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The donation provided by the Gregory Van Wie Foundation to Camp Wawbeek will allow the camp to install a new pulley system for the high ropes course.

During December the Gregory Van Wie Foundation donated about $226,000 to Wisconsin non-profits, with $100,000 going to the Easter Seals’ Camp Wawbeek. Foundation board members John Van Wie and Bruce Rodger spent the holiday season visiting organizations chosen to receive donations, a yearly tradition dating back to the 1990s.

Bruce Rodger

Bruce Rodger

The Foundation is named for Gregory Van Wie, John’s cousin and Rodger’s best friend, who passed away in 1996 at age 46 of a brain tumor. Greg set up the foundation prior to his passing as a living trust, and each year the foundation donates to local causes. Since its inception, the foundation has donated millions of dollars to various Dells area non-profits.

“Every fall we go through the applications and determine where we want to donate by asking ‘is this what Greg would want?” John said.

John Van Wie

John Van Wie

This year the donations in the Dells area include:

  • $100,000 to the Easter Seals’ Camp Wawbeek for a high ropes course and zipline for disabled children and adults.
  • $50,000 dollars to the City of Wisconsin Dells for a Soul of the River outdoor gallery photo exhibit.
  • $15,000 to the Wisconsin Dells American Legion Post.
  • $14,000 to the Wisconsin Dells Cardiac Rehab Center for a permanent endowment to support rehabilitation services.
  • $6,000 to the Little Eagle Arts Foundation for the 2019 Imagination Station.
  • $1,000 to the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer.

The donation to the Easter Seals is the latest in a number of contributions to Camp Wawbeek by the Foundation, which in previous years has donated funding to build a dining hall and girls’ dormitory.

Funded by the $100,000 donation, the ropes course will feature a pulley system that will allow camp staff to hook individuals into the course at one point for the entire course, rather than the current system of having to move the harness from attachment point to another at each juncture in the course.

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Camp Wawbeek's current climbing tower and zip line, which will be updated with new lines installed due to a donation by the Gregory Van Wie Foundation.

“The course is closed for the winter so we hope to have it ready when we open in April,” said Camp Wawbeek Director Alex Peters. “The course is really cool, and this will make it better and more accessible.”

The $50,000 donation for an outdoor photo exhibit marks the second collaboration between Joseph Leute, a Wisconsin Dells native and photographer, and the Van Wie Foundation. The first collaboration, a mural juxtaposing images of the river and natural resources by H.H. Bennett and Leute, was installed in summer of 2018 on a riverboat building in the Dells River Arts District.

Planning is underway for the exhibit, which will display Leute’s work in rotations and is expected to be open year round.

The concept is “to honor the permanency of the Wisconsin River and its place in the lives of people past and present… (through an) open-air gallery … featuring large-scale images of the river, river boat captains, and other souls deeply connected to the river,” Leute said in his proposal.

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John Van Wie, left, and Bruce Rodger, right, discuss plans for an outdoor gallery exhibit in Wisconsin Dells with Mayor Edward Wojnicz, center.

“The Van Wie Foundation has been very generous to the area,” Wisconsin Dells Mayor Edward Wojnicz. “This exhibit, with the materials and frames to the images, will be a beautiful addition to the river.”

Through the donations, John Van Wie and Rodger hope to continue the legacy of their departed cousin and friend.

“We took a look at all of the applications and decided that we couldn’t think of a better way to spend the money,” John said. “We try to donate to where he would want, and he lives on through moments like this.”

Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.


Wisconsin Dells Events reporter