A successful public servant and businessman during Wausau’s early years, John Ringle became Marathon County’s deputy county clerk when he was just 18. He later served prominent roles in the Wisconsin State Assembly and State Senate and was elected as mayor of Wausau three times. John was one of the original directors of the First National Bank of Wausau and founded the Ringle Brick Company. He was a member of the city council, chairman of the Marathon County board and on the Wausau Board of Education for 30 years. His early and astute leadership helped shape our area’s future.
David Graebel, the founder of Graebel Companies, Inc., a global relocation management organization, is also a founding architect of the Junior Achievement (JA) organization in Northcentral Wisconsin. His sixty-year legacy at the helm of Graebel started with helping customers and businesses relocate locally, which branched out across Wisconsin. The Graebel organization’s growth continued nationwide around the U.S. to its current international presence with worldwide offices. Among his many volunteer activities, Dave championed the JA mission to other Wausau business leaders in 1976, introducing the program that now serves over 11,300 students in nearly 600 classrooms across the area.
Gerald (Jerry) Viste was raised on a Minnesota farm, graduated twice from Harvard and served with distinction during World War II. His entire business career was spent with Employers Mutual of Wausau (Wausau Insurance), where he began in 1947, eventually retiring in 1985 as its president and chief operating officer. Retirement for Jerry meant a deeper connection to the community, volunteering with the Marathon County Historical Society, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Foundation, Wisconsin State Historical Society, Performing Arts Foundation, United Way of Marathon County, First Universalist Unitarian Church and was one of the Wisconsin Humanities Council founders.
A.P. Woodson moved to Wausau from Kansas City in 1913 to assist his father-in-law Cyrus Yawkey, joining the Wausau Group, which was investing in and encouraging new businesses to diversify the area’s declining white pine lumber industry. This started A.P.’s participation in an amazing array of business undertakings for the next 45 years. During his lifetime he served as a director or officer of 88 corporations, focusing on the paper, public utility and insurance industries. A.P. is also remembered as a community pacesetter. Most notably, he was instrumental supporting the development of the Wausau YMCA, still bearing his name.
T A Duckworth grew up in Missouri and was a lawyer by training. Accepting a claims adjuster role with Employers Mutual of Wausau started a life-long career with the company eventually known as Wausau Insurance. After a 43-year career, T A ended his tenure as the chairman of the board with the organization in 1981. Among T A’s many civic pursuits, he served on the boards of numerous charitable non-profits like the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and organizations with a health- and education-focuses such as the Wausau Hospital Center and the Wausau Schools Board of Education.
Ronald Nicklaus developed a successful bean harvesting business in 1956 that stretched beyond north central Wisconsin to five other states. Nicklaus Enterprises grew to include farms with innovative irrigation systems and self-manufactured harvesting equipment. By the 1970s, farms run by Nicklaus Enterprises sent almost 80 trucks of beans out a day for distribution. With experience setting up unique financing to manage his interests with lenders, Ron set his sights on owning a bank, becoming the majority River Valley State Bank stockholder in 1983. River Valley Bank’s growth in its retail, commercial and insurance business now stretches across Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
In 1860, August Kickbusch and his brother traveled from Milwaukee to the roaring lumber town of Big Bull Falls with a covered wagon of goods for sale. Kickbusch became the first retailer in the settlement, although his interests went far beyond sales. Kickbusch alone recruited 702 Germans to immigrate to Wausau in 1867, aiding in the settlement's rapid growth. In 1872, a city charter was obtained and Kickbusch was elected Wausau’s first mayor. August Kickbusch was active in securing the Wisconsin Valley Railroad to run its line through Wausau and served as president of the First National Bank and the Ruder Brewery until his death in 1901.
In 1946, Herb & Ervin Kolbe began a business in their mother's washhouse after identifying a need for windows while working as carpenters. In 1950 Herb & Ervin expanded to a 2,100 square foot building in Wausau and by 1978 the company had 250 employees. In the years to follow, Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork experienced rapid expansion as they broadened sales nationwide. By 2003 the main plant had grown to over 1 million square feet. Today, over 70 years later, Kolbe Windows & Doors remains a leading manufacturer of luxury windows and doors and one of the largest employers in the City of Wausau.
