Top stories of 2013


Leader Staff

The final chapter in a long-running court fight that rallied a community behind a Wescott business tops the list of local stories for 2013, a year that also featured high-profile criminal cases and some significant changes in the community. Here is a list of this year’s Top 10 stories chosen by the Leader staff, and a few honorable mentions.

1. Lighthouse patio prevails

The Shawano County Board of Adjustment in November ended a four-year legal battle with the owners of the Lighthouse Pub in the town of Wescott, voting 4-0, with one abstention, not to contest a circuit court ruling that overturned the board’s decision to deny an after-the-fact variance for a concrete, waterfront patio at the restaurant. Lighthouse owners Jeff and Tammy Stachowiak had been fighting an order to remove the patio since 2009, with some Board of Adjustment hearings drawing around 100 supporters.

2. Shawano’s first bank robbery

A Shawano man was arrested in April after the first bank robbery in the city’s history. Darrin H. Church is accused of robbing the CoVantage Credit Union at 911 E. Green Bay St. and attempting to rob Cash Tyme at 705 E. Green Bay St. His case is pending. Church was initially found not competent to stand trial, but was ruled competent in November after receiving treatment at the Mendota Mental Health Institute. His case is scheduled for a status conference in February. He could face up to 40 years in prison if found guilty.

3. Alleged fox bite causes problems for local petting zoo

A claim by a Milwaukee teen in July that she was bitten by a fox at Anello’s Torch Lite leads to an inventory of its petting zoo, after which it was determined the number of animals exceeds the limit set by the Shawano Plan Commission when it approved a special exception to the zoning code in 2003. Anello’s applied for a new special exception, which is delayed pending the granting of a USDA license. The zoo is being allowed to operate as it has been in the meantime.

4. Authorities discover “animal house” on Maurer Street

Authorities in August cleared out a foreclosed house at 817 E. Maurer St., where more than 50 dead and abandoned animals were found. Animals found included dogs, rabbits, chinchillas, mice and snakes — including a 15-foot python living in a basement enclosure. The Shawano County Humane Society assisted with the temporary placement of the animals still alive. No charges have been filed in the case. Police say they are still waiting for a veterinarian’s report.

5. Former SIST CFO sentenced

The former chief financial officer for the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology Inc. (SIST) was sentenced in May to four years in prison on federal charges of tax evasion. Kalmar G. Gronvall had been found guilty after a jury trial in February of attempting to evade income and self-employment taxes in 2006, 2007 and 2008, while he was the owner and operator of The Gold and Silver Exchange. According to the indictment, Gronvall had more than $1.23 million in income during the three years in question and owed $433,763 in taxes.

6. Turnover at the Shawano School District

Shawano School District Superintendent Todd Carlson resigned in September, leaving the district’s top spot vacant days before the start of the new school year. He was followed by Steve Linssen, associate principal with the high school, and Tim Mayer, high school associate principal and athletic director. School Board member Jim Heinz also stepped down in September. Business manager Gail Moesch later announced she will retire in February.

7. End of an era as the Crescent goes dark

After a 17-year run as a staple of downtown Shawano, the Crescent Pitcher Show at 220 S. Main St. closed on Dec. 1. Owner Paul Routhieaux said 35 mm prints were getting harder to come by, and he was unable to secure financing to convert to digital projection. The original Crescent Theater closed down in the mid-1980s. Since 1996, the renovated theater showcased Hollywood movies after they left first-run theaters, with the added twist of pizza, sandwiches and other menu items, lounge-style seating with tables and a wait-staff.

8. City gets out of the telecom business

City officials in October sealed the deal for the sale of Shawano Municipal Utilities’ cable TV and high-speed Internet services to local wireless service provider Cellcom for $1.25 million. The sale closed Dec. 2. Shawano residents approved borrowing $4 million for the infrastructure needed to create a telecommunication utility in a 2006 referendum. The utility’s intention was to have customer revenue pay for the network and the service, including the repayment of the $4 million in borrowing. Instead it produced nothing but deficits. The sale will cover a line of credit taken out by SMU, but the original $4 million debt remains on the city’s book.

9. Sidewalk war

A proposed sidewalk between Fairview Way and Humphrey Court drew the ire of Fifth Street residents in May. The sidewalk was originally intended for the south side of the street until it met opposition in March from businesses that would have been impacted. The Shawano Field Committee voted to move the sidewalk to the north side, but the reconstruction shifted the street seven feet to the south.

10. Tribal recall and ouster

Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal President Robert Chicks became the target of a recall in April over theft and obstruction charges in Langlade County. The recall was later overturned in court, but in August Chicks was removed from his position by unanimous vote of the Tribal Council. Chicks pleaded no contest to the obstruction charge. He was fined $100 for obstruction and $200.50 for operating without a valid driver’s license. The other counts were dismissed.

Honorable mentions

• The Shawano School Board approved up to $900,000 for an addition that would provide more space for the school’s agriculture and technical education programs. The project was completed in October.

• The Menominee Indian Tribe scored a significant victory toward its longtime goal of opening a casino in Kenosha, after the Bureau of Indian Management approved the tribe’s application to build an entertainment center and casino at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park. The project must still be approved by Gov. Scott Walker.

• Shawano Housing Authority coordinator Charlene Helms was fired after the Department of Housing and Urban Development refused to grant a waiver allowing Helms, a former board member, to work for the authority. The shakeup followed the sudden resignation of board member Glenn Wille amid allegations Wille and Helms improperly paid themselves while on the board. An investigation concluded there were no grounds for criminal charges.

• The long-debated evidence storage building for the Sheriff’s Department was pulled from the county’s list of 2014 Capital Improvement Projects as the focus turned to seeing whether grant money is available for the project. Meanwhile, plans moved forward for remodeling the former Health Department offices in the courthouse basement for Sheriff’s Department detectives and the evidence technician.

• Ground was broken on the new ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano. The new $50 million facility will be an integrated campus that combines the existing clinic at 100 County Road B with 25 beds for the hospital portion and the rehab facility currently housed on North Main Street.