By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF HAY RIVER — Russell Hitz is the new chair in the Town of Hay River following the death of Stan Andrews on August 2.
Hitz was first elected to the Hay River Town Board in April and replaced Greg Bakke, who had decided not to run for re-election.
“My wife has been treasurer for quite a few years, so I would go to the meetings. The guys said, ‘you’re always here. You know a lot of things. You know a lot of people.’ This year, when Greg Bakke decided to get off the board, he said, ‘why don’t you run for the board?’ So I got on the ballot, and I got elected,” Hitz said.
Susan Hitz, Russell’s wife, has been the treasurer for the Town of Hay River for the past 13 years.
Stan Andrews was chair of the Town of Hay River as long as Susan Hitz has been treasurer and was the town chair for a few years before that, Russell Hitz noted.
“About a month before Stan passed away, he came to a meeting one night and said he thought it was going to be his last one. We said, ‘why?’ And he said he had lung cancer and he didn’t feel he could continue in the job. The town supervisors would have to decide what they wanted to do,” Hitz said.
Ned Hahn has served on the Hay River Town Board for a number of years.
“Stan had planned to turn in his resignation, but I think he passed away before he handed it in,” Hitz said.
“I felt Stan did a high-quality job. He tried to look out for the whole township. He knew a lot of people … Everybody will miss Stan and his knowledge,” he said.
Andrews had worked for the Dunn County Highway Department for 40 years as a heavy equipment operator. The Andrews family owned and operated the Northwind Inn in Wheeler for 13 years.
Russell Hitz grew up in Hay River and has lived in the township all of his life — 64 years.
“In fact, the place I live now, I’ve lived there for 60 years,” Hitz said.
Hitz is the youngest of 11 children the family and grew up on the family farm in the Town of Hay River.
“We all had to work. We all had to learn to work together on the farm,” he said.
Russell and Susan Hitz have one daughter and two grandchildren.
“It was a shock to lose Stan. Ned and I talked. I said, ‘you’re the next one line. You’ve been on the board longer than I have,’” Hitz said.
Ned Hahn said he wanted to be supervisor but he did not want to be chair, he said.
“I said — that’s fine. I have no problem. I’ve chaired a lot of committees. I’ve done a lot with state committees. It’s not a big deal,’” Hitz said.
The first town board meeting after Stan Andrews passed away, Russell Hitz was voted in as chair of the Town of Hay River.
“Ten people out there (at a meeting) is a piece of cake. When you’ve got 300 people out there, it’s a whole different ballgame. You’ve got to be on your toes … there’s a lot of things. A lot of rules,” he said.
When asked what state committees he has chaired, Hitz said he has been a member of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation for more than 30 years.
He is a past president of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and currently chairs an environmental committee for the Wildlife Federation.
He served on the Wisconsin Conservation Congress executive board for seven years and is currently on the wolf committee and the bear committee, on which he has served for eight years.
Hitz also is a past president of Dunn County Fish and Game.
He was recently involved with meetings in northern Wisconsin for the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine.
The Wisconsin Conservation Congress is the only statutory body in the state that allows citizens to elect delegates to advise the Natural Resources Board and the Department of Natural Resources on how to responsibly manage the state’s natural resources.
Hitz has also served on the Dunn County Fair Board and has volunteered with 4-H and as a softball coach.
“I hope we will get more people coming to the town board meetings to give their input,” Hitz said.
“It’s the downfall I see with any form of government. You talk to state legislators, and they say they do not get a lot of input from their constituents. They get elected, but they don’t hear from the people. And that’s not how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to talk to them. You’re supposed to talk about your concerns. You’re supposed to talk about issues. If no one talks about it, we have to assume everything is okay … I do like people coming to the meetings,” he said.
Hitz is a mechanical design engineer and designed equipment for Doboy Inc. for many years.
“That taught me how to listen to people. When you design a machine for people, you have to listen. Everybody has an idea. Everybody has an opinion. You don’t have to accept everything. But there will be something that you can expand on and develop,” he said.
Hitz worked for Doboy for 13 years, and then after the Elgin Corporation bought out the company, worked for Elgin for six years. Then he worked for Bearing Headquarters out of Eau Claire for 20 years.
Hitz is currently employed by American Structures in Menomonie as a project manager.
“I’ve had a blast (at American Structures). Every day is something different and new. Customers all have different little problems or different concerns. I try to figure out what they need and analyze the situation,” he said.
Hitz said he would like to see the Town of Hay River go to a five-person town board.
“I think it would help the township a lot … if you have a five-person board, two people can go out and look at an issue without it being a quorum, without having to post a meeting. You can at least get two opinions and take it back to the board and see if you need a special meeting. You can get more eyes on a situation. I think that’s healthy. I think it’s good to get new people on the board,” he said.
“I know a lot of the old timers. But there are a lot of new, young families that I don’t know … It’s good for the township to get new people involved on the board,” Hitz said.
According to state statute, in towns where the board has village powers, the town board can increase the number of supervisors to five by creating an ordinance.
The ordinance does not create positions that the town board can fill by appointing board members. Voters in the township must elect supervisors at the next election to fill the positions, so that three supervisors are elected in odd-numbered years, and two supervisors are elected in even-numbered years.
The Hay River Town Board plans to fill the existing vacant supervisor position at the October meeting.