Organizations: Riverfest, Rotary Lights and Irishfest
Volunteer Service: Since 1990

Bill Heinz at "Breakfast with Santa."
Bill Heinz at "Breakfast with Santa."


Can you give us an overview of your community involvement?
Thirty years ago I became a “commodore,” or local leader, for Riverfest, a community fundraising event held in La Crosse each year over the 4th of July. As a commodore, I help manage the charitable foundation, using the funds raised at Riverfest to support community causes. Most recently, we established a program called “Children in Need” where we cover medical services and counseling for local children who are not covered by insurance. Since its inception last year we’ve helped 40 families get the care they need.

I also volunteer for Rotary Lights, a display of 3.5 million holiday lights in downtown La Crosse each December that raises funds to help fight hunger. It’s free to participate, but we ask for a monetary or nonperishable food donation to help fill local pantries for the next three months. For the last 25 years, I have volunteered to appear as Santa at the event as well as for their “Breakfast with Santa” event that provides a hot meal and Christmas presents to families in need.


Fifteen years ago, my friends and I also started Irishfest in La Crosse to honor the Irish culture and raise additional funds for hunger causes in the community.


Why did you first get involved in your community?
I got involved because I grew up watching my dad give back. He was involved with the church and several community organizations. This influenced my values and desire to give back.


What do you feel is the most rewarding part of volunteering?
Volunteering supports the community and we have such a giving community in La Crosse. When a cause is known, people come out of the woodwork to contribute any way they can. It’s fun to be part of efforts that make the city a great place to live and work.


Can you share a memorable experience from your community involvement?
One year, after the Rotary Lights Breakfast with Santa event we received a letter from a single mother who was living at the Salvation Army shelter with her two children. She thanked us for hosting the event because it was the first time her family got to enjoy a hot meal in weeks, and the presents she received helped complete a Christmas experience they would not have had otherwise. The letter was a real tear jerker, but just the type of thing that fuels every volunteer’s desire to give back.


Why is it important to give back to the communities we serve?
There are many organizations that need your help. I’m retiring in a few months and will be able to give back more of my time then, but I won’t be able to do so forever. That’s why it is important to encourage all generations to give back, so we can continue to help others and keep our communities strong.


What advice would you give other colleagues looking to start volunteering?
It’s rewarding to help others and it gives you visibility in the community from a networking and business perspective. The personal reward you feel after giving back makes it all worthwhile and motivates you to keep giving back.