TMS projects, volunteer recognized at WEDC’s Main Street Awards

North for the 4th T-shirt fundraiser, Bradley mural revitalization, Joan Laabs honored

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

GREEN BAY – Two projects spearheaded by Tomahawk Main Street Inc. (TMS), as well as one TMS volunteer, were recognized during the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)’s 33rd annual Wisconsin Main Street Awards ceremony.

The ceremony, celebrating the best downtown revitalization projects of 2023, was held at Gather on Broadway in Green Bay on Friday, April 19.

TMS’ North for the 4th T-shirt fundraiser, the revitalization of a downtown mural of Tomahawk founder William H. Bradley and TMS volunteer Joan Laabs were honored.

TMS Executive Director Jennifer Turkiewicz, TMS board member Andrea Krueger, artist Andy Goretski and Laabs were on hand to celebrate TMS’s accomplishments.

“As Main Street goes, so goes Wisconsin’s economy, its well-being, our way of life in the Badger State,” said Missy Hughes, WEDC Secretary and CEO. “And these awards prove once again Wisconsin communities are thriving. Congratulations to the winners. We salute and celebrate you, our partners in creating an economy and improving the quality of life for the betterment and benefit of all.”

On behalf of Secretary Hughes, WEDC Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Sam Rikkers recognized the winners at the ceremony.

“With many of these Main Street projects, we are preserving history and making history, leading by example in maintaining what sets Wisconsin apart,” Rikkers stated during the ceremony. “While these projects in the heart of your communities are vital to local commerce and cultural activities today, they are part of our Badger State legacy we must preserve for future generations to enjoy.”

Other WEDC leaders also joined in the celebration of successful projects and initiatives executed by Main Street and Connect Communities programs around the state.

A release from WEDC said recognized projects included business and community development initiatives, building renovations, community celebrations and revitalization success stories from across Wisconsin.

Projects in Marshfield, Three Lakes, Wausau and numerous other communities were honored.

“Showcasing the variety of success stories from communities large and small is always inspirational,” said Mike Ward, WEDC Vice President of Business and Community Development. “The Main Street Awards ceremony celebrates the hard work, vision and dedication of those who are working tirelessly behind the scenes each day to preserve and promote their downtowns.” 

Wisconsin Main Street is a community development program administered by WEDC that targets Wisconsin’s historic commercial districts. WEDC said it provides technical support and training to the 34 Main Street communities to help them revitalize their business districts based on guidelines developed by the National Main Street Center.

Since the program’s inception in 1987, Wisconsin Main Street community efforts have resulted in the creation of more than 3,300 new businesses and nearly 17,000 net new jobs, and over $2.6 billion in public and private investment has occurred in these districts, according to the release. 

“During fiscal year 2023 alone, Wisconsin Main Street communities added 112 new businesses and 287 net new jobs,” WEDC said. “None of this activity would be possible without the nearly 30,000 volunteer hours that were dedicated to the Main Street effort by passionate individuals from each community.”

Also represented at the event were members of WEDC’s Connect Communities Program, a companion program to Wisconsin Main Street created in 2013 to provide access to resources and training to help communities pursue revitalization and redevelopment efforts. According to the release, over the past decade, 138 participating communities have added more than 870 net new businesses and attracted nearly $4.6 billion in public and private investment.

 North for the 4th T-shirt fundraiser

A Tomahawk summertime staple received Honorable Mention in the Best Promotional Marketing Campaign category.

“How could we not nominate a decades-long tradition that allows those celebrating Independence Day in Tomahawk to do so in style?” a release from TMS said.

The release explained that the North for the 4th T-shirt fundraiser started about 40 years ago, when the shirts were sold to support area environmental groups. After those groups disbanded, the Tomahawk Downtown Business Council headed the campaign.

Today, TMS organizes the shirt sale, which represents one of the organization’s largest annual fundraisers.

“Each year, our team creates a new design – whether representing days gone by with lazy day fishing, family traditions like the fire department’s hose wars or current trends like 2023’s ‘Top Gun,’ these shirts are a yearly must have,” TMS stated. “There is nothing like walking down the street and seeing each year’s design sported on young and old alike.”

