Donors + Passion = Accomplishment

Directly across the street from Webster Stanley Elementary School on Miller’s Bay is one of the best natural ice skating rinks you can find during the winter months.

As Steve Eliasen and Dr. Eric Smiltneek were gliding across the glass-like surface a few years ago, they wondered why more people didn’t take advantage of the resource – especially the school children directly across the street.

That one curious moment lead to a series of offerings in Oshkosh schools that are opening children’s eyes to new possibilities.

While Mother Nature delivered a shortened winter season in 2016-17, last school year, more than 1,300 children learned to ski or skate from Eliasen, Smiltneek and a small group of volunteers. The accomplishment is one that produces magical, tingly feelings for those who made it happen — a couple of outdoor recreation enthusiasts, many encouraging, open-minded educators, a few philanthropists and companies that value a community’s health and well-being.

Donations have provided skates, skis and other equipment to keep the program going, and growing.

Supporters Bradford and Maureen Lasky found the program to be the perfect fit for their passion for skiing and the philanthropic goals of their donor advised fund.

“I have a love — as does Maureen has a love — for the skiing world,” Bradford says.

Maureen and Bradford Lasky, pictured in Beaver Creek, Colo., are passionate about skiing and love that through, their Donor Advised Fund with the Foundation, they can support a Dr. Eric’s Skate Club and ski and skate school lessons through Oshkosh’s public schools.

Bradford spent a few years after college teaching snowboarding in Beaver Creek, Colo. “Seeing the kids progress and gain confidence, and being a part of that development, is really rewarding to see,” he says.

“I think what it does is it keeps kids active in the wintertime, which I think is a very important piece, and some of what it does — and this is what I saw when I was teaching — is the confidence that it builds in the kids, and to teach them to take a risk, to learn and to grow.”

Eliasen, an Oshkosh Area School District Board member and International Youth Sailing of Oshkosh executive director, and Smitneek, a physician, have been working to expose children to outdoor recreation for years.

In the warm months, International Youth Sailing teaches youth in public and private schools in Oshkosh how to sail. In the winter, the program morphs into skate and ski lessons for all public grade school students. In addition, each Thursday anywhere from 40 to 100 students from the Lighted Schoolhouse program at Webster Stanley Elementary skate as part of Dr. Eric’s Skate Club after school.

Steve Eliasen instructs Webster Stanley Elementary School Students on the basics of cross country skiing during a February field trip at Miller’s Bay.

The idea for the ski and skate lessons came as Eliasen and Smitneek were cross-country skiing across Miller’s Bay one Sunday morning, admiring the amazingly smooth surface of the ice in the bay.

“Initially, we thought why don’t’ we get these kids, especially the kids right across the street at Webster, out on the ice skating,” Eliasen said.

The idea grew, and soon donors, including Bradford and Maureen Lasky, quickly stepped up to support it. Sponsors were excited about it, too, with ThedaCare supporting the purchase of skates, the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin supporting helmets and Play It Again Sports helping with the bulk purchase of both helmets and skates. Expanding the program to each public grade school student was embraced by teachers and principals throughout the district.

“For me, without sailing and skiing, I would not be the person I am today,” says Eliasen. “I had a great career in photography and I don’t’ know if I would have had that without skiing.”

Eliasen and Smiltneek are persistent in their search for funding sources to acquire more equipment in more sizes as the program expands. The program has included Saturday morning learn-to-ski sessions at Garbage Hill, and a downhill ski club trip to Nordic Mountain on Sundays. Of course, Mother Nature has limited those opportunities this year.

Last school year, Eliasen also coordinated a ski trip for a small group of students to go skiing in Mont-Tremlant, Quebec, which will be offered again this year.

“Steve he has seen the success in the sailing program and that it’s possible to reach every child,” says Lasky, and that exposure may grow into a lifelong love and passion. Even the small moments can make a big difference.

To support the sailing, skating and skiing experiences for Oshkosh students, please contact Karlene Grabner at or 920-426-3993.

City draws support to restore cemetery

There are 1,643 graves with stone markers in the City of Princeton Cemetery. Notably, 43 are the graves of Civil War veterans and two are veterans of the War of 1812. They lie among the memorials to veterans of other battles, the region’s first settlers and generations of families. And an unknown number of poor and indigent residents remains are buried in potter’s field.

