Jefferson Award Winner: Don Herr, leaving his mark on Cataract, WI

If you live in Cataract, chances are you’ve heard of Don Herr.  

"Over the years, if all else failed …’Go to Uncle Don’. See him. He’ll straighten it out for you," said Don Herr.

The 74-year-old grew up dirt poor in a family that endured a lot of hardships but despite not having much, the family had room in their hearts and houses for others.

Don’s wife, Judy says they both grew up with a philosophy of giving. "I don’t know I remember my mom saying this a lot. ‘There’s always room for one more to eat or whatever.’ She said this a lot. ‘There’s always room for one more’," said Judy Herr.  

Judy recalls one night the couple made room for four more.

"The telephone rang and I answered it.  His aunt said is Don there and I said yup. So I give him the phone and he says ‘I’ll be right down’.  Well here he comes back and he has 4 children with him and all they had was a pillow.  They each had a pillow, that’s all.  They stayed with us for over a year," said Judy.

Don’s magical touches can be seen all over Cataract where he has helped restore and rebuild just about everything.  Having spent decades in Army National Guard, Don takes local students to the cemetery on Memorial Day to put flags on the grave sites of soldiers.

"When we’re done each student that participates and adults, cause a lot of adults come up to help, they get an ice cream sandwich. It’s one step up from the popsicle, but I enjoyed that so much that I’m hoping some day that one of those kids will come back to Cataract and say, ‘When I was a kid, we did this’," said Don.  

Growing up poor, Don knows what it’s like to stretch a dollar so he puts that to good use with some local Boy Scouts taking them on a camping trip for a fraction of what it would cost to go to the Boy Scouts annual summer camp.

"I plan on having a whole boat load of kids along and with a pontoon boat there’s room for everybody and we’ll see if we can’t catch a fish somewhere along the line.  And if we can’t catch a fish we’ll stow the line and kids, here’s your new swimming pool," said Don.

35 years ago, Don started the area’s First Responder Service, to provide some medical assistance until help arrives.

"You’ve got to do the best you can with what you’ve got. We don’t have all that fancy stainless steel and everything else.  We’re out there in the mud, the grass, the dirt and usually it’s dark. When you get north of Cataract, that’s a lot of lonesome country out there," said Don.   

Volunteering is a way of life for Don and always will be, no matter his age.  

"Because of some of the things I’ve gone through I can’t do as much as I once did but I still like to do the spook house. There’s something about hearing little kids scream that makes a smile come to your face," said Don.

A smile on the face of a man that to people in the Cataract area is a source of comfort, security and great compassion.

Learn more about the Jefferson Awards



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