A conversation with Rhinelander’s Patty Fitzpatrick
From Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond magazine
BY TIMI ECKES, EDITOR
When Patty Fitzpatrick moved to Rhinelander more than two decades ago, it didn’t take her long to become a vital part of the community.
That’s because this woman with a friendly manner and a ready laugh didn’t hesitate to jump right in and become deeply involved in her new hometown.
“One of the things I love about this community and the Northwoods in general,” she says, “is that people pull together.” It’s something she has seen over and over. “Since I moved here, we have added a local food pantry, a homeless shelter, a YMCA, an improved animal shelter and so much more. People see a need and they respond. If there is something that people want and we don’t have, like a community art space, they find a way to make it happen.”
That can-do attitude and the idea of lending a hand whenever needed are concepts Patty has valued throughout her life. As a child in Boulder, Colo., she didn’t realize that her neighbors across the street were poor. Her own family wasn’t well-off, but she didn’t realize that back then, either. It’s just not something that young children think about much, she says.
“I believe that people are hard-wired to feel needed and have purpose.”
For some reason long forgotten, the neighbors’ water wasn’t potable. So every day, the woman who lived across the street would come to her parents’ house and Patty’s mother would give the woman jugs of water to use at home. It didn’t seem significant to her back then, but Patty realizes now how important that gesture was. By example, her parents were teaching their children the importance of helping other people.
“Both of my parents helped others through their church and by being good neighbors and citizens,” she says. “They instilled in us the value of looking out for the other guy, of being aware of our blessings and helping those who need it.”
Her mother’s good deeds in Boulder were recognized by people in high places. Back in the 1970s, Patty’s mom was thrilled when she got to meet President Jimmy Carter in connection with her volunteer work.
Patty’s mother continued to be involved in her community until poor health no longer permitted it. Patty herself doesn’t intend to stop her volunteering if she can help it. “I want to just do what I can, while I can,” she says. “It goes so fast.”
Eventually, after a career in Kansas City, Mo., Patty realized she wanted more balance in her life. She quit a job she had loved and moved to Rhinelander, where one of her sisters lived, in 1995. She began working at Saint Mary’s Hospital, and soon plunged into volunteer work.
“It was a great way to meet people when I first moved to town,” she says. “I helped out at some of the chamber events and it gave me a sense of the community and helped me make friends.”
The list of groups with which she has volunteered since moving to Rhinelander is extensive. Among them are Saint Mary’s Hospital, the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Arts Council, the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry and Nativity of Our Lord Church.
Today, Patty has whittled her volunteer commitments down to two organizations: ArtStart and WXPR Public Radio. “I’m really passionate about both of them – and they’re fun,” she says. “Both ArtStart and WXPR focus on what we have in common as people living in the same area, rather than our differences.”
Patty likes being able to use her administrative skills at both organizations. “Before moving to Rhinelander, I worked for a national visual arts touring organization in Kansas City,” she continues. “I really enjoyed that job. I liked working with the artists and the art. When ArtStart was formed, I felt like I had some expertise that could help the organization and I really wanted an arts space in Rhinelander. So, to make that happen, I needed to do what I could to help.”
She began her stint at WXPR Public Radio by answering phones during pledge drives and co-hosting. Now she’s not only a volunteer host at the station, but is also vice-president and secretary of its board of directors, and she writes WXPR’s bimonthly volunteer newsletter.
“With WXPR – and this sounds really hokey – I just sort of fell in love,” Patty says, adding that she has learned a great deal about different kinds of music. Before volunteering at the station, she notes, she mainly listened to jazz and rhythm and blues. Now, her musical tastes have a much wider range. In addition to her appreciation for many styles of music, she’s also grateful for the volunteers who help get that music and other programming out to the public. Without them, she says, the station wouldn’t be able to offer the music programming that it does.
“Both WXPR and ArtStart are fabulous resources for our community. Between these two organizations, I spend a great deal of time volunteering.” At ArtStart, she serves on the board of directors as secretary, co-chairs the organization’s events committee and helps as an office assistant. “It’s about all the volunteering I have time for,” says Patty, who retired from her position as foundation and volunteer coordinator at Saint Mary’s Hospital in 2013.
Her dedication has not gone unnoticed, and she received a nomination for the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce Female Volunteer of the Year award. Although she didn’t win the award, she was thrilled to learn that the nomination had come from her colleagues at WXPR. “I was completely, completely surprised,” she says.
However, she doesn’t do what she does for recognition. “I believe that people are hard-wired to feel needed and have purpose,” Patty says. “I firmly believe if we all do what we can to help others, it all gets done and life gets better.”
While community involvement is a big part of her life, Patty knows it’s important to find balance. Volunteering, she believes, has to be done with joy. “I don’t think God appreciates a crabby volunteer,” she says with a laugh. “If a volunteer isn’t having fun or feeling a sense of purpose at one organization, they should try another.”
Even when she isn’t volunteering, Patty likes to read and she takes part in a couple of book discussion groups. She enjoys playing cards, attending plays and concerts, traveling and spending time with family and friends. She’s also an election worker, which, she notes, “was pretty hectic this past November.”
Like anyone else, Patty needs her down time. “Sometimes, just sitting with the cats on my lap, binge watching some great British drama is fun as well,” she says. “Our time on Earth is fleeting and not guaranteed. I want to make the most of what time I have and hope that when I die, I’ll have left it a little better than I found it.”
To read more stories in the current edition of Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond, pick up a free copy in newsstands throughout the Northwoods, or in the Star Journal office, 24 W. Rives St., Rhinelander.