City employee Cheryle Nickel calls the burial site a treasure — a rich source of the community’s history and the legacy of its founders. That’s why she was so disappointed at what she saw when she looked for her grandfather’s gravestone.

“We were walking along and we started to see broken stones and trees growing through them. It just looked horrible out there,” she said. “It’s a disgrace.”

DSC_0696City employees Cheryle Nickel, Lee Williams and Mary Lou Neubauer

Walking Tour Aug. 26, 2017

A Guided Cemetery Walking Tour is set for Aug. 26, 2017. For information, contact City Hall in Princeton at (920) 295-6612, stop in at 531 S Fulton Street, or contact via email


To contribute to the Princeton Cemetery Restoration Project, call Cheryle Nickel at 920-295-6612 or go to

Decades of damage from the over growth of trees, vegetation, weather and vandals have taken its toll on the cemetery. Hundreds of gravestones are estimated to be in need of repair or restoration.

“We went to (City Administrator) Mary Lou and asked ‘What can we do?’ ” Nickel says.

The conversation lead to a multi-faceted, in-depth cemetery restoration project that residents of this city of 1,200 in western Green Lake County have embraced. The project includes cataloguing each gravesite and collecting history of those buried, rededicating potter’s field and war memorials, the restoration of original maps and documentation — all culminating in a series of tours and performances where local residents will act out the history of the city’s founding residents.

All totaled, the estimated cost is $150,000.

princeton cementery beforePrinceton cementery after

Before and after restoration

The entirely donor supported project is slowly making progress from funds raised through bake sales, brat frys, a flower sale, a meat raffle and a silent auction.

Grants from foundations, like the one awarded by the Green Lake County/Ripon Community Foundation last year, help a lot, says Mary Lou Neubauer, city administrator. With $7,000 raised so far, the project is certainly going for long-term status. And the city is OK with that, says Nickel.

“Each year, we raise money for the next year’s restoration work,” Nickel says. The city is working with Shane Peik, who operates Monumental Cleaning and Restoration LLC. Peik helps identify which gravestones can be repaired based on the amount of money available. Last year, 12 gravestones were restored.

Neubauer says getting community backing has been easy.


“We have seen a kind of resurgence with the support for preserving history, with a lot of downtown building restorations happening in the region,” she says. “We lose a lot through modernization, and I think that’s why the community has embraced this.”

This is evidenced in thousands of dollars raised through grassroots bake sales and raffles, to a community clean up day.

“To me, it’s kind of like sitting in history class in high school. When you go to the cemetery, the history of your city is right there. You hear the stories of who they were and what they did and didn’t do. I’m just a history nut that way.”

— Shane Peik, of Monumental Cleaning and Restoration, LLC

Peik, from the Chilton area, has restored dozens of gravestones in the Princeton Cemetery since the restoration project began two years ago. He says most of the cracks and broken pieces can be repaired with a natural bonding material, or epoxy as a last resort. Special agents will clean moss and lichen off so the engraving is readable.

For more information, go to

Mayor Charlie Wielgosh was one of more than 30 volunteers who scrubbed gravestones with a brush and hot soapy water when the project was launched. It was gratifying to see so many people give their time to preserving history.

“You hate to lose all the history that’s out there, and I think it’s important to keep that history in our present,” Wielgosh says.

The mayor is one of dozens of people who have offered historical information of record. Wielgosh’s mother and father saved the burial cards of every funeral they attended. “It was a huge selection of cards, probably dating back 80 years ago to present.”

After his parents passed away, Wielgosh sorted the cards by year and brought them into city hall in case any of the names could be matched with graves that are missing information.

“I didn’t want to just throw them away because it’s like throwing away history,” he says.

People from across the country — New Mexico, Illinois, Ohio and Florida — have reached out to contribute information about their family members buried in the cemetery.


Nickel says volunteers have been invaluable chronicling each gravestone with a photo and any historical information on a free website,

Every bit of history is stored in thick binders. Thanks to the Internet, historical information from people with roots in the area but live elsewhere is among the records.

Some of the gravestones have missing information, which Nickel hopes can be found with more awareness and publicity. Finishing the restoration project depends solely on the generosity of donors.

To contribute to the Princeton Cemetery Restoration Project, call Cheryle Nickel at 920-295-6612 or go to

Throw it on the wall, see what sticks

Mom said don’t write on the walls, but we broke the rules on Wednesday night and encouraged people to do just that!

We asked attendees of OACF’s Donor Appreciation event:

What’s your vision?

