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Jan and Don’s Legacy of Love, Family, and Community Service in Beaver Dam from 1963 through 2014

Mar 17, 2015 11:11AM ● Published by Erik Dittmann

Don Laabs on his Pontoon Boat


Jan and Don’s Legacy of Love, Family, and

Community Service in Beaver Dam from 1963 through 2014


            It all began when Don met Jan at the Cinderella Ballroom in Appleton in 1957. The relationship developed slowly as Jan worked hard at the AAL and Don was sixteen months in Korea and another eight months in various training sessions. It all came together on June 6, 1959.

            Don and Jan have been married over 55 years. This is not unusual, as all five Laabs brothers have been married over 55 years or more. And no divorces!

            Don greatly appreciates Jan for everything she has done for our family all these years. Jan helped put Don through school and she has been at his side ever since. She is a wonderful caregiver and housekeeper and can make most meals if given enough time. Jan rarely complained about anything and if we had disagreements, we tried to resolve the concerns quickly.

            We went on three cruises, which we enjoyed immensely. We love our Puerto Vallarta, Western Mexico two-week vacation. My favorite get-away was a long stay at Margarita Island with our children who were not attached at the time. Wonderful island, great food and drink and our family was all together.

            We have two fantastic children, Daniel and his spouse, Kathy and Dawn and her husband, Joe and their child, Joshua. They help make a wonderful family! They have followed our values that we have taught them. Respect for everyone, hard work, love for all, and conservative thinking, to name a few.

            Many people have done much for their communities. Our children and others have urged me to write down our community service efforts for 51 years. Jan and I were involved quite early, even before our children were born. Also our families live one to two hours away and many did not know our involvement in our community.

            Even before Beaver Dam, I was in the U.S. Army 1956-58 and spent over 16 months in Korea. My highlight over there was when I was appointed by the United Nations to be an observer to sit in on the Pan Mun Jong peace talks in the spring of 1958. I shook hands with Chinese and North Korean communists and several South Korean, United Nations, and American delegates. It was an exciting full day for me on the 38-degree parallel line in the Demilitarized Zone. I saw the “Bridge of No Return” and other features in Communist North Korea of which I wanted no part.

            While Jan was working hard at the “Aid” to help me get my BS degree, 1959-63, I was contacted by the state in 1961. They found out I would be driving daily from Appleton to Oshkosh. Would I transport 12 to 14 “deaf and dumb” children every day from their houses in Appleton to the Oshkosh Deaf School? I took on the challenge and gained my first real interest in helping special needs children and adults. These Appleton kids were 9 to 16 years old and could not speak. Can you imagine loading more than a dozen kids in a ‘56 Chevy 2-door hardtop? I would put one older child with 3 or 4 young kids in the front seat. No thoughts of seat belts then! Another 8 or 9 kids piled in the backseat and off to Oshkosh! It was fun and a real learning experience for Don!

            Jan and I arrived in Beaver Dam with our mobile home in 1963. I was hired by Beaver Dam Unified School District to teach Social Studies to 8th graders. Can you believe I taught over 4,000, 7th, 8th & 9th graders and summer school students at the Jr. and Sr. High Schools for 30 years! I loved almost every minute!

            Jan got a job with an area insurance company. Jan worked a year or so until Dan arrived in our family in 1964. Somewhat later, Jan and our friend, Barb Hartwig, started a laundry and dry cleaning business. They ran it successfully for six years and then sold it with a profit. Dawn arrived in 1966!

            I sold mobile homes and travel trailers for a couple years part-time. Then I worked for two years on road construction. I received my real estate brokers license and I sold real estate from 1969 to 1991. I did pretty well selling real estate and I loved it! With a starting salary of $4800 in 1963, nearly every teacher worked additional jobs in summer and had other part-time work.

            Jan and I joined First Lutheran Church in 1963, and have now been members for 51 years. Jan has been in women’s groups, FOCUS newsletter assembly, and several important committees. Don has ushered for 51 years, lay reader for many years, church council and numerous committee assignments.

            Don even helped a Junior High rock band get their start. The 8th and 9th graders begged me to transport their trailer to several “jobs” they had and ones I got for them. In the mid-60s, “The Restt” played the heck out of “Satisfaction” and “Louie, Louie.”

            Jan and I joined Jaycees and Jaycettes in 1964 to 1973. We were very involved in those organizations until they said our ages of 35-36 were too old for them.

            In 1968, several folks and I built an organization to help special needs young and older folks to work at the Dodge County Sheltered Workshop that we started. Now after moving into our third beautiful building and renamed Green Valley Enterprises, our agency has helped thousands of special needs folks in 46 years. I’m very happy to say this is one of my proudest moments.

            Jan and I were involved in the mid-70s, in helping Dodge County to create a safe haven for moms and children that were being abused. It became known as People Against a Violent Environment or P.A.V.E. I was fortunate enough to be able to find a beautiful four-bedroom brick home for our PAVE shelter home. Since that purchase, the home has added several bedrooms, storage areas and playground area. Jan and I were on the Board of Directors for the first three year term as well.

