For 34 years this August, the U.S. Venture Open has relied on hundreds of volunteers help execute the event to end poverty in Northeast Wisconsin. One volunteer in particular, Al Jahnke, has consistently answered the call. He was one of the first team members to sign up to volunteer when the outing began in 1986—a tradition he’s upheld for every year since except for one.
Beginning as a material handler with U.S. AutoForce in 1979, Al held various administrative positions prior to becoming a business applications specialist on the Helix software team for IT.
Having celebrated his 40th anniversary with the company in February 2019, Al has seen the event grow significantly over the years and fondly remembers the early days when any chance to get outside was gladly taken.
“Back then, I think it was really just a way to get team members involved,” Al says. “We probably only had one-tenth of the employees we have now, so anything that could get us out of the warehouse, at the time, onto the golf course and interacting with people was just a good day!”
Al has held a few different volunteer roles, welcoming U.S. AutoForce customers on the golf course. For the past two years, he has put his guitar-playing skills on display for guests by playing “Name that Tune” alongside his coworker and friend Steve Hamilton.
Al selects songs from decades of country music, including classic artists like Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. He plays a chorus or verse, allows visitors to name the song, and offers those who guess correctly a prize before they advance to the next hole.
“I change the list every year and usually have 15 different tunes with 15 different artists,” he explains. “Just keeping everyone happy and moving through and having a good time though, that’s the biggest thing.”
While the event has certainly expanded, Al says the spirit of giving back, which was instilled by Bill Schmidt when the event first began, has always remained the same. It has inspired him to keep volunteering, give back through pay-roll deductions, and meet different people in the local community.
“Working for the Schmidts, who are a very caring and giving family, has rubbed off on a lot of us here,” Al adds. “If you want to get out, interact with the customers and network, sign up! It’s such a great time, and you’re missing out on a fun day away from the office.”