Celebrating the difference makers
Greater Green Bay Golden Apple Awards marks 30 years
By Kris Leonhardt
GREEN BAY – As the Golden Apple Awards works toward its 2023 award winners, the Greater Green Bay Chamber program is celebrating three decades of recognizing the area’s high-quality educators.
“In 1986, Don Long, Sr., who is the founder of Imperial Supplies, attended an event in Lee County, Florida, that honored teachers. He was so inspired that when he came back to Green Bay, he led the effort which included securing the sponsors and getting the school district involved and basically brought this event to Green Bay,” said Eric Vanden Heuvel, Greater Green Bay Chamber vice president of talent and education.
“The first year that it was held was 1993.
“So, after his inspiration in 1986, he came back to talk to a lot of people and was able to recreate it in Green Bay.
“Now, I’m sure it’s much higher, but we were the third teacher recognition event in the country, which would make us the third longest-running event.
Vanden Heuvel said that having the event televised added to the program’s reach.
“Fox 11 came on early as a partner which is part of what sets our event apart is the fact that it’s televised, which obviously expands the reach of the audience to the tens of thousands of people in addition to the people who are in attendance at the live event,” Vanden Heuvel stated.
While sponsors have come and gone, Vanden Heuvel said that Imperial has been a constant with the program all 30 years.
“Every year that a company has to step away, there’s always another company waiting to step up,” he explained.
“The event is a 10-month process, from securing the sponsors to kicking off the event in the fall, all of the way through the celebration in late April. It’s quite a process to find the most outstanding educators in our region.”
Through the program, eight recipients are selected through a multi-faceted screening process from a pool of nominees, focused on the areas of professionalism, leadership and innovation.
Green Bay Area Public School District Interim Superintendent Vicki Bayer sees the program as a huge asset to the community.
“I am grateful that northeast Wisconsin has an opportunity like this to celebrate educators. In my opinion, they are one of the greatest assets a community can have. The Golden Apple Awards allows us time to recognize them for all that they do for our students,” Bayer stated.
“It reinforces that the work they’re doing matters. It reinforces that they are making a difference in the world; it reinforces the importance of the role that they play in the life of our children.
Mark Bonetti, a 2022 recipient who has been teaching for 25 years at Green Bay Prebble, said that the award serves as validation for local educators, especially in an environment where it is getting more difficult to reach students.
“I want to make a difference in my career with students, and for somebody to acknowledge that maybe I am doing that made me feel appreciated. I think people need that; I certainly did,” he said.
“The hardest part about being a teacher right now is you’re competing against this sort of video-game world, where students love to be entertained in a fast-paced way and sometimes education is slow-paced. So, finding a way to engage them when they are engaged with so much technology that you are competing against. It’s not just cell phones in the classroom; it is the whole social-media world that they have. You have to sort of find a way to compete against (that) to reach them.”
Golden Apple 2006 winner Erin Patchak, who has been in the Howard-Suamico school district for 19th years, views the program as inspiring, but echoes the difficulties of a changing teaching environment.
“Teaching is a career where you are constantly growing and learning. Our content is what we are hired there to do; yet, you can’t get kids to buy the academic skills that you want them to learn if they don’t feel that you buy into their world and you connect with them,” Patchak explained.
“I believe that it is the most important profession out there because we are setting kids up on their lifelong path. We don’t know when these students are in our classroom what their lifelong goals are, but if we can help them believe in themselves and what they are capable of, then we are touching the world long term. It’s a tough time to be a teacher; there are a lot of challenges.”
Jennifer Gacyalny, a 2000 Golden Apple winner from Pulaski High School, called the program a “great celebration of education” and the “school-community partnerships.”
“We all know that we don’t go into this profession because we are going to get rich. We go into it because we want to make that difference in a child’s life. I’ve always had that mantra, ‘To teach is really to touch a child’s life.’”
“I think (the program) gives people the opportunity to provide recognition for something that they have immense appreciation for, but it’s sometimes difficult to express on a large scale,” Vanden Heuvel added.
“That is what makes this event so unique, is that the business community can really get together and express their immense appreciation for what educators do for the community; not only shaping the youth but also to all of the families and employees of these companies. We know that education touches us in multiple ways, impacts all of our lives. This is a collective way to say thank you on a grand scale, with a large stage.”
“Education is the key to everything, isn’t it? It’s the difference maker. It’s the one thing that equalizes everything, all of your opportunities, post-graduation from high school. Doors are opened because you have that diploma and the education makes a difference whether you are prepared to go on to lead or be an incredible asset to the community and take over for the next generation. All of that hinges on your educational experience and the opportunities that are presented to you because of that education,” Bayer stated.