Enriching Our Communities Forever

Heart of Gold Awards

Do you know a volunteer in Rusk County who goes above and beyond to make a positive impact? If so, nominate them for the Rusk County Community Foundation’s Heart of Gold award!

This annual event seeks to recognize an everyday hero who quietly goes about making our community a better place. The best part of this award is that the finalist will select the Rusk County nonprofit of their choice to receive a $1,000 grant in their honor.

Help us put the spotlight on that special volunteer that is working in our midst to make Rusk County an even better place to call home.

Previous winners or Foundation Advisory Board members are not eligible for nomination.

2023 Recipient

Karen Ek has been the backbone of the cultural scene in Ladysmith and Rusk County for decades. She has been involved in innumerable musicals and concerts while teaching in the Ladysmith school system, has taught piano to many students, and has led or been involved with the Community Singers forever. Karen provided leadership for many community projects such as the Ladysmith opera and the Ladysmith Black Mambaso concert. Of course, Karen has been deeply involved in the Flambeau Valley Arts Association, and is also deeply involved with the Rusk Area Arts Alliance to promote all of the arts in Rusk County. 

In 2018, the Anita and George Lawrence Covenant Fund was established with the Rusk County Community Foundation as a Designated Endowment Fund (LEEF). 

Before Anita passed away in 2016, after teaching in the Ladysmith School District for 27 years, we had decided that retirement would be more about giving than receiving.

Make good choices! Be wise in your selfless giving! We would rather give our money away than throw it away.

If you subscribe to our philosophy, feel free to donate to the RCCF fund. As a family we support “Anita Is Well”, the Ladysmith Education Enrichment Fund, Powerhouse, Care Net, Imago Dei Academy, and many other local nonprofits.

2022 Recipient 

Anita and George Lawrence moved to Ladysmith in 1989, with their children Lisa, Joe and Becky. They soon joined Hope Lutheran Church where George accepted a maintenance position, which he held until 2016. As a member of Hope, George taught Sunday School, Wednesday School, and served on various committees. He helped coordinate fellowship activities and the Hope Farmers’ Market Booth, and is currently a leader of the new GriefShare support program. He also visits home-bound and care center residents to serve communion.

In the community, George has been involved with Kinship, Power House, Raising Highly Capable Kids, and Flambeau Falls Truth Seekers, and the Imago Dei Academy. He looks for ways to help out his friends, neighbors, and strangers with chores, meals, or getting to appointments. George works tirelessly in support of others and is often seen recruiting volunteers or participating in fund-raising activities for various non-profits in the area.

Internationally, George and his family helped fund the drilling of a water well for a Kenyan village. In 2018, the Anita and George Lawrence Covenant Fund was establish with the Rusk County Community Foundation as a Designated Endowment Fund (Ladysmith Educational Enrichment Fund). He also donates to many other area nonprofits.

George Lawrence is kind to all, generous with his time and energy, works to create positive changes, inspires others to get involved, and looks for opportunities to be of service to others. He is a man of fine mettle and the Foundation is pleased to present him with the Heart of Gold Award.

2021 Recipient

Diana Verdegan has been married to Larry Verdegan for 46 years. They have two children, Kelly and Kim. Kelly has two children, Jacob and Brooke. Kim lives at home with her parents. 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 who have school age children with special needs. After retiring, Diana has enjoyed spending time with family. She likes to garden, vegetables and flowers. She spent a few years on the Rusk County Community Foundation Board and the Flambeau Forever Foundation Board. Has also volunteered in classrooms at the Flambeau School. She currently coordinates the Red Cross Blood Drives at St. Anthony’s in Tony.

Donna W

2020 Recipient

Donna Wishowski is the 2020 Heart of Gold recipient, the first time that the Foundation honored someone posthumously. Donna passed away just a few months before the event, and our Board of Directors wanted her family to know how much she was loved and appreciated as a shining star in our community. To summarize, Donna knew life was a gift to be enjoyed, appreciated, and shared. We will never know of all the lives she has touched or all of the other examples of her generosity and love toward friend and stranger alike. You can read more about Donna in the 2020 Report to the Community brochure (pdf).

2022: George Lawrence

2021: Diana Verdegan

2020: Donna Wishowski (posthumously)

2019: Carol & Kay Heath

2018: Cindy Pohlman

2017: Maxine Geisler

2016: Bev Lazar

2015: Barbara Ewings

2014: Josi Hamilton, Marcia Lyons, Mary Holms, Jim Kelly

2013: Elizabeth Bettenhausen, Jackie Pederson, Diane vanDoorn

2012: Matie Dedenbach, Carol & Allen Phetteplace, Carol Vacho

2011: Bob & Barb Lorkowski, Don & Evy Smrstick, Dale Wozniak

2010: Arlene Knops, Lavonne Rydlund, Don & Judy Soyring

2009: Mary Arts, Lois List, Doug Sorenson

2008: Joe Baye, Winnie Lee, Al Miller & Richard LaBelle

To help the Board of Selectors fully appreciate your nominee’s efforts, you may find the following suggestions helpful in filling out the nomination form.
• Please state the reasons why this person fits the description of having a “Heart of Gold.”
• Be sure to address the concerns listed below as “Selection Criteria.”
• Please type or write clearly. However, this is not an essay contest—no points are given for the style of this narrative.
• Please note that your narrative should be suitable for public audience and may be made available to local newspapers.

The Rusk County Community Foundation wishes to identify and provide recognition to “everyday” citizens in our community who touch the hearts of others.
We have defined Heart of Gold Recipients as those people who give of themselves unselfishly to serve others, collectively or individually, with volunteer acts of service and/or kindness beyond the call of duty.
Any person 18 years or older, who enhances the quality of life of someone else is eligible to be nominated.
Such acts of service may largely go unnoticed and include, but are not limited to: helping senior citizens, helping disadvantaged persons, working to improve the quality of education, expanding recreational and cultural opportunities, working with children, protecting the environment, building jobs in the community, promoting public safety, and unusual acts of kindness.

Each Heart of Gold nominee will receive a certificate inscribed with their name and their Heart of Gold achievement. One special finalists to receive the Heart of Gold award will have the opportunity to direct a $1,000 grant to the charity of their choice, approved by the Rusk County Community Foundation.

When making its choice, the Board of Selectors will take into account whether the nominee:
• Identifies a need and fulfills it
• Recognizes opportunities and acts upon them.
• Shares their time and energy for the sake of others.
• Overcomes unusual challenges to serve others.
• Renders a service which changes a life.
• Works to create positive change.
• Inspires others to volunteer.
• Performs an exceptional act of kindness.