This scenic county park is just a few miles east of Wausau and offers hiking, fishing, camping and more.
A flotilla of kayaks and other watercraft take to Lake Wausau for a Paddle Pub Crawl each July.
Skiers and snowboarders from around the Midwest flock to Granite Peak each winter to enjoy a variety of runs.
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The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum hosts an exhibition each fall focused on flight in nature.
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The Hmong Wausau Festival saw record-breaking numbers in the summer of 2021.
The Gruhn family moved to Wausau from Rockford in 2010 to capitalize on a work opportunity.
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Meet Patrick, Sandy, Jeremiah, Jonathon, Charlotte and Catherine Schmidt.
"As believers, our hope is in Jesus and from what we deduce, nothing we can accumulate here on Earth is going with us when we spend all of eternity with Him!" said Patrick. "As Americans, we struggle against the popular desire for things and the temptation to put things and agendas before people. I hope we continue to strive to 'keep' that which matters and 'give' that which does not."
And the family's involvement with foster care is a testament to the couple's faith.
"We are Marathon County foster parents." said Patrick. "We began our leap into foster care in 2014 and have had two long-term placements and many many respite kiddos. We have loved families from hard places and walked through excruciating and also joyful circumstances together."
"Our hope is to show them the love of Jesus, who accepts humble hearts as they are." said Sandy. "It has been the hardest, most rewarding experience of our lives!"
Patrick is a Foster Parent Champion for Marathon County. In this role he is responsible for helping the county find new foster families. The rate of methamphetamine usage has sky-rocketed in the past five years. As a result, the number of children placed in out-of-home care has risen dramatically. The county is in dire need of additional foster families to provide safe, loving homes to these children.
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"If you’re reading this and don’t think you could ever become a foster parent, you’re probably feeling the same way every foster family feels." said Patrick. "It’s a big commitment. If you’d like to learn more, even if you’re interested in doing short-term care of a child for a day or two, please email email@example.com request more information. If you belong to a church and would like Patrick to do a foster care awareness presentation, please include that in your email to Sara."
Both Patrick and Sandy, 39, graduated from Judson University in Illinois. Patrick graduated with a Bachelor's degree in business, while Sandy earned a Bachelor's degree in education. Their first encounter at college was a rough one.
"We met at Judson University in the freshman dorm." said Patrick.
"It was actually a pretty horrible first meeting!" said Sandy. "From the start we didn’t like each other."
"Then two years later, Patrick became a Christian and his life drastically changed. We had a class together during our senior year. He started to pick me up so I didn’t have to walk in the snow." said Sandy. "He did more than pick me up ... we were married a year later!"
The couple married on June 13, 2003, making Friday the 13ths lucky for the Schmidts.
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From there, Patrick began working at Aerotek, followed by a position in 2006 at Rasmussen College where he continues to work as the Director of Admissions at the Wausau campus. The change in employment resulted in a move from Jacksonville, Florida to Rockford, Illinois. When the Wausau campus opened in 2009, Patrick was asked to move to central Wisconsin to open it.
"I had never heard of Wausau before and thought it might be in Canada!" said Sandy. "We were glad to learn it was only three hours away from Chicagoland where we both grew up."
Sandy began her career as a teacher at private schools in Florida as a high school English teacher. She went on to get her Master's degree from University of Phoenix and fell in love with teaching younger kids as well as implementing reading interventions and strategies. In Illinois, she taught first to third grade at a public school and realized that was her passion.
Sandy loves to read and write when there is time. Her favorite recent read is “The Gospel Comes with a Housekey” by Rosaria Butterfield.
"It is a fascinating life story all about community and giving of oneself for the good of others." said Sandy. "A person no matter their faith background would be challenged by Rosaria’s example of living."
Sandy also loves teaching women at her church. Last year, she picked up a very flexible, very part-time gig with VIPKID teaching Chinese kids English from the comfort of her laptop and pajama pants. It was a perfect fit because the teaching can happen around the family schedule and when the kids are sleeping.
We both are very involved at Wausau Alliance Church. Patrick helps with our Imago Dei ministry which provides a buddy for kids who have special needs. He has also brought a ministry called 'Welcomed' to our church and surrounding churches. This program provides support to foster families through respite and meals.
Patrick does his grocery shopping in nature. He hunts, fishes and forages to provide healthy food for his family of six or more. Patrick writes about his hunting experiences and has been published in Bowhunter magazine. He’s also an avid Bears fan and proudly wears his tattered, Mike Ditka autographed polo on game days.
Jeremiah, who made Sandy and Patrick parents in a very surprising way via private adoption, is a math genius, baby whisperer and the family organizer. He has everyone’s comings and goings stored in his 11-year-old head and could run the house if Patrick and Sandy let him. He loves basketball, baseball and golf. Jeremiah shot a public land black bear on the edge of Marathon County last year when he was only 10-years-old.
