Louis Smit of Janesville, Wisconsin
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.
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, along 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 that 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.
Dr. Robert Johnson of River Falls, Wisconsin
Dr. Robert Johnson is a full time physican with the River Falls Medical Clinic who has been serving the health needs of the community for more than 32 years. In addition to his full time duties as a physician, he is also a founding member of the Free Clinic of Pierce and St. Croix Counties, and serves as the Medical Director of the clinic.
The vision for the clinic was sparked on a Lions Mission Trip to Mexico. He and his wife Mary Conroy-Johnson determined there were many unmet health needs in their own local community and wanted to do something about it. The two worked tirelessly to establish the clinic, traveling the state, observing various free clinics, and seeking local volunteers from the two-county area to serve as a board for the local free clinic. Dr. Johnson serves as the medical director and staffs the clinic many weeks of the month. He reviews the patient progress notes and laboratory and radiology results, and he assists in providing necessary follow up care or making the recommended follow-up appointments with specialists as needed.
In addition to his work with the free clinic, Dr. Johnson has provided medical direction and fundraising assistance for 22 years to Camp Needlepoint, an American Diabetes Association camp in Hudson, Wisconsin for diabetic youth that is sponsored locally by the Lions Club.
For his tireless service to his community through the Free Clinic of Pierce and St. Croix Counties, the Lions Club, and Camp Needlepoint, Dr. Johnson is the recipient of the March 2012 Wisconsin Heroes Award.
Noelle Henneman of Verona, Wisconsin
Noelle Henneman, a senior at Verona Area High School, has helped with her school's annual food drive for the Verona Area Food Pantry in the past, but this year she took the extra step and served as director.
The school's annual food drive is a massive undertaking. Noelle spent countless hours planning for and running the school collections, which ultimately exceeded its goal and collected more than 35,000 pounds of food – enough to provide more than 25,000 meals to those in need in the Verona area. Noelle worked tirelessly to coordinate this effort, and even went the extra mile by contacting area businesses to ask them to donate a percentage of proceeds from one night's business for the food drive. Even with the extra time this additional effort required, Noelle, a full-time student with a part-time job, was volunteering twice weekly at her church as a group leader for both middle and high school students.
Noelle is awarded the February Wisconsin Heroes Award her efforts to make Wisconsin a better place by volunteering to help both the Verona Area Food Pantry and her youth group.
Linda Hughes of Cambria, Wisconsin
This past year alone, Linda Hughes of Cambria, Wisconsin, spent more than 200 hours of volunteer time making the 150 ornaments which adorned the 2011 Tribute to the Troops Tree displayed in the Executive Residence over the holidays. Each time she handled an ornament, she said a prayer for that soldier.
Linda also volunteers full-time, at least 45 hours each week, at a day school called Rascals and Rockers and spends at least 20 hours a week on a project she started called “A Case for Caring and Sharing,” which sends care packages to Wisconsin residents serving in the military overseas. Each care package includes a pillow case, which many service members have said is the only one they have access to while serving abroad.
For her tremendous voluntary contributions in support of both the brave men and women from Wisconsin in service overseas and their families here in Wisconsin, Linda is the recipient of the first Wisconsin Heroes Award.