Wilman crew from the 1950s
Employees at Culligan Willmar, one of Culligan’s Original 25 Franchises, in the 1950s

Sterling Water’s History

The original company has its humble beginnings in October of 1949 when W. Sterling & Jo Tangley and Frank Decker formed a partnership and named their new venture Culligan Soft Water of Pierce County (WI). They established a new Culligan franchise and built a plant in Ellsworth, WI. The business grew steadily for the next 25 years. During those early years, Sterling and Jo’s son, Peter, grew up and actively worked in the business.

In 1972, Peter and his wife Karol, started their own Culligan dealership in Altoona, WI, serving Eau Claire, Dunn, and Chippewa Counties. In 1976, Peter and Karol along with Peter’s sister Paula (Bret’s Uncle Dale Iverson was a Culligan Man too!) formed a partnership and bought Culligan Soft Water of Pierce County from their parents, Sterling and Jo Tangley. In 1976, they added Culligan of Stillwater, MN and incorporated into one company, Sterling Water, Inc.

Sterling Water has continued to grow and change through internal growth and external acquisitions. Additional Culligan dealerships were purchased including Pine City, MN, Marshfield, WI and Wausau, WI. Competitor acquisitions include A-1 Water in Marshfield, WI and Mid-State Ice and Water in Wausau, WI. On January 1, 2005, Sterling Water spun-off its partnership with Culligan Soft Water Service, and Sterling Water, Inc. took sole ownership of the Eau Claire, WI and Wausau, WI (Rothschild) dealerships.

Sterling Water Today

After 35 years as a Culligan dealer, Peter and Karol passed ownership to their son Bret, who has grown up and actively worked in the business in a variety of roles since 1982, most recently as President since 2005. Bret is a third-generation “Culligan Man.” He graduated from Hamline University (St. Paul, MN) with a B.A. in Management, is a Master Water Specialist and Minnesota Licensed Water Conditioning Master Plumber.

Sterling Water, Inc. grew into the Central Minnesota market when Culligan of Sauk Centre, MN was added to the company in 2009 and expanded when Culligan of Willmar was added in 2012. Recent acquisitions include: Little Falls Soft Water (MN), Aqua-Quality, Inc. (Eau Claire, WI), Ove Water (Wausau, WI), Zastrow’s Natural Water (Wausau, WI), Gibson’s WaterCare bottled water division (Eau Claire, WI), Rainsoft of Westin (WI), Sherfinski and Zahn (Wausau, WI), EO Johnson bottle-free cooler division (WI), and Willmar Water (MN).

In addition, Bret serves on a number of industry and community associations highlighted by his being a Past Board of Director for the Eau Claire Area YMCA (Board President 2008-2009), national Water Quality Association (Board of Directors’ President 2015-2016), Water Quality Association of Wisconsin (past board member), Minnesota Water Quality Association (currently serves on Board of Directors), Culligan Dealers Association of Wisconsin and a member of both the Culligan Dealer Advisory Council (Chair in 2011, Chair-elect 2017) and Culligan Marketing Sub-Committee. He and his wife, Tonja, have two daughters – Olivia and Isabella and a son – Jackson.

Sterling Water is proud to be recognized by the Water Quality Association (WQA) for Business Excellence. The new Business Excellence program showcases WQA members who go above and beyond to uphold the values of the association and continually improve water quality for consumers. Only 30 companies in all of North America met the selective qualifications to earn the Business Excellence distinction. Learn more about this prestigious award.

Sterling Water’s Mission

Sterling Water’s mission is to exceed our customer’s expectations by providing goods and services of the highest standard. Our goal is to continue to create, keep, and grow customers. We feel strongly that our past growth has occurred over the many years through the hard work and dedication of our many employees. With a solid foundation in place we are optimistic of a promising future. We sincerely hope that you enjoy and appreciate our service as much as we appreciate the opportunity to provide it to you. From our family to you and yours – welcome aboard!

Need help finding your nearest Sterling Water Culligan specialist?