Joe Dean of Port Washington
As the founder of Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, Joe Dean has exhibited tremendous vision, passion and resolve towards recognizing our amazing veterans. His ability to help rally a community of donors and volunteers is unsurpassed. Joe recognized that The Greatest Generation is slowly fading away; Stars and Stripes Honor Flight has pledged to celebrate each and every remaining WWII and Korean War hero before it is too late.
Inspired by his late father and Navy hero, David Dean, a seed was planted in 2008 when Joe saw a brief TV segment featuring Earl Morse about a new program called Honor Flight. As many of us do, he absent-mindedly wished someone else would start a program just like that close to home. Upon waking the next morning, he thought, “Darn it, I know who should to this”; it was at that point he decided to go all in. Within days, the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight wheels were in motion. Recruiting the busiest people he knew, Joe asked each potential Board member three questions: “Why not here?”, “Why not us?”, and “Why not now?”. The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Board of Directors became a reality and the board booked the first flight, with a grand total of $250 in the bank. The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight story was told one person, one small group at a time, and grew from tiny fundraisers to major partnerships with many local organizations and individuals, who have all stepped forward to ensure that our Veterans feel appreciated. On November 5th, the 37th Honor Flight out of Milwaukee returned home from a one-day trip to Washington D.C. This trip marked the third Stars and Stripes Honor Flight this fall…to-date, 4,746 vets have taken this trip since inception in 2008. These Vets were each treated to a trip of a lifetime to visit the memorials built in their honor, and returned to a rousing homecoming at Mitchell Airport.
Among the other legacies attributed to the Stars and Stripes Honor flight is “Honor Flight – A Visual Journey”, a glorious art book that captures the treasured memories and faces of WWII veterans on Honor Flights to Washington D.C. which helps raise funds for Stars and Stripes Honor Flight and Fisher House Wisconsin, and “Honor Flight – One Last Mission”, a heartwarming documentary about four WWII veterans and a Wisconsin community coming together to give them a trip of a lifetime. This movie set a Guinness World Record for attendance at a movie premiere when it played before 28,442 viewers at Miller Park in August 2012. Clearly, when Joe goes “all in”, there is nothing that is out of reach!
Joe, his wife Jane, and countless volunteers have given selflessly of their time, talent and resources to create more than a magnificent organization – they have created a major movement! One would be hard-pressed to identify a program that has done more to recognize our valued veterans that Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.
For all of these reasons, Joe Dean is awarded with the November Wisconsin Hero Award!
Luke Smith of Manitowoc
From an early age Luke had an extreme love for animals and at the age of 6, he started volunteering for the Lakeshore Humane Society. Luke found a need and a purpose; the animals accepted Luke for who he was. He has dedicated so much time to the Humane Society, giving back selflessly to support a good cause.
When Luke was 10 he learned about the Miracle League of the Lakeshore- a rubberized baseball field for kids with disabilities. Everyone bats, everyone plays, everyone wins and each individual is placed with a buddy. Luke was inspired by others on the committee who were going out in the community spreading awareness of the field so Luke decided to do it too. He helped spread awareness of the field, advocated for acceptance of children with special needs and against bullying. Within three years the committee as a whole raised $450,000 for various projects, including building a new field. Also, this past June an all accessible playground was built so kids with a variety of special needs can play together. The Miracle League has just completed its third season. Luke has dedicated so much of his time to help recruit players, coaches, and buddies.
Luke has also become actively involved with Generations Against Bullying as peer ambassador. He served as a peer ambassador, spreading the word against bullying and encouraging others to stand up to it. Luke is passionate about creating a safe place for all a place where there is no fear of being bullied or judged. His goal is to help create world of full inclusion -where everyone is accepted for who they are.
Luke uses his adversities to help others and build resilience for what he experiences in life. He jumps in wherever the help is needed, in all ways. He helps the Manitowoc firefighters with the Boot Drive to fundraise for Muscular Dystrophy; he helps serving food at a local gun range to raise money for military veterans; he helps fill Christmas bags that are distributed to veterans and their families; coordinated book drives; volunteers for the Salvation Army, and so much more! Luke volunteers because he says it feels good, it strengthens and changes communities, helps to make lifelong friendships, and keeps organizations and communities going strong.
Luke hopes that he can inspire others to pay it forward, even if it’s one small act of kindness, like standing up for someone else or just being nice. A smile goes along way. As Luke’s business card says – “Being humble means recognizing that we are not on earth to see how important we can become, but to see how much difference we can make in the lives of others.” Gordan Hinkley.
