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Healthcare workers and community members protest vaccine mandate
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EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—Protesters gathered on the Stephenson Island bridge Thursday to oppose Advocate Aurora Health’s Aug. 4 mandate requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Employees in the network must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15.

There were about 20 people gathered a quarter before five in the Stephenson Island parking lot. I approached a short-haired older woman and asked her what was going on. She declined to share her name but introduced me to an older man in a straw hat and a woman with curly hair, both of whom work at the Aurora Medical Center in Marinette and asked not to be named.

“We’re already on the chopping block,” said the curly-haired woman.

“What we’re here for is just to let people know that we want to be free to make our own choice,” the woman continued. “It’s not just about the shot. It’s about freedom. We want to be able to consent. You have to respect autonomy, so why can’t they respect us?”

She said she heard of managers in other departments going around asking people if they are vaccinated but added that her manager is “hands-off” on the topic.

The man in the straw hat interjected—“I work in a different department, doctors think we’re crazy. But from what I understand, they’re getting a kickback.”

A young woman with a stars and stripes bandana tied around her neck came over. She also works at the Aurora Medical Center in Marinette. The woman declined to share her name or role at the hospital but said she works directly with patients.

“All of us are very scared, especially because it’s such a small hospital,” she said. “People at the hospital have fertility concerns, like breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, and we just feel like we’re being gaslit.”

A tall man with dark sunglasses walked up and asked the woman with curly hair where she wanted to set up the rally. The man later identified himself as Scott Behrmann, a constitutionalist activist from Neenah who frequently travels to rallies around the state.

“I can stay about an hour and fifteen ‘cause I gotta meet up with Jonathan Wichmann in Wausaukee,” he said. Jonathan Wichmann is a 2022 Republican Party candidate running for Governor of Wisconsin.

Behrmann left, and I asked the woman with curly hair what she plans to do if she doesn’t get an exemption from the vaccine. “I will be fired on October 15,” she responded. “But the more that I see, I have a really hard time letting my face be known with an organization like mine, and so I don’t know if I’ll make it to Oct. 15.”

The protesters began walking out of the parking lot. There were more people now, and as they reached the bridge, they fanned out and took their places along the road, some crossing to occupy the other side. Behrmann started blasting “Rockin’ in the USA” through an amp he had set up on the grass in front of the Logging Historical Museum. Cars drove by, honking frenetically.

The young woman with the bandana was standing with her sign further along the bridge toward Menominee and away from the music. She is married and undergoing fertility treatment, which she said allows her temporary exemption from the mandate.

“But it’s only a delay,” she said. “I think the vaccine is rushed, and I’m concerned about long-term unknowns.”

The cacophony of honking cars made it difficult to hear her.

“Here’s another thing,” she continued, “before the mandate, I could walk around the hospital and have a respectful rapport with my colleagues, but the minute that mandate happened, all the sudden my coworkers that are vaccinated got way more bold and passive aggressive with their comments.”

Alexis said she hasn’t requested an exemption yet but plans to do so for medical and religious reasons.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do if it’s not approved, I honestly don’t know,” she said.

Farther down the line of protesters, Menominee resident Gina Zdeb stood holding a sign next to her 27-year-old son, who asked not to be named. Zdeb is retired, and her son is an engineer at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard.

“I am here for the children. My kids are grown, I don’t have to worry about my children except for their jobs,” she said. “This is taking away our rights, you give them an inch and they will take away everything.”

Behrmann walked up and held out his phone for a selfie. Zdeb and her son huddled closer to him and smiled at the camera.

“This mandate is taking away our rights,” Zdeb continued after Behrmann left. “Just like the women and the pussyhats. They have a choice and we do too.”

Zdeb was referring to the Pussyhat Project protesters who wore pink beanies as a symbol of solidarity during the Women’s March on Washington following former president Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The sound of Behrmann testing a microphone interrupted the music. He asked everyone to gather back on the lawn. I stood off to the side next to a bench where the young woman with the bandana had taken a seat.

“Hey, my name’s Scott,” Behrmann said, pacing around. “I’ve been an activist for quite some time now. I became an activist because I got stuck in a Black Lives Matter rally, and they started beating on my car, and I said no, I ain’t gonna do this anymore.”