Jonathan is the family jokester. He recently left a large hairy stuffed spider in Sandy's bathroom drawer. He is light-hearted and has the ability to shrug off offenses and go with the flow, a perfect quality for a middle child in a big family.
"He is most like his dad." said Sandy about Jon.
Jon also has an inquisitive mind for just about any topic, but particularly for spiritual matters. Sometimes the family calls him 'Father Jon' because of all of his sincere ponderings about life and God. Jon also loves to play football and can’t wait for the day he can play the tackle variety.
Charlotte (Charlie) has a heart so big she could stuff every animal in the world inside. She loves to care for all animals, big and small. She went to her first horse camp last summer and writes poetry about her best horse-friend, Micky. Sometimes she cries just thinking about him. She also enjoys dancing with her mom in the living room and perfecting her cartwheel with her neighborhood buddies. Charlie would like to be a nurse or a vet when she grows up.
Catherine, enjoys flexing her muscles to show us how strong she is, like daddy. She is also a lover of dance, like her mama, and hopes someday she will 'grow up to be big.' Her pastimes include meltdowns over zipping her coat, tackling her brothers when they get home from school and cheering them on at their games. She is the only one at home with mom and is a wonderful helper with all of the foster children the family has coming and going.
The Schmidt's dog of 12 years, Gabby, died a few summers ago from Lyme disease. The family loves animals, but haven’t had a lot of time to give them with all of the small people in the home. Recently, the Schmidts met a man who needed some help and who also introduced the family to the world of birds. The family has taken many of his birds as 'foster' birds in order to help him rehabilitate them and find them a permanent home.
"Our 'hood' is our family here in Wausau." said Sandy. "We haven’t had biological family here for the decade we have raised four children, so we have relied on our church and our neighbors."
"Our neighborhood is the best. We have slept at each other’s houses when we received the labor call at midnight. We have borrowed too many eggs and cups of flour to count. We have grazed each others gardens, brought each other meals and fixed each other’s stuff! We have even had fights and made up!" added Sandy. "We love these people and couldn’t be more grateful to do life with them. Plus our kids have instant friends when they walk out the door. Many life lessons have been learned on our small street."
The family lives in the Hidden Grove neighborhood which offers a few annual events. A favorite is the Halloween eat before you treat party. Families gather in the Schmidt's garage and everyone brings a dinner item. The family also enjoys block parties, fireworks, poker nights, Bible studies, Santa visits and some pretty intense kickball games.
"We moved here and actually rented our current house for a few years before buying." said Patrick. "Sandy was not sold on making this our permanent home. She is a sun-loving soul who cried a lot during the first few years of the endless winters."
Over time, her heart grew to love Wausau and now the family is so committed to their 'hood,' that they are adding on to their house.
"We have an incredible church community." said Patrick. "The people there are not only friends, but family as well. They have served us so well as we have served foster kids. They have supported us as we have added to our family, lost parents, grieved over placements and celebrated over birthdays and achievements. The church is a beautiful place to find community. It’s not perfect, actually it’s filled with broken people. But those broken people coming together gives us the opportunity to love, offer kindness and healing to those who need it."
Each year the family drives to Fort Myers Beach in March to escape the long winter. Sandy used to homeschool the kids when they were smaller and they would leave for a month and stay at multiple locations in Florida with family and friends.
"We called it the 'tour' and it still continues today, although we have a bit less time because our kids are in public school." said Patrick.
Each summer, Patrick and Sandy attend a conference to improve support and care for vulnerable youth. The location changes each year. Last summer it was held in New Mexico.
"We add a few days to the trip and use it as a marriage retreat. It helps us remember how much we love being together, just us … which doesn’t happen often." said Patrick. "We each have so many responsibilities and it is fantastic to get away and just enjoy each other with nothing to do. In New Mexico, we ate barbecue on the side of the road, I caught wild animals, including a big rattlesnake, and we cruised to our favorite playlists in a convertible through the mountains."
"We’re excited knowing that when our kids grow up and leave us, we’re still going to be enjoying life together – just us!" said Sandy.
"We lived in places around the country, and Wausau is far-and-away the best community." said Sandy. "If only we could pick it up and plop it down in a warmer climate!"
"Through the everyday-ness of life, the kid squabbles, the differing opinions, our community has walked the walk, treated each other with kindness, overlooked the ugly, and found silver-linings." said Sandy. "I am proud of our 'hood.' I am glad to know we can talk through anything and come out stronger on the other end."
This article initially appeared in Wausau Neighbors magazine, Best Version Media
Photos by Natalie Helen Photography