Elks hold 60th Top 10 banquet for area seniors

Brian Roebke photo
Wrightstown High School’s Top 10 students from the Class of 2024 were honored by the Kaukauna Elks Club. Front: Kathy Brien, Leah Warnecke, Lilly Wendricks, Stella Theunis, and Amber Radtke. Back: Ben Zemple, Charlie Garvey, Elise Anderson, Aubrey Stradl, Scott Thompson, Jerry Brien, and Edgar Dinehart. Not pictured: Landon Helphrey.

By Brian Roebke
The Kaukauna Elks Lodge #962 held its 60th student recognition banquet for the Top 10 academic students from the Class of 2024 in May.
This year’s banquet, held at Van Abel’s of Hollandtown, was the latest opportunity for the Elks to recognize students from Kaukauna, Kimberly, Little Chute, Freedom, and Wrightstown high schools.
Emcee Jerry Brien, who was in his 50th year in education, first as a speech pathologist and more recently as a substitute teacher, said the 36 members of the Elks Club are heavily involved in the community, especially schools.
Wrightstown’s Top 10 seniors are Elise Anderson, Edgar Dinehart, Charlie Garvey, Landon Helphrey, Amber Radtke, Aubrey Stradl, Stella Theunis, Leah Warnecke, Lilly Wendricks, and Ben Zemple.
Scott Thompson, principal at Wrightstown High School, said today was a day of celebration for the students’ excellence in high school education.
“You have made this day possible through your persistence and hard work, through internal and probably some external motivation, and through your love of learning,” he said.
He had some tips for them.
“First, you have to be persistent,” he said. “Some unknown person has said that if you don’t first exceed, erase all evidence and try to start over.”
The second is to find their next set of mentors. “John Crosby said mentoring is a brain to pick if you care to listen, and a push in the right direction.”
Next was who they reach out to as they move through school, onto careers, or even afterward is important.
“I had an undergraduate professor who is one of the primary reasons I entered the field of education.”
Thompson encouraged students to reach out to others for assistance and then repay that favor themselves.
His third tip was to be happy. “What makes you happy now may not make you happy later in life,” he said. “Twenty years ago if someone would have told me that that running would have made me happy, I would have said not a chance. Now it’s something I look forward to daily.
He started coaching soccer when his son was a senior in high school and thought it would be something to do for a couple years and move on but that was 11 years ago and he’s still coaching.
“That today is one of those things that continues to fill my bucket on a daily basis like being here with all of you tonight,” Thompson said.
He read an article that afternoon that said a person should write their biography when they were 17 instead of 70.
“Take some time this summer to write what you would like to be when you are 70,” he said. “This biography is not a blueprint or a plan or a guide or some kind of checklist. What it is is a safe spot. It’s a place you go to remember who you are and who you should be when the dust starts to settle and you’re confused by those messages we are constantly being bombarded with.”
Thompson said the Top 10 from Wrightstown were all leaders whether they’re the most outgoing and verbal individuals or the quiet ones who lead by example. They lead in the classroom, on the athletic fields, and in the community.
They lead by what they stand for, the choices they make. They’re all highly dedicated individuals who provide stability in the school and inspire their teachers with their work ethic and constant quest for knowledge.”
“They definitely will be missed and all are dedicated to succeed in the ventures they undertake. They are artistic, musical, athletic, academically minded, civic focused, and just a really nice group of young adults. They set the standard for excellence both in and out of school.”
Brien ended by telling the students there will be some tough times when they get to college and they will have some doubts in themselves and challenged them when that time came, reach out to one of their favorite teachers from high school.
“Being in education for 50 years, I know there’s a lot of caring teachers out there, so if you ever want to make contact with one of those teachers, reach out to them and they’ll reassure you, they will tell you what it was like when they were a student,” he said.
He also hopes the students give back to their communities they settle in.
“There are organizations in all the communities you’re going to end up and they all are going to need volunteers to help them, so please consider that,” he said.
Kurt Erickson of Freedom High School added the student population of the five high schools, getting 4,268 students, and the 50 being honored were the top 1.17 percent.
“No doubt all 50 kids here tonight worked extremely hard,” he said. “Your ability to absorb information, facts, concepts, and ideas, and furthermore, store them for later retrieval, is unquestionably high.”
He told them they won the genetic lottery but added everyone knows there’s more than genetics at play.
“You had parents guiding you, providing for you, setting guidelines, and laying out the expectations. You had teachers showing you your paths to success, and I’d like to believe you had principals up here providing for a safe environment for you to succeed in,” he said.
Erickson said when their formal education is finished and they settle somewhere to remember the good fortune they were blessed with, pass it forward in their community, be a good neighbor, be a good active citizen, and join a club like the Elks which gives back to their community.
Little Chute Principal Tony Bird said this is a competitive part of the state where schools are amazing.
He told parents they are a direct example of why their children are being recognized that night.
Talking to the Little Chute students, he said something that’s resonated with him over the years is that people are the average of the five people they spend the most time with in life.
“I can honestly say that all of you in this room have chosen wisely,” he said.
He’s proud these students attend school in Little Chute. “The talent, academic accomplishments, sense of humor, and overall kindness of this group will hold a place in my heart forever,” he said.
He thanked them for being a great example for others, including himself. “I’ve learned so much from you and I wish you well on your journey to become the best version of yourselves,” he said.
Chris McDaniel of Kaukauna thanked the Kaukauna parents for trusting their kids with them because there are so many options in education right now.
He congratulated the students on the honor they were receiving that night. “To be 10 in your class is a pretty amazing accomplishment,” he said.
McDaniel told the students that at some point in the future, these will be the “good ole days” they will have great memories of.
“Pictures are really important for memories but being present for the memories is really what’s the most important,” he said.
He added the seniors should have the confidence to tell their parents what they mean to them because they’re not going to have the chance again.
“I hope that you are filled with the happiness of accomplishment, hope that the excitement of what is yet to come is really filling your cup,” he said. “You have many places you’re going to go and more ways that you’re going to grow as you keep going along your path. We are all very thankful we’re able to share in this time with you and be part of your journey.”
Kimberly Principal Jackie Depeau said this night demonstrates the high quality of education that exists in public schools in the Fox Valley.
“Academically, artistically, musically, and athletically we celebrate the achievements of students throughout our area,” she said.
When she thought about what she wanted to say, she recalled herself as an 18-year-old senior at Luxemburg-Casco High School and heading to UW-Madison.
“It turned out to be five simple words I did not end up hearing until I was 30 years old and about to give my first high school graduation speech as the principal at Oshkosh North High School,” she said. The words from her superintendent right before the speech were, “Don’t be nervous, be proud.”
She said not a day goes by in her life when she doesn’t have to say those words to herself.
“It completely changes the way you enter a meeting, a speech, a room, an AP test, because the reality is all the seniors in this room, you should be proud,” she said.
Brien ended the program by asking all the seniors to stand up and find their parents, to give them a standing ovation for everything they did to make their achievement possible.