He said Black Lives Matter protesters “attacked” Appleton’s GOP headquarters the same day.

“About 25 patriots came out there, well-armed like we should be,” Behrmann said to cheers from the crowd (he had a firearm strapped to his waist). “We protected GOP headquarters that night.”

The young woman with the bandana stood up and leaned toward me—“I have no idea who that guy is,” she said.

I texted her after the rally asking why she had clarified this.

“Scott made some comments that were more political. Right-leaning,” she responded. “Myself and some others had said beforehand that this wasn’t about politics or Right versus Left. This was about our right to make our own medical choices. I shy away from politics in relation to this mandate because, in my opinion, that creates more division. I can see why politics is getting involved, but this affects people from both sides of the aisle.”

Behrmann led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, then invited a woman to take the microphone and sing “God Bless America.” Everyone grew quiet.

A little girl wearing pink Crocs and tie dye shirt and shorts watched in rapture. Protest signs arced around the woman like sentinels: COERCION IS NOT CONSENT! MY BODY, MY CHOICE! FREEDOM IS OUR RIGHT, FOLLOW SCIENCE!

Bobbi Jo Bruno of Stephenson was standing on the other side of the bridge, holding a sign with two American flags sticking out like antennas from its corners. She said she got sick while in her hunting shack on the first day of deer season. She tested positive for COVID and stayed in the hospital five days. “I thought I was gonna die,” she said.

Bruno chose not to get the COVID vaccine. She supports vaccines but doesn’t support making them mandatory.

“I’ve gotten some middle fingers,” she chuckled, watching the passing cars, “Maybe about five of them.”

The protesters petered out after 7 p.m. The man in the straw hat and the curly-haired woman walked to the end of the bridge toward Marinette with some others, holding their signs up high and casting long shadows in the waning light. A large black car with two American flags whipping in the wind honked in a frenzy as it sped past, inciting their cheers.


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Renovated Henes Park Beach House ready for rentals

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—Jenna Carlson graduated from medical school a year ago, but like many celebrations, her graduation party was postponed due to COVID-19.

Carlson, a 2010 graduate of Marinette High School and 2015 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was honored Thursday at a party at the Henes Park Beach House, which also missed a grand-opening celebration due to COVID.

“I felt bad. Graduation should be a big deal. We couldn’t do anything. We just had a Zoom ceremony,” said Jenna’s father Bill Sorensen of Menominee.

Then Sorensen noticed the renovated beach house. “I looked in the windows and thought, ‘I’d like to have a party,’” he said.

Carlson graduated from medical school last year from Touro University in Vallejo, California. She is a doctor of internal medicine and works at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.

The $798,000 renovation of the Henes Park Beach House was solely funded by the John and Julie Henes Foundation, said Tricia Alwin, city engineer and public works director for the City of Menominee, which owns the park.

The beach house renovation was completed in December 2020 and turned over to the City of Menominee, Alwin said.

The John and Julie Henes Foundation planned the renovation, complete with a high-ceiling in the center fit for a large Christmas tree, said Jo Lewis, who described herself as the great granddaughter of John Henes. She is active in the Henes Foundation and helped to plan the renovation.

John Henes, who died in 1923, bought the land and donated it to the City of Menominee in 1907 to preserve it, Lewis said. “John said it should be a park,” she said. He didn’t want it turned into an industrial site.

“He was a very gentle, kind, giving person—shy,” Lewis said.

Henes, who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany and operated the Leisen & Henes brewery with his father-in-law, is credited with inventing the patented Henes Keller Bottle Cap bottling machine. “They did really well” in business, Lewis said.

A concession stand stood on the site at one time, Lewis said. Then it was used as an art shack. “We put the porches in. We put the fireplace in and the kitchen in,” she said. With glass windows instead of screens, “It’s really a four-season beach house,” Lewis said.

The building includes a crock-pot kitchen, Lewis said, meant for keeping food warm. It also has a large grill outside. It features two handicap-accessible bathrooms indoors, which are decorated with area artwork and two bathrooms on the exterior accessible to beachgoers. It also includes water fountains for humans and dogs and a water-bottle-filling station outside.

