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INDEPENDENCE -Ernest Paul Sobotta, 93, of Independence died peacefully in his sleep with family at his side on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009.

Ernest was a lifelong resident of Independence. He was born Jan. 9, 1916, to Ignatz and Mary (Slaby) Sobotta. He married Marion Skroch in 1940; she died in 1959. He married Elizabeth (Betty) Skroch in 1962 at SS. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Independence.

Ernie led a lifetime of service to the city of Independence, Trempealeau County, the state of Wisconsin and his country.

He served in the military police as a sergeant in the United States Armed Forces as a member of the National Guard and the Army. While in the Army, he honorably served in World War II in the African and European theatres. He was a proud member of the American Legion Sura-Wiersgalla Post 186 in Independence, where he served as commander.

Ernest began his telecommunications career as a lineman for REA during the Great Depression. He returned from World War II to work for the Independence Telephone Co. and became its general manager. In 1962, he worked with a group to combine small, local area telephone companies in Independence, Strum, Eleva, Pigeon Falls, and Northfield to form Tri-County Telephone Cooperative. It was the first telephone company in the nation to offer exclusively private line service. He served as general manager until he retired in 1981.

In the early 1970s, Ernest and other area leaders (Gordon Meistad of Trempealeau Electric Cooperative, Bill Urban of CESA, Gerhard Nilsestuen of REA and others) worked to found Project Circuit/ the Western Wisconsin Consortium of Schools. Ernest and the group successfully worked to obtain a Kellogg Foundation Grant and worked with the University of Wisconsin System, local schools and business and politicians in Congress and the state of Wisconsin to partner in this first-in-the nation project that linked five rural school systems through two-way communications between schools. This project also resulted in the formation of Western Wisconsin Communications Cooperative. WWCC was the first telecommunications organization in the nation to offer cable telecommunications to rural communities. Today, Tri-County Telephone Coop and WWCC are combined to form Tri-County Communications Cooperative.

He was president and board officer of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association. He was voted to the WSTA's Hall of Fame in recognition of a lifetime of service and leadership. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Telephone Cooperative Association for his pioneering work in the telephone industry.

He served more than 10 years as a member of the Trempealeau County Board of Supervisors. He was third ward alderman on the Independence City Council. He served as the Trempealeau County Civil Defense Officer.

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He served in countless organizations for the benefit of his community. He was president of the Library Board. He was a member of and served in leadership roles in numerous community organizations, including the Lions Club and the Elk Rod and Gun Club. He was a founder of the Independence High Wrestling Booster Club. He was a longtime member of the Independence Volun-teer Fire Department. He served as a board member of Grandview Nursing Home in Blair. He was on the Board of the Bugle Apartments Association. He was awarded a commendation from the Trempealeau County Parks and Recreation as a member of its board. For many years he wound the clock in the Independence City Hall clock tower.

Ernie had a great love for the outdoors that he shared with his family. He was an avid hunter, trapper and fisherman. He never missed an opening day of deer hunting season with his family and friends on the farm he shared with Roman Giemza and Ed Lyga in Borst Valley. He enjoyed his large garden, orchard and apiary. He enjoyed jewelry making with his wife. His family will remember fondly the many trips to Montana, Canada and northern Wisconsin, especially when his sense of adventure led him to the road less traveled. He enthusiastically supported Independence High School sports. He had an unwavering love for the Chicago Cubs, despite never seeing them win the World Series. He loved following the athletic accomplishments of his grandchildren.

He served his community proudly and humbly, never seeking accolades for his work.

He was proud of his five children, all graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is proudest of all of his 12 grandchildren, who have priority over everything.

He is survived by his wife, Betty of Independence; his five children, Russ (Diane) of West Bend, Wis., Paul (Melanie) of Stanwood, Wash., Mary (Gary) Nussbaum of North Oaks, Minn., Tina (Ben) Minter of Waukesha, Wis., and Susan (Spencer) Mayhew of Elm Grove, Wis. He was the grandfather of Ted Sobotta of the University of North Dakota, Elizabeth Sobotta, Sophie and Michael Sobotta, Anna, Elizabeth, Paul and Joseph Nussbaum, Benjamin and Maxwell Minter, and Katherine and Daniel Mayhew.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 12, at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Independence, with the Rev. Monsignor Edmund Klimek officiating. Burial with military rites will be in the church cemetery. Friends and family may call from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Edison Funeral Home in Independence. A prayer service followed by a rosary will be held at 7:30 p.m. There will also be visitation one hour prior to services on Monday.

Memorials may be directed to the Ginger Everson Scholarship Fund, c/o Lois Everson, 35924 Claire St., Whitehall, WI 54773.

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