Wisconsin Heroes


  • November, 2018

    Aubree Leitermann of Kimberly

    Aubree starting making blankets in 2014 for veterans transported on medical flights. Since then, she has made over 100 blankets to give to veterans in nursing homes, local veterans who are ill, veterans in the Town of King, and veterans on Florida's air medical transports. She has worked closely with Desert Storm Veterans in Green Bay and the Fox Valley. The materials for making the blankets are purchased solely with donated funds. Aubree makes all the blankets herself, with help from her friends at Footworks Dance Company and members of the Kimberly community. As of this year, she has hosted four blanket-making events. Aubree says she will continue making blankets as long as there is a need for them.

    For her selfless dedication to honoring and serving the veterans of the Fox Valley, Aubree is awarded a Wisconsin Hero Award.

  • October, 2018

    Ann and Chris Swain of Mequon

    In 2012, Ann and Chris Swain joined the Wisconsin Chapter of Special Spaces, a national non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that creates dream bedrooms for children with life-threatening illnesses. They have spent countless hours growing their passion to cover many counties in Wisconsin. The bedrooms are created by all-volunteer teams with many corporate sponsors and in-kind donations. Last summer, Special Spaces Wisconsin celebrated the completion of their 100th bedroom makeover in the Wisconsin area. This truly is due to the dedication of Ann and Chris.

    Chris Swain has played an instrumental role in the National Special Spaces organization. He has been on the Board of Directors since the inception and has recently stepped into the role of Executive Director. With his leadership, Special Spaces will continue to grow on a national level, adding more Chapters and expanding its national presence. 

    While Chris’s work is predominantly behind the scenes, Ann Swain has been a prominent volunteer in the community, currently serving as the Wisconsin State Director and the Dream Big Gala Chair. Ann is never afraid of a challenge. She wears many hats within the organization and always makes everyone feel welcome. She works to identify children who meet the Special Spaces criteria for a Dream Bedroom Makeover and helps pair each child with Wisconsin companies to assist with their room makeover. Ann has gained the support of many Wisconsin businesses as underwriters for bedroom makeovers.

    On average, a bedroom makeover takes months of planning but is created in just two short days. Ann meets with the family to review the needs of the child and wishes for the child’s room. The goal is to create a dream bedroom that will be a complete surprise to the sick child where he or she can heal. Ann handles consultation, design, volunteer recruitment, and supplies shopping and supervises the project from beginning to end. With a team of amazing volunteers and contractors, the project is completed, and the family returns for the surprise reveal.

    Special Spaces Wisconsin also holds a gala, Dream Big, to help raise funds for bedroom makeovers.  Dream Big would not be what it is today without Ann and Chris, who have chaired its board since the beginning. With their leadership, it is now a sold-out event and exceeds all financial goals.

    For their incredible dedication, hard work, and genuine care for sick children throughout the state, Ann and Chris Swain are presented a Wisconsin Hero Award.

  • August, 2017

    Barb Bigalke of Kaukauna

    For over 10 years, Barb has dedicated her life to suicide prevention. Barb created HOPELINE, a 24/7 emotional support texting service that is now used in schools, business, and medical facilities across the state. HOPELINE has created a way for people to address the everyday stress they face, whether it be suicidal ideation, bullying, trafficking, drug use, domestic violence, divorce, or any other topic. When there is a tragedy in the community, local police departments turn to Barb for advice. When a school is affected, Barb is the first one they call to work with the students and staff to process the event and move forward. HOPELINE and the Center for Suicide Awareness work hard to ensure that no one feels along or feels that suicide is their only option. Through it all, Bard has maintained an unmatched level of positivity and enthusiasm. Her hopefulness is infectious, and despite some funding issues and the stigma surrounding suicide awareness,

  • April, 2017

    Terry Jackson of Madison

    Terry Jackson

    When Terry Jackson retired from Madison East High School about 20 years ago, he was determined to make a difference in the community while continuing to do what he enjoyed.

