Lessons from Montgomery and Lolly Ratajczak

Every year it’s my responsibility to say a few words at our community’s annual Celebration of Giving luncheon about why the Door County Community Foundation has selected the honoree. My assigned task is to articulate the themes from a person’s life of service in hopes that there are lessons we can draw.

DSC_0135 croppedThe 2018 Philanthropist of the Year is Lolly Ratajczak. With her husband Dave, Lolly found Door County in the 1960s and fell in love with its natural beauty. She assumed volunteer leadership positions with Birch Creek Music Performance Center, the YMCA, and the Door County String Academy. She gave of her time to countless other groups and was a founding member of the Women’s Fund of Door County.

In preparation for this year’s celebration, I found myself re-reading the works of Paul Loeb. In his famous book, Soul of a Citizen, and his subsequent anthology, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, Loeb reflects at length on the civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Now I’m sure that most everyone knows the basics of the story of Rosa Parks. She was the 42-year-old African American woman who on Dec. 1, 1955, refused to obey an Alabama bus driver’s order that she give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger who had just gotten on the crowded vehicle.

Her refusal would inspire the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That boycott, in turn, would elevate one of its leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr., to the national stage. Eventually the Montgomery Bus Boycott would galvanize our nation and become one of the most important moments of the civil rights movement.

Of course, for those of you who know Lolly, you know that her exceptional grace and modesty is making her cringe right now by my trying to compare her to Rosa Parks. I’m not going to embarrass Lolly by trying to equate her with Rosa Parks, but I’d ask for your indulgence because there is a parallel I’d like to explore.

The common portrayal of Mrs. Parks is as an uninvolved person, sitting on the sidelines of segregation, who simply got tired of giving in and impulsively decided that she would no longer subjugate herself to the racist and obscene Jim Crow laws.

What many of us have forgotten is that Mrs. Parks was not the first person arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus. In fact, before Mrs. Parks was arrested in 1955, Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith and Aurelia Browder were also arrested, on the same bus system, in the same city, for the same crime.

Loeb reminds us that the leaders of the NAACP created a list of specific candidates with the inner strength, and personal stories, that the NAACP believed were well suited to undertaking this very specific act of resistance. Mrs. Parks was simply the next name up on the list.

Now this truth in no way diminishes the bravery, power and historical importance of Mrs. Parks’ refusal to give up her seat. But this tremendously consequential act, and the historic changes that would follow, did not begin with Mrs. Park on that fateful day on the bus. Rather, it began with all the humble, frequently invisible, and often frustrating work, that Mrs. Parks and countless others undertook in the years before that pivotal day in history.

Mrs. Parks had been an active member of the Civil Rights Movement for many years before then. She had been the secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP. She had even recently attended a training program on the techniques of peaceful resistance.

The stories we are fed, be it in People Magazine or on video clips on Facebook, are of individual people who come out of nowhere to take sudden and dramatic stands against the world. That leads us to the false conclusion that change occurs instantly, when one brave individual decides to take a lonely and bold stand.

Loeb writes that the myth of Mrs. Parks as a lone activist reinforces a notion that anyone who takes a committed public stand, or at least an effective one, has to be a larger-than-life figure – someone with more time, energy, courage, vision or knowledge than any normal person could ever possess. When we enshrine our heroes on pedestals, it becomes hard for us mere mortals to measure up in our eyes. We find it hard to imagine that ordinary human beings, with ordinary flaws, can do extraordinary things when we come together in service of a common purpose.

The lesson of Rosa Parks is not of the singular hero standing alone against the world. Mrs. Parks’ journey informs us that progress is the result of people inspired by a shared vision coming together to take deliberate, incremental action. And sometimes those actions can change the world.

Therein is the parallel with our friend Lolly Ratajczak. Lolly was not the first person to serve as president of the Board of Directors of the Birch Creek Music Performance Center. Nor was she the last. Yet when her turn came, the organization took a single step in the right direction. Then she helped it take another step. And then another. Eventually, those steps took Birch Creek on a journey to a place almost unrecognizable from where it began.

And Lolly would be the first to tell you that she didn’t do it alone. But it was her determination to succeed combined with the dignity with which she carries herself, and the graciousness through which she treats others, that inspired people to join her on that journey. Time and again, this has been the pattern of Lolly’s life of service here in Door County.

Lolly is an exceptional person who has unquestionably helped our community do exceptional things. But the lesson of Lolly is that within each of us is the capacity to be an exceptional person as well. If we also approach our work with determination, dignity and grace, we too might inspire others to join with us. Then perhaps, like Lolly, we can accomplish exceptional things for our beloved Door County.

