This award recognizes an individual or a couple for exemplary volunteerism through a single act, or a number of acts, that have made the Fox Valley a better place in which to live.
An individual who meets the above criteria and who has positively impacted the Fox Valley community. Candidate must reside or do the majority of their volunteer work in Outagamie, Calumet, Waupaca or northern Winnebago counties.
Earth angel: Volunteer Cindy Reffke serves as guiding light for suicide prevention and survival By Duke Behnke, Appleton Post-Crescent
Cindy Reffke, a native of Appleton, is a survivor of suicide loss and is the board chairwoman of Prevent Suicide Fox Cities, a nonprofit volunteer organization. She owns Quest Marketing Inc. of Appleton and is a member of the Appleton Breakfast Rotary Club.
Reffke’s brother-in-law, Rick Reffke of Menasha, died by suicide in 2008. He was 42.
As Reffke and her husband worked through their grief, she dug into research and set out to make a difference for others affected by suicide loss or thinking about suicide. She has been a volunteer with Prevent Suicide Fox Cities for six years and its board chairwoman for two years. Board member Polly Hietpas said Reffke is involved with every aspect of running the organization.
“Her volunteer hours per week are endless,” Hietpas said. “In the past two years, Cindy has spoken to more than 3,000 people from different groups and organizations around the Fox Cities. She researches statistics and shares real issues about the increasing numbers of suicides in our state.”
Hietpas said Reffke co-facilitates support groups for survivors of suicide loss and uses her marketing expertise to reach survivors. As a survivor herself, Reffke can relate to the sadness and grief a suicide brings.
“Her passion for helping others is truly a blessing to all who know her,” Hietpas said. “Survivors from other counties drive to Appleton because of Cindy and her team’s goals to provide love, compassion and hope.”
Joleen and Tom Swadley, whose son died by suicide, described Reffke as one of the angels who walk the earth. She facilitates their support group and provided assurance that they were not alone in their loss.
“Some people appear in your life when you need them most,” the Swadleys said in a letter of recommendation. “They lift you up, even when you are going through the worst. They are earth angels, like Cindy.”
Last year Reffke organized the planting of 23 trees in three Greenville parks in memory of people who died by suicide.
When Reffke learned she was selected volunteer of the year, she was so overcome with emotion that she cried.
“I feel truly blessed to have been chosen for this award,” she told The Post-Crescent. “I’ve been a volunteer for 30 years. I’ve never been given an award, so it really means a lot to me.”
Reffke spends about 20 hours a week volunteering with Prevent Suicide Fox Cities.
“I find so much reward in reaching out to people and providing them with love and kindness and compassion,” she said. “That’s what a survivor of suicide loss needs, and so does someone who is contemplating suicide or who is depressed or anxious. I like to provide a listening ear or shoulder and be a friend to someone who perhaps feels alone.”
Reffke regularly speaks to middle and high school students about suicide prevention. She has participated in programs and fairs at Little Chute, Kimberly, Appleton, Hortonville, Seymour and Crivitz.
“Middle-aged men are really at the highest risk of suicide,” she said. “That has always been our focus, but we’re trying to work upstream. We’re working with high school students so that perhaps when they become middle-aged, they won’t be suicidal.”
2019: Cindy Reffke
2018: Cheri Duchrow
2017: Mary Downs
2016: Drew & Diane MacDonald
2015: John Bergstrom
2014: Katie Davis
2013: Emily, Gloria & Cliff Siebers
2012: Jerry Koenig
2011: Matthew Gerrits
2010: Nancy Peterson
2009: Mel Heckel
2008: Judy Collar
2007: Jean Long Manteufel
2006: Jay Breyer
2005: Kevin Kendall
2004: Erno & Anna Szilagyi
2003: Raymond Barlow
2002: Tim Higgins
2001: Beth Nemecek
2000: Tony Guckenberger
1999: Chris Doyle
1998: Joyce A. BytofHonorees prior to Celebrating Our Volunteers Gala:
1996: Diane Ragus
1995: Veta Wichman
1994: Erwin Gauerke
1993: Ethel Diermeier
1992: Mary Jane Popp
1991: Sue Coenen
1990: Roman Griesbach
1989: Lynn Dahl
1988: Milton Walter
1987: Joe Appleton and Judie Gillespie
1986: John Day
1985: Nancy Winslow
1984: Janet Erdman
1983: Dick Weinert
1982: Janet Berry