To Josie Seelen, a couple in Eau Claire best encapsulates Mother Teresa’s directive to “do small things with great love.”
That couple is Jim and Gloria Ganther, who for the past five years have sent checks and certificates of recognition to about 100 high-performing students each year who attend school mostly in Eau Claire and Altoona.
Seelen, who is graduating from Regis High School in spring and plans to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., received a letter in December inducting her as a recipient of the Jim and Gloria Ganther Youth Recognition Fund.
“Congratulations indeed on your recent achievement!!” the certificate written by the Ganthers reads. “It is always nice to see young people who are doing so well.
“We like to recognize youth like you by sending this short note and with a small token of our good wishes as you carry on in life continuing to do the good things that your current achievement represents,” it states.
The Ganthers recognized Seelen for being honored by the Eau Claire Noon Rotary Club.
“I didn’t do anything extraordinary,” Seelen said. “This is an example of great love for the youth in the community.”
The Ganthers, both in their 80s and married for 54 years, find students to honor by paging through the Leader-Telegram, looking for good deeds done or accomplishments met.
Jessica Lavorata, who graduated from Memorial High School in 2014, was recognized by the Ganthers for starting the Self-Sufficient Women club at the school.
Lavorata, now a senior finishing a degree in composite materials engineering at Winona State University in Minnesota, said receiving the letter four years ago was a shock and a nice surprise.
Brett Watnemoe thought the same thing. The North High School graduate received the letter and certificate for being named a Rotary Club outstanding senior in 2014.
“I was very grateful to have received something like that,” said Watnemoe, who graduated from cosmetology school and works as a barber in Madison. “When I was a student, seeing someone was recognizing me was super cool to me.”
The hardest part for the Ganthers, who hope to continue the fund for years to come, is finding students’ addresses, because in most cases the Ganthers haven’t met the students. If they can’t find an address, they mail their packet to the respective schools.
“We didn’t want them to be left out,” Jim Ganther said.
A retired financial adviser, Jim Ganther learned the benevolent tip from a client who said she sent checks to students anytime their names were in the newspaper. It was her way of being charitable.
“It’s not that much money,” Jim Ganther said of the checks given to students. “(Our) kids know they’re losing some of their inheritance, but they’re all in agreement with it.”
The Ganthers were initially ready to turn down requests for a newspaper interview, saying they’re not looking for publicity.
But Jim Ganther said they finally agreed with hopes that it will motivate someone else to follow suit. Even several students responding in thank-you notes felt inclined to do so.
“It was the best surprise I have ever received,” Lavorata wrote. “I want to follow in your footsteps and do this for others as well. Thank you for impacting how I see the world.”
About 65 percent of the students who receive the gift write thank-you letters back, and those letters encouraged the Ganthers to continue their work.
“The emphasis in the thank-yous weren’t monetary donations but the fact that there were people out there in the community other than their families who appreciated the efforts of youth in whatever endeavors they were involved with,” Jim Ganther said.
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