While her volunteerism dates back to high school when she participated in a year in Mexico through Rotary International, Ann Dahlke really credits her former boss, Fred Moore, with inspiring her to become more involved in her community.
“He was the CEO of then-Wausau Benefits and I thought, if he can sandwich this volunteer work in, on top of all the people who sought his counsel and advice, so can I,” said Dahlke, an executive assistant for UMR in Wausau. “It opened doors for me to get more involved.”
The Antigo native landed in the Wausau area when she attended college and never left. She appreciates not only the changing seasons but the opportunities the community provides, as well as being a few short hours away from bigger activities if desired. It all began with the roses … the annual Mother’s Day Rose Sale, that is.
Dahlke, who last month was named the recipient of the 2018 Athena Leadership Award by the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce, reinvigorated her community involvement volunteering to chair the annual sale in 2004. Proceeds from the sale were used to fund scholarships for students enrolled in lessons there who couldn’t afford the full tuition costs. At the height of the five years that she organized the sale, Dahlke coordinated the efforts of about 20 volunteers that started with collecting orders and then securing, arranging and delivery of upwards of 1,500 dozen roses — with many of them within a few-hour coming together,” Dahlke said. “If you can imagine at its height, 1,500 dozen long-stemmed red roses in one room being arranged and delivered within two days, it was amazing.”
In 2010, she became involved with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at the suggestion of one of her friends. She asked Dahlke if she’d mind putting her administrative professional skills to work on behalf of the organization and serve as secretary.
She did, along with tapping into her event planning skills. The first year Dahlke was involved, the race had 2,000 registered participants. During the years of her involvement with Susan G. Komen, Dahlke served as race secretary, chair for merchandising sales, registering race participants in the day of the event and even staffing the information booth for the event. She organized the setup of the “race headquarters” several days before the event in the Wausau Center Mall.
“I didn’t even get to see the actual race until the fifth year because I was so busy inside Shop Komen,” she said. “At that point, I wanted to pursue a role where I could see the race. But being a part of it was amazing. There is such a sense of togetherness on race day.”
From 2009 to 2013, Dahlke also served as the Save Lids to Save Lives Chairperson for Susan G. Komen, collecting thousands of pink yogurt lids from communities through the seven counties the local affiliate covers. Dahlke now pitches in a variety of as-needed capacities.
One of the more timely events with which Dahlke is involved is the annual Festival of Trees affiliated with Aspirus Comfort Care and Hospice Services. She’s helped with that for many years, reserving the day after Thanksgiving as her own annual tradition.
“There are so many people out fighting and shopping, but I’d rather be at the festival where people are happy to spend the day after Thanksgiving as part of kicking off the holiday season,” she said. “It’s a family-oriented event and we see the same families year after year.” Dahlke sells tickets, checks in volunteers, sells raffle tickets and handles whatever other needs arise.
Where Dahlke probably spends the majority of her volunteer time these days is with Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue. In 2014, Dahlke and her husband adopted a Persian cat through the rescue and learned more about the rescue itself and how they use their special knowledge of cat breeds to provide a foster-care system for homeless purebred cats that don’t fare well in shelters. The rescue is often contacted by people surrendering their cats, and they need volunteers to provide transportation from the owner surrendering the pet to their final destination.
Dahlke often steps in to transport these cats one leg of the journey, sometimes at the start. Dahlke often transports cats that originate in Minneapolis or Eau Claire en route to destinations in Oshkosh or Manitowoc.
“My co-workers refer to it as the Kitty Cat Underground Railroad,” she said. “Each transport is different and we find meeting points for handoffs.”
These requests often start with the organization’s post on Facebook and volunteers chime in. Dahlke tries to do most of her transports on weekends but if there’s an emergency situation and she can take vacation time, she will do it on other days as well.
And speaking of work, Dahlke has a long history of service for the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). Her first role as chairing the annual administrative professionals event hosted locally in April with anywhere from 60 to 160 attendees.
Over time, she has served as secretary, vice president and president at both local and state levels, and also became branch director in 2014, organizing activities for the states of Wisconsin and Illinois. After that, she ran for a position on the international board and is serving a two-year term as a director. Dahlke says she finds the mentoring and coaching components of her involvement to be the most fulfilling, helping to bolster administrative professionals’ leadership skills so they can grow into leadership positions.
“They gain confidence and often, can obtain increased responsibilities at work leading to promotions and pay increases, and even roles managing others,” she said.
And whether it’s tapping her organizational, event planning, general administrative or other skills, Dahlke says she believes she is repeatedly asked to serve because they know she will follow through.
“I love the old adage that if you want something done, ask a busy person,” she said. “I can’t always afford to donate all the money I’d like to, but I can give of my time and service. I know that in doing so, I am contributing in my own, small way.”