Wisconsin Heroes

  • April, 2013

    Joyce Keyes of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

     The First Lady poses for a picture with Dr. Joyce Keyes after Joyce was awarded the April Wisconsin Heroes Award. May 02, 2013

    Dr. Joyce Keyes is currently retired as a clinical psychiatrist, but she volunteers more than 40 hours per week to the American Red Cross. She leads the Fond du Lac County Disaster Action Teams and trains others to be disaster responders. Joyce has been a strong force for local, regional, statewide and national disaster efforts, and she was appointed to one of the 15 seats on the United States National Disaster Advisory Council. She has helped with relief efforts for multiple disasters, including Superstorm Sandy, Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, and Isaac, the Kansas ice storm, and the Alabama tornadoes, keeping her away from her home and family for weeks at a time. When half of Wisconsin was underwater in 2008, she was the disaster coordinator for Fond du Lac, one of the busiest counties, and they hosted the largest shelter in the state.

    For Keyes’ dedication to serving others through the Red Cross, she is presented with the April 2013 Wisconsin Heroes Award.

  • March, 2013

    William Wright of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

    The First Lady poses for a picture with the Wright family after William was awarded the March Wisconsin Heroes Award. March 29, 2013

    In 2010, William Wright’s wife, Tricia, was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer, which metastasized to her liver and lungs. During her treatment, Tricia received support and encouragement from a local group that would later become known as “Tricia’s Troops.” The Wrights were so inspired by the support they received during Tricia’s treatment. This support filled the family with a sense of peace, hope, and a calling to live vibrantly. Together, Tricia and William founded Tricia’s Troops Cancer Connection in May of 2011. They wanted to give back and support other members of their community facing a cancer diagnosis. Sadly, despite surgery and chemotherapy, Tricia passed away in April of 2012. Wright, a hard-working and now single father of two beautiful daughters, has made it his personal mission to let his late wife’s legacy live on.

    For Wright’s passionate commitment to help Tricia’s Troops grow and thrive, he is presented with the March 2013 Wisconsin Heroes Award.

  • February, 2013

    Kevin Paluch of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

    Kevin Paluch receives the February Wisconsin Heroes Award. February 15, 2013

    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, an organization 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.

    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.

  • January, 2013

    Tom Schiltz of Menasha, Wisconsin

    Tom Schiltz is congratulated as he receives a Wisconsin Heroes Award for his more than thirty years of dedication to the St. Joseph Food Program, which he founded. January 31, 2013

    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, all 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.

  • December, 2012

    Ellen Persik of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    The first lady and Ellen Persik pose next to caps created by the "Chemo Cap Crew". December 20, 2012

    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 the uncomfortable caps she was given to wear, 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 comfortable and stylish caps. 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 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.

  • November, 2012

    Dale Petkovsek of Willard, Wisconsin

    The first lady travels to Willard, WI to honor Dale Petkovsek for his work in founding and organizing the West-Central Clark County Hunt for Hunters with Disabilities. November 26, 2012

    Dale Petkovsek founded West-Central Clark County Hunt for Hunters with Disabilities in 1999.  Since then, Dale and fellow sportsmen in the Willard area coordinate a special deer hunt each year for hunters with disabilities. The event is now the largest organized rifle deer hunt in the nation, hosting 657 hunters in the past twelve years. Hunters’ disabilities range from high level paralysis to 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.

  • October, 2012

    Bob Garfinkel of Kewaunee, Wisconsin

    Bob Garfinkel is recognized for his hard work and dedication to the Literacy Partners program. November 01, 2012

    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 serve more than 60 adult students through 55 volunteer tutors.

    On any given day, Bob serves as a literacy tutor, works to recruit additional volunteers, engages community and business support for the organization, drives to pick up new books from the resource center, and closes 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.

  • September, 2012

    Jordyn Schara of North Freedom, Wisconsin

     Classmates look on as the first lady presents Reedsburg Highschool senior Jordyn Shara with a Wisconsin Heroes award. September 26, 2012

    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 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. 

  • July, 2012

    Louis Smit of Janesville, Wisconsin

    For his commitiment to the Janesville community starting a "Remember me" program, Louis Smit is a Wisconsin Hero. July 30, 2012

    Louis Smit is Chief Deputy Coroner in Rock County, Wisconsin, where he initiated both the Suicide Prevention Program and 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.

  • June, 2012

    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."