Year in Review: Part 2

·8 min read

Dec. 27—Editor's note: The following is the second story in a local year-in-review series.

EAU CLAIRE — As spring warmed and summer neared, something resembling normal activities returned to the Chippewa Valley.

UW-Eau Claire students backed a major change, voting to support the Sonnentag Center with a student fee. The move was a strong signal to the university system that they were behind the proposed development.

May saw the end of local mask mandates and clarity for the future of CVTC. Dr. Sunem Beaton-Garcia was named the next president of the school.

And when June arrived, so did large-scale outdoor events. Absent during 2020 due to the pandemic, large crowds headed out to see the return of music festivals and other entertainment options.

April

Authorities finally identified the victim in a homicide that dated back to 1978.

Eau Claire County health officials loosened restrictions on large gatherings as the number of COVID cases continued to decline. But debates erupted around Wisconsin after Gov. Tony Evers' statewide mask mandate was struck down.

Amtrak announced potential expansion plans that could return passenger rail to Eau Claire.

A Chippewa Falls man was honored for pulling another man out of a burning car after coming upon a crash. Nathan Manor broke out windows from the burning car and pulled the victim to safety.

Eau Claire voters returned incumbent members of the city council and county board of supervisors to office in the spring elections.

Local legislators backed a bill to name Colby the state's official cheese.

Zorn Arena hosted a mass vaccination clinic designed to rapidly increase the number of area residents who got a COVID shot.

The Black Bear Bar & Grill was destroyed in a fire.

Neighbors near the landfill in Eau Claire sought a new compensation deal after the landfill's new owners reversed plans to close the facility, instead proposing an expansion.

Chippewa Falls and Altoona readers rejoiced as the communities' libraries reopened to patrons.

Dean Kallenbach, a longtime fixture on Wisconsin Public Radio whose work frequently put the spotlight on the northwestern portion of the state, retired.

The L.E. Phillips Senior Center in Eau Claire reopened its doors after being shut down due to COVID.

UWEC students strongly supported a new fee to support the proposed Sonnentag Center. The referendum was a big step, since rejection could have imperiled the project.

Eau Claire's public library moved to a temporary location as preparations continued for a major renovation and expansion project.

Audrey Hoelscher, a junior at Memorial High School, scored a perfect 36 on the ACT.

The passenger in a crash that killed Girl Scouts and a mother who were picking up litter along a roadway was convicted for his role.

Local housing inventory continued to fall, slowing sales in what had been a red-hot real estate market.

Eau Claire's river walk was rated as one of the best in the nation.

Four finalists emerged as candidates for the president's office at CVTC. A decision was expected before the end of the academic year.

Vaccination efforts in the Chippewa Valley began to stall out, worrying health officials who also noted an increase in cases.

A major restoration effort was announced for the Our Lady of the Falls grotto.

Alastair Keys, a 1st Lt. in the U.S. Army from Eau Claire, won the annual "Best Ranger" competition. The grueling, multi-day contest brings in some of the best soldiers from a range of specialties.

Theaters began reopening as Hollywood slowly began sending out new films. Audiences returned, but not yet in pre-pandemic numbers.

A major donation covered the costs involved with equipping Eau Claire deputies and police officers with body cameras.

May

A local doctor's COVID journal was published as a book.

CVTC celebrated construction of a new transportation education center, which the school said would allow it to significantly improve its program.

Metal dinosaurs roamed Artisan Forge in a popular public exhibit.

Elk Mound began projects that were funded by a successful referendum.

Eau Claire's bus ridership numbers ticked up, but weren't quite back to the pre-pandemic levels.

Dr. Sunem Beaton-Garcia was named as the next president of CVTC.

Telemark Lodge, long a popular vacation spot among Wisconsin residents, was demolished after declining for several decades.

UW-Eau Claire's travel and study programs continued to be hit hard by COVID, as students from the school weren't able to go overseas and their foreign counterparts weren't allowed to come here.

