Five People Making a Difference

Door County’s Renaissance Man

Brian Fitzgerald

By Lauren Bremer

Photo by Dan Eggert.

Photo by Dan Eggert.

Brian Fitzgerald is a man who is at home on the ice, so when he made Door County his permanent home, he saw an opportunity to forge something from that cold, slippery surface. The journey that Fitzgerald embarked on the winter of 1994 would start him down an incredible path.

Sister Bay already had an ice rink, but he knew from growing up in Minnesota, where hockey rinks are like second homes to many families, that there was a chance to make an improved community center down the street. As he started to research and plan what it would take to build a larger rink with a building and lights, he saw the Northern Door community come together in a way that astounded him.

“Pat Hockers [of Hockers Excavating] set the tone. We asked him how much it would be to grade an area like that, and right away Pat just said, ‘I’ll just do it. We’ll get it done.’ And he did. Everyone else just seemed to follow suit,” Fitzgerald recalls.

That kind of selfless giving for the community inspired Fitzgerald. With his committee, he worked intensely over three years to build the Teresa K. Hilander rink that stands today as a community activity center with a great deal of meaning to northern Door County.

“Looking back now, [building the ice rink] is what kept me here,” says Fitzgerald. “I fell in love with Door County even more. There was a tremendous sense of community.”

This sense of community has encouraged Fitzgerald to give back in a variety of ways since then. As a potter and owner of Ephraim Clayworks, Fitzgerald has mentored budding artists through the Hardy Gallery’s Exposure to Creativity program and taught classes at the Peninsula School of Art.

In addition to promoting artistic endeavors, Fitzgerald is an avid skier, runner and mountain biker, so he recognizes the importance of being able to take full advantage of the county’s beautiful landscapes. He volunteers grooming the trails of Peninsula State Park in winter and summer alike.

Fitzgerald’s wife Tracey and children Ben and Abby motivate him to do what’s best for the community as well. Along with other locals, Fitzgerald saw a need for an event that could bring young families to the area and promote Door County for the right reasons. He paired with David Eliot, co-owner of Peninsula Publishing & Distribution, to found the Peninsula Pacers organization in 2007 to organize and promote athletic events. Their first event:  the 2008 Door County Half Marathon.

“We’re helping the community in terms of bringing people here to Door County for the right reasons. We promote the county’s natural beauty,” Fitzgerald explains.

The Door County Half Marathon was a springboard, launching him into work with organizations to facilitate the Door County Ride for Nature in June, the Door County Triathlon in July, and the Challenge Walk MS in September.

To Fitzgerald, giving his time to the Northern Door community is a no-brainer.

“We’re so lucky to live in a place like this. Taking care of your neighbors is what we should all be doing,” says Fitzgerald.

The path that began with bringing one of his passions to Door County has spread across all aspects of Fitzgerald’s life. He is a man whose nature is tied indelibly to his community as an artist, an athlete, a teacher, and an inspiration.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Jennifer Moeller

By Jacinda Duffin

Jennifer Moeller, Len Villano

Photo by Len Villano.

In Door County, you learn not to be surprised by surprises. Just when you think you’ve biked every path, swam every beach, dined, shopped, gazed and taken in all the county has to offer, one spontaneous turn uncovers the unexpected and delightful – hidden right there in plain sight.

The same goes for the people of Door County: you can unexpectedly find yourself sitting across from a stranger who’s tightly and intricately woven into the fabric of our community, whose efforts have spearheaded all sorts of organizations, who’s given time and talent to the community for over a decade, but for some reason – perhaps because there are so many interesting people to get to know here – your paths have never crossed. Meet Jennifer Moeller, avid philanthropist, hidden in plain sight.

Moeller and her husband, Mark, chose to make Door County their home in 1999, and the community has been reaping the benefits since. Her professional résumé is impressive: Boston College, Marquette University, private law practice; she currently serves as the joint Door County Family Court Commissioner and Register in Probate. Equally impressive is her list, too long to mention here in its entirety, of community organizations to which she’s been intricately involved:  Wellness Center of Door County, Sunshine House, HELP of Door County, Family Services, Sturgeon Bay High School, JAK’s Place/NAMI Door County, Door County Humane Society, Sturgeon Bay City Council, Legal Aid Society, Door County Women in Business and many, many more.

“When I first moved here, I was asked to join a board, and I did so mainly to get to know people,” Moeller says. “It really helped me get to know the community on a deeper level. As a lawyer, we are trained to be problem solvers, but working with non-profits challenges me to use my skills in a whole different way. Plus, it’s invigorating to work with so many people in helping to make Door County, an already great place, even greater.”

