A bridge to remember
What men accept as the status quo, a woman sees potential for improvement.
It might be a cobweb in a high corner of the living room or it could be a creaky bridge spanning a creek.
Butch Haug had heard it before.
"That old bridge looks terrible," Caryl Haug commented each time the couple passed the 16th hole at Eagle Creek on their way home.
"I said, 'You've told me that before!' " recalled Butch in a recent visit.
The 16th on the old back nine parallels the county road. From the tee, Willmar Lake and the city are to the golfer's left. The tee shot must carry Hawk Creek -- a Titleist depository -- to land on a generous green backed by a high, grassy cliff.
The old walking bridge was sturdy enough but added little to the remarkable setting.
Butch decided to act. People will tell you when this owner of a large farm-implement business decides something needs doing, things can happen fast.
He enlisted club president Jim Mergott, who had come to town in 2003 from Chicago to run the Sears store. It happens that both were former varsity football assistant coaches -- Jim in Montana in the early 1970s and Butch at Kerkhoven 10 years before that.
"Jim agreed we needed to replace the bridge but there were no funds," recalled Butch.
An idea emerged to sell pavers at the proposed bridge to raise the funds. Club president Mark Suedbeck recruited Craig Hilding and Tom Dooley to market the concept to both present members and children of deceased members.
The walkway was conceived as a way to "bridge" the club's nearly 80-year history and the present. The engraved blocks, out of Kingston, were sold for $500 each and raised $42,000 in a short time.
An arched wooden bridge soon straddled the stream, 50 yards upriver of the old bridge, which was dismantled.
Haug said two local bridge contractors were contacted first but they both suggested the small project might better be handled by a specialty firm. That turned out to be Custom Manufacturing of Clinton, Wis.
"One of the beauties of this bridge is that it sits on two pads, or floating discs, and didn't require any digging into the stream bank," said Haug.
The bridge was only half the project.
Hawk Creek originates in Eagle Lake, wiggles southwest to Swan Lake. There it drops over a dam and makes a short run along the 11th fairway, then makes a double dogleg into Willmar Lake.
The stream bed needed work. High water erodes the banks and sends silt downstream plugging up one of the twin culverts under County 24 and muddying Willmar Lake.
The project soon involved the Soil and Water Conservation District, Minnesota DNR hydrologist Skip Wright and the Hawk Creek Watershed District.
The banks were reinforced with rip-rap; sets of rock veins were put down in the creek to slow the water, filter sentiment and create ripples.
Rick Reimer of the SWCD office said both the club and the watershed benefits.
"Give the golf club credit for getting us together," said Reimer. "This is a big plus to the watershed. It's always something we talk about that the farther upstream the project, the better it is for the watershed. The problem of erosion has been greatly reduced and there's no negative water going into Willmar Lake."
The stream work was completed with government funds from several agencies. The $10,000 cost was significantly offset by in-kind work by volunteers and the Eagle Creek grounds crew under maintenance supervisor Tom Wodash.
"Butch gave us the ball and we ran to the end zone," said Reimer, expressing his pleasure with the water-control project.
Haug deflects the credit to Jim Mergott, who didn't get to see the dream to completion. He died of cancer, at his home on Lake Florida, on April 15, 2008. He was 61.
His widow, Taya, said this week that her husband never doubted the project.
"'This is something we need to do,' " he would say. "I think it bogged down several times but his leadership of the board at Eagle Creek kept it going."
At the north end of the little bridge is a cul-de-sac for carts around a large boulder inscribed "Memory Bridge." A few feet off the path a new tree, already 15-feet tall, has been planted by the club. It is known as the "Mergott Tree."
In a late addition, the pavers were extended up the hill twenty yards to the bituminous cart path. That left the fundraiser $8,000 short but with plenty of pavers still available. Alan Welle is handling the sale of memory pavers and can be contacted at the pro shop.
On the fly
n Joe Sussenguth, starting his fourth year as volleyball coach at the college, has recruited All-Area standouts Emily Roelike of Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Brianna Jacobson of New London-Spicer and Brandi Bodin of MACCRAY. All three will likely play at least two sports on the Hill. Four other recruits will come in with honors from Pierz, Red Rock Central, Nevis and Dassel-Cokato. The Lady Warriors have reached four straight NJCAA Division III national championship games.
n Andrea Brown and Callie Nelsen finished their junior seasons at Gustavus Adolphus College at the NCAA Division III softball nationals where the Gusties went 3-2 and finished third with a final record of 40-8. Nelsen only pitched once and then only for an inning. Brown, the third baseman, had hits in three of the games including a three RBI game in Saturday's 10-4 win over Salisbury University.
n Interviews for the open head football coach position at the high school took place Tuesday and Wednesday.