Every night before she goes to sleep, JoAnn Draeger asks herself, “What did I do today to make a positive impact on somebody? Who or what is it going to be tomorrow?
It’s a fundamental piece of how Draeger conducts herself day to day, whether through her volunteer activities, with friends and family or at her employer, IncredibleBank, where she is vice president of business banking.
The Wausau native finds that mindset is common throughout the community; people are sincere and generous. Draeger recalls first stepping up her community involvement game about 25 years ago when her employer wanted an employee to get involved in the community.
“I jumped right in, became an ambassador for
the [Greater Wausau] Chamber of Commerce and began doing different things with committees and raising funds,” Draeger said. “It started out as, ‘somebody’s got to do this,’ but once I saw the impact the work had, I just got more and more involved.”
Draeger continues to serve as an ambassador, and enjoys learning new businesses’ and entrepreneurs’ stories. She makes a point of understanding
the business so she can refer people if they need their product or service. Her favorite event is Small Business Week, which typically features daily activities while celebrating businesses. This year’s event was virtual but Draeger will do her best to celebrate the honorees.
For the past two years, Draeger has added Chamber board member to her list. She said she loves how vested her peers are in invigorating the business community and making it a great place to live and work.
About 15 to 18 years ago, she extended her involvement to the Wausau Early Birds Rotary Club at the suggestion of a fellow ambassador. She quickly became membership director, welcoming and teaching a “Rotary 101” to new members. Literacy is the group’s focus, with many funds used to purchase books and book bags for students. One of her favorite activities is, in a normal year, visiting eight to 12 schools once every other month to read a book to kindergarten classes and deliver books the students can take home.
“The students can be all over the board with how well they are reading, and it’s great to see how that changes as the school year progresses,” she said.
One child told her he had read his book to his little sister. “That is awesome,” Draeger said. “You’re five, but you’re reading to your little sister. We are making an impact on these kids’ lives.” The group is able to do that through a variety of fundraisers. In past years, Draeger has had a hand in Music and Martinis as well as a concession stand at the Speedboat Races.
Yet, it’s her role as Never Forgotten Honor Flight Golf Outing chair that is closest to her heart. Her involvement dates back 10 years when she was employed with another financial institution. Upon learning that an honor flight costs about $70,000, she told the bank president and executive vice president she wanted to raise the entire amount.
“Nobody had ever raised $70,000, but I said, ‘That’s what we’re doing.’ They thought I was out of my mind,” she said.
They’re (volunteer efforts) all important to me, but I’d have to say the honor flight is the nearest and dearest. Every year after the golf outing, I think about not doing it again, but then I hear and see the stories from veterans about how it was the trip of a lifetime.
vice president of business banking,
Draeger hosted small fundraisers including a Christmas tree raffle, but the money wasn’t adding up the way she needed. That’s when she decided a golf outing was the answer, and in raising $40,000, it put them over the top of their goal. Draeger was fortunate to serve as a guardian on the first flight as well, assigned to a World War II veteran who just passed away last year.
Draeger said that she wanted her father, a Korean veteran, to go on a flight as well. She has been on four flights now, and is ecstatic she went on a trip with her dad before he passed away. “I was so passionate about it because of him, but he kept telling me, ‘I’m not going. I wasn’t on the front lines.’ And I told him, that didn’t matter; he served our country. I told him, ‘I signed you up and we’re going.’ We went, and guess what he talked about every day since then? It was a highlight of his life. Having that memory is just so special.”
There are many, many other memories that Draeger cherishes as well. One piece of the return flight from Washington, D.C. entails doing “mail call,” during which family members and friends write a letter to their veteran family member. Draeger’s veteran on that trip opened his card, stopped and put it down. Draeger asked if he was OK, and he said, “It’s from my daughter. Would you read it?’ And it said, “Dad, I know we haven’t talked for 10 years, and understand you don’t believe in divorce, but he was abusive. I miss you, and I love you, and I’m so proud of you for going on this trip.’ I’m bawling. He’s bawling. When we land, his wife meets us and we are walking through people in a packed airport, and she was there with his other daughter and son. It was so emotional; we had spent from 4 a.m. on this trip; it’s now 11 p.m. But the veterans are so wide awake and pumped; they usually go to a hotel and have a happy hour after that.”
Draeger continues to maintain ties via
Facebook with the families of many veterans for whom she’s served as guardian. She’s proud to have hosted the 10th golf outing in August; she said she was fortunate to have the backing of her employer in both time and volunteers, and that sponsors stepped up to donate food even as they are struggling. “I’ve had so many sponsors say, ‘Count me in. I love this event and I am doing it.’”
Draeger also has a soft spot for the Ascension St. Clare’s Hospital Foundation, for which she served as secretary for a few years until the hospital became part of another healthcare system. Her favorite: Christmastime, when the foundation transformed the Rothschild Pavilion into a winter wonderland for less fortunate kids and their families. Draeger helped in making the event a reality with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, photos, craft stations, Christmas carols, a meal and more. “I loved that event because the kids were so excited,” she said. “I’d be there the entire day.”
This year put a stop to Draeger’s normal inclassroom with Junior Achievement during which she visits a sixth grade classroom for seven weeks. She also serves as a board member for MCDEVCO, committee member for Wausau Metro Strong and a board member for the Fromm Brothers Historical Society.
“They’re all important to me, but I’d have to say the honor flight is the nearest and dearest,” she said. “Every year after the golf outing, I think about not doing it again, but then I hear and see the stories from veterans about how it was the trip of a lifetime.”