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Members of the Portage Area Community Fund recently began organizing an event to honor families who have contributed to the community over more than one generation.

Sandy Gunderson, chairwoman of the Community Fund Advisory Committee, said the event from 2-4 p.m. Sunday will focus on shining a light on people who have improved the city in a variety of ways since the mid-20th century.

“Portage is full of families doing wonderful things generation after generation,” Gunderson said.

The gathering will allow residents to meet the descendants of the families that first began their work in the Portage area. Stories will be shared about the community over generations and a reception will allow people to interact more personally.

“It’s a small town,” Gunderson said. “Most people know these families.”

The four groups to be highlighted during the first Portage Area Distinguished Family Awards Ceremony are the families of Marion and W.J. “Dietz” Eulberg, Betty and Dr. Edward Harkins, Fran and Patrick Malone, and Adele and Phil Walz.

  • With an entrepreneurial investment in the area since the 1940s, the Eulbergs have a history of investing in its future generations through scholarships. When Marion died in 1976, Dietz created two $10,000 scholarships: one for a student seeking an occupation in health care and the other for a student-athlete who played football. A scholarship in the name of Elvira Hartell, the owner of the brewery the Eulbergs purchased in the 1940s, also was established and continues to be awarded to students annually. The Eulbergs have worked with the Community Fund in recent years to continue their scholarship contributions.
  • The Harkins family also has a history of creating opportunities for young people in Portage. Edward became chief of staff at Divine Savior Hospital, while Betty was integral in the creation of a citywide Head Start program in the 1950s. Betty later served on the hospital board of directors, while their sons have created programs for youth sports and as volunteer teachers. Dennis and Jack Harkin have performed in the band “Late 4 Dinner” as part of more than 50 shows for 25 charitable groups.
  • Pat and Fran Malone contributed to industry and arts in Portage. Fran created the former Zona Gale Center, now known as the Portage Center for the Arts, where the event will be held. She also was a founding member of Arc of Columbia County, while Pat helped form the Shamrock Club to preserve Irish history and had served as president of the Portage Chamber of Commerce. The couple raised six children, some of whom are now area business owners. Sean Malone raises funds for the Greater Portage Youth Foundation with an alumni basketball tournament that has lasted two decades.
  • Phil Walz was not living in Portage in 1976, but when vacationing from Naperville, Illinois, saw a hill for sale that he decided to purchase. With the expertise he’d gained in the plumbing and construction business, Walz created the Cascade Mountain ski resort that has only been improved with technology as new generations of the family take over to continue its operation as a skiing destination. The family continues to support projects within the community and are dedicated to investing in area youth sports.

Contributions to the Community Fund, which was established in 2016, allow for improvement and development throughout the city. Members can award grants and develop partnerships to meet their goals. It is a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation and is one of four within Columbia County.

Steve Sobiek, who serves on the Community Fund Advisory Committee, said the ceremony also will provide the relatively new organization a chance to bestow its first grant to recipient Kyle Little of the Portage Family Skate Park. The $600 amount will be matched through the June and Edward Lenz Charitable Trust of Pardeeville.

The group plans to host the event annually, focusing on community growth to highlight their cause to residents who may be unaware of the goals of the Community Fund.

“We wanted to really get at the crux of what makes Portage such a special place, Sobiek said. “And then it dawned on us: It’s really just a set of families.”

Group members hope to allow the public to nominate the names of families in future years as the event continues, Gunderson said. The four for the inaugural event were chosen by a search committee within the Community Fund Advisory Committee.

“We love the community we live in and the community is made up of all of these great people,” Gunderson said, noting there were “lists” of families identified before the final four were chosen.

Admission is free. The Portage Area Community Fund can receive donations from anyone interested, Gunderson said, though the number of seats is limited. Bill Tierney, a member of the committee, can be contacted at 608-742-3172 or portagefund@gmail.com to reserve seats.

“I know it’s going to go well,” Gunderson said. “We are very organized. We have great people volunteering their time and their talent.”

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget.

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