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Death of a community booster

Former bowling alley owner helped NR grow

Joe Grubich often sat on his front yard swing when the weather was nice, watching the comings and goings of neighbors and local residents.

From his favorite spot, Grubich could appreciate the accomplishments of a life devoted to improving the city he loved -- New Richmond.

Grubich died Friday, Dec. 9, at his home along the Willow River in New


Friend and fellow city booster Paul Swenby said Grubich and his wife were two of the reasons why New Richmond is such a great city.

"Joe was certainly a cornerstone of New Richmond," Swenby said in an interview Tuesday. "He was an extremely enthusiastic backer of New Richmond, and he was always interested in progress."

Swenby said Grubich always worked hard to make the city a better place to live.

Grubich was born in Cumberland, Wis. on Nov. 2, 1920 to Serbian immigrant parents.

He was married to Mary Grubich in September 1944. The couple had met on a blind date in 1941 in St. Paul.

At the age of 24, Grubich moved his family, which now included baby daughter Diane, to New Richmond. It was a match made in heaven for the Grubich family. Son Dennis was later born to the couple.

Once in town, Grubich was offered a job at Doughboy Industries producing K-Rations for the soldiers overseas. The job would only pay 50 cents per hour, so Grubich instead purchased a local cafe for $1,800.

He and Mary made about $100 a week working at the cafe. Being at the cafe also allowed them to eat well while on the job, even during the lean war years.

"Obviously we made the right choice," Grubich would later write.

They worked some long hours, however, typically from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, and until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Breakfast was 25 cents and lunch was a hefty 35 cents.

In 1949, Mary opened Kiddie Korner, a children's clothing store.

In 1955, Grubich joined a group of about 200 local residents who were interested in bringing new businesses and industry to town. The New Richmond Industrial Development Corporation was born out of that group, and Grubich was elected the secretary-treasurer.

One of the biggest achievements of the group was bringing the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College to New Richmond. The corporation also worked hard to keep Doughboy Industries in town.

Around that time, Grubich and several other community-minded individuals began the first Corn Festival in New Richmond. The event later became known as Fun Fest, which celebrated its 50th year this past summer.

The Grubichs opened the Bowlarena in 1958, which became a community icon for 22 years. The business is now known as the New Richmond Bowl.

While they owned the bowling alley, the Grubichs hired many teenagers for their staff and hundreds more young people joined the bowling leagues at the alley. Many of the former "teens" still live in the region and are considered part of the Grubich family.

"We were like their second home," said Grubich's late wife, Mary, in an interview in 2002 prior to the couple's 60th wedding anniversary. "They'd congregate at the bowling alley, and we'd chase them home at 9 p.m. to do their homework."

The Grubichs were honored as the grand marshals of the Fun Fest parade in the 1990s. Joe Grubich was honored in 2004 for his work with the New Richmond Kiwanis Club. Grubich, who was a Kiwanis member since 1956, served as the group's president in 1965 and was also part of the various work crews.

Bob Heebink, who was also honored by the Kiwanis Club in 2004, said he was saddened to hear about Grubich's passing, but he wasn't surprised by the news.

Grubich had lived alone since his wife's death, and his health was failing. Grubich had a particular setback about a month ago, Heebink added.

"I feel I knew Joe pretty well," Heebink said. "I had great respect for him and he was well known in the community."

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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