Thursday, July 16, 2020
Mitch KoelMike GnewikowRick Murray

Koel, Gnewikow, Murray seek spots on Tomah School Board

As a student in the Tomah school district Mitch Koel took advantage of opportunities he was presented with.

Now Koel feels it's time to give back. That's why he is seeking a seat on the Tomah school board. Koel is a 2013 THS graduate. After graduation his plan was to attend Western Technical College for his generals and then transfer to UW-Platteville for mechanical engineering. That plan changed.

"I knew I didn’t want to get into a lot of student debt," Koel said. "My plan was to start a lawn mowing business to help pay for college. I started my business right after graduating and still operate it today. I realized that I wanted to be a business owner instead of a mechanical engineer and made a fulltime career out of my little mowing business that I started."

Koel purchased a building on Townline Road a few years ago for his shop for Koel’s Lawn & Landscape, LLC.

Throughout the year he employs six to 14 people to assist in lawn maintenance, landscaping, fertilizing and snow removal. 

“The skills I have developed as a local business owner that qualify me include budgeting, scheduling, time management, hiring and maintaining employees, organization and ability to communicate effectively,” he said. 

Koel hires high school students to assist in all aspects of the business. 

"I have a passion to help others and give back to the community that gave me the American dream," Koel said. "I couldn’t ask for more support then what Tomah has offered me. I recently purchased a home near Gillett Park where I live with my puppy Chloe. Things that I value are family and friendships."

 He recently started substitute bus driving for Tomah school district and is a volunteer firefighter on Oakdale Fire Department. Koel feels his education paves the way to be an asset on the school board.

"I believe in serving my community and think I would be a strong school board member," Koel said. "Education is important, I valued my education and teachers I had while I studied throughout the Tomah schools. I still have friendships with past educators and value their opinions. I believe I bring a different perspective to the board. I’m very grateful to the school district and community for the opportunities they instilled in me and helped me become who I am today. I believe in a diversified board of education and having people from all walks of life are important to better represent the entire community."

Koel knows firsthand employment success is not defined by a college degree.

"I think that there is a stigma that you must go to college to receive a degree to be successful," Koel said. "I know that is not the case. I think it is very important that we give our students every opportunity to be successful. There are countless opportunities in our hometown to be successful. I want our students to appreciate that there are many alternative pathways to success."

Koel supports career readiness in high school. 

He advocates for extra-curricular activities and related arts. During his tenure at TMS and THS Koel was involved in music, German, golf, ice hockey and science club. In middle school Koel was the first official TMS Science Club Member and remains a volunteer club advisor. He was in concert band, German and golf and played hockey. 

"I believe that those extra opportunities helped shape who I’ve become," Koel said.

The Koel family is no stranger to the district, dating back to his grandparents. He notes they held positions from teacher, teacher’s aide, maintenance and janitorial. Their employment tenure exceeds a combined 130 years. 

His goals, if elected to the board, are to ensure the district continues to provide a great education, hire and maintain highly qualified employees, keep the district a great place to work and learn and help grow its communities.

He currently serves on the executive committee of Board of Directors for the Tomah Chamber of Commerce. He has served on the City of Tomah Long Range Planning Committee. 

 

Gnewikow seeks Tomah School Board seat

 

Mike Gnewikow has been involved with the Tomah School District in various capacities his entire life.

He hopes to expand that involvement if elected to the Tomah school board. Gnewikow is one of six candidates seeking three seats in the April 7 election.

Gnewikow is a 1991 THS graduate. He attended UW-Eau Claire and received a degree in journalism advertising. He and wife Tonya (VanWychen) have four sons and live in the Warrens area. Tonya is an Education and Exercise Science teacher at THS.

He currently serve on the Wisconsin Cranberry Board and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Public Relations Committee, is president of the Tomah Grid Iron football Club and a Warrens Lions Club Member. He has sat on the Warrens Cranberry Festival Board in the past.

Gnewikow works for the family cranberry marsh, Wetherby Cranberry Company. He began working summers and school breaks on the cranberry marsh and remained entrenched in the industry. That experience and a brief period owning a small print and promotions business provided valuable work experience he feels beneficial to the school board

"I returned to cranberries full time as I was needed there," Gnewikow said. "Starting from the bottom and working up to an owner operator has taught me a lot about how to deal with different people at all levels of businesses and organizations."

