Celebrating Our Volunteers event cites special efforts

Apr. 24, 2013
Cliff Siebers speaks to the audience while surrounded by his daughter Emily (left) and wife Gloria as they are honored Tuesday with the Janet Berry Volunteer of the Year award during the Celebrating Our Volunteers banquet at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. / Ron Page/Post-Crescent Media

About the awards

The 16th annual Celebrating Our Volunteers event was sponsored by the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region Inc. and Post-Crescent Media. Award winners were selected from among nominees submitted by readers.


For Cliff and Gloria Siebers and their daughter Emily, it’s a family commitment to volunteer in the Fox Valley.

Husband and wife sing together at funerals, and father and daughter have donated a combined 64 gallons of blood at the Community Blood Center. Gloria cooks meals for the Fox Valley Warming Shelter. Emily rolls towels at the Heart of the Valley YMCA. And Cliff - who lost his foot decades ago in a paper mill accident - drives the St. Joseph Food Program donations truck.

But as the volunteer trio accepted the Janet Berry Volunteer of the Year award during the Celebrating Our Volunteers gala Tuesday at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in downtown Appleton, they turned the focus outward to their fellow volunteers, including those in the event’s record crowd of about 750 people.

“We are thrilled, humbled and honored to be representing all of the volunteers in the Fox Valley,” said Cliff Siebers. “Through volunteering, we’ve learned that the best thing you can give someone is a chance.”

The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region and Post-Crescent Media sponsored the 16th annual event, which recognized exemplary volunteers in eight award categories plus a ninth special award.

“The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in the Valley,” Curt Detjen, the Community Foundation’s president and CEO, said Tuesday in advance of the event. “So many of the honorees this year and in prior years are incredibly humble people, never seeking the limelight or public recognition. But it’s important for the rest of us that we learn about their stories, and it helps to give us inspiration to look for our opportunities to do more for others.”

A 2013 special award recognized the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s volunteers. The PAC in downtown Appleton receives $1,000 for its youth education programming.

“This year we felt that in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the PAC, this was a fitting time to recognize the hundreds of volunteers who make the PAC such a community treasure,” Detjen said.

Each winner received a $5,000 cash award to allocate to a favorite charity or charities. The youth award winner received a $1,500 scholarship and $1,000 for charity.

The Siebers family chose the Community Blood Center and St. Joseph Food Program to benefit from its funds.

Youth Scholarship Award winner Riley Chelsky, a Xavier High School student, allocated his funds to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley and YMCA’s Camp Hope.

“I never thought I could change the lives of others by myself, and I was right,” said Chelsky, who credited his school family for participating in the “Change for Charity” campaign he organized to benefit nonprofits. “You need advocates to encourage you to make that difference.”

Merry Whipple and her certified therapy dog, Rainy, were joint winners of this year’s Daniel P. Spalding Volunteer Educator Award. Whipple designated her funds to programs at Horace Mann Middle School and Coolidge Elementary School in the Neenah Joint School District; and to Compassionate Canines.

“I have come to love helping kids who are for whatever reason struggling to read,” said Whipple, who accepted the award with Rainy by her side. Rainy is always by her side as another set of ears during reading sessions.

Health Care Volunteer Award winner Christine Cornell, a longtime hospice volunteer, says her funds go to the Markwardt Endowment for Hospice Volunteer Education through the Community Hospice Foundation; National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Fox Valley; and LEAVEN (Limited Emergency Assistance Valley Ecumenical Network.)

“It’s amazing to me to think about how many lives of people in the Fox Valley are touched by hospice care,” Cornell said. “I’ve been blessed to use these experiences in other areas of my life and in other areas where I volunteer.”

Beth Flaherty, recipient of the Hanns Kretzschmar Award for Excellence in the Arts, is giving her funds to the Fox Valley Symphony and the Lawrence Academy of Music, two arts organizations close to her heart.

“I believe the health of the arts in the community is a reflection of the health of the community itself,” said Flaherty, who added that the community is indeed a healthy one.

The Backyard Buddy Program, which connects ThedaCare, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Roosevelt Elementary School in Neenah, receives award dollars through the Business Partnership of the Year Award to continue its work.

Health care employees mentor Roosevelt students, who then provide artwork and musical entertainment at the medical facilities.

“It truly does take a village to raise a child,” said Roosevelt principal Philip Johnson.

The Rev. Will and Ruth Bloedow, who received the Paul and Elaine Groth Mentoring Award, divided their funds into four gifts: to the Center for Grieving Children, Friends of Appleton Library, Fox Valley Literacy Council and Fox Valley Symphony.

“We both grew up in families where giving was just as natural as breathing,” said Ruth Bloedow.

Walter L. Rugland Community Service Award winner Jon Stellmacher said his family is matching the funds, which benefit the endowments of CAP Services, LEAVEN and United Way Fox Cities.

Stellmacher offered fellow volunteers this encouragement: “Keep on making a difference. The world is a better place because of you.”

— Kara Patterson: 920-993-1000, ext. 215, or kpatterson@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @ArtsMinded

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