On October 9 at Nakoma Golf Club in Madison, we held our biennial Recognition Dinner, honoring people and organizations that have made a significant impact on the programs and services of the organization and the disability community in Wisconsin. Ten recipients were recognized as honorees with distinguished awards.
The Schwaller Family | Outstanding Fundraising Group
Ann Schwaller loved Camp Wawbeek. She first went to camp when she was ten years old and she kept going for the next 55 years. She considered Camp Wawbeek her “home away from home” and her time at camp was her vacation every year – something she never got too old to look forward to.
Born with cerebral palsy, Ann was deeply appreciative of the many organizations that helped her over the years and developed a strong desire to give back by helping others. One of the ways she chose to do this was by participating in the Human Race, an Appleton event that raised money for charities designated by individual participants. Ann took part for 14 years and gave the $33,000 she raised in that time to the Easter Seals Wisconsin Disability HelpLine of Outagamie County.
Ann had difficulties with her speech and, if you didn’t know her well, could be difficult to understand. But she communicated with her eyes and was extremely persuasive – some would say merciless – in raising funds. She had a sign on the back of her wheelchair explaining that she was raising money for Easter Seals, would point to it, and then use those eyes until the person she was soliciting agreed to sponsor her. She was also determined to actually take part in the Human Race and could be seen tooling around the Appleton course in her power wheelchair. One year, when the event was cancelled because of weather, Ann insisted on finishing the course a few days later. That’s dedication!
Ann thought it was great fun to raise money, but she really loved hearing about how the funds she raised were used. Each week she would stop in the HelpLine office and Jill Gretzinger, the HelpLine Coordinator, would tell her about the people who benefited from those funds – those who got a new wheelchair ramp or an adaptive aid, for instance, that would make their lives better or provide greater independence. Knowing that her efforts had done so much for others was very fulfilling for Ann.
During her life, Ann’s family helped her in her fundraising efforts in many ways – by driving Ann around and by donating to her efforts. After her death in 2014, Abbie Buccanero took up her aunt’s cause and continued walking in the Human Race until the event was discontinued last year. This past spring, members of the family walked together in a memorial walk for Ann.
Altogether, Ann and her family have raised more than $50,000 for Easter Seals Wisconsin. Their generosity has enriched and given lasting meaning to Ann’s life and helps make life better for countless others in the Fox Valley.
James Massey | Outstanding Media
Jim Massey grew up on a farm in southwest Wisconsin, living a childhood that helped give him a solid understanding of the farm community. That knowledge was one of the factors that enabled him to do such an outstanding job as the editor of The Country Today, the Wisconsin-based newspaper known as one of the top agricultural publications in the state, and that bills itself as “the newspaper that cares about rural life.”
When Easter Seals Wisconsin and UW-Extension founded AgrAbility of Wisconsin in 1991, its mission was to support farmers living with an injury, disability or limitation. As AgrAbility of Wisconsin’s mission was focused on serving farmers, Jim said “yes” when asked to serve on the Advisory Council, supporting the organization. He remained on the council for more than ten years, providing valuable leadership.
That valuable leadership also carried over into Jim’s 20 year role as editor of The Country Today.
Because he understood both the perspective of what it takes to be a farmer and the effects an injury or disabling illness can have on the entire family, Jim consistently made sure the readers of The Country Today were aware of AgrAbility and the FARM Program, by running stories about the services and highlighting clients who had been served. This greatly helped spread the news about what these programs had to offer to people who may not have otherwise gotten that information. Through the stories he published, he continued to shed light on the opportunities that exist for farm families who are facing the challenges that injuries, accidents and disabling conditions can present.
Also invaluable were his ability and desire to accurately report about not only the opportunities but, over time, the changes and challenges within the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and how both could affect the farm community.
Simply put, James Massey is a man of integrity who did his job extremely well for many, many years. Easter Seals thanks him for that and for his commitment to getting the word out about the Easter Seals FARM Program, for highlighting the challenges faced by farmers with disabilities and, in doing so, helping farmers with disabilities statewide continue their work.
