2018 Our Community Spirit Awards

And the winners are…

Since 2004, the Jensen Community Center (JCC) has selected and celebrated members of the community who exhibit exemplary community spirit. In a town full of above-average citizens, the only difficulty has been in narrowing down the selection.

Until now, the JCC has selected only the “Person of the Year.” But this year, perhaps because there are so many worthy entities that it was necessary to broaden the field, the JCC has added two new categories: the Our Community Spirit Junior Person of the Year and Our Community Spirit Business of the Year. Not surprisingly, many worthy contenders for each award were nominated and submitted to the selection committee.

Our Community Spirit Business of the Year

The business that was ultimately chosen recently celebrated its 125th anniversary in Amherst. Locally owned since it first opened its doors, the International Bank of Amherst (IBA) wins the 2018 Business of the Year Award.

Quotes from the nominations make clear how much the community appreciates the bank: “What has always impressed me about the IBA is its dedication to the local community. It has sponsored numerous events over the years and helped launch many community initiatives.”

And indeed, for instance, the bank has been a long-time buyer at the 4-H market animal sale, supporting continuity of family-owned agriculture in the area. It supports the vibrant local arts community and economy by putting its money where its heart is – the lobby of the bank is a virtual gallery of local artists’ works. Plus, it’s been a long-time funder of the Tomorrow River Scholarship Foundation, a charter sponsor of the Lettie Jensen Community Center, and – more recently – a major contributor to the Falcon Pride project.

“In addition to financial support, bank personnel serve on a variety of local boards and give generously of their time. The International Bank has a major impact on our area and provides employment to a sizable staff.”

Perhaps most importantly, “Nearly 100-percent of the money deposited with IBA is reinvested in the community in the form of home mortgages, and commercial, agricultural and municipal loans.

“The International Bank is a true asset to our community.”

The Jensen Community Center whole-heartedly agrees, and thanks the International Bank of Amherst for everything that they do for the Amherst area. Congratulations to them!


Our Community Spirit Junior Person of the Year

Nominations for the winning Junior Person of the Year include words like, “passion,” “spirit,” and “service.”
The ultimate recipient was one of 250 Wisconsin sophomores (out of a pool of 166,000!) to be nominated to participate in Wisconsin Leadership Seminars. He has been a volunteer with a long list of local charitable organizations, including the Children’s Miracle League, Meals on Wheels, the Tomorrow River Scholarship Foundation, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, Spencer Lake Camp, Shifting Gears, and the Stevens Point City Band, among many, many others.

Because of that, and for many other reasons, the winner of the 2018 Junior Person of the Year award is Ben Villnow.

As one nominator wrote, “Ben has a passion for helping others. His kind, all-inclusive, welcoming spirit drives Ben’s passion and involvement in school and community endeavors.”

At school, Villnow is the student council president at the Amherst High School, and was previously an officer for the Future Business Leaders of America, and for the Art Club. He’s been involved in the National Honor Society, Forensics, Band, Choir, Chamber Choir, Spanish Club, and Math League.

Additionally, through his church, Villnow has helped to ship child health kits internationally, he’s raked the yards of many elderly residents, and he’s participated in multiple mission trips. He’s also donated his time to the Salvation Army, Foundations for Living, and Goodwill.

Ben plans to attend college to become a music teacher. He participates in school music ensembles, the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra, and the Wisconsin Ambassadors of Music. He also is a volunteer musician at his church, and teaches ukulele and tuba lessons. In his spare time, he sings the national anthem at local events, and coordinates open mic events at the local coffee shop.

Congratulations, Ben Villnow! We’re all so proud of you, and grateful for your work.

Our Community Spirit Person of the Year

It has been said that wherever there is a need, locally, this year’s recipient of the Person of the Year award is sure to be found.

And, as you can see on this month’s Spirit cover, with the photo of him handing over a sizable check to support the Falcon Pride project, he continues to be at the center of what’s moving this community forward. Ladies and gentleman, the winner of this year’s Person of the Year award is Ed Haebig.

Haebig is the President of the Tomorrow River Lions, and a tireless volunteer at local charitable events.

As one nominator noted, “Over the last several years, I have not seen any Lions event where Ed was not present, including all behind-the-scenes preparations in advance of an activity.

“In addition, he mans the grill at the ball games at Nelson Park all summer, he was instrumental concerning the installation of the new seating and scoreboard at the park, and he’s working on a project to replace the current concession stand and bathrooms with new facilities.

“Any time I attend a volunteer event, Ed seems to be there. Case in point, the Robert Lea benefit … there he was, helping out.”
Said one other community member, “Haebig is, truly, a tremendous asset to the community. He’s been a seemingly tireless whirlwind of giving. We’re so lucky to have him here.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Congratulations Ed, and thank you for everything that you do for this town. Please know that you are very much appreciated. As the leader of an organization that already does so very much, you set a marvelous example of what community service really means. Always humble, always ready to help… you set a high bar for the young people who look up to you, and shine a light to help lead the way. Thank you, again, for your generosity.

This year’s recipients join an impressive list of previous winners that includes: Mark Olson in 2004; Don Aylesworth in 2005, Hans and Jane Suomi in 2006, Rich Stuczynski in 2007, Shelly Platten in 2008, Janet Glodowski in 2009, Ken and Barb Konkol in 2010, Connie Pitt in 2011, Aralda Bell in 2012, Terry Anderson in 2013, Butch Sommers in 2014, Jake Barnes in 2015, Nina Cass in 2016, and Ross and Linda Schroeder in 2017.


Editor’s Note: The Spirit received many noteworthy nominations this year, and the decision – as always – was a challenging one. Please feel free to re-submit nominees for the 2019 selection.

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