For the last 10 years, Junior Acheivement of Wisconsin - Northcentral District has honored 30 Champions of Business. To celebrate "10 Years of Champions", Champions of Business will recognize each of the previous honorees and highlight their historic contributions to the Wausau area business community. Each of these honorees will also be recognized on a plaque at the new Champions of Business Inspiration Park at the Wausau River District. The plaza will launch Spring of 2018, and each year, new Champions will be added to the display to continue celebrating greatness in Northcentral Wisconsin.
George L. Ruder attended Wausau public schools before continuing his education at the University of Wisconsin. Shortly after receiving his law degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1920, George Ruder began his first law practice in his hometown of Wausau with other local attorneys, until starting his independent practice in 1933. During this time, Mr. Ruder greatly assisted in the reorganization of several large area businesses, which allowed them to not only survive the Great Depression but also prosper long into the future. In 1954, George Ruder joined Stanley F. Staples, Jr. to form Ruder & Staples. While Mr. Ruder passed in 1970, the firm that Mr. Ruder founded still exists today as Ruder Ware Law Firm.
After beginning his career as a high school teacher in Michigan, Dwight Davis spent 19 years of his career as a community college executive, including Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, WI. In 1985, Mr. Davis joined Wausau Insurance, where he held a 15-year career in various senior executive positions before retiring as the company’s President and COO in 2000. After many years of serving on the Greenheck Board of Directors, Davis was asked to assume leadership as President and CEO of Greenheck Fan Corporation. Under Davis’s decade of leadership, the company nearly tripled in size and expanded their business worldwide.
William B. Sampe began his career with Household Finance in Kansas City, MO. After fourteen years at Household Finance, Bill accepted a position with First Wisconsin National Bank, allowing him to relocate back to his home state of Wisconsin. He worked his way through the ranks and in 1976, was offered the presidency of the First Wisconsin National Bank in Wausau, where he grew the bank over a 12-year period. Even after retiring from First Wisconsin National Bank in 1988, Bill remained extremely active in local business development and consulting. During this time, he was instrumental in driving the downtown Wausau revitalization project.
In 1901, midst their adolescence, the four Fromm Brothers of Hamburg, WI discussed their dream of producing the finest silver foxes in the world. In order to acquire the capital necessary to pursue this dream, the Fromm Brothers began farming ginseng. The Fromm farm quickly became the largest ginseng operation in the world. By 1913, the brothers were able to purchase their first premier silver foxes. By the 1930s, the Fromm's had also become the world's largest producer of silver fox furs, and were instrumental in funding research for animal vaccines and genetics.
John Slayton worked for Marathon Electric Manufacturing Corp. for 41 years serving as Vice President of Finance, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and President, and as a member of the Board of Directors. He retired from Marathon Electric in 1989. Slayton was active in many civic, community, and public service organizations and was distinguished with many awards, among which was the honor of being named the 1984 Wausau Citizen of the Year.
David Smith joined the Marathon Corporation in 1927 and worked there until assuming the role of President and General Manager of Ward Paper Company in 1938. In 1950, Smith became the President and General Manager of Wausau Paper Mills Company. Under his direction, the Brokaw mill made some of its greatest and most innovative advances including adding paper machines and reducing the pollution of the Wisconsin River.
Daniel Plumer settled in Wausau in 1857 when he was just 20 years old and began working as a surveyor of timber lands. He worked his way up in the lumbering industry and invested very successfully in timber lands, sawmills, mining and real estate. In 1868, he and a partner started the Silverthorn & Plumer Bank, which became the First National Bank of Wausau in 1882. Plumer continued as president of the bank until the time of his death in 1920.
G. Lane Ware was a prominent attorney and civic leader in central Wisconsin for 49 years and represented numerous Wausau area businesses and major corporations in corporate and governance issues. His experience in business and securities law played a key role in the growth and expansion of many area businesses.
Robert C. Greenheck co-founded a small local sheet metal factory that has become The Greenheck Group, the world’s largest manufacturer of air movement and control equipment for commercial, institutional and industrial buildings. After graduating from Marquette University’s College of Engineering in 1950, Bob Greenheck returned to the Wausau area and provided more than six decades of engineering expertise, manufacturing knowledge and business leadership to his company.
