Kevin Paluch of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Kevin Paluch has always had a strong desire to give back to his community. In 2005, Kevin founded the Geneva National Foundation which has since donated more than $1.55 million to local Walworth County non-profits. In 2010, as the Chief Operating Officer of Geneva National Golf Club, Paluch first offered the golf course to SMILES, which offers therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities, for their annual golf fundraiser. Through the proceeds raised, SMILES has been able to become a year-round facility.
Furthermore, Kevin and the Geneva National Foundation are currently working to build an inclusive playground for Walworth County residents where children and adults of all abilities can play side by side, helping to bridge the gaps and dispel stereotypes that exist between people of differing abilities.
For the numerous people the Geneva National Foundation has touched, Kevin is presented the February 2013 Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Tom Schiltz of Menasha, Wisconsin
Thirty years ago, Tom Schiltz learned that 400 people would be laid off from his local Appleton company, which prompted him to ask, “what would I do if it were me?” Tom’s empathy for those losing their jobs sparked his idea to seek donations from family, friends, members of his church, and the local business community. One donation triggered another and the generosity from the community led to the formation of the St. Joseph Food Program. Today, the organization provides meals to more than 1000 families each week, free of charge. St. Joe’s is a private organization, relying only on the generosity of the community for assistance.
Tom is a hero to the thousands of individuals who have walked through the doors of St. Joe’s, because thirty years ago, he believed in the good of his fellow man. For his efforts to pull his community together to help neighbors in need, Tom Schiltz is the recipient of the January 2013 Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Ellen Persik of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Hero, Ellen Persik, founded and leads the "Chemo Cap Crew" and has been the driving force behind the Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren law firm's participation in the American Cancer Society's "Strides Against Breast Cancer" for more than a decade.
Inspired by her beloved niece, who was undergoing chemotherapy at the time and said the caps she was given to wear were so uncomfortable they made her head sore, Ellen sought to create a better option for chemotherapy patients. Ellen shared some ideas with her co-workers, who quickly signed on to help, and the "Chemo Cap Crew" began making hats that were more comfortable to wear, and lifted their spirits, too. The thousands of customized, comfortable hats the crew makes are donated to hospitals, clinics, and individuals.
Through her roles as chairperson, board member, spokesperson, and loyal volunteer for numerous cancer awareness events, Ellen has voluntarily helped raise more than $400,000 to fight breast cancer. For her dedicated fight against the disease, Ellen is the recipient of the December Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Dale Petkovsek of Willard, Wisconsin
Dale Petkovsek founded "West-Central Clark County Hunt for Hunters with Disabilities” in 1999. Since then, each year Dale and fellow sportsmen in the Willard area coordinate a special deer hunt for hunters with disabilities. The event is now the largest organized gun deer hunt in the nation, hosting 657 hunters in the past twelve years. Hunters’ disabilities range from high level paralysis, blindness and amputations, to heart and lung disease.
Through Dale's efforts, disabled sportsmen hunt on more than 100 private properties in Clark County, WI. Mentors assist disabled hunters with everything from climbing into a blind to field-dressing a deer. For many people faced with disabilities, this program has changed their lives. The hunt provides participants with an event to look forward to, a place to meet new people, and an opportunity to share deer camp experiences.
Through his vision, ambition, and determination, Dale has provided an amazing hunting opportunity for those who share similar struggles as he does. Dale provides this hunting opportunity free of charge and does not get paid for the hundreds of hours he pours into managing the details. For his heroic efforts share the great Wisconsin tradition of deer hunting to residents with disabilities, Dale is awarded the November 2012 Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Bob Garfinkel of Kewaunee, Wisconsin
As the volunteer President of Literacy Partners of Kewaunee County, Bob Garfinkel is the heart, soul, and driving force behind Literacy Partners of Kewaunee County, which seeks to improve literacy among residents of the county. Through his leadership, the organization has expanded to currently serve more than 60 adult students through 55 volunteer tutors.
On any given day, Bob may serve as a literacy tutor, work to recruit additional volunteers, engage community and business support for the organization, drive to pick up new books from the resource center, and close the day running the board meeting.
For his dedication to enriching lives of Kewaunee County residents through literacy improvement, Garfinkel is presented with a Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Jordyn Schara of North Freedom, Wisconsin
Jordyn Schara, a 17-year-old activist, learned that when prescription medicines are thrown out in the trash, they can contaminate our groundwater, and can lead to tap water containing antibiotics, heart medications, and even psychiatric drugs. However, if left unsecured in our medicine cabinets, these same drugs are contributing to the recent and sometimes tragic epidemic of teenage prescription drug abuse.
