Duane Woerpel has been serving people in a variety of capacities for more than 60 years. Though the Prairie du Sac resident has had to slow down the past few years, it doesn’t stop him from doing whatever he can whenever he can.
Woerpel grew up in Sun Prairie and Montfort; graduating from Montfort High School in 1955. That same year he joined the U.S. Navy, serving on the historic U.S. Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine and worked on the ship’s periscope. He served four years in the navy and several years in the reserves before attending UW-Madison Stevens Point.
“When I was 17 I enlisted in the Navy and my mother had to sign my papers,” Woerpel said. “When I was about to leave she told me remember three things: love your mother, love God and vote straight Republican. I had to break one of those rules.”
In 1965 he graduated from UW-Madison Hospital as an X-ray technician and worked a year at the Marshfield Clinic. In 1966, he returned to college on the G.I. Bill at UW-Platteville, while working as an X-ray technician at Cuba City Hospital. In 1968 he graduated with degrees in English and safety education. He taught one year at the St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, before spending the next three decades at Sauk Prairie High School teaching English and behind-the-wheel driver’s education.
He served in the Air National Guard for 11 years before resigning for health reasons.
“I really enjoyed my time in the Navy,” Woerpel said. “I would have continued but I was due for shore duty. I didn’t want to do that; I loved the sea.”
Woerpel moved to the Sauk Prairie area in 1969 and said he knew it was the right place to be because of all the front porches on the houses.
“I knew any town with porches had to be a great place,” Woerpel said. “And I wasn’t wrong. Sauk Prairie is one of the most giving communities. Everyone I’ve witnessed is so charitable.”
Perhaps that’s why Woerpel fit into the community so easily: he served on the First United Church of Christ consistory for two terms; one as president. He is also a founding member of the Sauk Prairie Scholarship Committee and on the initial My Neighbor in Need and My Children in Need organizations through St. Vincent de Paul.
After surviving two major heart attacks, Woerpel said he started questioning things.
“I started thinking, ‘why’ – my friends are not making it, why am I?” Woerpel said. “I knew I had to volunteer. It’s such a rewarding thing and you meet super people.”
He started on the Good neighbor Clinic in 1998 when the clinic opened until the past year when Woerpel resigned due to health reasons, but fills in occasionally when needed. He also served on the Good Neighbor Clinic Board for two terms, also as president.
He also volunteered with the Masonic Lodge’s wheelchair program for the hospital.
Mary Neuendorf, who serves as office manager for the Good Neighbor Clinic, said Woerpel always had a lot of interest in helping people in need. “He always had a lot of care for people who needed help,” Neuendorf said. “He was always doing everything he could to make sure everything would turn out for the patient. He always had the patient’s best interest at heart.”
Woerpel’s wife, Dianna Woerpel, has worked as a registered nurse for the past 59 years and was also an original volunteer of the Good neighbor Clinic and continues to volunteer her time there.
Joe LaCour, who serves on the Good Neighbor Clinic Board of Directors, said when Woerpel retired from the education field in 1997 he was looking to give back to the community, serve others and use his skills and talents.
“It was with conversations he had with Dr. Haakon Carlson and several others the idea for the Good Neighbor Clinic was born,” LaCour said. “Through their dedication, hard work and perseverance, the Good neighbor Clinic, a free-to-low-cost medical clinic opened its doors to the Sauk Prairie community in 1999. His colleagues say he is a quiet leader that knows how to ask the tough questions.”
“I was lucky enough to volunteer for the Good neighbor Clinic for all those years and also serve on the board where I was elected chairman,” Duane Woerpel said. “I stayed on the board for a couple terms after that before resigning. I really enjoyed working there and would like to get back to it someday.”
Woerpel said he was happy to come to the clinic all those years.
“Volunteering has done more for me than I’ve done for it,” Woerpel said. “To be able to be a volunteer in this community is amazing.”