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Former County Board Supervisor Wentz dies

Esther Scott (Ard) Wentz died on Oct. 4, but will be remembered by many throughout New Richmond and St. Croix County for her passion for helping others and her work on numerous St. Croix County boards and committees. Photo courtesy of Scottie Ard

To say that Esther Scott (Ard) Wentz had a large impact on the people around her doesn't give her enough credit for all the things she did with her life, or the people who were better for knowing her.

"Our mother was an amazing woman and like the women before her, she was fiercely dedicated to her faith, family, friends and justice," said daughter Scottie Ard. "Our home was filled with foreign students, international travelers, scholars, politicians, educators and anyone needing a safe harbor or looking for good conversation. Esther never let a need go unmet; even it meant giving of her own possessions and resources."

Wentz, 78, of New Richmond, died on Oct. 4 surrounded by family at Regions Hospital. The visitation was held Friday, Oct. 6, while the funeral was Saturday, Oct. 7 at Immaculate Conception Church in New Richmond.

Wentz was born Feb. 10, 1939 in Boscobel to Ellen Rose (McDermott) Scott and Charles Kenneth Scott. Wentz graduated from New Richmond High School in 1957 and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, earning a gold "R" in academics.

"Our family had been in New Richmond since the early 1800's and the original family home from 1899 still stands proudly on Green Avenue as a part of the State Century Family Farm Program," Ard said. "Born of Irish heritage Esther embraced everything Celtic and that included the Ire and a wicked funny sense of humor. She embraced everyone as family and everyone knew if you needed a champion, Esther was it."

Wentz's teaching career spanned more than 30-plus years; first student teaching in Somerset and then taking a position with Glenwood City, where she taught English and produced such memorable productions as the "Boy Friend." Wentz spent the remainder of her career in the Osceola School District as a media coordinator and librarian.

"Knowledge is a lifelong pursuit," as Wentz often said, and in 1993 UWRF awarded Wentz a Master of Science Degree in Education. She retired in 1999; however her teaching and involvement did not stop.

"She always led by example on how to be kind, giving and thoughtful. She always had time for everyone," said lifelong friend Kay Shores. "She never stopped teaching after retirement. She never gave up on a student, knowing they could succeed with a little push from her. The students always wondered if she really had a witch's hat, broom, and steel-toed boots. Her famous quote, 'Hang in there.'"

According to Ard, Wentz was not only an influential teacher to her students, but was a force to be reckoned with when it came to equal rights for women.

"In the 1960's it was not uncommon for a district to have administrative rules written or otherwise which prescribed that a pregnant member of staff would take unpaid leave until after the delivery," Ard said. "Now Esther was not a feminist and had no intention of burning her bra; however when informed that she would be taking a leave of absence until after Stephen was born, my mother in the coolest and sternest voice stated, 'When men are put on leave because they are expecting a baby, I will consider it, until that time I will continue to work and if you don't like it, I will see you in court.'"

The issue never made it to court because the districts realized it would be a losing battle to square off with Wentz, Ard said. And that incident was only the beginning of what would become a lifetime of advocacy. As a Union member, Wentz fought hard for equal pay and rights for female teachers, staff and students. When her daughter wanted to play baseball in the 1970's and was told "No girls allowed," Wentz was there at home plate to represent the future of girls and women in athletics, Ard said.

"Her daughter ended up playing baseball and to the astonishment of many, she played better than most," Ard said.

Along with her teaching career, Wentz was active in the community. "Serving the community is a calling," as Wentz said, and she did serve the City of New Richmond on the Sports Center Board 1982-2012, Park Board 1989 — 2000, Library Board 1999 — 2005 and Historic Preservation 2012 to present. Wentz also served on the St. Croix Board County Board from 2000 — 2012 and served as the Vice Chair from 2010 to 2012. Her committee assignments included Public Protection, Health and Human Services (served as Board Chair), Finance, Personnel, Administration, and Council on Aging, Substance Abuse, West CAP, Wisconsin County Association and Ad Hoc Building Facilities.

"When I was first elected to the County Board, Esther took me under her wings. She made sure I arrived early on the morning we were to be sworn in and took great care to introduce me to the other County Board members," said New Richmond mayor Fred Horne. "In between the introductions, Esther made sure I understood what committees she thought I should try to be elected to and which County Board Supervisors I should support for each committee. Esther was a master of relationships with the other County Board Supervisors."

She was also a driving force in the creation of the Drug Court and a huge supporter of Butterfly House. She believed that the purpose of government was to serve all people equally and that as a representative of the people it was her mission to be the voice and action of all the people.

"While she was always a strong advocate for the Health Center, the time we spent together I came to know an individual who was passionate about all of Health and Human Services," said St. Croix County Health and Human Services Director Fred Johnson. "I saw Esther dedicate many hours of service because she wanted the best for St. Croix County residents and staff. I am grateful for having had a chance to get to know Esther, from that very first visit before I moved into my new office to the very last time I saw her at the open house for the Orchard View Terrace. 'Service is our purpose' was something Esther used to say...and live."

Her passion and support for the St. Croix County Nursing Home was unshakeable although often the buildings did shake when she spoke in defense of her passions. In 2017 she was appointed to the County Library Planning Committee and the Council on Aging and Disability Board.

"After a historical turnover of County Board members in 2014, there was finally the political will to support and fund a new County Nursing Home with assisted living facility. No one beamed more than she did during the Grand Opening in November 2016. Her dreams had finally come true," said Kim Dupre. "A few months later, I had the privilege of walking with her through the new assisted living facility, Orchard View Terrace. She raved about the beautiful decor and joked about picking out her room! She was, again, beaming with pride."

Wentz was also a strong advocate of justice, and supported many organizations, with veterans being on the top of her list.

"Her conviction for justice enabled many a person carrying the weight of a bad decision or circumstance to regain their lives because she advocated, supported and fought for them," Ard said. "Her desk holds many letters of individual and organizational thanks for advocacy, time and financial support for those who held freedom at the highest standard of respect and sacrifice."

Outside of her passion for helping others, Wentz loved the beach, sea shells, Florida, collecting tea cups and growing violets, Ard said. Memorials to the family will be used towards a memorial for the new library in New Richmond and charities supported by Wentz, according to Ard.

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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