Commentary: A Very Small Heart and a Large Amount of Gratitude

The Wisconsin born playwright and author Thornton Wilder was the only person to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for both fiction and drama. He once wrote, “we can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

For almost all of us, our treasures begin with those we love – our family, our friends, our colleagues at work and play. Yet one of the most wonderful things about the human spirit is our boundless capacity for love and gratefulness.

In one of his stories about the lovable Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne wrote, “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

While my love rightfully begins with the people in my life, I have come to realize how much this place means to me as well. My lovely wife Cari is a teacher, so for us, each new school year is a new beginning. As fall approaches and our new “year” is about to begin, we decided to make a list of things that we have treasured most about our beloved peninsula over the previous year.

We both immediately thought of Door Shakespeare’s The Heart of Robin Hood. It was as joyful a performance as we’ve ever experienced in Door County. We counted something like 17 actors in an immersive event of choreographed chaos on their intimate stage at Björklunden.

We then remembered recently seeing “Boston Pops” come alive on the stage of the Door Community Auditorium at a concert of the Peninsula Music Festival. We continue to be astonished that conductor Victor Yampolsky and this collection of wonderful musicians come to perform for all of us in tiny Fish Creek with its total population of 997 people.

Cari and I have become fairly avid hikers this season (although we continue to be as amateur as amateur can get). We’ve enjoyed the trails of Potawatomi, Whitefish Dunes, Peninsula State Park, and several of the Door County Land Trust preserves. Our youngest daughter Malia has spent many an afternoon walking at Crossroads at Big Creek with her beloved dog Buddy. We even hope to hike on Rock Island before the season is done. Yet of all these beautiful places, for Cari and me, our most special hike is along Europe Bay, Sand Cove, Duck Bay and Varney Point at Newport State Park. We’ve hiked this incredible property numerous times and always treasure the quiet isolation of this remarkable place.

We are extremely grateful that our middle daughter Nalani was given the opportunity to play trombone in the summer jazz music academy at the Birch Creek Music Performance Center. She is a talented young artist but in the days leading up to the two-week camp, Nalani grew increasingly worried about whether her musical ability would measure up to the accomplished high school musicians from 15 different states. It was wonderfully heartening when we received a text from her on the second day of the academy that read, “Okay, I have to admit it. Everyone here is crazy nice.” Thanks to Birch Creek’s “Play it Forward” program, every student receives $2,700 assistance toward tuition and we are extremely grateful that Nalani received an additional generous scholarship as a student from Door County.

It might seem like a small thing, but as we reflect back, we realize how appreciative we are that the Door County Medical Center opened a clinic on the campus of Southern Door Schools in Brussels. As busy working parents, it was an astonishingly simple and convenient place to get a sports physical for the student athletes in our family.

We always enjoy the annual trivia contest put on by the Sturgeon Bay Breakfast Rotary Club despite the fact that we weren’t quite able to successfully defend our title this year. Thankfully, a few dollars were won at Peninsula Preschool’s Trivia Night, but of course our team donated all our winnings back to the charity.

Reflecting on the last year, we realize how thankful we are for the YMCA, especially during the winter months. When the weather turns cold, every Monday is volleyball night. We love it so much that immediately after speaking at an event in Northern Door one wintery Monday night, my wife drove to the YMCA while I changed into volleyball clothes in the back seat. Our team has played in the lower “B” division for several years and our mantra is that when it comes to volleyball, we’re really good at trivia.

There are so many things we have loved about our life in Door County the last year. You don’t have to be Belgian to enjoy the quaint little portrait of ethnic history at the Belgian Heritage Center’s newest exhibit. Hope Church continues to be an important part of our family life. Our middle son Bret Jr. safely returned from a year studying abroad in Chile under the sponsorship of the Rotary Club of Sturgeon Bay. Our youngest son Kekoa was wonderful in a community play on the stage of Rogue Theater. And our list goes on and on.

We made this list because we believe it that “we can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Yet after a lifetime working in the world of philanthropy, even I was surprised to see how much of what we love is inextricably linked to charity.

Door Shakespeare, Birch Creek, Door Community Auditorium, and the countless other arts organizations all are charities. Our environmental treasures such as Crossroads at Big Creek are either charities themselves or stewarded and protected by nonprofit friends groups such as the Newport Wilderness Society and the Door County Land Trust. Our health is attended to by charities like the YMCA and the Door County Medical Center. While the nonprofit organizations of our community ask us for a charitable gift, they give to us the quality of life we hold so dear.

Whether you’re here year round, or soon will be leaving for the season, take a moment to make your own list of what you love most about Door County. If you’re like me, you’ll discover just how important philanthropy is to your life on our beloved peninsula. Then give back to those charities most important to you.


Bret Bicoy is president & CEO of the Door County Community Foundation. Contact him at [email protected].

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