Tuesday | May 14, 2024
Dave and Jackie
Dave Stutzman and Communications Specialist Jackie McGlin

At Oakdale Electric Cooperative (OEC), squirrels sometimes wreak havoc on our power grid; however, the Tomah Squirrels branch of the North American Squirrel Association (n.a.s.a.) brings opportunities to surrounding communities. Tomah Squirrels volunteers help the physically challenged, veterans, and elderly with outdoor activities that range from hunting and fishing to building an all-abilities playground. While n.a.s.a. is based out of Holmen, the Tomah branch commenced because of one special and selfless lead squirrel.

Elected n.a.s.a. President and OEC member Dave Stutzman was honored at the annual Tomah Squirrels fundraising banquet in March when Communications Specialist Jackie McGlin presented Dave with the Selfless Service Award. Through working closely with Anita Leis, who nominated Dave, and current Tomah Squirrels Chairman Dan Boehm, the surprise came to fruition with heartfelt tears and a standing ovation to honor Dave’s selfless dedication to n.a.s.a. and the Tomah Squirrels.

Since Dave and his wife, Laurie, moved to the area in 1984, Dave has been a recognized face and name in Tomah. He was a ninth-grade Earth Science teacher at Tomah High School for 17 years before retiring from teaching and getting elected to the Tomah School Board. From there he got elected vice president and then president of the school board before resigning in 2009 to apply for a position within the school again. Dave held the position of director of buildings and grounds for the Tomah Area School District for 11 years until retirement in 2020.

Prior to Dave’s involvement with n.a.s.a., he volunteered for the Boys’ & Girls’ Brigade in Neenah. The Christian youth organization teaches servant leadership with hands-on learning while building character and instilling youth with wholesome values. Dave became involved at a young age as he went through the programs the Boys’ & Girls’ Brigade offers. He reflected on this by stating, “The Brigade was extremely valuable to me, so I stayed and volunteered for 31 years. That’s where my whole philosophy comes from with volunteering." 

Following his move to Tomah, Dave eventually couldn’t make the drive across the state to volunteer with the Boys’ & Girls’ Brigade and found himself attending the n.a.s.a. second annual fundraising banquet where he had his first exposure to the organization.

After going several years and getting more involved, a friend encouraged him to start a branch in Tomah, which began in 2016. He explained, “After not volunteering for the brigade anymore, n.a.s.a. came along and filled that void.”

The Tomah branch, better known as the Tomah Squirrels, started off with a core group of 8–12 volunteers. Over time, through word of mouth, that number grew to over 170 volunteers, and continues to grow thanks to the dedicated volunteers who keep driving the mission forward. Although the goal is to help people get outdoors, it goes beyond the mission because many of the volunteers get more out of it than the people being served.

“I find that the volunteers, me included, get a feeling of rejuvenation after helping others,” said Stutzman. “You feel illuminated, and it affects your emotional well-being for weeks or months after,” he added. Tomah Squirrels volunteers assist the community in various fashions like equine-assisted therapies, building an all-abilities playground, taking disabled individuals hunting or fishing, providing holiday light tours and pontoon rides to nursing home residents, and more.

“I hope one day someone will do that for me if I’m in a nursing home so I can still enjoy the outdoors,” Dave added.

From volunteering for 31 years with an organization that helped shape him, to leading Tomah Squirrels to where it is today, though he may be a little nutty, Dave is the face of servant leadership and volunteerism. He concluded with, “Everyone thanks us for helping them, but it’s really all the volunteers and donors who make this mission possible.”