Jill and Tom Herlache.
Anything that upsets a country’s economy—a recession, depression, or seemingly endless pandemic—can be counted on to disrupt charitable giving.
But Bret Bicoy, who has led the Door County Community Foundation since 2008, said 2021 was his best year ever, with more than $15 million in donations, including between $1.2 million and $1.3 million for the Foundation. emergency response.
“In per capita terms,” Bicoy said, “this amount of donations is just staggering. group of people to create this organization in 1999.”
That’s why, along with dozens of other reasons, the Door County Community Foundation is proud to honor Herlache and his wife, Jill, as 2022 Philanthropists of the Year.
Tom knew of the success of the Marinette/Menominee Foundation in helping nonprofit organizations keep philanthropic giving working in their community. And he knew that the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation had helped this new foundation get off the ground.
Sensing the amount of wealth that left Door County each year for philanthropic projects elsewhere, Herlache felt a similar organization was needed here, so he turned to the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation for guidance in creating the Door County Community Foundation.
The “founding fathers” who signed the bylaws on August 16, 1999 were Tom Herlache; his younger brother (by 19 minutes), Dr. John Herlache; Mike Felhofer; and John Gilman. Felhofer had lost his first wife, Nancy, a year earlier and turned to the Green Bay Community Foundation to establish a memorial for her. Gilman, a member of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, helped Tom organize his thoughts on how to approach starting a similar organization here.
Decades earlier, Tom Herlache had earned business and law degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but he had yet to find a law firm he wanted to join. His father, then chairman of Baylake Bank, suggested that he temporarily join the bank to develop and oversee the trust department – a job that allowed him to connect with the community on many levels of business and philanthropy. He was never tempted to leave the “temporary” position and became CEO of the bank in the early 1980s.
Felhofer said one of the first things the fledgling organization did was establish a three-part mission.
“We wanted to be a vehicle for wisely accepting and disbursing philanthropic donations in the community,” he said, “to provide a way for people of moderate wealth to establish and build a philanthropic account over time, and helping small nonprofits that often struggle. with the management of their financial resources do so more efficiently. We also wanted community members to understand that you don’t have to be very rich to be a philanthropist.
“Tom deserves huge credit for putting the original group together,” Felhofer said. “The Community Foundation brings a level of professional management to a nonprofit organization that allows it to focus on its mission. »
Today, the Community Foundation manages assets of $47 million.
“We serve as a matchmaker, a facilitator of relationships,” Bicoy said. “We’ll seek out agencies that are doing good things, working in the community, and connect them with donors who might be interested in supporting their work.”
All of this is possible because Tom Herlache recognized a need 23 years ago and devised a way to meet it. But it wasn’t his first community effort. A list of his service to Door County includes more than 25 organizations, including years on Sturgeon Bay Common Council and the Door County Board of Supervisors, as well as past chairman of Sturgeon Bay Utilities and the local Rotary club, as well as former Rotary district governor; as chairman of county-wide fundraising for the United Way and the Cancer Society, as well as fundraising for the construction of Sunshine House; member of the board of trustees of Door County Medical Center and the Medical Center Foundation and president of the latter; and through long-standing work with the Sturgeon Bay Planning Organization, the Waterfront Associates Board, the Waterfront Redevelopment Authority and the Harbor Commission.
But not all the bands Herlache works with have great public notoriety.
“He put a lot of effort into the weed control committee and held almost every volunteer position at Hope United Church of Christ,” John said. “He has a big heart. He has always loved Sturgeon Bay and Door County and has a huge interest in making life better for everyone.
Jill Herlache has also more than earned her Philanthropist of the Year honor, not only co-chairing the Door County YMCA Capital Fundraiser with Tom, but also serving as Chair of the Y and Peninsula Players Theatre. She has also been an active board member of the Door Community Auditorium, PEO, the Moravian Church and the Rotary Club of Sturgeon Bay.
Cari Lewis, executive director of the Door Community Auditorium (DCA) since 2010, worked with Jill Herlache while she served on the board.
“She’s the kind of woman who remembers every detail,” Lewis said. “She’s a great person to be involved with an organization like DCA because she knows everyone and is good at making relationships work. She is very generous and encouraging to others – a lovely person.
And, as everyone who was interviewed pointed out, it’s not possible to divide the couple’s contributions into “his” and “hers.”
“What an incredible partnership Tom and Jill are, supporting each other in so many philanthropic endeavors,” said Bicoy. “They have played an essential role in the realization of project after project. If one of them takes the lead on something, you know the other is also involved behind the scenes. It’s inspiring to see how they’ve worked together to make Door County a better place for all of us.