The Rusk County Community Foundation made its annual Report to the Community last Thursday with leaders noting the organization’s assets it manages grew 32.61 percent to $3.48 million in 2021 compared with about $2.62 million the prior year.
The economic growth was seen as an encouraging sign in the local community, noting the addition of new investments in funds it oversees.
The report usually presented to an audience of about 75 individuals was presented live on-line so people could watch from home. This is the second year of holding the report virtually.
Foundation Chairman Bev Dukerschein noted the organization’s success this year. She also praised those who generously gave, adding individuals do not need to be wealthy to start a fund.
“The foundation experienced a record year of contributions and investment growth, and in turn then grants were made out in accordance with donors’ wishes to the tune of over $80,000,” Dukerschein said. “People continue to open their hearts and their wallets when they saw a need.
The Rusk County Community Foundation is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization that has been established to provide professionally managed services by which individuals, families, and businesses can contribute through lifetime and estate gifts for the betterment of their Rusk County communities. It celebrated 15 years of enriching the community with its 2021 “Report to the Community” last week.
This year’s theme is “You Are the Future.”
Dukerschein told the audience grants from an individual’s fund may be small the first few years after a it is endowed, but in addition to the impact of this granting there is a passing along of an individual’s values.
“You are a role model for others as you live life, day to day. Sharing those values plant seeds, even with the very young,” Dukerschein said.
Dukerschein presented two frames, one with a picture of her mother-in-law Bernice, and a second frame without a picture. Born of humble beginnings in the family dairy barn, Artisans Inc. was started in Glen Flora in 1963 by Orlo and Bernice Dukerschein.
Dukerschein added her mother-in-law was a wife, mother, school teacher, entrepreneur, trailblazer and a great community leader. In addition she was also a philanthropist.
Dukerschein asked the audience to picture themselves in the empty frame, imagining the role they want to play in the community.
“Blessings tend to bounce back bigger than we can give them out. This is living legacy at its best, and it is recognizing the future of philanthropy is you and me,” Dukerschein said. “What is the story you most want to tell.”
The foundation supports and promotes charitable, educational, scientific, recreational and literary purposes in the Rusk County community. It now has 31 funds under management with future expectancies of $5-$6 million in anticipated funds from estates. To date, the foundation has made grants totaling $501,310. All funds remain only for use in Rusk County.
Foundation board member Deb Kline said during the organization’s financial presentation the ongoing effort brings together people who care with causes that matter.
“Each of our funds has its own story to tell from its donor’s initial gifts to requests or grants creating their legacy,” Kline said. “So many people made all of this possible and we want to thank the community and all who support the foundation.”
Two new endowment funds added to the foundation’s portfolio this year include Helping Hands supporting families in need and the Hawkins Forever Fund started by the Lemke family.
Other highlights noted include the Dan Glaze Memorial Scholarship that now has gained enough funding through recent fundraising to begin granting next year. The Ladysmith School District also recently endowed its scholarship fund with the foundation.
A $10,000 matching grant opportunity is being provided to help the Rusk County Community Foundation continue to grow and grant. The match maximum is $1,000 per gift.
Individuals can specify which fund they would like their gift applied to.
This year, the Heart of Gold Award was presented to Diana Verdegan. She was recognized at the event for her kindness and volunteer work, with her $1,000 award directed to Flambeau School to put toward mental health awareness.
Diana and Larry Verdegan have been married for 46 years, They have two children, Kelly and Kim.
Diana is a LPN and worked as a nurse until Kim was born in 1985. She coordinated the Rusk County Birth-to-3 Program for 25 years and also worked with families that have school age children with special needs. After retiring, she has enjoyed spending time with family and gardening vegetables and flowers.
Diana spent a few years as a foundation board member and the Flambeau Forever Foundation Board. She also has volunteered in Flambeau School classrooms. She currently coordinates the Red Cross Blood Drives at St. Anthony’s Church in Tony.
The award was presented by Foundation Secretary Aileen Tauchen, who praised Verdegan for going above and beyond to serve families with special needs and noted her kindness and generosity have continued into retirement.
“Diana has spent her entire life serving others in many ways,” Tauchen said. “Through her passion, positive attitude and energy she makes others want to be involved.”
Verdegan thanked the foundation, her family and God.
“Because of my volunteering in the schools I see some kids who need some extra help,” Verdegan said.
Verdegan’s award was handed off to Betsy Miller, an instructional leader and behavioral interventionist with the Flambeau School District.
The funds will be used to hire a motivational speaker, Tasha Schuh, who will present to the student body and meet with selected students and interested community members.
“The School District of Flambeau sincerely appreciated Diana’s generosity and contribution,” Miller said.