The remainder of our list of top 10 stories is a mixed bag of mostly positive news, depending on your perspective. Here’s the final wrap up for 2017:

Thoroughly engaged

The 2017 Winter Daze parade was in full swing down Main Street when a Menomonie firefighter climbed down from a fully illuminated fire engine to shine a light on two very special people in his life.

In full gear, Matt Poliak motioned to his girlfriend, Grace Johnson, and her daughter, Isla, to leave the crowd of spectators and join him on the pavement.

On bended knee, Poliak presented Grace with a ring and asked her to marry him. Surprised and delighted, she gave a heartfelt “yes” to his proposal followed by a kiss. The firefighter then pulled another small box from his pocket and knelt down before 2-year-old Isla.

Showing the little girl the ring inside, Poliak asked Isla, “Do you want to be in Matt’s family?” With an emphatic nod, Isla delivered her own hug, happily kicking her legs as her prospective stepfather lifted her into the air.

The happy exchange was captured on video by Poliak’s sister, Liz Rensch, who posted the proceedings on her Facebook page. After being viewed on local TV stations, the video was quickly picked up by other media outlets. NBC Today Show’s Hoda Kotb delivered it as the “Daily Boost” — and the news traveled as far as The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom.

Downtown changes

The face of downtown Menomonie saw two major changes during 2017 with the completion of the farmer’s market pavilion in Wilson Park and the construction of a new hotel across from the Clocktower Plaza.

A truly “monument”-al achievement, the pavilion was the result of a $500,000 Community Investment Development Grant awarded to Menomonie Market Food Co-op in partnership with the city. The grant was contingent on the city bringing the farmers market back downtown from leased space in the Dunn County Rec Park.

In October 2015, the Menomonie City Council approved a low bid from Heartland Contractors, Inc. of Chippewa Falls to construct the new pavilion. Heartland served as general contractor on the project, but the original idea for the handcrafted timber-framed pavilion was conceived by Menomonie’s Aaron Wallace, president of Oxbow Designs. who served as assistant timberwright. The design was created by Jay C. White Cloud of Tosa Tomo Designs, based in Thetford, Vt. and Tim Rau, owner of New World Barn Company in Altamont, N.Y., fronted the project as timber frame director and lead timberwright.

Because of the complex process, the completion deadline was extended several times. But most agreed it was well worth the wait. During construction, Rau described the project as a dream come true: “This is completely unique in design and fabrication. This has never been done. ... You won’t find another one like it in the country, possibly the world.”

Meanwhile on Main Street, late January saw the demolition of the former Lee Drugstore, Jeff’s Pizza and Jill’s My Style buildings to make way for a new, four-story hotel. On March 6, with with the foundation footings in place and underground work already well underway, an official groundbreaking was held for the Cobblestone Inn.

Brian Wogernese, president/CEO of Neenah-based Cobblestone Hotels, said the new Menomonie hotel is among 12 the company has under construction that will join the 73 sites currently in operation throughout the Midwest. The project manage to raise the hackles of several members of the city’s Historical Preservation Committee who were tasked with reviewing and approving the design to assure that it would fit in with the look of the rest of downtown Menomonie.

Noting that the hotel will help make downtown Menomonie more of a destination, Mayor Randy Knaack said, “I think the updates the city council chose for the building are an improvement over the original, and I hope it fits in well with our downtown and is here for a long time in the future.”

Originally Bremer Bank, located behind the site, reached an agreement to share its parking lot with the hotel, but decided instead to sell the property to the developers and move its main office to its branch on North Broadway and the financial services operations to a new location at 503 Broadway.

Saved by last-second swerve

It was UW-Stout’s homecoming weekend when Brett Schulte, 20, was injured around 1 a.m. on Oct. 15 on Wilson Avenue just west of Second Street West. The rural Ellsworth man was struck by squad car driven by Sgt. Jason Barneson, 39, an 18-year Menomonie police veteran. It was dark, and the officer was using windshield wipers intermittently at the time of the crash.

A review of the squad car’s video showed that Schulte was lying crossways in the road with his head near the center line and that Barneson took evasive action in an attempt to avoid hitting Schulte. Originally transported to Mayo Clinic Health System-Red Cedar in Menomonie and later to Mayo in Eau Claire, Schulte was taken to Mayo Clinic Hospital, St. Mary’s Campus, in Rochester, Minn. with injuries that were serious, but not believed to be life-threatening.

Th results of blood tests taken from both men, show that neither had any drugs in their system. Schulte’s BAC was 0.195, however, while Barneson had no alcohol in his system. Barneson was place on administrative leave during an investigation of the accident which found that he had acted appropriately. “Sergeant Barneson’s quick reflexes saved Mr. Schulte’s life,” Menomonie Police Chief Eric Atkinson said.

Schulte faces charges of underage drinking-first offense, ID card violations-first, and standing on a roadway.

Quick turnaround

Gov. Scott Walker announced the appointment of Senator Sheila Harsdorf as Secretary of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. She took up the reins of her new job on Nov. 13 — and the race was on to fill her vacated seat to represent Wisconsin’s 10th District.

The ballot for the Dec. 19 partisan primary included two Republican Assemblymen — Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake and Shannon Zimmerman of River Falls, three Democrats — Patty Schachtner of Star Prairie, the St. Croix County medical examiner; Reuben Herfindahl of River Falls, a small business owner; and John Calabrese of rural Boyceville, a woodworker and carpenter. Libertarian Brian Corriea of Wilson ran unopposed.

In the contest for Harsdorf’s successor Republican Adam Jarchow and Democrat Patty Schachtner will join Libertarian Brian L. Corriea on the ballot in the general election on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

Record setters

For the first time ever on their way to a fourth place finish, Boyceville High School’s Science Olympiad team earned the most individual state championships at the state tournament at UW-Milwaukee in early April.

Boyceville’s record five state championship gold medals smashed the previous school record — and the battling Bulldogs earned state medals in 15 out of 23 total events, matching the school record set in 2012.

With a third place finish, Boyceville Middle School’s team also set a pair of records by earning medals in 15 out of 23 events along with a record low team score of 135, breaking the school records of 14 medals and a team score of 154, both set last year.

Boyceville Science Olympiad is coached by Andy Hamm, Jenna Willi and Steve Duerst.

“I am so excited with the results of our students this year at state” said Boyceville Head Coach Andy Hamm. “Our students have worked so hard over the entire year to do as well as they can at state, and every student stepped up. I was particularly impressed with the five individual event state championships in the high school — and it was exciting to see us lead the state in gold medals, especially considering how much larger all of the other top teams are.”

Case in point: Menomonie High School captured the number two spot in the state tourney.

Laura Giammattei contributed to this story.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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