Ryan Glau retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after 24 years, including a very long stint in the Corps' explosive ordnance disposal units.

SpaceX and Eau Claire announced some county residents would qualify for participation in a pilot project to test receiving the internet via satellite.

Eau Claire County's highway facilities costs jumped as construction prices soared. The same basic issue added thousands to the costs of new homes.

Pop-up vaccination clinics began as the initial rush began to ebb.

Local mask mandates ended as COVID numbers improved.

Eau Claire schools found that lower grades were associated with virtual classes. While the result itself was not a surprise, the degree of the effect was.

Catalytic converter thefts prompted a painting event designed to let scrap dealers know when a converter had been stolen.

Former county treasurer Larry Lokken asked for an early release from prison, citing the state's provisions for compassionate release of older inmates.

Local health officials relaxed guidelines for public gatherings.

Area businesses echoed national concerns, saying hiring was difficult. While various reasons were cited, by the end of the year economists were pointing out an unusual number of people ages 55 and up took early retirement during the pandemic.

The first few big events of the summer began, and drew strong crowds. The successes raised hopes for the summer slate.

Regis senior Anna Allen's thrift sale raised $30,000 for St Jude's children's hospital.

The Eau Claire Police Department began planning for a successor to retiring K9 officer Jake.

A mammogram bus hit the road in the area, trying to bring better screening to rural Chippewa Valley residents.

An ice ball hit an Elk Mound home, punching right through the roof. While the exact source of the ice remains uncertain, experts believe it was most likely a natural event.

Life-sized sculptures honoring veterans arrived prior to their dedication on Memorial Day.

A county committee backed legalization or decriminalization of marijuana.

Area residents enjoyed Memorial Day parades to kick off the summer season.

June

Chicken Chasers, a popular Fall Creek restaurant, was destroyed in a fire.

The Wisconsin Logging Museum reopened in Eau Claire.

Ashley Furniture announced an expansion in Chippewa Falls, bringing new production jobs to the community.

Barron County launched a new rescue task force.

Job centers shuttered by the COVID pandemic began reopening in Wisconsin.

Gary King, Eau Claire County's district attorney, came under intense scrutiny for erratic behavior in court and allegations of sexual harassment in his office.

Summer heat arrived, with temperatures pushing into the 90s for much of the region.

The ACLU filed a harassment complaint over allegations in the Chippewa Falls schools.

Areas of northern Wisconsin reeled under a wave of overdose deaths. The fatalities were linked in most cases to opioid abuse.

Eau Claire County hit the 50 percent mark for COVID vaccinations.

CVTC began a $10.6 million project for first responder training.

Traffic at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport began to approach pre-pandemic levels.

The vaccination clinic at Zorn Arena on the UW-Eau Claire campus shut down.

Jay Young's three sons followed his footsteps, becoming EMTs as well.

Altoona began work to consider the long-term needs for city facilities and what those needs might require in the coming years.

The Eau Claire doctor whose COVID journal was printed as a book was terminated. He alleged it was in retaliation for his criticism of former President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic, a charge his former employer denied.

An unusual souvenir caused a stir after a WWII-era grenade was found in an Eau Claire home.

Country Fest returned to the stage, drawing very strong crowds.

The Eau Claire metro area's jobless rate fell to 3.4%.

Owners of Princeton Valley Golf Course thwarted an attempted burglary in a confrontation caught by security cameras.

Eau Claire restarted its search for a new city manager.

The death of Marilyn Roeber in downtown Eau Claire put a spotlight on the need for services to aid the area's homeless population.

Economists offered a strong forecast for growth in the Chippewa Valley region.

L.E. Phillips Memorial Library launched a "book bike" to serve the community during renovations.

Irvine Park's welcome center reopened.

Alex Conrad was honored by Chippewa Falls police for saving a man's life after spotting him at the edge of a bridge.