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Tragic loss inspires 20 years of Celebrating Volunteers

Posted on Feb 2, 2017, by

This spring will be the 20th time that about 600 people from Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley gather in downtown Appleton for an awards presentation celebrating those who improve the community by giving from the heart.

The late Paul and Elaine Groth of Appleton were those kinds of people. After the couple was killed in a car accident in 1997, a small group of their friends wanted to create a tribute that honored the couple’s dedication to volunteer service.

“We wanted to help people turn it into a positive memory of Paul and Elaine and get past that grief in a way that would help the nonprofit scene in which they were so much involved,” Ruth Haviland, Mielke Family Foundation board member at the time, recalled. Paul was serving as president of the MFF board.

So “Celebrating Volunteers” was born in 1998 to focus on the special volunteer spirit in the Fox Valley area, while honoring outstanding volunteers with awards that come with money for the recipients’ favorite local charities. The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region and The Post-Crescent have sponsored the event for 20 years, and local businesses, along with the Mielke Family Foundation, have sponsored the volunteer awards.

This year, eight awards will be presented during the community celebration May 2 at 5:15 p.m. at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. Award nominations are being accepted until Feb. 10. Go to to access a form and learn more about these award categories:

  • Business Partnership of the Year Award – SECURA Insurance
  • Daniel P. Spalding Volunteer Educator Award – School Specialty
  • Hanns Kretzschmar Award for Excellence in the Arts – Thrivent Financial
  • Health Care Volunteer Award – Ascension and ThedaCare
  • Janet Berry Volunteer of the Year Award – The Post-Crescent
  • Paul and Elaine Groth Mentoring Award – Mielke Family Foundation
  • Walter L. Rugland Community Service Award – Thrivent Financial
  • Youth Scholarship Award – Community First Credit Union

Award recipients receive $5,000 for their favorite Fox Valley area charity (youth recipient receives $1,000 for charity plus a $1,500 scholarship. Since 1998, award sponsors have given $633,000 to local charities in the names of award recipients.

Original event organizers, including Dr. John Mielke with the MFF, thought 250 people might attend the first event on April 2, 1998. “It was sort of a risk, I think,” Mielke said. You’re going to throw a party, will anybody come?” They did. Nearly 600 people listened the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make the Fox Valley better. Year after year, roughly the same number have kept coming to honor and celebrate those who give of themselves.

Read more about the creation of Celebrating Volunteers.

Watch the 2007 video on the first 10 years of Celebrating Our Volunteers (now called Celebrating Volunteers).

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