2019 Grants Award Luncheon: ‘School is a place where lives can be changed,’ speaker says

About 70 educators honored at 2019 Grants Award Luncheon

About 70 educators who have received grants and awards from the La Crosse Public Education Foundation in the past year were honored Jan. 18, 2019, at LPEF’s annual Grants Award Luncheon.

Festival Foods is the presenting sponsor of the Grants Award Luncheon.

About 270 people, including award winners, District staff and community members attended the festive event held in the Cargill Room at The Waterfront.

The 2019 event focused on the Adopt-a-School program, a new collaborative project between LPEF and the School District of La Crosse. At each table, attendees could peruse a set of colorful cut-out hands. Each one listed a need identified by one of the La Crosse schools — everything ranging from requests for volunteers, asking for donated snacks for use in the classroom, or seeking funds to support special projects.

Kent Handel, president and CEO of Trust Point, was the featured speaker and urged local businesses to step up their support for the schools by joining the Adopt-a-School program. With Handel’s encouragement, Trust Point employees have been volunteering time since Spring 2018 at North Woods International School. Company volunteers do everything from one-on-one tutoring work with students in classrooms to helping plant flowers outside the school entrance. The company also has provided several substantial donations to the school, supporting training for teachers and buying books for classrooms as part of the school’s transition to offering the International Baccalaureate curriculum. (See more in this Assignment: Education report by News 8’s Lisa Klein.)

Kent Handel, president and CEO of Trust Point.

“School is a place where lives can be changed,” Handel said in explaining his passion for supporting the schools with both time and treasure. While Trust Point is involved in many charitable organizations in the community, “We’re passionate about those organizations that make the most difference. La Crosse schools and the school foundation are one of those organizations. Why them? We hear in the news daily about the struggles of the large schools … about the homeless and the drug problems, kids with no parents, or parents in jail, kids that are hungry every night. We have those problems in this community – maybe not on the same scale – but it’s hard for me to understand in a community this size how we can possibly have these problems.”

Handel said he admires teachers. “Their jobs make mine look really easy.” He explained: “They don’t just get to teach. They have to spend half their day trying to be social workers and probably provide some love for the kids in their classroom because they don’t get it from anywhere else. Finding a coat or mittens. Shoes. Even a shirt and pants that are clean. …”

“These kids don’t choose to live in these conditions. They didn’t have a choice. Someone else made that choice for them,” Handel said.

“Any investment in our young kids can give them a chance in life. If you want to lift these kids out of repeating their circumstances, they need help. The schools don’t have enough tax money to do this.”

Handel challenged attendees to “reach out and help. If not with money, find a group that have some time to spend. Go have lunch with a student who needs somebody.” He encouraged businesses to participate in the Adopt-a-School program and offered to provide matching funds for businesses that donate up to a certain level.

“This is a project that will make a huge difference in this community for a very long time,” Handel concluded.

About a dozen local businesses responded to the appeal to get more involved in schools through the Adopt-a-School program.

Margaret Dihlmann-Malzer, left, shares a moment with Carol Taebel as she presents the Distinguished Service Award.

The annual Grants Award Luncheon highlights recipients of nearly $29,000 in grants awarded last April, and another $40,300 in grants awarded in December, plus some other designated and “Wish List” grants awarded throughout the year. The Foundation also provided special recognition to the following supporters of LPEF and public education in our community:

  • Corporate Partner in Education — Fowler & Hammer for its long-standing support of LPEF and other children’s charities.
  • Margaret Dihlmann-Malzer Distinguished Service Award — Carol Taebel, a longtime community volunteer and supporter of LPEF and public school teachers.
  • Leadership Award — Dirk Hunter, principal at Summit Environmental School, for innovative leadership in the transformation of Summit into an elementary school integrating an environmental focus throughout the curriculum.

For more information on the special award winners, please see: Celebrating our volunteers and partners.


Grant recipients honored came primarily from two rounds of grants announced last year by the Foundation, but included some additional grants awarded through special support from endowed funds, as well as other projects. (View a PDF presentation of all grant recipients and award winners honored at the luncheon.)

Norma Arneson with students Edison Nicks (left) and Oliver Nicks (right).

A retired educator was saluted during the ceremony, with special support from Fowler & Hammer. Norma Arneson retired in June 2018 after 34 years of teaching in the District, most recently as a 2nd-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary School. Norma was known for her affection and dedication to her students.

In honor of Norma, a grant was awarded to Krista Kaminski at Hintgen Elementary School. Krista will be buying books to work with students who are struggling to find the words to tell how they are feeling. By sharing stories with characters going through similar struggles, Krista hopes to get students to open up about their emotions.

The La Crosse Public Education Foundation has been supporting La Crosse public schools for more than 30 years. The Foundation provides classroom grants, staff development money and other support for students – funding programs and projects that are not covered by tax-dollars. In all, the Foundation expects to provide more than $350,000 in support this year to the School District of La Crosse.

The Foundation’s work would not be possible without the generous support of many people, including these luncheon sponsors:










  • Presenting Sponsor: Festival Foods.
  • Salute to Educators Sponsor: Fowler & Hammer
  • Named Grant Sponsors: Coulee Bank; Dairyland Power Cooperative; Gundersen Health System; Kaplan Professional Education; LHI; Mathy Construction; Mayo Clinic Health System Franciscan Healthcare; and Trust Point.
  • Corporate Investors/Named Grant Sponsors: Altra Federal Credit Union; Gillette & Associates CPAs; Independent Cycle & ATV; Modern Crane Service; Mooresmiles; State Bank Financial; and Wells Fargo.
  • Grant Sponsors and Other Corporate Investors: Borton Construction; First Supply/Gerhards; News 8 WKBT; The Insurance Center; University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Foundation; US Bank; UW Credit Union; and Xcel Energy.
  • Table Sponsors: Association of La Crosse School Administrators; Board of Education, School District of La Crosse; Johns, Flaherty & Collins; La Crosse Education Association; Stifel; Viterbo University; Western Technical College; and La Crosse Tribune.
  • Teacher Sponsors: Dahl Automotive; G.E.C.U. The Friendly Credit Union; Lackore Electric Motor Repair; La Crosse Glass; La Crosse Loggers Foundation; and WIPFLI LLP.