Gnewikow feels the timing is right to pursue a board seat.

"I have always been intrigued by the thought of being on the school board," he said. "While raising four boys, coaching them in sports and helping run several businesses, time has been tough to come by. Now with two boys moving on to college, I believe I now have enough time to step in and be an asset to the school board."

Having two THS graduates and two on that path. Gnewikow believes that background is an asset

"I feel I have a good knowledge of the school district and can help it continue to be operated smoothly or improved over the next few years," Gnewikow said.

The district is facing significant change by the end of the school year. Superintendent Cindy Zahrte and activities director Tom Curran are both retiring. Both have been longtime fixtures in the district. The three school board members stepping aside (Nancy McCoy, John McMullen, Jerry Fushianes) provided sound guidance in that role.

Gnewikow cites the importance of a strong board through the transition.

"With a new administrator and activities/athletic director beginning soon, I think it is an important time to have a strong school board to help with these transitions," Gnewikow said. "We are also in the beginning stages of a facilities survey which will give us extremely important information to help make some key decisions regarding buildings and grounds in our district."

Gnewikow feels he can help keep the district on a straight course

"I don’t necessarily know of any specific improvements that need to be made," he said. "I have been involved in the Tomah school district in some capacity my entire life. I think the smooth operation of the school board is a vital first step to a healthy school district. I hope to learn everything I can about the board and the district and do what I can to help it run smoothly for everyone."

 

Committee work spurs Rick Murray to seek Tomah School Board seat

 

For Rick Murray, his interest to run for Tomah school board started at the onset of the district's 4K program.

"Serving on the 4K exploratory committee really intrigued me and had stirred my interest in running for school board for many years," Murray said.

Like other candidates, Murray has insight to the district as a parent, three children attend Tomah schools, two in high school, one in middle school. His wife, Wendy Murray has taught at Tomah middle school over 20 years.

Murray was born and raised in Tomah, a 1980 THS graduate.  He enrolled in what was then Western Wisconsin Technical College, now Western Technical College and graduated in 1982 with a  degree in restaurant management. 

Murray worked for Northfield Restaurant Corporation, which own and operates numerous Pizza Hut restaurants, for 32 years. Work required him to move to different communities including Rice Lake, River Falls, Black River Falls back to Tomah, Asheville, N.C., Eau Claire and then back to Tomah for the last 20 years.

Murray managed single Pizza Hut restaurants. He was then promoted to district manager where he operated five to eight restaurants at one time. The last year Murray has worked at Murray's on Main as operations manager.

"I helped wherever I was needed to get the restaurant up and running," Murray said. 

Career experience that would pay dividends on the school board.

"Multi tasking is a skill I learned real quick as you took on more responsibility for each restaurant added," Murray said. "Training was important every step of the way as things had to be done the same way in each location. Trusting your managers to do the right things as you cannot do it all yourself. Fiscal responsibility had to be top of mind in order to keep the stores running."

With is role at Murray's On Main, Murray feels timing is right if elected.  

"With my position with Northfield Restaurant Corporation I  felt I could not commit the time it takes to be on the school board. Now that I am only in Tomah and not traveling as much, I feel like I am able to commit the time it will take to serve on the school board," Murray said.

Murray is confident his qualifications will offset the loss of three board members not seeking another term.

"I believe that the community is only as good as the schools within that community," Murray said. "I am able work hard and do what it takes to keep our schools competitive  and to offer the things they need to be successful. I am able to work with a very diverse group of people on the board to get things done in a timely fashion. I am opened minded and willing to listen to  everyone before jumping to conclusions /decisions."

Murray knows school choice makes it essential for districts to set high standards for a well-rounded educational experience.

 "As a board it's important to continue to work hard to make the educational system in the Tomah school district the best in the area. School vouchers allow parents to have choices as to what school they want to send their kids," Murray said.

As a board member Murray would focus on teacher retention.

"We have to find out what it will take to keep teachers in our schools rather than staying one or two years and leaving," Murray said. "We need to work on get the teacher tenor back in our schools. We need to see what makes them." 

Murray is also involved sits on the Handishop Industries Board of Directors both as president and board member, Housing Authority and Community Block Grant committees, Tomah Ambulance Committee, Senior and Disabled Board and Special Olympics.

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