When Mary Harp-Jirschele first joined the J.J. Keller Foundation, her involvement with the U.S. Venture Open was a responsibility that fell under “other duties” in her job description. Harp-Jirschele served as the executive director of J.J. Keller’s charitable foundation from 2007 until 2016 when she retired. She was instrumental in the organization’s decision to become the first partner to match grants raised through fundraising at the U.S. Venture Open, creating the funding mechanism and forming the Basic Needs Giving Partnership in 2008.
Since then, the partnership has contributed $9.1 million towards grantmaking in Northeast Wisconsin, in addition to making further commitments towards investing another $800,000 in 2019.
“I was blessed with the unique opportunity to watch firsthand how the money was raised, and then be able to participate in the process that puts the money to work in the community,” Mary explains.
Since first getting involved, Mary has worked a registration table at one of the golf courses during the event itself, initially starting out at Mid Vallee in De Pere and more recently spending time at Thornberry Creek at Oneida. She even has stepped up to make a cameo appearance in the occasional U.S. Venture Open video.
While she enjoys rubbing elbows with all the golfers, her favorite part of the day is the dinner hosted at Van Abel’s of Hollandtown. The chicken served by Van Abels has earned her vote as the best on this planet. She also enjoys the surprised reactions from the guest speakers who have never been to a traditional Wisconsin supper club.
“I remember one guest who commented as he walked into the massive white tent, ‘This is one heck of a country wedding venue’,” she says. “Another, who clearly hadn’t been to a family style dinner before, couldn’t believe it either and said, ‘Only in Wisconsin do you see pitchers of milk on the table!’”
Now enjoying all that retirement has to offer, Mary still signs up to volunteer every year. She’s had a front-row seat as progress has been made in the mission to end poverty and finds great joy in letting each person who visits her know that every dollar invested will be given back to those in need.
“If not for the generosity of the Schmidt family and the entire U.S. Venture enterprise, our community wouldn’t be on the journey to eliminate poverty in our community, Mary says. “Whether it’s a golfer buying a mulligan or a company sponsoring the event itself, the impact is far felt and wide reaching. I always relish the opportunity to use my head, hands and heart to help make a difference.”