John Van Wie & Chuck Buell | Outstanding Volunteers
John Van Wie & Chuck Buell have been with Easter Seals Wisconsin for more than three decades, serving on the Board of Directors, raising money as volunteer fundraisers, and dreaming about how the agency can better serve people with disabilities. Over the years, they have taken the time to talk with relatives, colleagues, and business associates about the good work being done by Easter Seals and have encouraged them to become further involved in supporting our organization.
But this year they took on more than ever before, stepping up to plan and oversee the renovation of the Menomoni Cabin at Camp Wawbeek. Menomoni was built in 1947 and was originally located on an army base before it was donated and relocated to Camp Wawbeek. The years took its toll on the building, which could no longer be used for valuable camper beds. Plans for extensive rebuilding came in at more than $1 million, a price tag Easter Seals simply could not afford.
But, with John and Chuck serving as volunteer general contractors, and with the help of major funding from the Gregory C. Van Wie Charitable Foundation, and gifts from County Materials Corporation, Madison Lighting, and others, the total costs of the renovations instead came to about $200,000. Without the vision and extensive time and effort of John Van Wie and Chuck Buell, this would not have been possible.
During the 8 month project, which included a new foundation, bathrooms, showers, new windows, cabinets, doors, lighting fixtures and a concrete pathway, John was at camp nearly every day. Acting as the project manager, he kept everyone on schedule, coordinating every work crew and keeping everyone on task.
Chuck, who made weekly trips to check out the progress, used his contacts to coordinate the supplies and materials, bargaining for the best pricing in ways that saved Easter Seals hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Together, they also saved our Camp & Respite Director, Carissa Peterson, hours of time, enabling her to concentrate instead on the day-to-day running of the camps and on the well-being of our campers and staff.
Lastly, they made possible 18 new beds per session to serve an expanded number of campers, potentially 180 more campers each summer!
Not only through the Menomoni project, but in every possible way that they could do so, John and Chuck have demonstrated their commitment to Easter Seals and our mission. Their hard work, vision and dedication have helped to create programs and services that have and will continue to change lives for thousands of children and adults with disabilities every single year in Wisconsin.
American Legion Auxiliary Post 229 | Outstanding Service Organization
One of the specialty programs we offer at Camp Wawbeek is the Veterans Family Camp. This weekend camp, offered to veterans of all ages and abilities twice each year, gives them the opportunity to connect with other veterans while having a fun and relaxing weekend. Veterans and their families are welcomed without cost.
Of course, a camp program like this requires dedicated staff and volunteers to make it run smoothly and to ensure our vets and their families are happy…and well-fed, which is where our next honorees fit in.
For the last 6 years, the women of the American Legion Auxiliary Post 229 have stepped up to do what they can to honor our military veterans by supporting the Veterans Family Camp. Putting in over 1000 hours of volunteer time and baking over 12,000 cookies and cupcakes, they donate not only their baking expertise, but supplies. Many of them also travel to Camp for the weekend, and work preparing the meals for the veterans, their families, and staff.
One of the ladies, Connie Peterson, spends hours researching recipes for the special banquet served on Saturday evening, before the Quilts of Valor Ceremony, to create a truly outstanding meal for the honorees. Connie does this by first choosing the most important part of a meal – the dessert – and planning the rest of the meal around it.
We don’t know where we would be without these dedicated and wonderful women who do so much to honor our veterans!
Jennifer Fiegel-Newlon | Recognition of Personal Achievement
Easter Seals Wisconsin Camps are typical summer camps…beautiful wooded grounds, swimming pool, trail rides, a high ropes course with a zipline, special camp songs and traditions, camping out under the stars, talent shows and dress up dances.
Of course, we are unique in that our camps are for children and adults with disabilities. And some of those disabilities are quite severe. Campers may have a number of different medications to take on a specific schedule, have special dietary needs, or allergies to be aware of. Many are quite medically fragile or have multiple, sometimes rare, disabilities. And all of them need and deserve outstanding care.
And that is where Jennifer Fiegel-Newlon comes in. A dedicated Nurse Practitioner with a Ph.D. in Psychiatry, Jen has worked for Easter Seals Wisconsin Camps for 21 years. In fact, her first job out of college was at Respite Camp.