For all of these reasons, Luke is awarded the Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Carol Bush of Green Bay
Carol Bush is a visionary, dreamer, and doer. Much of her life’s work as a volunteer has centered on Encompass Early Education and Childcare. In 2015, Encompass served roughly 1,400 children and believes in education and care for all children, regardless of economic circumstances. Carol was inspired and realized scholarships were needed so families could afford childcare. She and her husband Bob helped to create several successful fundraisers, and have been stalwarts with Encompass for sixty-three years. Carol helped lead capitol campaigns for two new centers and one expansion. The “Big Event for Little Kids” fundraiser is wildly successful and aside from offering over seventy educational activities, it helped grow an endowment with $2,456 in 1984 to well over 2.4 million dollars today! For twenty-five years Carol has co-chaired the Oktoberfest committee and has served on the board, the foundation, done facility maintenance, and of course spent time with the children. In her time with the organization, Carol has raised well over $7 million for Encompass, with $250,000 a year going to the roughly 45% of families that require tuition assistance. Children who leave Encompass programs are ready for school, ready for success in life, and are healthier and happier due in part to Carol Bush. Carol believes in the power of “yes” and inspires others. Even at 90, Carol is not too busy or too tired to help. Over her life, Carol has served with many other nonprofit organizations, but Encompass has been at the center of it all.
For Carol Bush’s endless dedication to serving children, she is awarded a Wisconsin Hero Award.
Jean Sanders of Platteville
Jean is the surviving member of a group of ladies who started the Platteville Thrift Shop 41 years ago. With a mission statement; "To provide free and low cost clothing to those in need", the organization began small yet has expanded to its current location on Lancaster Street in Platteville. The Thrift Shop accepts clothing referrals from churches, schools and community organizations, which allow a family to choose free clothing for all of its members. In addition, the Thrift Shop helps individuals by offering financial assistance for medical needs, utilities, rent, and other urgent needs. The Thrift Shop provides partial funds to help people pay for items they otherwise could not afford. For example; swim passes in the summer, activity fees for schools, Badger Camp, ALS, senior citizen vouchers for the farmer's market, food baskets at holiday times, gift certificates for displaced families at Christmas, and so much more, are all supported by the Thrift Shop. Jean has been involved with the Platteville Thrift Shop from its inception and continues, along with her husband Bill, to give of herself and her time.
For Jean Sanders’ devotion to support her community for the past 41 years, she is awarded the April Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Anja Busse of Antigo
Anja Busse is the founder of Boxes of Joy, a non-profit organization designed to support and encourage children with type 1 diabetes. Anja began to volunteer her time when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2013 at age eleven. Through Boxes of Joy, Anja sends out handmade cards and packages to children struggling with diabetes. Now at the age of thirteen, she has reached out to hundreds of children across the world to support them in their daily routine in dealing diabetes. Furthermore, Anja has been an advocate for children in the diabetic community. She started a petition with American Girl Doll to request that they begin to make and sell diabetic accessories. Anja also speaks at school groups and other local gatherings to educate more people on type 1 diabetes, speaks out in regards to legislation supporting diabetics, and started a blog to share with other children. Anja has committed herself to serving other children struggling with diabetes each day.
For Anja Busse’s ability to overcome obstacles she has faced, and give back to other children despite adversities, she is awarded the December Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Gregory "Doc" Harrington of Milwaukee
Gregory J. (Doc) Harrington has been active in leadership roles in Scout Troop 61, most years as scoutmaster. He served as a junior leader when he was young, and has been scoutmaster for a total of 48 years. Through the years, he has taken the lead in building morale among the boys and the adult leaders. One morale builder has been the dinners he regularly hosts --victory dinners for leaders on the night they return from summer camp. From the youngest to most senior troop members, he has extended personal interest marked by compassion, clarity, and appreciation of effort and collaboration. High Adventure trips for the Junior Leaders and some of the senior leaders have been another innovation that has, in various years, brought participants to destinations as varied as Maine and Nova Scotia to Florida to the Canadian Rockies and to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and Ontario. The planning is daunting, but Doc sees it through as director and coordinator.
All of this effort and generosity has been a hitherto unrecognized highlight of his good citizenship in the Badger State, not just in helping the process of helping boys and young men to become responsible citizens, but also in acting as a role model for the values he teaches.