This article was written by the President and CEO of the Door County Community Foundation, Bret Bicoy, and originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse

Community Foundation Announces Investment in Historic Downtown Sturgeon Bay

“Downtown Sturgeon Bay has had some rough news in recent months,” says Bret Bicoy, President & CEO of the Door County Community Foundation. “Yet we strongly believe that Door County’s largest downtown district has a bright future and we want to be a part of it.” Thus, the Community Foundation announced today that it has purchased the former Baylake Conference Center and Clock Tower property from Nicolet National Bank.

The Community Foundation will move its offices into roughly half the building and configure the remainder of it as a gathering and meeting space for other charities and community groups. “We envision everything from Girl Scout troops to non-profit boards using the community space,” says Bicoy. “We’re investing in technology which will allow the community to safely use the building after regular business hours and on weekends. We hope to create a true gathering place for the people of Door County.”

The Clock Tower and surrounding grassy area is also included in the purchase. Hence, the Community Foundation is pleased to announce its commitment to continue to host an annual Christmas Tree lighting celebration. “Sturgeon Bay Utilities has been a very generous partner in supporting this annual Christmas tradition,” says Bicoy. “We’re honored to be able to work with them to continue this holiday celebration.”

The Community Foundation is also exploring ways to partner with the Sturgeon Bay Visitor’s Center and other community groups to better utilize the Clock Tower green space for the good of our local residents. For example, one of the ideas being considered is a lunchtime outdoor concert series for people who work and live downtown. “The Community Foundation is making an investment in downtown Sturgeon Bay and hope others will join us,” says Bicoy. “We also want to express our gratitude to Nicolet National Bank for selling the Community Foundation this property at such a reasonable and fair price,” says Bicoy. “We hope to continue the bank’s tradition of opening up this facility to the community for the benefit of Sturgeon Bay and all of Door County.”

The Door County Community Foundation, Inc. is a collection of separate charitable funds set up by individuals, families, non-profit organizations, private foundations and businesses that are managed, invested and disbursed for the current and future good of Door County. The Foundation was launched in 1999 and currently administers more than $20 million in charitable assets.

Friends of Education Award Presented to Door County Civility Project

The Door County Civility Project, along with two individuals and two other organizations that are working to improve education and the lives of young people in Wisconsin schools and communities, received the 2017 Friends of Education award during the State of Education address on Sept. 21 in Madison.

“As we listened to the descriptions of other Friend of Education award recipients, we were humbled to be among that distinguished group of individuals and groups being recognized,” said Shirley Senirighi, a volunteer of the Door County Civility Project.

Civility Project & DPI Supt Tony EversPictured from left to right are Diane Slivka, Sue Todey, Shirley Senarighi, State Superintendent Tony Evers, Mark Nelson, Patti Vickman, and Steve Bousley.

The Door County Civility Project is a volunteer initiative working since 2013 to strengthen the culture of civility within homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, civic organizations, and government bodies in Door County.

“The willingness of those who volunteer to mentor our youth, develop their cultural roots, and give them solid foundations for becoming civic-minded adults means so much to our kids and the future of Wisconsin,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers in congratulating the 2017 Friends of Education. “These organizations and individuals make outstanding contributions to support children and young adults in our state.”

The Door County Civility Project, a component fund of the Door County Community Foundation, is a community-based initiative to advance the cause of civility in everyday life and strengthen our shared community. Through multiple presentations, trainings, newspaper articles, and distribution of educational resources, the project has promoted “Speak Your Peace,” using the nine simple tools for practicing civility: pay attention; listen closely; be inclusive; don’t gossip; show respect; be agreeable; apologize sincerely; give constructive comments, suggestions and feedback; and accept responsibility.

Beginning in 2015, Civility Project volunteers worked with Southern Door County School District staff to develop Speak Your Peace activities to promote a culture of civility within schools and prepare students for future civil engagement. The Civility Project’s work has resulted in a variety of high school student-led publications on civility, such as poetry anthologies, class projects, and musical performances.

To learn more about the Door County Civility Project, please or visit, www.DoorCountyCivilityProject.org

The Door County Community Foundation’s Sustainability Grants program distributes grant dollars from funds such as the Arts Fund, Children & Youth Fund, Education Fund, Green Fund, Health & Human Needs Fund, Healthy Water Fund, Historic Preservation Fund, and the Women’s Fund.

For more information about the Community Foundation’s services and various grant programs, please visit www.GiveDoorCounty.org.

The Door County Community Foundation, Inc. is a collection of separate charitable funds set up by individuals, families, non-profit organizations, private foundations and businesses that are managed, invested and disbursed for the current and future good of Door County.  The Foundation was launched in 1999 and currently administers more than $20 million in charitable assets.

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Preview Door County 2017

Door County’s Annual Winter Reception in Southwest Florida.