    He did not want to just sit around during his retirement years. Since 1997, Terry has given Olbrich Botanical Gardens 830 service hours. He worked with the plants in the outdoor gardens as well as the tropical collection inside the Bolz Conservatory. He also engaged visitors interested in learning about the Gardens.

    Terry started in the Perennial Garden as a weekly volunteer gardener. He loved working with his crew to develop and maintain the outdoor displays. In 2004, he discovered his real passion when he started his twice-monthly shifts as a Conservatory Early Bird in the Bolz Conservatory. Working side-by-side with two staff, Terry spent 2.5 hours each shift helping to clean up the indoor garden so it would be ready for visitors at 10:00am.

    Terry felt his biggest challenge was dealing the free-roaming quail who were known to mess up Terry's perfectly neat garden beds. Terry knew Olbrich well, and in 2008 he started sharing his passion for plants with visitors as an Outdoor Greeter in the Thai Garden. Terry is already looking forward to Olbrich’s Blooming Butterflies event this summer so he can again greet, engage, and delight visitors.

    Terry gives his time and talent to Olbrich so that visitors can enjoy and appreciate Madison’s best free public garden. Plants and people at Olbrich give him much satisfaction. Because of his efforts and the efforts of other Olbrich Volunteers, more than 300,000 visitors annually are delighted and inspired. 

    For his incredible dedication, hard work, and timeless interest at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Terry Jackson is deserving of a Wisconsin Hero Award. 

  • November, 2016

    Joe Dean of Port Washington

    Joe Dean

    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, 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 do this!” It was at that point he decided to go for it. Within days, the 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 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. 4,746 vets have flown since the program's 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 General Mitchell Airport.

    Among the other legacies attributed to the Stars and Stripes Honor flight is “Honor Flight – A Visual Journey,” an 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. “Honor Flight – One Last Mission” is 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! There are few programs that have done more to recognize our valued veterans than Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. 

    For all of these reasons, Joe Dean is awarded with the November Wisconsin Hero Award.

  • October, 2016

    Luke Smith of Manitowoc

    Luke Smith

    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 purpose, and 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 for the field, so Luke decided to do it too. He helped spread awareness, advocated for acceptance of children with special needs, and spoke out against bullying. Within three years, the committee raised $450,000 for various projects, including building a new field. This past June, an all-accessible playground was built so kids with a variety of needs and abilities can play together. The Miracle League has just completed its third season. Luke has dedicated much of his time to help recruit players, coaches, and buddies.

    Luke has also become actively involved with Generations Against Bullying as 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 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 experiences to help others and build resilience. He jumps in wherever the help is needed. 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; he coordinates book drivesm 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. 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.” 

    For all of these reasons, Luke is awarded the Wisconsin Heroes Award. 

  • August, 2016

    Carol Bush of Green Bay

    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 fixtures at Encompass for sixty-three years. Carol helped lead capital campaigns for two new centers and an 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 today! For twenty-five years, Carol has co-chaired the Oktoberfest committee and has served on the board and the foundation, done facility maintenance, and 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 Wisconsin 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 lifetime, 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. 

  • April, 2016

    Jean Sanders of Platteville

    Jean is the last surviving member of a group of ladies who started the Platteville Thrift Shop 41 years ago. With the mission statement: "To provide free and low cost clothing to those in need," the organization began small buthas expanded to its current larger space on Lancaster Street in Platteville. The Thrift Shop accepts clothing referrals from churches, schools, and community organizations, which allows a family to choose free clothing for both the children and parents. In addition, the Thrift Shop helps individuals by offering financial assistance for medical needs, utilities, rent, and other urgent financial situations. The Thrift Shop provides partial funds to help people pay for items they otherwise could not afford, including 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. 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.

  • December, 2015

    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 dealing diabetes. Furthermore, Anja has been an advocate for children in the diabetic community. She started a petition with American Girl to request that they begin to make and sell diabetic accessories for their dolls. 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.

  • August, 2015

    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 the 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 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 boys and young men to become responsible citizens, but also in acting as a role model for all of them.

    For Doc’s dedication to the needs of his community, he was awarded the August 2015 Wisconsin Heroes Award.

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