Jen serves our campers and staff in the all-important role of Medical Coordinator. She writes standing orders and health care plans, provides medical updates as needed, trains new and returning nurses, and also trains staff regarding our processes. What happens, for instance, if a camper has a sore throat? A reaction to a bug bite? Jen lays out what steps to take and in what order, ensuring the best care will be given.
In addition, Jen works to help the staff through any difficulties they may be having, and arranged for a social worker to come to camp every week to talk with staff and ensure their well-being. Because of Jen, Easter Seals Wisconsin Camps are known to other camps and to international staffing agencies as camps that are supporting and nurturing to all staff.
As icing on the cake, Jen has made herself available 24/7 to answer questions regarding the health care of campers or staff. We’re deeply appreciative of everything Jen has done and continues to do to keep our campers and staff safe, healthy, and happy.
Adam Faust | Recognition of Personal Growth and Development
One always hears “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” For Adam Faust, farming is what he loves. And when he made the decision to take over the family farm, he contacted the Easter Seals Wisconsin FARM Program to give him advice on how he could accommodate his spina bifida and succeed as a farmer.
Paul Leverenz worked with Adam, suggesting some relatively simple modifications such as adding steps to his tractors, the purchase of a feed cart to assist in feeding his milk cows, and a grain feed bin for his calves, along with a gator to help him get around more easily on the farm and through his fields.
Adam doesn’t let his physical restrictions limit his work or his life. When, several years later, he lost his leg to diabetes, he contacted the FARM Program again, determined to remain doing what he loves.
The most significant change the FARM Program and DVR were able to assist with was the installation of a rail system in Adam’s barn. Adam, who is an inventive guy, then modified the rail system with his own ideas to make it even more helpful. Right now, Adam has some engineering students from the UW helping him create ways to make it easier for him to access his bulk milk tank.
Not only is he a creative person, Adam has proven himself to be a great ambassador for AgrAbility and the FARM Program, serving on the AgrAbility Advisory Council, speaking to donors at our Starry Night annual campaign kickoff event, and to Technical College teachers. Adam also gave a presentation on accommodation for dairy farmers at the National AgrAbility Conference.
Adam is a progressive farmer – always looking for new concepts to improve farming and the farming techniques he uses, while providing good conditions and nutrition for his cows and being a good steward of his land. He has grown his business by doing custom work for other farmers – bailing and harvesting, for instance. And he is always on the lookout for ways to best incorporate the management of his disability into the management of his business.
The Leverenz Family | Outstanding Service
Back in 1996, when he learned that one of the Wisconsin Elks/Easter Seals Respite cabins needed a new roof, Paul Leverenz approached Ken Saville and Chris Fessler with a proposition: in exchange for allowing his family to use the camp facilities free of charge for a family reunion, they would provide the labor to put on the needed roof.
So started a tradition that has now spanned 23 years.
Every Labor Day weekend, 35-40 members of the Leverenz Family gather at Respite Camp, enjoy their time together, and take on a project or a series of jobs for the camp. And, after realizing that first year that the Leverenz clan included a group of skilled workers that did not need supervision, Ken and the camp maintenance personnel were happy to set aside jobs for the family to do. Each year Paul coordinates ahead of time what the project will be and Easter Seals makes sure all the materials are on hand. The crew – currently ranging in age from 4 – 79 – have installed windows in all the Respite cabins, painted, painted some more, built a bridge, fixed buildings or machinery that needed fixing, and did yet more painting. They also take the initiative to repair things without being asked!
This past year, they took on the major project of handling the demolition of the interior of the Menomoni Cabin to enable remodeling to begin. That project alone saved Easter Seals over $11,000.
Everything they have done has made Respite Camp better, more pleasant and attractive, and/or safer for campers and staff, and has a combined contributed value of more than $100,000.
Paul has said he considers this family tradition a blessing for their family. The family feels it is important to work together to accomplish a large project that will significantly benefit others. Already, the third generation of Leverenzes are taking part.
For camp staff, the Leverenz Family is a dream come true. Not only do they do needed work, they are a completely self-sufficient “rental group.” With some camp rental groups, camp staff helps with the cooking. But the Leverenz clan brings their own food, cooks it, and cleans up after themselves. They also do everything they can to leave the camp buildings and grounds cleaner than they were when they arrived.
