Historic Preservation Committee designates first 2 of 10 historic honorary street signs in Merrill
BY TINA L. SCOTT
Mayor Steve Hass and members of the City’s Historic Preservation Committee came out to dedicate the first of a series of honorary historic street signs in Merrill on Monday, May 29, 2023. In this case, it was only fitting that these particular signs be dedicated on Memorial Day.
The first of 10 honorary historic street signs to be erected in Merrill was dedicated at the corner of Merrill St. and N. Prospect St. This sign honors the life of Merrill resident, Sgt. Grant Dampier, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2006 while serving in the U.S. Army. Members of Dampier’s family gathered in the 300 block of Prospect St., the street he and his wife Heidi and their three daughters called home at that time. Dampier’s youngest daughter was only one year old when her father was killed, and she had the honor of revealing the street sign honoring her father
The second honorary historic street sign was unveiled and dedicated a short time later at the corner of E. Main St. and N. Sales St. in honor of Sgt. Ryan Jopek of Merrill, across the street from the home he grew up in. Jopek was only 20 years old when he was killed in action in Iraq on Aug. 2, 2006, while serving in the Wisconsin National Guard. He was just two weeks shy of the end of his tour of duty when he was killed. His family gathered for the sign dedication ceremony on Monday.
“A third member of the military will also be recognized this fall,” said Michael Caylor, Chair of the Historic Preservation Committee. “Lt. Robert Russell was a member of the Army Air Corp when he lost his life in action during WW II. He is the only resident of the City of Merrill who is listed as Missing in Action from that war. The Russell sign will he dedicated on Veteran’s Day when surviving family members will be available.”
Additional signs honoring late City residents will be dedicated in the coming weeks, Caylor said.
Merrill’s honorary historic street signs
The Historic Preservation Committee first began to entertain the idea of paying homage to the memory of notable Merrill residents with honorary historic street signs in the community back in mid 2021. Over a series of months, they identified names to be considered, worked with the City regarding the new logo and how that would be integrated on the signs, notified surviving family members of the people who would be so honored, and also worked with other City of Merrill departments to fully develop the idea, design the signs, and get them ordered, with a schedule to erect the signs.
Initially the Committee identified 10 people to be posthumously honored with the signs and reduced that number to five. However, at the request of City of Merrill Common Council President Paul Russell and Mayor Hass, at the May 2022 meeting the Historic Preservation Committee reconsidered and decided all 10 people nominated will now be honored with the new historic street signs in 2023.
It should be noted that the historic, honorary street sign designations will NOT be used for address purposes. Residents living along the streets with the honorary street signs will not change their postal address, and these street names will not be recognized by GPS systems. They are for community historic preservation purposes only, to honor the lives of some of Merrill’s most remarkable citizens, and to increase the public’s awareness of Merrill’s rich history and Merrill citizens who made their mark on Merrill and on the world.
Street signs honor the people who made Merrill history
In addition to the three veterans whose lives are commemorated by the honorary historic street signs, the following individuals rounded out the list of those to be honored with honorary street names and signs to be erected in 2023: Mrs. Natalie Scribner, Captain Elmer Krueger, Lt. Thomas Beckman, Tiny Krueger, Andrew Warren, Hans von Kaltenborn, and Riley Kurtz.
• Mrs. Natalie Scribner was the longest serving director of the T.B. Scott Free Library, from 1922 – 1948, and was instrumental in expanding the library’s collection and services significantly during her tenure.
• Captain Elmer Krueger. Captain of the patrol of the Merrill Police Department, was shot and mortally wounded in the line of duty on July 12, 1952, in an incident on the north side of the Lincoln County Jail. He is the only Merrill Police Officer to be killed in the line of duty.
• Lt. Thomas Beckman was a firefighter on the Merrill Fire Department who, while off-duty on Jan. 3, 1978, responded to a house fire on Mill Street. While working the fire, he was overcome by smoke and collapsed, later dying. He left behind a wife and two small children and made significant contributions to the firefighting community during his tenure.
• Clifford “Tiny” Krueger was a Merrill resident who ran away with the circus and became known as the “Fat Boy” for the Seils-Sterling Circus. However, he is most noted for being elected to the Wisconsin State Senate in 1947 through 1955, and then being re-elected in 1957 and serving until 1983 when he retired. Krueger championed the north woods of Wisconsin, especially Merrill, and was known in Madison as a leader of the Republican Party, although he labeled himself as a progressive.
• Andrew Warren bought a tract of land at the juncture of the Wisconsin and Prairie Rivers, assembled a crew of workmen, and built a sawmill and a dam. He also built log cabins to house the men, and Jenny Bull Falls, later to be called Jenny, was born. He is credited as being one of the founding fathers of Merrill.
• Hans von Kaltenborn was born in Milwaukee but raised in Merrill, until he ran away from home to fight in the Spanish American War and to provide stories for his hometown newspaper, the Merrill Advocate. He subsequently offered live commentary and live broadcasts from the war and then a king’s coronation and in subsequent years reported on the Munich Agreement and other significant historical stories. He was recognized for his significant contributions to journalism and broadcast radio. While his name is not widely known in the community, he was one of the most famous people to come from Merrill.
• Riley Kurtz, a Merrill Police Officer who died while serving the city of Merrill in Jan. 2022 at the age of 24, was the fourth active police office to die while serving the city and the youngest. He will be the final Merrill resident to be honored with an historic honorary street sign this year.
Nominations for future honorary street signs will be considered by the Historic Preservation Committee this fall, Caylor said.