Moeller seems to have figured out how to negotiate the delicate balance of living a rewarding personal life with the giving of time and energy to her community, satisfying the desire of any philanthropist – to be part of a larger world. It helps that her husband Mark is also an avid volunteer. She laughs, “It’s kind of what we do. I guess you could say that it’s ‘our thing.’”

“I grew up in a larger metropolitan area, so I find myself surprised to have become such an advocate for small town living,” Moeller says. “I ride my bike through the county parks, I attend and support music and theater events, and I try to take advantage of what Door County has to offer. I know that this quality of living doesn’t just happen; there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make it a great place to visit and live. Door County is paradise, it’s true, but it has the same problems that every community has.”

She cites Edward Lorenz, American mathematician and meteorologist, who coined the term “butterfly effect,” the theory that a small change in one place can, in a non-linear fashion, result in large differences elsewhere. In Door County, we are geographically well defined by borders of bays and lakes, but, Moeller mentions, the good work of Door County’s non-profits reach far beyond our narrow peninsula.

“Volunteering is a personal thing, and everyone has different passions. For me, it’s rewarding to know that small actions can have a broader impact, even if I can’t see it today,” she says.

She is quick to point out that, to a large degree, the spirit of volunteerism comes naturally.

“I grew up in the Girl Scouts, going to church, participating in school activities. It wasn’t just my family or just my friends; I owe a lot of who I am today to this collective upbringing. I often find myself counting my blessings:  great friends, great family, great coaches and teachers. A lot of people don’t have the support that I was lucky enough to have.

“This is what motivates me,” Moeller smiles. “I only hope that I can help give back a fraction of what I’ve received.”

Opening Doors

Marcia Peterson

By Katie Lott Schnorr

Marcia Peterson, Baylake Bank

Photo courtesy of Baylake Bank.

Like many people who volunteer with non-profits, Marcia Peterson doesn’t see her contributions as anything extraordinary. Recently, she was recognized by Sturgeon Bay Rotary as a Peterson Fellow, honoring her notable contributions to the community. “It was wonderful to be recognized,” she says. “But I say this sincerely, I get back so much more than I give.”

Talking to Peterson, a private banker with Baylake Bank in Sturgeon Bay, it’s obvious she means it. She speaks warmly of all the people she has met and befriended as a result of her charitable work, which includes being Vice President of the Board of Trustees of Birch Creek, a member of the Door County Community Foundation, and board treasurer at the Sunshine House. Peterson will also join the board of FISC this spring.

Although all of her causes are dear to her heart, Peterson has a special connection to her work at the Sunshine House. “It’s one of the few boards I asked to be on,” she says. “I have a nephew with Cerebral Palsy who is in a similar type of work facility, and I wanted to be sure that Sunshine House would continue to be a part of our community.”

Peterson stresses the importance of becoming involved in causes that are close to your heart. “I’m not a musician,” she says as she refers to Birch Creek, “but I recognize the importance of this place – education needs to be so much broader than what we currently have in our schools.” Her face glows as she describes hearing from a young musician of Birch Creek who addressed the board to describe the importance of his training. “This was a young man who just would not have had the opportunity to be involved with such a high caliber of musicians.”

Since moving to the county in 1995 as a single mother, Peterson has become steadily more involved in serving the community on boards and advisory committees. It all started with a visit from a nun. “I had heard what a closed community Door County was supposed to be,” she says. “Soon after we moved here, Sister Mary of Corpus Christi came and asked me to be on the school board.”

Peterson said yes and, in her words, “it just grew from there.” She hasn’t found the community to be closed, as she has opened many doors through her work in charitable organizations. She has a special passion for helping others find their calling in the volunteer community.

“What many organizations don’t realize is that people are nervous about making that first contact to volunteer,” she says. Peterson helps open doors for others, asking them: “What did you not have time for before you retired? Was it kids? Music? Theater? Nature?” Then she takes the time to connect that person to another individual in an organization that matches their interests. It works.

When asked if she was involved in philanthropy before moving to Door County, when she lived in Chicago, she answers, “I was, but not to such a great extent.” She laughs, describing how her city-dwelling sisters tease her that she knows so many people when she is out and about the county. “It’s this community,” she says. “We’re all connected.”

Take My Hand

Martha Scully Beller

By Katie Lott Schnorr

Martha Scully Beller, Len Villano

Photo by Len Villano.

Martha Scully Beller is the kind of person who makes you feel that there’s a whole lot of hope in this world. As we sat and talked one afternoon, Beller repeated a gesture several times that seemed to sum up her personality – she held her hands out to either side as if to grasp the hands of others in a line of connectedness. Beller downplays her own philanthropic involvement, but it’s clear that giving back to the community she calls the “home of my heart” is her joy.

