Mike and Carrol Toneys Give Back to Southern Door

A perfect retirement: For some it’s a seat on the beach or knocking destinations off the bucket list. Maybe it’s finally building that dream house. But for Mike and Carrol Toneys of Nasewaupee, retirement opened a door to a greater legacy. 

“We really needed to do something,” Mike said. “Our kids really got a good education at Southern Door, so we wanted to contribute.”

They began by helping teachers in classrooms, but their roles soon expanded. 

When teachers noticed that the school forest had not been taken care of, Mike, a former fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, took it upon himself to clean it up. Soon the trash was gone, the trails were cleared, and life had returned to the pond, so teachers could take their classes into nature. 

When the sugar shack that an ecology class had built in the early 1970s fell into disrepair, the couple organized a crew to fix it up to reintroduce children to the art of making maple syrup each spring. 

Carrol has been integral in organizing the Children’s Christmas Store, where students get to shop for others and learn the joy of giving. Other students experience the joy of receiving gifts in the form of one of the hundreds of coveted, personalized pillows Carrol has sewn for elementary students over many years.

Carrol Toneys stitches pillows for students that often become treasured possessions. Photo by Len Villano.

And when the school district needed people to serve on the school board, both have stepped up. But what moves them most is less tangible — not evident in brick and mortar. 

“There are an awful loft of busted families and kids searching for stability in their lives,” Carrol said. “We try to do our best to bring some of the stability back, even for a little while.”

They focus their efforts on kids who may be struggling, come from difficult home environments, or just need a little something extra in their days.

“All we’re trying to do is help them in school,” Mike said. “Just spend time with them. To see them smile, knowing full well that their lives are hard as hell, that makes it worth it.”

“They are the epitome of people who are philanthropists of the heart,” said Southern Door Superintendent Patti Vickman. “They are role models for how the spirit of volunteerism can truly make a difference for students, staff and families in our schools.”

Some kids have made scrapbooks of pictures of their time in the restored forest; others tell the couple that their pillow is a treasured memento. But Carrol and Mike say their favorite thank-you comes in the form of a hello and a hug. 

“We do it because we so much appreciated the education and experience our kids had at Southern Door,” Mike said. “This is our thank-you.”

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