TMS noted that many people collect the shirts, making sure each year’s shirt and design have been brought home.

“It is fun to start receiving phone calls after the first of the year with suggestions, ideas and hopes for what this year’s design will bring,” TMS added, noting that the sale now includes sweatshirts and racerback tank tops.

TMS said it continues to sell out of the shirts year after year. In fact, TMS noted, over the last two years, the organization has ordered almost four times as much product as in previous years, and the shirts still fly off the shelves.

“Our North for the 4th shirts are the latest in a long line of traditions folks love to come home to in Tomahawk,” TMS stated.

Bradley mural revitalization project

A local artist’s work to revitalize a piece of Tomahawk history received a tip of the cap from the WEDC.

The Best Historic Restoration Award honors the best interior and/or exterior rehabilitation project, based on proper historic restoration principles.

“When the opportunity to nominate a project in this category (arose), there was no doubt what that would be,” TMS stated.

The revitalization of a large mural depicting Tomahawk founder William H. Bradley, painted on the west side of the Standard Mercantile building downtown and facing N. Tomahawk Ave., received Honorable Mention in the category.

“Twenty years ago, a group of artists shared their love of the arts by creating murals in our historic downtown,” TMS explained. “One was the mural dedicated to our founding Father, William H. Bradley. Through the years, the elements had been unkind. Our mission: breathe life back into what many describe as a must-stop picture opportunity for our area.”

TMS tapped artist Andy Goretski from Custom Murals for the restoration project.

“Not only is Andy extremely talented, but he was one of the original artists involved in the project,” TMS said. “Andy brought his gift, paintbrushes and a big heart to the store side, and he delivered.”

Bradley once again stands out, and even the smallest details pop – including the polka dots on his bowtie, TMS noted.

“From cleaning up details, such as the correct death date that was mistaken years before, to the more detailed tree bough running inside the mural, there is no doubt how proud we are of our heritage and the gratitude felt for the man behind the town,” TMS stated, acknowledging that there is “never an easy breath when history is toyed with.”

“Taking the time he needed, Andy alone restored a masterpiece,” TMS stated.

Joan Laabs receives Community Champion award

The Community Champion award, previously referred to as the Volunteer of the Year award, recognizes individuals who contributed the most to the Main Street program throughout the past year.

TMS noted that a local Community Champion “is no stranger to Tomahawk, especially to our Tomahawk Main Street program.”

Joan Laabs has been “an asset to our Main Street program for years,” TMS said.

“She may have begun by simply helping around the office – making copies, handing out flyers and organizing – but every year, she jumps in a little more and more,” TMS stated. “Joan and her family have been wonderful donors to the program, but when she comes to an event, Joan’s smile pulls in folks from all around.”

Laabs helped implement the “We Give Thanks” program, helping TMS raise over $6,500.00 for 20 area organizations.

“She is our official greeter at the Main Street Memories Car Show, and participants love to see her waiting on the boulevard each year to welcome and thank them for coming,” TMS said. “Joan is a great raffle ticket saleswoman, and her bag stuffing skills are almost unmatchable. Joan loves our community, and not only does she volunteer, but she keeps it local – she is always willing to donate, volunteer her time, and also serves on our Promotions Committee, as well as for additional organizations around town. When she needs a gift, Joan always comes down to Main Street to find that unique gift for that special someone.”

TMS noted that Laabs’ late husband, John, also liked to help out with the organization, and since his passing, she continues their mission to do all they can for the town they love.

TMS volunteer Joan Laabs was among the recipients of the Community Champion award.

“Tomahawk Main Street is blessed to have so many incredible friends committed to our mission and goals, and we are pleased to announce these awards,” TMS said. “Our beautiful downtown is near and dear to all of us who live and visit here, and now receiving recognition statewide, competing against so many other amazing communities, is a true testament to this community’s hard work and dedication.”

Pictured, from left: Andrea Krueger, Joan Laabs, Jennifer Turkiewicz, Andy Goretski and Laurie Goretski.
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