Heart of the City on Thursday presented its 2015 Lue Ehinger Big Heart Award to Fort Atkinson community preservationist Joan Jones.
“Lue Ehinger had one of the biggest hearts of all, and her namesake award recognizes others who carry on in her tradition through the contributions they make to the Fort Atkinson community,” said Matt Loup, president of Heart of the City, the grassroots organization sponsoring the honor. “Joan was a great friend of Lue and is a great friend to the city.”
From the Fort Atkinson Food Pantry and Fort Atkinson Community Foundation to the Fort Atkinson Branch of the American Association of University Women, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and beyond, it is difficult to find a part of Fort Atkinson that has not been touched by Jones’ civic dedication, Loup said.
“Jones was nominated this year for her work, as chair of the Rock River Heritage Board of Directors, in preserving and restoring the Fort Atkinson Club building,” Loup said.
Built in 1912 at 211 S. Water St. East, the Fort Atkinson Club initially operated to serve local businessmen and their families. From 1931 through the early 1990s, it was home to the Masons’ Billings Lodge 139.
The riverfront building sat vacant for almost two decades before Jones purchased it in 2011 and gave it to the newly formed Rock River Heritage Inc. for use as a community center.
The building’s location and historical significance appealed to her.
“This is a building that is close to the hearts of many Fort Atkinson residents,” Jones said at the time of purchase. “We have watched it with anticipation over the years and can now look forward to having a part of our history returned to us as a unique community resource.”
Less than three years later, the club again is open, now a gathering place for all of Fort Atkinson.
“Joan, in her quiet, steadfast, savvy way, moved this project forward step by step, bringing together a diverse group of committed volunteers to support her vision.,” commented Rock River Heritage board member Cynthia Holt. “She asked good questions, incorporated ideas, sought expert advice, inspired all sorts of folks from various perspectives, sweetly convinced those who were uncertain, and did so with humor and grace, to boot,”
Loup said that, although Heart of the City recognized Jones for her vision and perseverance in this project, she was quick to share credit with fellow board members Holt, John McKenzie, Rachel Nelan, James Nelson, Steve Tesmer and Jim Vance; past board members Ann Engelman and Jill Kessenich, as well as the many architects, contractors, and others who made the restoration possible.
“Joan Jones is not one for the spotlight, but her dedication to Fort Atkinson is clear in everything she does,” said Loup. “She insisted on placing her Big Heart award on the club’s fireplace mantel so visitors might see the names of past honorees, including last year’s recipient, Jefferson County Parks Department director Joe Nehmer.
Also nominated for the honor this year was Rick Brietzke, retired principal at Purdy Elementary School. During his 26-year career, he spearheaded many initiatives, including an educational wetland adjacent to the school, a school garden program, two naturalists-in-residence and a chef-in-residence.
“Under his leadership, the school developed a ‘green team’ to generate more conservation and environmentally friendly educational concepts,” Loup said. “Purdy was one of only three Wisconsin schools to receive the first-ever U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award in 2012.”
Heart of the City is a 501(c)3 nonprofit group dedicated to increasing sustainability in homes and communities through education, volunteer efforts, and engagement with neighbors and civic leaders.
“We invite the public to this beautifully restored building for the second 2015 Winter Market on Feb. 28, from 9 a.m. to noon,” Loup said.