For Doc’s dedication to the needs of his community, he was awarded the August 2015 Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Ananya Murali of Milwaukee
Ananya Murali is not a typical high school junior in WI. She planned, organized, and conducted a leadership/anti-bullying camp, "Step-Up Against Bullying and Violence", for more than 100 middle school girls to teach various strategies to reduce aggression and emotional distress and improve their attitudes toward themselves and others. She presented her project at the International Youth Peace Conference, received $2,000 in grants, and created an anti-bullying/leadership curriculum for the middle school girls. She invited National speakers, D.A.R.E. Police officers, and the Milwaukee Police Officers to come and talk about the dangers of bullying and to do hands-on activities with the students in the morning. She invited Yoga instructors to come do yoga with the girls as well, taught them peace songs that she wrote, organized team-building activities, group discussions, blog posts, and created peace murals.
She also did research about the status of women and girls in the state of Wisconsin and presented her findings at the U.N.’s 59th Commission on Status of Women and attended the trainings at the U.N. Headquarters in New York for a week in March, 2015. She was invited to the Wisconsin Senate's office to talk about her experiences at the U.N.Headquarters. Her goal is to apply for more grants and conduct her anti-bullying/leadership workshop in every school district in Wisconsin to make our state a better place. Ananya is the "Inspire by Example-Youth Award" winner for this year and also the Zonta Internationals' Young Women in Public Service Award recipient. She won the Young Women of Distinction Award from the Girl Scout of Southeast Wisconsin for helping to solve a local traffic signal problem in her community in 2012.
For all of the above reasons, she should definitely be recognized as a Wisconsin Hero.
Mary Gronnert of Green Bay, WI
Mary Gronnert volunteers her time in leadership roles at CASA of Brown County, or Court Appointed Special Advocates. She holds multiple leadership roles including Communications Chair and Board Secretary. Not only does she actively participate in these roles, but she also helped create CASA’s Communications and Public Relations Committee and the CASA Corporate board – both of which help raise funds and spread the CASA message. CASA of Brown County is a non-profit organization that recruits, screens, and trains everyday citizens from the community to be the voice of abused and neglected children in the courtroom, seeking to ensure them a safe and permanent home. Due to the confidential nature of the work CASA does, it has been difficult to promote and publicize the organization. But Mary has been instrumental in promoting the visibility of CASA. During her tenure, CASA of Brown County has nearly doubled in size and impact. Mary’s volunteer efforts do not stop with CASA. She also works extensively with Options for Independent Living, The Einstein Project, and The Meyer Theatre. Additionally, she raised $31,000 for the local Red Cross through her participation in Dancing with Our Stars, a program of the Red Cross. She dedicated her first of two dances to the CASA children. She was also recently awarded the runner-up of the Schneider Volunteer Leadership Award.
For Mary’s dedication to the needs of her community, she was awarded the March 2015 Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Helen Keyzer of Green Bay, WI
Sister Helen volunteers her time at Unity Hospice in Green Bay. She assists the Unity chaplains by providing spiritual support to Unity patients and their families. Unity’s hospice program provides care for people who have a prognosis of six months or less to live and are not receiving curative treatment. Sister Helen’s support has taken many forms over the years, but the majority of her donated hours are spent in one-on-one visits with patients. In these visits, Sister Helen experiences both light hearted discussion and laughter, and the solemn unburdening of those who trust and confide in her. Sister Helen has been available to provide comfort at a time when it is needed most. Last year alone she donated over 500 hours while making over 360 patient and family contacts. She drove over 1,665 miles in order to complete these visits.
For Sister Helen's incredible dedication to providing care during the most difficult of times in peoples' lives, she is awarded the December Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Debra Sadow Koenig of Milwaukee, WI
Debra joined the Meta House Board of Directors in 2009 and has served in a variety of positions, including Treasurer and Chair-Elect. Debra was an important part in guiding the agency through a monumental change in leadership when its Executive Director of nearly 30 years retired. In 2012, Meta House faced its toughest financial year in decades. By leveraging her personal and professional networks, Debra’s efforts yielded a tremendous impact, resulting in more than $100,000 dollars in sponsorships and donations. Also during this time, she single-handedly created a new way for Meta House’s stakeholders to engage with the agency. In conjunction with agency staff and the Board of Directors, Debra led the development of twice-annual ExecConnect events, programs offering insight into the agency’s strategic vision and current financial status. To date, Debra has personally hosted all six of the agency’s ExecConnect events at the law firm she works at. By the end of 2012, and in large part because of Debra’s leadership, Meta House was able to close more than half the gap left by fund reductions.
Today, Debra is still an active member of the Board of Directors, which she will chair starting in 2015. Her passionate advocacy and support makes it possible for Meta House to continue to offer Milwaukee women an opportunity to overcome drug and alcohol addiction and empower them to reclaim their lives and rebuild their families.
For Debra’s years of volunteer service, and in honor of her hard work with Meta House, he is awarded the November Wisconsin Heroes Award.