Planning the renovation was a long process. “We started in April of 2019,” said Johanna’s husband Tom Lewis, an engineer, but COVID-19 interrupted it.

The Parks, Recreation, Buildings and Grounds Committee set the rental details this past spring, she said.

The venue can be used for receptions, birthday parties, business meetings, trainings and family reunions.

Rentals cost $280 Monday through Thursday and $375 Friday through Sunday and on holidays, Alwin said. After each rental, professional cleaners are used at the cost of the renter.

While COVID-19 slowed reservations for the beach house, to date the venue has been rented nine times, the city said. The Department of Public Works secretary takes reservations. For more information, visit www.menominee.us.


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Tight labor market snags Menominee's search for key employees

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The City of Menominee hasn’t yet hooked qualified candidates for several key positions and could be casting a wider net or increasing the salary ranges of open positions.

It’s looking for a city manager, building inspector and engineer. The city’s difficulty in finding qualified applicants coincides with lower unemployment levels. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for the nation fell half a percentage point to 5.4% in July, with 8.7 million unemployed.

The Upper Peninsula’s June unemployment rate was about the same as the nation’s, but down considerably from 10.3% a year ago, according to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

The number of people unemployed in the Upper Peninsula fell to 7,300 in June from 7,600 in May and from 14,300 in June 2020.

For the City of Menominee, with new marijuana businesses expected to open, filling the vacant positions is important. “They have to have inspections and zoning approved. If that’s not in place,” everything’s stalled, said Brett Botbyl, interim city manager and police chief. Hiring a city inspector will ensure the new retail operations are in compliance with city codes.

The Judicial and Legislative/Personnel and Labor Committee said Aug. 12 it will post the city manager position online and in local papers. “We were not interested in hiring another search firm because that hasn’t yielded successful results,” said Mayor Jean Stegeman.

“We don’t have to look far if everything works out fine with the guy sitting here or not, but we do have to post it,” William Plemel, chair of the Judicial and Legislative/Personnel and Labor Committee said Thursday at a committee meeting, referring to Botbyl. The city council did not discuss the openings at the city council meeting this past Monday.

Botbyl has expressed interest in the city manager position. “Sometimes you need to just get out of the way and let city managers run the city,” he said, generating laughter from the committee members.

For several of the open positions with specific qualifications, luring applicants to the area for starting pay can be a challenge, Botbyl said. “It was quite difficult to find the last two engineers. (Hiring) the last building inspector was difficult as well,” Botbyl said.

For the building inspector position, the city has received some response to a job listing on Indeed, an online job board, but no highly qualified candidates who understand the city’s building code, he said. Most positions are posted online.

“I believe the pay is probably one of the issues,” Botbyl said. The Menominee job pays “probably $12,000 to $20,000 less than what people are making downstate,” Botbyl said. “Unless you have someone who is local who wants to stay here, how do you bring someone from out of the area here when they can stay where they’re at and make more money?” he said.

Several people suggested recruiting at area colleges and universities, such as Michigan Technological Institute in Houghton.

“Salarywise, the new college graduate might be someone we look at,” committee member Frank Pohlmann said.

But pay isn’t the only issue. City Engineer Tricia Alwin’s last day with the city is Aug. 27. “You don’t need an engineer here because you don’t allow them to do engineering. I take garbage calls,” said Alwin, who also serves as public works director. “Other people need to step up here.” Alwin, who holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Lawrence Technological University, worked for about eight years for Fincantieri Marinette Marine before joining the City of Menominee in 2019, according to her LinkedIn page. She is returning to Fincantieri as a detail design engineering manager.

“I would like to thank the City of Menominee for the wonderful opportunities provided to me over the past two years. It has been a rewarding experience to work, collaborate and accomplish many projects with my teammates here at the City of Menominee. I wish the City of Menominee continued success in the future,” Alwin said in an email to the EagleHerald.

One way to avoid costly searches for key employees is to retain workers and avoid a revolving door.

“I’m curious whether we’ve had any outgoing interviews with city managers or city engineers to find out why people are leaving. If they have been done, it would be nice if the city council were aware of what those discussions were,” said council member Doug Robinson. “How can we find and keep people?” he asked. Some suggestions might be found in comments from exit interviews.


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