On the same day Portage Culver’s owners and brothers Chad Stevenson and Jeff Liegel received a child advocacy award from the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, they held fundraisers for Future Farmers of America at all 19 of their locations.
Culver’s that night, unrelated to the WASDA honor, contributed $1 to FFA programs for every scoop of ice cream sold, raising about $10,000, Liegel estimated Friday.
For Charles Poches, district administrator for the Portage Community School District, a drive like Thursday’s was just “one of the many things they do all the time.” And that’s why Poches nominated the brothers for the award.
“These are individuals who best reflect working together to help kids,” Poches said of the Culver’s owners’ selection for the WASDA Bert Grover Child Advocacy Award-Business for 2016.
“They’ve been phenomenal.”
Reasons for supporting FFA, and the value of such support, wouldn’t surprise many people, Liegel noted, as the brothers and many in the area “understand the importance” of farmers in America.
Yet, Liegel said, Culver’s is the only restaurant chain in America that supports FFA.
“That blew my mind when we found out about that,” he said.
The brothers, originally from Reedsburg, opened Portage Culver’s in 1994 — their first Culver’s franchise. They own 19 locations in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Florida, with three Culver’s now under construction in Florida. Other area Culver’s owned by the brothers include Beaver Dam, Waupun, Columbus, Sun Prairie and Mauston.
Liegel and Stevenson each have three children attending schools in Portage, which is also the location of their company headquarters.
“I always like to say we live here, too. We raise our kids in the same community and schools,” Liegel said. “Portage is a great community to get behind. I think anything for the kids in the community we need to get behind. It’s a great place to raise a family.”
Culver’s community contributions in Portage, noted by Poches and Liegel, make for a long list. The brothers donated $5,000 “with more on the way” to support the “Light and Water the Fields” project that is installing lights for Portage athletic fields, and the brothers regularly support local groups and programs like Kiwanis Ride to Read and Portage Family Skate Park.
Portage Culver’s led the fundraising drive for the Portage Public Library expansion, Liegel said, helping to raise $1.6 million in six months.
Each year the brothers host Kid’s Day America (also known as Culver’s Kids Day), a program led by Blau Chiropractic that, for children, involves the Lions Club for free eye screenings, free health readings for spine and back, provided by Blau, and welcomes police officers and fire employees to Culver’s so students can “get to know” their public servants.
Tuesday marked National Teacher Appreciation Day, an event for which the brothers gave away an estimated 10,000 meals to teachers in the brothers’ 19 operating restaurants.
“It was a pretty big day,” Liegel said Friday. “And today, nurses eat free.”
Poches said Liegel and Stevenson, who was unavailable for comment Friday due to a business trip in Michigan, “go significantly above and beyond” in their support of local children. “We’re very fortunate to have a number of businesses who support kids and their endeavors,” Poches added, noting the brothers also provide free ice cream cones for children involved in reading programs and support a number of student organizations.
“The kids here are our future and that’s how a community grows and is built,” Liegel said.
Liegel and Stevenson accepted the child advocacy award, created in 1992, as part of WASDA’s annual educational conference Thursday in Appleton.