It was a major announcement. Decorated pro golfer and philanthropist Mary Beth Nienhaus was breaking the seal of secrecy on her donation of Winagamie Golf Course to the Appleton Education Foundation. But there always are stories behind the story.
Many of those stories were sitting in the packed audience.
At the podium, a series of speakers told parts of the story of how Winagamie would be used by the Appleton Area School District and Fox Valley Technical College for real-life educational programs for everything from small engine repair to customer service – while still operating as a golf course. AEF will own it, but Winagamie will be self-sustaining financially and overseen by its own board.
Then come the questions. You prepare for this. You anticipate the tough ones and have answers all thought out. I’ve sat through a lot of news conferences with pen and notebook poised in my former work life, but this was different. Instead of hardballs from the media, people testified.
One young woman, a former Mary Beth student, gave the highest praise a teacher can receive. The student said Nienhaus had changed her life and was the reason she studied education in college.
A former teaching colleague stood up, near tears, to describe Mary Beth’s commitment to making the community a better place. Another called her “fearless” and able to accomplish anything.
The executive editor of the local newspaper – not usually one of those who covers these announcements – was there. Dan Flannery’s reflection beforehand on what was about to be announced was that this – someone making a gift of a golf course to further the effectiveness of public and technical school education – couldn’t happen anywhere but in the Fox Cities.
Like Riverview golf course going from a country club to gardens to employ and feed people in need. Like the minor league ball park that makes major grants to charitable causes. Like the annual gala that will bring hundreds of people out the evening of May 6 for Celebrating Our Volunteers, this gift is one more bit of evidence that this is a very special corner of the planet.
David Horst, a former newpaper journalist, is Communication Specialist at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. Email him at [email protected].