Upon learning that more people abuse prescription drugs than most illegal drugs combined, Jordyn created Wisconsin Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal (P2D2), which has spread across the country. P2D2 has collected more than 600,000 pounds of drugs since founded. Jordyn has engaged high school students to volunteer, mentored teens and adults across the country, and she continues to work with Wisconsin municipalities to open 24/7 drug drop-off boxes throughout the state.
For Jordyn’s commitment to preventing teenage prescription drug abuse, she is awarded the September Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Louis Smit of Janesville, Wisconsin
Louis Smit is Chief Deputy Coroner in Rock County, Wisconsin, where he initiated both the "Suicide Prevention Program” and a "Remember Me" program.
The "Suicide Prevention Program" was created by Lou and is presented by volunteers at several schools, businesses and hospitals throughout the county, educating the public about how they can best assist in preventing suicides.
The "Remember Me" program is designed to assist family members, adults and children, who have recently lost a loved one by offering an object of comfort in the form of a stuffed animal. The program was originally based on his son's project for his Bar Mitzvah.
In the free time Lou is able to find, he and his son go door-to-door and to rummage sales seeking donations of stuffed animals. Donations are also made by the local Rock County Community churches. When Lou receives a stuffed animal donation, he takes it home to inspect, clean and repair it with the help of his son. Lou then distributes bags of stuffed animals to the other Rock County Coroner’s Office employees who hand them out when needed.
Even though Lou receives phone calls around the clock, regardless of holidays or vacations, he never tires or complains when a family member reaches out to him "just to talk."
Lou's commitment to the community of Rock County is tireless, loyal and without a fault, and for this reason, he is the recipient of the July Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Joe Herr of Verona, Wisconsin
After suffering complications from Cerebral Palsy, Joe Herr’s beloved son, Logan, passed away at the age of four. While mourning, Joe realized many families throughout Wisconsin do not have the resources or abilities to make their homes livable for handicapped children like he had done for Logan.
In honor of his son, Joe started a nonprofit organization called Logan's Heart and Smiles, which provides construction services to families who have children with disabilities and cannot afford the home improvements needed to make their homes livable for their children. Joe devotes much of his free time to building wheelchair ramps and fences, and doing bedroom and bathroom upgrades. Through recruiting donations and the help of volunteers, as well as countless hours of his own hard work, Joe has changed the lives of more than 60 families throughout Wisconsin.
In addition to his voluntary service to families in need, each spring Joe dons a pointy-eared green Leprechaun costume and visits children in hospitals and schools, where smiles and cheer are in high demand, simply to make them smile.
Joe explains, "I just do it because seeing children smile is the greatest thing in the world. Many of them do not have much to smile about anymore, and if I can change that, it makes me feel good."
Meg Fay-Steinhardt of Green Bay, Wisconsin
In 2003, Meg Fay-Steinhardt, with three other breast cancer survivors, founded the Ribbon of Hope Foundation to fulfill the need for emotional, informational, and financial support for people diagnosed with breast cancer in northeastern Wisconsin. In the short 10 years the Ribbon of Hope has been in existence, Meg has been instrumental in growing the foundation into a group of more than 150 volunteers who tirelessly champion their cause. Because the foundation is run completely by volunteers, Ribbon of Hope is able to give a remarkable 97-cents of every dollar raised directly to support the foundation's mission.
Under Meg's leadership, Ribbon of Hope has provided financial assistance to more than 850 individuals, with total grants awarded reaching one-million dollars since its inception. These grants are used to pay for everything from medical and prescription bills, to mortgages, rent, utilities, wigs and more.
Meg lives out the mission statement of the organization, which is "to be a financial, informational, and emotional resource for individuals with breast cancer in northeastern Wisconsin." For her extraordinary and voluntary service to individuals with breast cancer through her leadership at the Ribbon of Hope Foundation, the May Wisconsin Heroes Award is presented to Meg Fay-Steinhardt of Green Bay.
Diane De La Santos of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
After holding an executive level position for a local hospital system, Diane De La Santos stepped down and committed herself to serving City on a Hill, which seeks to bring transformation to individuals, families, and neighborhoods in Milwaukee's central city. Diane took a 90% pay-cut, sold her condo, and moved into the facility so she could identify with those less fortunate. She continues to lead the effort to recruit volunteers who provide medical and social services to those most in need. For these and other countless acts of service, Diane is becoming known by many as a modern day Mother Teresa of southern Wisconsin for her life of sacrificial giving.
For her extraordinary service as Executive Director of city on a Hill, Diane De La Santos is the recipient of the April Wisconsin Heroes Award.