approved the 2023 County Forest Work Plan and variable acreage share payments.

• Approved a transfer from the Solid Waste Fund to the Recycling Fund and a payout to the Town of Sarona.

• Approved use of the remaining ARPA funds for the county's communications project.

• Was introduced to students from Shell Lake, Northwood and Birchwood schools attending Youth Government Day.

• Recognized the veterans present in honor of Veterans Day.


Link Ford honored for 75 years in business

MINONG – Link Ford & RV received two major awards from the Ford Motor Co. on Thursday, Nov. 17 – the President's Award and the 75 Years in Business Award.

The Minong-based dealership and service center, owned by Jack and his son Troy Link, was opened in 1946 by Jack's father, Wilfred "Wolf" Link and his Uncle Francis Link, said General Manager Tom Brisky. When Francis passed away in 1987, Wolf took over, and then the dealership was taken over by his son and grandson after he passed away.

"Jack started selling jerky off the back of a Ford," said Link Ford Chief Operating Officer John Sedlak.

The President's Award recognizes Ford dealerships in the top 10% out of nearly 3,000 in the nation. The business award, "with one family owning the dealership" for 75 years, said Sedlak, shows the commitment to Link Ford's community, which includes the Jack Link's Beef Jerky plant, Jack Link's Aquatic & Activity Center and Link Ford and Lincoln in Rice Lake.

"They believe in the family values of hard work," said Brisky.

The President's Award was originally to be given in 2020, but due to COVID-19, "we didn't get to enjoy (that) in 2020," said Sedlak.

"I really feel we've probably got the best service we've ever had," said Jack.

He said the business dates back to trading horses and cattle for cars, and though there have been trying times, "we stayed with Ford."

Jack said he is happy to provide jobs and have good friends and a following dating back to their ancestors.

"Congratulations to this team," said Troy. "We don't have any employees; we have team members."

Troy has been with Link Ford for 20 years, and he said their financial performance is better today than in all of their history.

"I just adore Ford products," he said.

Mary Jo Link, Jack's wife, said she recently received a two-page letter from a Sarona customer who was unsure of where to get a new vehicle and was directed by a friend to Link Ford, and wrote, "Everybody was amazing. I have the car I want, and I've never been so happy."

Mary Jo said she still has her 2000 Ford Thunderbird.

"If I have to rent a car, I make sure I get a Ford product," she said.

Brisky thanked the surrounding communities for buying and servicing their vehicles at Link Ford, and their employees and Jack and Troy for their support.

Link Ford and Ford Motor Co. representatives and community members celebrated that morning with a cake and reception.


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