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NEWS STORIES

A Northwoods Tradition, Made Right HereSubmitted: 03/20/2013

Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter
bmeyer@wjfw.com


IRONWOOD - You probably recognize the name "Stormy Kromer".

You probably also know what the recognizable hats look like from seeing them around the Northwoods.

But do you know where and how they're made?

George "Stormy" Kromer was a semi-pro baseball player and railroad worker in Kaukauna in the early 1900s.

But old Stormy had a problem.

"He worked on the Chicago-Northwestern line for a long time, and he kept losing his hats in the wind, riding the trains. He brought a baseball hat home and asked Ida to sew a band around the hat, and the Stormy Kromer was born," says Gina Thorsen, the Stormy Kromer Vice President.

Before long, they took off, and were being mass produced in Milwaukee.

But that business was about to die in the early 2000s.

To save it, an Upper Peninsula family bought the brand and moved the production to Ironwood.

"We find that people who have hats almost think of it as a special club. When you see someone else wearing a hat, you might walk by and say, 'nice hat'," Thorsen says.

Since the hats started being made in Ironwood, they've gained even more popularity.

That's allowed the company to branch out into womens' Stormy Kromers, as well as other cold weather apparel.

That success has made it a staple of the community's economy.

"Here in Ironwood, it's a small town. Industries have left. Businesses have closed. To us it's really important to be able to provide jobs here with benefits and to treat them well and to provide them a place where they can spend their career," Thorsen says.

About 150 people work for the company in Ironwood.

They make hats that have become a symbol for people in the Northwoods and U.P.

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 IN OTHER NEWS

VILAS COUNTY - A 77-year-old man died in a crash near Boulder Junction late Tuesday afternoon.

According to the Vilas County Sheriff's Office and Wisconsin State Patrol, it happened around 3:30 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. Highway 51 and County Highway H.

Investigators think a van went through an intersection and hit a semi truck.

"There was injury," said Boulder Junction Fire Chief Matthew Reuss. "The two passengers in the van had to be extricated. One was taken to Howard Young Medical Center for further care. The driver of the semi was uninjured and the second passenger in the van was pronounced dead at the scene."

According to Wisconsin State Patrol, the driver of the van is a 68-year-old woman from Colby. Crews later took her to St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield for non-life threatening injuries. Her passenger, a 77-year-old male from Colby, died in the crash. They were both wearing seatbelts. 

The driver of the semi is 63 years old and from South Range. 

Traffic was rerouted through Boulder Junction for several hours and was reopened shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Several units responded to the scene.

"Because we had multiple patients, we dispatched multiple ambulance units," Reuss said. "We called in resources from Arbor Vitae for traffic control and we called Manitowish Waters for help in extrication and ambulance service as well as Medic 5 out of Howard Young."

State Patrol and the Vilas County Sheriff's Office will investigate the crash.

Police will not release the names until the families are notified. 

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Matthew Huettl, 25, pleaded not guilty to felony charges for first-degree reckless injury and child abuse in Portage County Court on Tuesday.

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As of Tuesday morning, the state patrol dealt with more than 200 incidents around the region.

But for the most part, drivers weren't crashing into each other.

"The number of slide ins have really outnumbered the number of crashes, which kind of tells us that's good that motorists have been listening and kind of adding a little more distance between themselves and other vehicles so that's good, so it looks like the total number of slide ins have been significantly higher than crashes," said State Patrol Sergeant, Dan Gruebele

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The group works with the Oneida County Forest to improve trails.

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HARSHAW - On his home computer, Phil Hejtmanek gets used to waiting patiently as webpages load, seeing spinning wheels as videos buffer, and putting work on pause as downloads slowly trickle in.

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