Person of the Year: Katie Commer's Volunteer Roots Run Deep
This Whitefish Bay mom spends her free time circulating fundraising sheets and coordinating volunteers for projects that make Whitefish Bay a better place to live.
When a need arises in the community, Katie Commer is always willing to step up.
A lifelong Whitefish Bay resident with two kids in the school district, Commer is no stranger to organizing fundraisers, chairing event committees and creating miniature task force groups of her own to address needs she sees in the community.
Perfect example: About seven years ago, Commer decided to collect gifts for underprivileged families in the Cumberland School community. Cumberland Principal Jayne Heffron selected multiple families in need, and asked those students to confidentially submit a Christmas wish list. Without ever knowing the names of the kids, Commer and her email list of about 50 Whitefish Bay friends were able to fill the wish lists and brighten the holidays for a half dozen elementary school students.
The wish list idea was so successful that the Cumberland PTO decided to continue the fundraiser every year, donating essentials like boots and mittens.
"I think we're pretty lucky, so I think it's important that our kids see the importance of being considerate and thoughtful of others who are not as lucky," Commer said.
Now that she has gained a reputation as a volunteer and do-gooder, another friend of hers – a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher – reached out to see if Commer could get her friends to donate Christmas presents for a 19-year-old student of hers who was going through a rough time.
In typical fashion, Commer was able to call on seven of her friends and make the student's holiday wish list a reality.
In a conversation last week, Commer downplayed her efforts, saying she is just one player on a team of people who are willing to help out others in the community.
"I'm really lucky that I have such generous friends," she said. "It's fun for me to be able to help someone by connecting them with people that can help out. That's very rewarding to me."
Commer's involvement is seen most prominently in the schools, as her children progressed through Cumberland, the middle school and now the high school. This year, she is the chair of the January Pops Concert and the co-chair of Whitefish Bay Middle School's Holiday Boutique sale. She is also the membership chair for Duke Pride athletic boosters, and has co-chaired two Bay Ball fundraisers.
She is also the current auction chair for the American Cancer Society, and previously served six years on the Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation, including a term as president.
"She is the "go to" person whenever you need something," said Jamie Andriacchi, who nominated Katie for Person of the Year recognition. "She is the first person to take on any project, and it is always successful."
Commer's involvement in the schools goes back at least a decade ago, when the Cumberland PTO raised funds for a new playground. Commer remembers wearing a miniature flier pinned to her coat to promote the effort and help the PTO raise $100,000 over nine months. They also organized volunteers to install the playground equipment.
Two years ago, Commer worked with other parents to buy SMART Boards for all classrooms at Whitefish Bay Middle School. The fundraising group raised $26,000, and an anonymous donor gave a $20,000 matching donation to bring the grand total to $46,000.
All of these efforts are made possible due to the close community connections Commer has made over her lifetime in Whitefish Bay.
"She knows every person in Whitefish Bay," said her daughter Livy, a sophomore. "Try going to Sendik's with her, it's impossible."
Ellen Cook, one of Commer's friends who nominated her for this recognition, said Katie wears her heart on her sleeve, so those around her feed off of her energy to make positive change in the community.
For these reasons, Commer deserves recognition as Person of the Year - a title she humbly suggests belongs to any of the other community-minded residents of Whitefish Bay.
"She's very humble. She's not doing any of this for any other reason than to help others," Cook said. "I think Katie's specialness is that she's humble about what she does."