McIndoe was one of the most enterprising and prosperous lumbermen in Wisconsin and instrumental in establishing the community of Wausau and the county of Marathon in the mid-1800s. He became a prominent elected official in Wisconsin, a candidate for Governor, and served five years in the U.S, Congress where he introduced legislation that led to the construction of the Wisconsin Central Railroad line to Superior, Wisconsin. Walter McIndoe will be recognized with the Founder Award for his contributions to our area’s economy prior to 1945.
Ed Creske founded Wausau Tile in his garage in Mosinee in 1953. Today, Wausau Tile is a global leader in the design and manufacturing of a wide variety of precast concrete and terrazzo products for some of the world’s best known buildings, stores, parks, museums and stadiums. The company employs more than 350 employees in Rothschild. Creske also owned Imperial Industries, a Rothschild-based manufacturer of bulk storage tanks that began operations in 1981 and employs 150 workers today.
Ophthalmologist Gordon Backer founded the Backer Eye Clinic with his brother, Bill, in 1965. Today, his original practice is known as the Eye Clinic of Wisconsin and employs 17 ophthalmologists and optometrists who provide comprehensive vision services including eye surgery. The Eye Clinic of Wisconsin serves patients at six locations including Wausau, Merrill, Antigo, Rhinelander, Medford and Stevens Point.
Alexander Stewart was one of Wausau’s first entrepreneurs. In 1849, at age 20, he founded what became a major U.S. lumbering enterprise. He was a member of the Wausau Group and served three terms in the U.S. Congress.
Lula Jacob served as president of Hammer Blow Tool Company, Wausau, from 1945-1967 when she retired at age 90. The company manufacturedtrailer equipment. She also supported many community organizations throughThe Jacob Trust Fund.
W.F. McCormick became the publisher of the Wausau Daily Herald in 1974 following a 47-year career at the newspaper. He also served as chairman of the former Forward Communications and led the community during many important public initiatives.
In the early 1900s, Cyrus Yawkey was instrumental in establishing Marathon Paper Mills, Wausau Paper Mills, Wisconsin Valley Electric Co. and Employers Mutual Liability Insurance Co., which became Wausau Insurance - now part of Liberty Mutual Insurance.
In 1980, when boyhood pals and high school coaches Art Juedes and Rick Gering set out to find professional quality shoes for their athletes, they ended up finding their dream and a business. This venture grew into a worldwide direct mail catalog and internet sales conglomerate called Eastbay.
Bart Kellnhauser, one of the original employees, led WSAUTV (now WSAW-TV) from 1954-1988 as a film director, program director, general manager and president and helped the station grow into one of Wisconsin’s premier broadcast companies.
Walter Alexander was a prominent Wausau lumberman in the late 1800s and a member of the Wausau Group. Between 1900 and his death in 1926, Alexander helped organize Wausau Paper Mills, Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company, and many more successful area businesses.
Emery “E.O.” Johnson founded E O Johnson Office Technologies in 1957 in Wausau. For more than 40 years, he guided the company that automated many Wausau area offices and today employs 180 people in four Wisconsin and Minnesota locations. Sadly, E.O. Johnson passed away February 2, 2011.
As president and chairman of Wausau-based Forward Communications, Richard (Dick) Dudley guided the company through a tremendous era of growth between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s by acquiring radio stations, television stations and newspapers throughout the country.
Hans Hagge was one of the first four employees to join Employers Mutual of Wausau in 1911 (which became Wausau Insurance Companies). His 48 years of leadership produced one of the largest mutual fire and casualty insurance companies in America.
Ray Goldbach and his wife Marie started Marathon Cheese Corporation in 1952. Under Goldbach’s leadership, the company became one of the largest independent packagers of natural cheese and a nationally recognized innovator of cheese packaging.
Marv Schuette co-founded Wausau Homes in 1960 along with his brothers, Cliff Schuette and Earl Schuette. As president, Marv Schuette helped the company become the nation’s leading producer of custom homes while revolutionizing the industry.
D.C. Everest was one of the most influential industrialists in Wausau’s history. He served as president of the Marathon Corporation that became one of the largest paper mills in the nation.
John Ullrich, was a Certified Public Accountant and founding partner of Wipfli, Ullrich & Company. Today, Wipfli is one of the largest CPA and consulting firms in the U.S.
Bernie Greenheck was co-founder and president of Greenheck Fan Corporation, Schofield, Wisconsin. Today, Greenheck is the world’s leading manufacturer of air movement and control products for non-residential buildings.