One family, the Center and one really big field trip
When Joe Walsh and his wife Marian of Kaukauna decided to take some of their money and do “something good for somebody”, neither one really had any idea what that would look like at first. Marian, a teacher for 27 years, 20 in the Kaukauna School District, knew she wanted to give back to her community when she retired. Neither had particular training in or experiences performing in the arts, Joe said, but they appreciated them and would often attend performances.
“We talked about a scholarship, but that usually only affects one person at a time or so,” Walsh explained. “Marian wanted to do more. She wanted to affect younger kids, right in that 3-5 grade time. She thought if you could get them interested in something like the arts, that would be the age to do it.”
The Walsh’s set up a fund within the Community Foundation in 1999 and decided to bring the arts to exactly those students. In 2000 they sponsored their first performance, bringing arts experiences to 3-5 graders in the Kaukauna School District through the Walsh Family Fund.
“There is an inner core in each of us that responds to the beauty of the arts. Exposure to the arts at an early age encourages creativity and an appreciation of the beauty in our world. The arts help us to be more tolerant, kinder and gentler, more loving. My husband Joe and I imagined being able to provide another avenue for young people of our community to be introduced to some of the great art our culture offers.”
Marian wrote about the program.
As the years went by, however, acts got more expensive and their touring schedules meant they sometimes couldn’t come back through Wisconsin just to perform for the school district.
“In 2010 we had an act locked in for almost a year. They were scheduled to come in early April and in February they called us and said they couldn’t come. They didn’t have any other stops around here, so I thought, ‘well what do we do now?'” Joe explained.
That’s when they got in touch with the Fox Cities P.A.C. Group Sales Department. The Walsh’s worked with Sherry Rougeux, group sales manager, to coordinate a visit to The Velveteen Rabbit, a performance that was part of the education series. Thanks to support of the community, these tickets are able to be subsidized and have remained at $5-$7 since the series’ inception in 2002.
The Walsh’s worked to secure tickets to the show and school buses to bring more than 1,000 students to the production.
“The first time we were so nervous,” Joe said. “900 kids at the Center, what’s going to happen? The biggest problem was a kid forgot his jacket on his seat and had to run back inside to get it. That was our biggest problem and I think the only problem we’ve ever had. Now if you put 900 adults on 17 buses to watch a show and had to get them back on time (like we have to with the students) we’d have so many complaints. However, this went so smoothly.”
Since then, the Walsh Family Fund group has visited the Center three additional times, bringing more than 4,000 kids to experience the arts.
“Kids need to learn to be an audience and their experience (at the Center) has been outstanding. To see the kids faces and know there are a good number of kids in the Kaukauna system who have never been here. Coming to the P.A.C. itself is an educational experience,” Joe said. “We just look forward to all of this. The kids have so much energy and enjoy coming to the shows. What we hope is that now we can do one every three years or every other and as long as we can come to the P.A.C. it will be a snap.”
The group often fills the majority of a single performance during the education series, this year enjoying Ballet Folklorico.
Since the Walsh’s started funding a yearly performances for the Kaukauna Area School District, Joe estimates that they have been able to impact about 14,000 kids overall. Marian has since passed away and Joe said he hopes that the fund’s continued promotion of the arts and education will remain part of her legacy.
The Fox Cities P.A.C. is proud to be just a small part of helping that legacy continue and this wonderful program.