Join us for fun, food, and friends from Door County.

We’ll share the highlights of the upcoming season on our beautiful
art exhibits peninsula. Learn about the performances, art exhibits, conservation efforts, and other activities that will make this season in Door County special.

Preview Door County 2017
Thursday, March 16th
4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
The Club at Barefoot Beach
105 Shell Drive in Bonita Springs, Florida

We’ll also be giving away tickets to many of this season’s terrific shows in Door County.

There is no cost to atttend this reception, but space is limited. Thus, please be sure to register and reserve your seat.

Call (920) 746-1786 or email us and reserve your seat today!

Follow this link for directions.

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Community Foundation Awards Sustainability Grant to the Frances Hardy Center for the Arts

The Door County Community Foundation has awarded the Frances Hardy Center for the Arts a Sustainability Grant from the Ruth & Hartley Barker Memorial Fund and the William C. & Marjorie W. Glenn Endowment Fund. This grant will cover the expenses of upgrading the Hardy Gallery’s technology, specifically a retail point of sale kit. The retail cash register will optimize the time it takes for docents to perform transactions for gallery visitors and will provide confidence for both that the transaction was done correctly and securely.

“The Hardy Gallery’s purpose is to enrich the vibrancy of the Door County community through promoting and fostering local visual arts,” said Kacie Mueller, Community Relations Officer of the Door County Community Foundation. “Helping to fulfill that purpose are the gallery docents, volunteers from all over the peninsula. The Community Foundation is happy to be able to provide the funds to support a technology upgrade which will advance the quality service these volunteers are able to provide.”

2016 0602 Hardy Gallery 2

Pictured from left to right are Sarah Zamecnik, Executive Director of the Francis Hardy Center for the Arts & Kacie Mueller, Community Relations Officer of the Door County Community Foundation.

The Hardy Gallery is a place for new and established artists to premiere their work and gain visibility through a heavily visited establishment; the gallery logged over 12,000 visitors during their 6-month 2015 season.  Patrons can enjoy exhibits of local and regional artists, see the nationally recognized Community Mosaic Project, take in spectacular sunset views or enjoy meeting local plein air painters in and around the gallery during the Door County Plein Air Festival.

For more information regarding the Frances Hardy Center for the Arts, please call 920-854-2210 or visit www.thehardy.org.

The Door County Community Foundation’s Sustainability Grants program distributes grant dollars from funds such as the Arts Fund, Children & Youth Fund, Green Fund, Health & Human Needs Fund, Education Fund, Historic Preservation Fund, Healthy Water Fund, and the Women’s Fund.

For more information about the Community Foundation’s services and various grant programs, please visit www.GiveDoorCounty.org.

The Door County Community Foundation, Inc. is a collection of separate charitable funds set up by individuals, families, non-profit organizations, private foundations and businesses that are managed, invested and disbursed for the current and future good of Door County.  The Foundation was launched in 1999 and currently administers more than $17 million in charitable assets.

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The Certainty of Hope

At our community’s recent Celebration of Giving, the Door County Community Foundation recognized Annie and Dick Egan as the 2016 Philanthropists of the Year. Each year, I am humbled to have the opportunity to share a few thoughts about the remarkable people who are given this honor.

As I often do when preparing a few comments, I start by re-reading the words of people who are much more thoughtful and insightful than me. I was recently revisiting David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character when I was struck by a particular passage that I had highlighted some time ago.

Brooks was writing about those rare people you come across who seem to possess what he calls an “inner cohesion.” Brooks writes, “After you’ve known them for a while it occurs to you that you’ve never heard them boast, you’ve never seen them self-righteous or doggedly certain. They aren’t dropping little hints of their own distinctiveness and accomplishments.” I didn’t realize it when I originally highlighted this paragraph, but Brooks is writing about people like Annie and Dick.

dick & annie

I have played a tiny and tangential role helping facilitate the Egan’s generosity going back to my time working in Green Bay nearly 20 years ago. I’ve been to numerous meetings, dinners and receptions they’ve hosted for charities in our community. I’ve stayed with them in their home in Florida on several occasions. I’ve even helped Annie hang artwork and gone to baseball games with Dick.

Yet in all the time I’ve known them, never once have I heard them boast, nor seen them self-righteous or doggedly certain. Nor have they ever dropped the tiniest hint of their own distinctiveness or accomplishments.

As Brooks says, couples like Annie and Dick, “radiate a sort of moral joy. They perform acts of sacrificial service with the same modest everyday spirit they would display if they were just getting the groceries. They are not thinking about what impressive work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all. They just seem delighted by the flawed people around them. They just recognize what needs doing and they do it.”