As a member of the Door County League of Women Voters, Beller serves on the board of directors as well as acting as the group’s webmaster. She and her husband Bill also serve as timers at various league-sponsored political forums including twice monthly city council meetings. Beller got involved in the league “by accident,” hearing about their work at a Buy Local event sponsored by the Door County Visitor Bureau.

“I was in comp-lete awe at the profes-sionalism of the league in their mission to educate the public,” says Beller. “I’ve always been one for problem solving. I like to listen – and that’s what we need – to sit at the table together and find consensus.” She describes the work at the league as exciting, challenging and dif-ficult. “I have learned how government works and realized how much I have to learn. I want to keep growing.”

When I ask Beller where her inspiration to serve comes from, she immediately pulls out photos of her two grown daughters. “Young people bring us back to our youth and that energy,” she beams. “My daughters definitely pushed me to get involved.”

But it is also the generosity of the Door County community that gives Beller the desire to give back. Twenty years ago, she was in a serious car accident. “I was out of commission completely for a year, and my recovery took about four years. When I was in the hospital in Green Bay, people I didn’t even know sent me flowers. The county supported me so much through my recovery process,” she says.

Before the accident, Beller was in real estate, and, in her words, “an overachiever.” The accident and its aftermath changed that. “I realized what was important. In this community there is such a feeling of home, support, and caring. How could I not give back?” she says.

In addition to her work with the League of Women Voters, Beller has also become involved in the Boys and Girls Club of Door County. She was moved to act when she heard stories of how some families involved in the club had fallen on hard economic times. Following a meeting with Heather Powell, the group’s CEO, Beller organized a blanket drive that provided each child in the club with a blanket for Christmas, with some in reserve. “It’s all about helping each other. All the more reason to hold hands, and pass a blanket,” she says.

When I ask Beller what advice she’d give to others who want to get involved in volunteering in the community, she says with a smile, “Tell them to call me and we’ll meet for coffee.” When she reaches over and squeezes my hand for emphasis, I know she means it.

Blessed with a Long Neck

Paul Salm

By Lauren Bremer

Paul Salm, Len Villano

Photo by Len Villano.

Paul Salm considers himself a small town guy, and when he and his wife Emily moved their family to Door County five years ago, he knew instinctively that they had come home.

“We fell in love with raising a family in Door County,” Salm explains. He saw how the community thrived, supported by the work of organizations and non-profits, and he quickly got involved. As manager of the Ladder House in Sturgeon Bay and now owner of the Baileys Harbor Cornerstone Pub, Salm saw how much it mattered to be involved.

“I felt refreshed that you can actually make a significant impact in your community when your community is small,” says Salm.

Salm is no stranger to philanthropy and volunteering. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a degree in education, he spent time teaching in Milwaukee in an immersion school, before joining AmeriCorps. In La Crosse, he co-founded a youth organization called the Rosebud Farm, which focused on weatherization and construction projects in the area. While there he also started an organic gardening project for the Hunger Task Force. This kind of grass-roots service in the community is at the core of Salm’s ethos about service.

Salm explains, “My folks always taught us to be a contributing member to your community. It’s not about money…it’s about how many people wave to you on your way to work.”

This sentiment stayed with him as his family started to grow, and when the Ladder House opportunity presented itself, he jumped at the chance to move closer to extended family in the Fox Valley area. Once he established some roots, Salm started getting involved with the Door County community.

Salm’s first exposure to service work in the area came from joining the Sturgeon Bay Rotary Club, and when his life shifted farther north along the peninsula, he saw a need for a northern chapter of the organization. In April 2011, along with 25 other charter members, Salm founded the Rotary Club of Door County, North. As president, Salm is looking forward to starting a rotary program for high school students at Gibraltar called Interact.

Matt Luders, senior executive of the Door County YMCA, is a fellow Rotary Club of Door County, North charter member, and he has worked with Salm on the YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign.

“Paul has been a great person to have at the table; he is willing to do whatever it takes to get people involved. I think he’s really touched by what the YMCA does for families in the community, and he’s been a wonderful ‘ideas guy’ for us,” Luders says.

His passion and ideas have also carried into his post as the president of the Baileys Harbor Community Association, where he’s built upon the traditions of the town by brainstorming new ideas to bring people to the area. Salm has been pivotal in supporting the community’s activities.

“It’s tough not to chase a good idea,” he says. “And it’s very important for people to know that I’m supported by an incredible group of people…I see where the organization is headed and then delegate. So I guess I’m blessed with a long neck.”

He may be supported by many, but his individual work is great.

“He’ll be quiet and listen to those ideas around him. When he does contribute, people listen,” Luders says. “He’s easily one of the most intelligent people I know, but he has such an easy, thoughtful manner that just makes people want to follow where he’s leading.”