            In the late ‘70s, Jan and I were involved in helping our community to build an ice arena for figure skating and hockey. Jan and I and nine other couples signed bank documents that guaranteed the “Family Center” would be built and become successful. All of us signers (and the whole community) are very elated to have this wonderful “Family Center” now being used by thousands of boys and girls throughout the Midwest. What a great facility for our area, for numerous high school hockey teams and for thousands of figure skaters for over thirty years of ice sports!

            In 1976, I helped several area residents form the Exchange Club of Beaver Dam. Exchange Clubs form the largest strictly American service organization. As such, our clubs promote Americanism, Patriotism, and everything American, including flying the flag. In fact, our club has given away more than 50,000 small flags to children at many parades. Exchange Clubs_ other goals that are promoted, include youth projects, all kinds of community services, and we work with PAVE and others to end child abuse. So after 38 years of existence, Jim Mack and I are the only remaining charter members, but our club is strong and my hope is that it will do a lot of good for Beaver Dam and child abuse prevention for many years.

            In 1991, when we purchased the Marina, we joined the Beaver Dam Lake Property Owners. It was kind of a private club with small membership. In 1995-96, we talked to numerous folks and soon we had a large group meeting at our Marina and we formed the Beaver Dam Lake Improvement Association. This group is open to all citizens, regardless of where they live! Today in 2014, the BDLIA is by far the most significant BD Lake group around. I am extremely proud to be part of these lake groups, especially BDLIA, for 23 years.

            From 2006 to 2014, I was appointed by the mayor to be part of the Beaver Dam Lake Development Corp. This city agency helped distribute some city funds to Beaver Dam Lake Improvement Association. I was appointed Secretary for most of the time from 2008 to 2014.

            While getting to learn the boat and marina in 1991 and thereafter, our family realized that Beaver Dam did not have a community festival for years. After meeting with several persons, we selected Diane Rosenmeier to be the first chairperson of “Beaver Dam Lake Days.” Now a four-day festival, “Lake Days” has been running successfully for 22 years at Tahoe Park on Beaver Dam Lake. Dozens of fine people have been on our committee leading the way with numerous activities celebrating our lake in a family-friendly festival. I’m very proud to have helped begin Lake Days and it is also one of my proudest moments to be part of a great festival!

            Another outstanding accomplishment of our family marina business was helping to start the “Beaverland Must-Skis” Water Ski Show Team. Our mechanics and our family named the team and got it started the first year with our marina and several skier friends and their private boats. Now the “Must-Skis,” 21 years old and growing, are an outstanding state and national team! Many dozens of youth and families have contributed to the wonderful success of the “Must-Skis” as a major state tourist attraction. In 2014, the “Must-Skis” are the number 3 team in the state and the number 6 team in the nation! The team is our families’ greatest accomplishment that we have helped begin and we loved every show and every skier and every other person in the background! Fantastic!

            Even though we were busy building a marina business, Sunday P.M.’s, Jan and I helped start dozens of sailboat races for the BD Sailing Club. We used our pontoon boat to set up long race courses, start and time the races, and end the races and pick up the markers. We would end the day socializing with 20 or so sailors at Waterworks Park. Good fun!


            One of my greatest joys is flowers, especially growing perennials and annuals. So when the Beaver Dam Area Arts Association asked me to be on the “Secret Garden Tour” committee to help select about ten gardens to be viewed each summer, I agreed. Jan and I have had our secret gardens in the tour for two years. I’ve been on the tour committee for seven years and I’ve greatly enjoyed searching many homes for the right secret gardens for public viewing.

            Don’s other great passion is the military. I served two years active duty and overall six years in the Army Reserves. (I started with the Reserves in New London in 1956.) With busy careers, I could not be involved with my military until 2006. Numerous veterans, serving after 1956, cannot join the Legion. So several friends and I helped form the AMVETS (American Veterans) Post 33. I’ve been a proud member, 2006-2014, and served as the chaplain and the historian since the beginning. I love my AMVET friends. With several fundraisers, especially our “Spaghetti Feeds,” we’ve raised a lot of money. Our Post 33 has given several thousands of dollars to numerous area agencies that need help. We’ve helped dozens of Veterans’ groups with lots of money for all kinds of needs, especially needy Veterans.

            Yes, Jan and I were busy, but we loved taking friends on our pontoon boat. I also enjoyed taking special needs children and adults on pontoon rides. I’ve taken Green Valley Enterprise clients, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Special Touch Ministry clients on boat rides, for a half dozen years or more. Many hundreds of special needs folks rode with Don on his pontoon boat. They all loved it, but I loved taking them for rides even more.

            As we conclude this report, we want everyone to know there are hundreds of citizens who have worked as hard as we did. We loved nearly every minute of it. Jan has stated that maybe this report is bragging. However, it is only stating “the facts” for our community service that Jan and Don have done for over 50 years. All efforts by volunteers everywhere is much appreciated when we can help out Beaver Dam, Dodge County and beyond!

            Stand up, take a bow and receive our applause!! 









Don & Jan




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