What’s your passion?

We gave out markers and sent people to the wall to fill our pictures frames of the future with their great ideas.


We were thrilled to see so many great ideas! Curious to know what they were? Ok, let’s be honest, some of these are a bit tongue-and-cheek, but all in fun and good spirits.


Ideas from the “wall”:

  • Support for the arts
  • The Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra and Oshkosh Chamber singers and the UWO Music Dept. are proof that NYC & Chicago are competitive with Oshkosh
  • Engaged older adults – no isolation, inclusion, intergenerational outreach
  • New Oshkosh Corp HQ in Oshkosh
  • Restore Pioneer Inn
  • Obtain Dept. Store for city
  • Retain the Council Mgt form
  • Redevelop south Main St. area
  • Ending Alzheimer’s
  • Rowing Club
  • Harbour/Boathouse
  • More Chuck Berry (really???)
  • Milwaukee Bucks minor league team where Buckstaff is/was
  • Pioneer Inn Redo
  • River Walk Continued
  • Billy Wyman Dance (what??)
  • Addiction issues & recovery support
  • Oshkosh Youth Symphony
  • Building leaders through music education
  • A community works project to encourage the arts in Oshkosh
  • Making Oshkosh a great place for millennials to raise a family, young professional to move here. Help our economy grow.
  • Promotion of our 2nd amendment rights
  • Curb appeal for OASD
  • Zero suicides
  • Support Community Band & Senior Center
  • More music
  • Retail
  • More youth activities
  • Volunteer center
  • Support public school
  • Sailing classes for poor kids/women
  • Main artery into downtown cleanup, parking restriction & neighborhood pride
  • Venetian Boat parade
  • Warming shelter
  • Collaborate
  • New catholic elementary school
  • Veteran’s support
  • Year round homeless shelter
  • Resolve the Pioneer issues
  • A decent space for day by day warming shelter
  • Cellular-free initiative
  • Education
  • Establish a library on the west side of 41
  • Safe & clean rental units for all
  • Elder care focus
  • Permanent warming shelter
  • Ice skating rink
  • Enhance river usage
  • Walking trail advertisement
  • Let’s make Oshkosh area the Capitol for moving the 1st year of college into senior year of high school
  • Better street maintenance
  • Buck’s D-league arena
  • Poverty among the elderly
  • Intergenerational recreational activities
  • Change in leadership at the chamber
  • Gardens in all our schools with classes to match Growing Oshkosh – Also in Ripon
  • Permanent home for Oshkosh Farmers Markets

The exercise was all in an effort to get our community thinking about the future and what the potential needs might be. The Foundation has over the past year surveyed potential donors, existing donors, agencies and partners about the future of our community. Gathering all of the input is so vitally important to creating a vision for the Foundation as it maps out a strategic plan for the next three to five years.


And, the evening also was the launch of the Good Samaritan match campaign, which seeks to raise at least $150,000 for the Good Samaritan Fund by Dec. 31.

The Good Samaritan Fund was created with a generous $150,000 gift from the John E. Kuenzl Foundation. The fund is unrestricted in its purpose which allows for maximum community impact.

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who helped fill out our wall of ideas! Keep them coming!

Call the Doctor, We have Scholarship Fever

Little known to the rest of the community, May means scholarship season for the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. Our staff, especially Education Coordinator Cheryl Fowler, work at a feverish pace this time of year to coordinate the selection process and the awarding of hundreds of scholarships to students in the Oshkosh area.

This year, the Foundation will award more than 200 scholarships totaling $287,020. Our volunteer committee members have a tough job narrowing down more than 600 applications, all from worthy students with plans to pursue further education. Continue reading Call the Doctor, We have Scholarship Fever

The re-green-ing of Oshkosh

Your Community Foundation would like to take an opportunity on this – Earth Day – to say THANK YOU to those dedicated individuals and organizations who work to nurture, preserve and sustain our beautiful surroundings for generations to come.

Back in 2010, we launched a communitywide fund-raising campaign called Taking Root.

Nearly 200 people, organizations and businesses supported this effort to beautify Oshkosh. Continue reading The re-green-ing of Oshkosh

A Community in Search of Affordable Housing

In Oshkosh, there are at least 110 homeless people, including men, women and children.

In addition, 5,800 households in Oshkosh are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, meaning those residents do not have enough for important expenses like health care, transportation and food. Continue reading A Community in Search of Affordable Housing