Okay, I’ll admit it. I dislike horror movies, despise Halloween, and want absolutely nothing to do with haunted houses. I like to think this is not so much out of cowardice as it is the natural result of a lifetime in philanthropy working to help people overcome society’s most serious issues. I’ve seen enough alarming and horrifying situations in the real world that I have no need to scare myself with made-up ones. Of course, my lovely wife differs and says I’m just a big ol’ fraidy cat.
Regardless of whom you believe, I share this to help you understand the almost incomprehensible lack of excitement I had when my wife Cari asked me to volunteer at the Haunted Mansion in Brussels. If a thermometer could have measured my enthusiasm upon hearing her request, I would have demonstrated that it was indeed possible to achieve absolute zero.
The Haunted Mansion, located in Brussels at Quietwoods South Camping Resort in southern Door County, is a major fundraising event that benefits the students of the Southern Door County School District. Now in its 12th year, the Haunted Mansion is consistently voted as the “favorite haunted attraction” in Northeast Wisconsin according to the website Haunted Wisconsin.
On Friday and Saturday nights this October, nearly 6,000 visitors will brave the dark corn maze and terrifying trail, ride the haunted bus, and try to survive a walk through the morbid mansion. This event is widely considered to be the spookiest haunted attraction around. Or so I’m told.
Goodness knows I’d never gone before. However, I did reluctantly acquiesce to my wife Cari’s request and joined her in volunteering one recent Thursday evening.
When I walked in to register and receive my volunteer assignment, I first encountered Judy Jesse and Sue Marchant, two of the longtime organizers of this event. I also noticed Cory Vandertie, the Southern Door Elementary School principal, off in a corner of the building coordinating multiple work crews, all furiously trying to accomplish too many projects at one time. These three people were instantly recognizable to me since they represented the countless volunteers who were named the Door County Volunteer Group of the Year in 2015. I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at that year’s Golden Heart Celebration and I clearly remember how impressed I was learning of the herculean effort behind the annual Haunted Mansion.
Over the last dozen years, the Haunted Mansion has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars to benefit students at Southern Door Schools. The money is divided among various school programs proportionally according to the number of volunteer hours generated by each particular program. This year there are 24 programs for students that will receive an allocation such as the K-12 Art program, the Wrestling Team, and the Elementary Lunch Bytes Tech Club.
When you arrive at volunteer registration you are asked to select a program you want your hours to support. Hence, if four percent of the total volunteer hours are directed to the Books on the Bus program, then that program will earn four percent of the total proceeds from the Haunted Mansion.
Since the Haunted Mansion benefits the students of Southern Door Schools, it’s only natural that the students, parents, teachers and other district staff are asked to donate most of the 8,000 hours of volunteer labor needed to make the event a success. While every volunteer who donates their time should be thanked and appreciated by our community, I want to take special note of the particular selflessness of the last two groups I just mentioned.
My wife Cari is a 4th grade teacher at Southern Door and thus we directed our volunteer hours to the 4th Grade Transportation Fund for the field trip to the State Capitol. Cari, along with the other 4th grade teachers, invited the 80 or so 4th grade students and their families to volunteer on that Thursday evening I was there. Of course, life gets busy this time of year so only about a quarter of the students and their parents were able to attend.
The place was crowded and overflowing. Plastic gloves were being filled with candy that would be given away to visitors to the Haunted Mansion. Lumber was being cut and hauled all over the place. Noise was everywhere. I was assigned to sorting and stuffing thank you letters to the event sponsors (talk about stereotyping a guy).
An hour went by and the crowd began to thin as kids and their parents went home. Eventually there were only a handful of volunteers left, still stuffing those plastic gloves with candy.
Along with my wife Cari and me were a couple of her fellow 4th grade teachers Mary Spude and Jodi Mallien. Jodi’s sister was also still lending a hand. Art teacher Barb Schriner-Schmitt was there, along with the District Reading Specialist Missy Bousley and her daughter. These were the folks who stayed until the very end that Thursday night.
Every student and parent who donates their time and effort is deserving of our thanks, but the reason I want to highlight the teachers and district staff in particular is because they are the folks who least benefit from their own volunteer labor. When a 4th grade student and parent volunteers their time, it directly reduces the money they will be expected to pay to help rent the bus that will transport their child to the State Capitol. When the 4th grade teachers (and a husband, a sister and a daughter) volunteer, it doesn’t benefit them directly at all. It benefits the students and their families.
That was on a single Thursday in September. This story repeats itself night after night as students, parents, teachers and other district staff involved with 23 other programs similarly step forward to give of their time. The money raised isn’t for the teachers nor the school district itself, it reduces the cost that students and their families would otherwise have to pay to participate in these various programs. The Haunted Mansion reduces the financial burden on working families in our community.
Let’s be thankful for all the students and parents who give of their time to make the Haunted Mansion a success. Yet let’s also pause for a moment to offer a special word of thanks for the particularly selfless generosity of the teachers and district staff. Let’s make sure the kids of our community know just how much their teachers give back to them far beyond the school day.
This piece by Bret Bicoy, president & CEO of the Door County Community Foundation, originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse.