Linda Dums, For USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
(Published in The Post-Crescent on Oct. 8, 2016)
For the last 16 years, Kaukauna students in third, fourth and fifth grades have been experiencing cultural arts, thanks to the Walsh Family Fund.
And even though Marian Walsh died last fall, her husband Joe is continuing the mission they began.
“She felt so strongly that the arts contribute to so many facets of the development of the child,” said Joe, noting she was retired when she came up with the idea. “It really was her brainchild. She was really the spark plug on the whole thing.”
Marian was a first grade teacher and taught 27 years in the public schools, including 20 years in Kaukauna.
“This is Marian’s way of repaying for what she felt was the privilege of having the opportunity to do what she did for these years and to work with her children,” said Joe.
Joe was also intrigued with the idea and provided full support.
“I think it’s important because it exposes them to some performance and arts they necessarily wouldn’t be involved in,” he said.
The couple established the Walsh Family Fund through the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, which allows them to sponsor arts programming to all students. Originally, Marian considered a scholarship program but realized it would be limiting.
“She wanted it to be something that would have an impact on more than one or two people,” said Joe. “Marian’s idea was that we wanted to include all the children in the Kaukauna district schools because she said they are Kaukauna kids and they’re going to be in Kaukauna High School and involved in community plays.”
To date, more than 14,000 students have experienced live arts, which are held at Kaukauna High School or the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton. Joe enjoys watching the reactions from the kids.
“I know they get a lot of out of it but we get more out of it than they do just seeing the joy from them,” he said.
Joe said the fine arts program has support from a committee to help with the planning. “We’re indebted to all the help we get,” he said. “Programs like this don’t just function because of somebody’s idea. You have to have the work and the help of the people who are willing to share their experience to contribute. The administrators of the various schools have wholeheartedly been supportive of the program, too.”
Earlier this year, the Kaukauna service clubs honored Joe and his late wife with the Lifetime Volunteer Couple of the Year.
“I’m sure she was looking down proudly, if you are permitted to be proud in heaven,” Joe said.
Mary Vander Loop, library media specialist at Park Community Charter and Victor Haen Elementary in Kaukauna, said the Walsh Family Fund offers an invaluable opportunity to students.
“The Walsh Family fund provides experiences in the arts that students would normally not have the opportunity to learn from,” she said. In addition to the performances, teachers can “weave lessons into their curriculum prior to a performance so as to provide students with background information,” Vander Loop said.