JEFFERSON — Tomorrow’s Hope is poised to grant $75,000 to local health-care institutions and organizations following a short, but successful, 2019 Hope Fest.

Barb Endl, executive director of Tomorrow’s Hope, announced the total Thursday evening at a community potluck. The $75,000 is the net amount raised, after expenses and the costs of running the fest had been taken out.

The total is significantly down from previous years following three straight years of curtailed festivals.

Two years ago, the festival, then held at the Jefferson County Fair Park, was cut slightly short by heavy rains. Then last year, activities had to be called off a few hours before the scheduled closing due to thunderstorms.

This year, Hope Fest was plagued by extreme temperatures — with a heat index hovering around 107 degrees — followed by an afternoon of rolling thunderstorms that resulted in all activities being called off only a third of the way through the event.

A drop in the number of teams participating also contributed to the lower fundraising numbers.

Still, $75,000 raised to improve the local health-care system will make a significant impact on area programs and on outcomes for local people affected by all manner of life-limiting illnesses.

And for those who did brave the heat and the stormy forecasts, the 2019 Hope Fest served as a wonderful celebration of life, as attendees of all ages and backgrounds showed their support for people affected by life-limiting ailments.

The nonprofit Tomorrow’s Hope got its start 23 years ago and in that time has granted more than $4.2 million to improve the health-care system in the greater Jefferson County area.

This year, a special appearance by Craig Culver, founder of the Culver’s restaurant chain, proved a highlight for many, Endl said, commenting on Culver’s heartfelt speech at the opening ceremonies and his decision to share his personal story and that of close relatives touched by life-limiting health conditions.

In addition, after the fest, Culver personally donated $1,000 to the cause, while the Lake Mills Culver’s, which helped to coordinate his visit, donated another $1,000, Endl said.

Every year, Endl said, she comes away from the fest with one emblematic memory that kind of sums up the whole organization and why she and other volunteers continue to fight for the cause.

Endl said she still savors a memory from early in the organization’s existence, when the Ride with a Buddy motorcycle and classic car ride first started.

Karen Griffin, who since has passed away, participated in that ride as a breast cancer survivor who had experienced a rough couple of years with the disease.

Griffin partnered with a volunteer driver, Pete, for the ride. He welcomed her as a passenger on his motorcycle and shared his enthusiasm with her over the course of the ride.

That experience kicked off a fast friendship between the “biker dude” and breast cancer survivor, and all of a sudden, they were exchanging Christmas cards and he was stopping by on a regular basis to see how she was doing.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and Griffin’s cancer returned with a vengeance. In the weeks ahead of the Hope Fest, Griffin said, she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it.

But despite her advancing illness, she did come to the fest and enjoyed her traditional ride with Pete.

As the cycle pulled into the Hope Fest site, Griffin wore an ear-to-ear grin. Her hands in the air, she proclaimed, “I’m the queen of the world!”

It was almost as if Griffin’s illness went away for the span of a few hours. She stayed at Hope Fest through the evening, visiting campsites, chatting at people’s fires and talking with the many friends she had made through the organization.

Weeks later, she passed away.

Endl recalled going to Griffin’s memorial service, where the family had made Tomorrow’s Hope and the Ride with a Buddy the centerpiece of their photo tribute.

“I knew what we did for Karen — she loved the experience,” Endl said. “What I didn’t get was what we did for the family.”

As the ceremony ended, people filed out to the parking lot, where unbeknownst to the family, Pete had parked his motorcycle with a sign on the back in Griffin’s memory.

On the spur of the moment, the family asked Pete to escort Griffin’s casket to her final resting place at the cemetery.

So through his love of motorcycles — and his generosity to Tomorrow’s Hope and one survivor — Pete was able to make a lasting impact on Griffin’s life, and the lives of her family members.

Meanwhile, through the money he raised for Tomorrow’s Hope, he also impacted the lives of countless strangers who would benefit from nonprofit funds as they were used throughout the area for medical research, education and prevention efforts, treatment and care.

This year’s pivotal moment for Endl came when a family member of one of the Hope’s Heroes honorees came up to her and said their family had been going through a really rough time lately and they had not even been sure they were going to come to Hope Fest.

They did make it there, though, despite the heat and the predictions of thunderstorms, and before the fest was called in the early afternoon, they had laughed more than they had in the past year.

As she shared the outcome of the 2019 fest, Endl thanked all of the volunteers and sponsors who help bring the Tomorrow’s Hope vision to life.

“Look what you did for that family,” she said. “Everyone has a gift to give.”

Over its 23 years of existence, Tomorrow’s Hope has stayed true to its goal of keeping all of its funds local and keeping recipients accountable for exactly how those funds are used.

Past recipients of Tomorrow’s Hope dollars have included, but are not limited to, Fort HealthCare, the Watertown Regional Medical Center, Rainbow Hospice Care, centered in Jefferson; the University of Wisconsin Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Madison and Milwaukee children’s hospitals, the Watertown and Jefferson free clinics, the local office of the Alzheimer’s Association of Wisconsin, and the National Niemann-Pick Disease Foundation, centered in Fort Atkinson.

“We can go to a business and say, ‘this is exactly how your money has been used — for a monitor for use in surgery at Children’s Hospital, for diabetes camp scholarships, for all of the different things we’ve done at the free clinics,’” Endl said.

“The recipients are accountable to us, and we are accountable to the community,” she said.

Moving on to address the events of the July festival, Endl said that a couple of activities that had to be cancelled on the day of Hope Fest due to the inclement weather are in the process of being rescheduled.

The Kids’ Fit/Hero Hustle mudder-style run and obstacle course have been reset for the weekend of Gemuetlichkeit Days, though it will still take place at Stoppenbach Park.

The rescheduled event will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14. Those who already paid to have their child participate during Hope Fest will be entered automatically.

In addition, organizers are working to reschedule the Night Light Bike Ride that was supposed to take place the night of Hope Fest, although a time and place has not yet been finalized, Endl said.

The last order of business at Tomorrow’s Hope’s community potluck Thursday was the recognition of top fundraisers, along with the announcement of the total raised.

The top individual fundraiser again was Gail Aumann, who singlehandedly collected $8,060.

Aumann immediately deflected the credit, saying, “Don’t thank me. I’m just the catalyst. It’s the people who give who make the difference.”

Coming in second was Melissa Endl with $4,375 raised.

Top teams were Krause Custom Homes with $11,455 raised, followed by Buske’s Bears with $4,570 raised.

As to the net money raised, while $75,000 is lower than in past years, Endl said, “This is an awesome amount to be able to announce. I am very proud of what we have done, and we couldn’t do it without you.”

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