This is not to say the Egans are perfect or have never faced struggles or difficulties of their own. I have been honored to hear of some of those trials and been given the opportunity to learn from their experiences. Yet, it is precisely those internal struggles that has made Annie and Dick into the generous souls we celebrate today.

In his book Falling Upward, the Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr writes that, “One of the great surprises is that humans come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing their own contradictions, and making friends with their own mistakes and failings.”

We’ve all heard the famous Serenity Prayer that was popularized as the mantra of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. The saying goes, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is actually paraphrased from the original Serenity Prayer written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

Since I was little boy, I’ve always had great difficulty accepting the idea behind the Serenity Prayer. I do hear wisdom in the words. Some kinds of sorrow we have no choice but to accept, as when a loved one suddenly dies or a cherished relationship ends. Even in the public sphere in which I work, there are times when our most admirable efforts fail to bear fruit. In some circumstances, continued resistance can do more harm than good.

Yet I deeply value wisdom. And I have great respect for those with courage. To simply give in, to acquiesce, to settle for being passive spectators is to accept things as they are as if that is the way they are destined to be. I have always believed that acting on our convictions, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, helps broaden the horizon that defines the limits of what is possible.

Yet when I read Paul Loeb’s book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, I finally recognized that my discomfort was born out of my own misunderstanding. He writes, “The Serenity Prayer is too easily misread as a gospel of resignation. That’s because it’s impossible to predict precisely what people can and cannot change. Wisdom comes not from anticipation but from action. The only way to find out what’s possible is through our deeds. And that’s true whether we’re tackling issues that affect the whole world or just our neighborhood.”

To read the future as already determined, be it implacable darkness or rosy dawn, is to give up on precisely that which can make the greatest difference – giving our all to the present. As Loeb notes, since we never know when one of our seemingly modest acts might help change history, or inspire someone else who will play a key role, we’d do well to savor both the journey of engagement itself and the everyday grace that we can draw on along the way.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well. Rather, hope is the certainty that some things makes sense regardless of how it turns out.

Thus let me finish by going beyond the Serenity Prayer and quote instead from another of Reinhold Neibuhr’s prayers. “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.”

My friends, Door County is the community we love. We have been blessed with the abundance provided by those who came before us. We are now entrusted with the stewardship of the community we have among us. And we are being given the opportunity to nurture a better future for those who will follow us.

In all sincerity, I have never met a couple that better exemplifies this idea than Annie and Dick Egan. They are my inspiration.

This article, by Bret Bicoy, originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse.

Community Foundation Awards Sustainability Grant to Unity Hospice

The Door County Community Foundation recently awarded Unity Hospice a Sustainability Grant from the Health and Human Needs Fund.  This grant will assist with providing end of life care for critically ill patients who have limited to no financial resources.

Unity is the only provider of home-based palliative care for residents of Door County. To help meet the needs of patients and their families, Unity provides routine skilled nursing visits, 24-hour skilled nursing phone support, social work visits to assist with personal cares, chaplain visits to offer spiritual support and trained volunteers to provide companionship, caregiver respite and transportation assistance.

“The services provided by Unity are invaluable for community members who are coping with the effects of life-limiting and terminal illness,” said Polly Alberts, Chair of the Door County Community Foundation. “Unity delivers compassionate programming that supports patients, families and friends as we move through these major life transitions.”

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Pictured from left to right is Polly Alberts, Chair of the Door County Community Foundation & Diana Butz, Director of Development at Unity Hospice .

Unity is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit community provider of hospice care, palliative care and grief support in 12 counties throughout Northeast Wisconsin.  A true leader in its field, Unity has the distinction of having opened the state’s first hospice in 1977, the state’s first non-hospital based palliative care program in 2002 and the area’s first hospice residence in 2007. Unity provides a full spectrum of end-of-life care and education benefiting all members of the community.

Unity’s mission is “To bring the best end-of-life experience to our communities by delivering unwavering strength, compassion and support.”  Every day, nearly 550 patients throughout the region are served by Unity’s programming with the help of a committed group of 300 volunteers.

For more information regarding Unity Hospice, please call (800) 990-9249 or visit www.UnityHospice.org.

The Door County Community Foundation’s Sustainability Grants program distributes grant dollars from funds such as the Arts Fund, Children & Youth Fund, Green Fund, Health & Human Needs Fund, Education Fund, Historic Preservation Fund, Healthy Water Fund, and the Women’s Fund.

For more information about the Community Foundation’s services and various grant programs, please visit www.GiveDoorCounty.org.

The Door County Community Foundation, Inc. is a collection of separate charitable funds set up by individuals, families, non-profit organizations, private foundations and businesses that are managed, invested and disbursed for the current and future good of Door County.  The Foundation was launched in 1999 and currently administers more than $16 million in charitable assets.