A fundraiser to watch
Local foundation to auction off famous timepieces, including the Pope’s
By Julie Hoerth
For the Press Times
GREEN BAY – Brian LaViolette was just 15 years old in 1992 when he lost his life in a swimming accident in Green Bay.
At Brian’s funeral, a promise was made that great things would be accomplished in his name and memory.
No one could have predicted the magnitude of the outcome of that promise, or that it would be fulfilled time and time again – in immeasurable ways – over the next three decades.
But now, more than 30 years later, Brian’s name and legacy continue to live on and have touched thousands of lives through the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation, currently in the middle of its biggest fundraising initiative yet.
The foundation was established through the money brought in from the outpouring of love and support at Brian’s memorial service.
The LaViolette family – Brian’s parents, Doug and Renee, and his sister, Kim – chose to use that money to grant a college scholarship to a deserving senior at Brian’s school.
The scholarship would honor hard work and community involvement, values Brian held dear during his life.
What started as one scholarship at De Pere High School has grown to more than 55 annual scholarships throughout Northeast Wisconsin and around the world.
To date, the foundation has awarded more than 1,000 scholarships to deserving college students across the United States, as well as in the Czech Republic, Poland and South Africa.
The foundation honors Brian’s legacy by helping high school seniors financially achieve their educational dreams, while pursuing values and vocations that promise to make the world a better place.
While the first scholarships were in Brian’s name only, more than 75 percent of the scholarships now awarded through the foundation are in remembrance of other people whose family and friends wanted to memorialize their loved ones in a meaningful way.
A timely inspiration
Continuing to raise money for the cause requires some creativity, which is how the LaViolettes found themselves in the middle of their current fundraiser, entitled “Once Upon A Time: The Watch Project.”
For the past two years, the foundation has worked to collect watches from individuals who have shaped the Green Bay community, the country and the world.
Later this year, these watches will be auctioned off with all proceeds used to help the foundation continue its mission for generations to come.
The idea for The Watch Project was sparked when Doug LaViolette learned of Paul Newman’s Daytona Rolex watch being auctioned off for more than $17 million.
He thought it was an interesting and unique way to raise funds for a nonprofit, and it also included something near and dear to his son’s heart: watches.
From an early age, Brian loved watches.
He started wearing his first one – a Swiss-made Green Bay Packers timepiece – at the age of four.
As Brian grew, his watch collection did too.
In fact, he often used his hard-earned money to add a new wristwatch to his collection.
Doug still wears some of Brian’s watches today.
“Every time I wear one of Brian’s watches, it brings such joy into my life,” LaViolette said. “It’s like a part of Brian is still alive and spending the day with me. It’s such an amazing feeling.”
Brian’s foundation has had a far-reaching impact on many people, families, and communities, and obtaining watches from other people that have influenced the world complements the Foundation’s mission.
As the search continues for more watches, influential people have already stepped up from all corners of the globe.
Donations include watches from some well-known names in Northeast Wisconsin, including Appleton native and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier; Emmy-Award winning actor and Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub; Green Bay Packers place kicker Mason Crosby; and legendary football Hall of Famers Jan Stenerud and Bart Starr.
Other donors include Terry Bradshaw, Condoleezza Rice, Priscilla Presley, Jerry Lewis, Coach K, Betty White, U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven and Ronny Chieng among others.
But perhaps the most recognizable name on the list of timepiece donors is Pope Francis.
Kim LaViolette Mosteller, the Foundation’s Executive Director and Brian’s sister, said that with some local help, they were able to connect with the Vatican to request a donation from the Pope.
“When we came up with the idea of The Watch Project, we thought about who could be the ‘Holy Grail’ of watch donors. We felt it should be someone admired for kindness of heart and good deeds toward others, to continue to reflect the foundation’s mission,” Kim said.
With some divine intervention and assistance from Bishop David Ricken in Green Bay, as well as Brian’s best friend, Austin Rios (who went to school with Brian in De Pere and is now an Episcopal priest in Rome), the foundation was able to reach Pope Francis.
A few months later, a package arrived from the Vatican containing a letter and watch from the Pope.
Doug said the LaViolette family is eternally grateful for the outpouring of support and donations for The Watch Project.
“The promise made to Brian over 30 years ago is certainly a promise kept, with the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation being a testament to the power that one person’s life can have on so many.”
More information about about the Brian LaViolette Foundation can be found at briansjourney.com.