The Ellenbecker Family | Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser
Skip Ellenbecker was the eldest of 16 children growing up on the family farm south of Athens, Wisconsin. In 1968, he started Ellenbecker Construction, which specialized in brick and block masonry foundations and flat concrete jobs, and gradually changed focus to include commercial and farm construction projects.
With his strong business and personal ties to the farming community, it’s no surprise that, when Skip joined the Easter Seals Wisconsin Board of Directors in 2001, he soon focused his most passionate support on Easter Seals’ nationally-honored FARM Program. The FARM Program helps farmers continue to farm after a disabling accident or illness. Rural Rehabilitation Specialists offer recommendations addressing the needs of the farmer which may include alternative methods of doing chores, and making adaptations to the farm operation and/or to farm equipment. When the program was in its infancy, Skip offered valuable guidance to the FARM staff, and his enthusiastic support of the program never faltered.
Being from the Wausau area, Skip recognized the potential and financial generosity of his part of the state. Having seen the success of the Easter Seals Golf Outing for Kids in Wisconsin Dells, he wanted to do everything he could to replicate that success in his own backyard. And, quite naturally, he wanted the proceeds of the event to benefit the FARM Program he loved so much. So Skip contacted relatives, colleagues, and area businesses to join him for a day of fun supporting a great cause and, in 2009, the FARM Golf Outing was born.
Skip was a respected member of the community, a man of integrity and generosity who was loved by family and friends. Since his death, when the outing was renamed the Skip Ellenbecker Memorial Golf Outing, members of the large Ellenbecker Family have taken a bigger role, honoring Skip’s memory by working together to support a program that meant so much to him.
On average, about 30 members of Skip’s extended family help with the event each year, obtaining auction items, soliciting teams, recruiting sponsors, and volunteering on the day of the event. Many of them also golf in the event themselves. In its ten year run, the Skip Ellenbecker Memorial Golf Outing has raised close to $100,000, proving just how much can be achieved when people work together for a common cause.
For their dedication to farmers in Wisconsin and their belief in the mission of the FARM Program, Easter Seals Wisconsin is proud to present the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award to The Ellenbecker Family.
Special awards were also given to Mandy Ellenbecker as one of the driving forces of the family who goes above and beyond to make the golf outing a success and to T Ellenbecker, Skip’s widow, in recognition and memory of Skip as the founder and visionary of the Skip Ellenbecker Memorial Golf Outing.
Ray Dabler and the Wisconsin Elks Major Project Committee | Lifetime Achievement & Service
Over the years, many different organizations have donated their time, talents, and money to help Easter Seals Wisconsin’s programs and services. But there’s one that stands out among them all – the Wisconsin Elks. The Elks first partnered with Easter Seals in 1976, when they raised $80,000 to build the Elks Lodge Kitchen and Dining Hall. And since then, they have just kept going. Their impact on the families of children and adults with severe disabilities is simply incalculable.
Without the help of the Wisconsin Elks, we would only be able to serve HALF the number of Respite campers we serve today. And because of the severity of these campers’ disabilities, the ongoing cost of maintenance, the accessibility of the grounds, and the safety of the equipment and living quarters necessary to serve them well, would be nearly impossible to maintain. The Elks have made sure those things are taken care of, ensuring that the Wisconsin Elks/Easter Seals Respite Camp continues to be a refuge and a welcoming place where families know they can safely bring their loved one to enjoy individualized care and outdoor recreation while they take advantage of a break from caregiving.
In pursuit of these goals, the Wisconsin Elks Major Project Committee has invested $2 million in major projects such as staff housing, the Elks Village, a recreation building, phone system and air conditioning, dining hall addition, furniture, and nurses station remodel…in addition to another $1 million in operating support and camperships… for over 3.1 MILLION dollars for Respite Camp since 1976.
From the very start of the Wisconsin Elks/Easter Seals Respite Camp, one of the most impactful members has been Ray Dabler, who has been an Elk for over 46 years. In 1992, Ray joined the Major Project Committee as the state vice president and has been Chairman for the last 10 years. Ray lives and breathes Respite Camp, giving so much of himself to this program.
We are so pleased and grateful to acknowledge our valued partnership with the Wisconsin Elks and recognize the Wisconsin Elks Major Project Committee, along with retiring Chairman, Ray Dabler.