JEFFERSON — As longtime Executive Director Barb Endl yields her position to Amanda Barber, another Tomorrow’s Hope official will be stepping up to greater responsibility as program director.
Todd Wiedenhoeft, a Jefferson native who has been part of the Tomorrow’s Hope community since its inception, will be assuming his new role as program director this week.
Wiedenhoeft grew up in the local community, graduating from Jefferson High School in 1991. He and his wife and their two children live in the Town of Farmington. Wiedenhoeft is involved with the Jefferson Rotary Club and is a member of the Immanuel United Methodist Church in Jefferson.
After high school, Wiedenhoeft attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and then spent 20 years in the field of human resources, most recently working as a national program manager.
After leaving the corporate world, he obtained his real estate license. He has worked with First Weber since 2015.
He said he enjoys being located in his hometown and the ability his current job has given him to be involved in the local community.
Wiedenhoeft said that he has followed Tomorrow’s Hope since its inception, experiencing the connection, support and hope that Hope Fest has provided for so many local residents.
“I am their biggest fan, rooting for them whether they know it or not,” Wiedenhoeft said.
He said that an incredible amount of effort goes into Tomorrow’s Hope, with all of its “moving parts,” and lauded the passion and dedication he has seen among its volunteers and organizers.
He said he backs the organization not just because of the emotional support it provides those fighting life-limiting illness, their families, and those who have lost someone to life-limiting conditions, but also because of its local focus and accountability.
Wiedenhoeft noted that it is important when people donate their hard-earned funds to the organization that they know where their money is going, and that the organizations and institutions that receive Tomorrow’s Hope funds are required to break down exactly where and how they use all of the monies they receive.
“This accountability has always been an important part of why we have continued to support tomorrow’s Hope for more than 20 years,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I know what I give counts.”
Sadly, most of us are likely to be diagnosed with a life-limiting condition over the course of their lifetime, whether it’s cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s or something else.
And like most of us, Wiedenhoeft has his own story of life-limiting illness, starting with his dad’s diagnosis of cancer.
“Prior to my dad’s diagnosis with cancer, life-limiting diseases were not something I really thought about,” Wiedenhoeft said.
“When the diagnosis came, I was confused and had a ton of questions,” Wiedenhoeft said. “As I learned more, I became fearful and a bit angry. In my eyes, my dad was indestructible. Was this his Kryptonite? Why did he get this? How would he overcome it?”
The diagnosis came around the time that Tomorrow’s Hope started. The first Hope Fest (then called Walk Fest, as it was situated around the Jefferson High School track) took place eight months later, and Wiedenhoeft got involved on his parents’ behalf.
Not really knowing what it would be like, he barely made the opening ceremony, but the energy he felt there made a lifelong impact.
“I remember walking from the parking lot toward the football field and seeing all the tents set up for overnight camping, all the activity by the indoor pool, and the welcome as I entered the gates among all those people,” he said. “That’s when it started to click. What was happening with my dad was happening to so many others.
“I remember Dad and I connected eyes at the same time. The expression on his face and in his body language when he saw me showed me how much it meant to him that I came.
“That’s when it clicked again. He was in the fight of his life, and it meant a lot to him to know I was in his corner.”
As they walked around the track, the Candles of Hope luminaries blossomed into view around them in the dimming light. All of the personal messages on the luminaria lanterns, each of them representing another person with life-limiting illness, really struck home.
It was an epiphany to realize that every one of those lighted candles represented someone else fighting for his or her life — and also that each of those people was supported by friends and family members who were fighting on their behalf.
Wiedenhoeft said he has supported Tomorrow’s Hope ever since. Over the past year, he became much more involved, and now he is ready to take on the larger role as program coordinator.
Since his dad’s diagnosis, Wiedenhoeft said. he has seen so many improvements in health-care treatments and outcomes, improvements he believes have been spurred and supported by Tomorrow’s Hope and other groups like it.
A diagnosis that two decades ago would have been a death sentence might no longer carry that feeling of inevitability.
“With more effort, more funds raised, more awareness and education, just imagine what strides we could make in another 20 years,” he said.
“I want my children to have much better odds of not getting such a diagnosis,” he said. “I try to do what I can today to give them that in their tomorrows.”