The Hodag Schools Foundation (HSF) is pleased to announce the donation of $500,000 from Rhinelander’s Dr. Lee Swank, making it the Foundation’s largest donation to date. The donation comes in the form of a pledge over several years designated towards a goal of indoor activity facility improvements. Like HSF, Dr. Swank believes that schools are a crucial part of any community, and he is passionate about giving Rhinelander students and the community more indoor activity space. “With Rhinelander’s unpredictable spring weather,” Dr. Swank noted, “An indoor facility here would help teams get off to a great start. In addition, this kind of facility could be an asset to the community, helping draw new families to the area and providing a space for senior citizens and the community to use year-round due to the inclement weather during the winter.”
The Rhinelander Board of Education approved the agreement with Dr. Swank on Monday January 21, 2019. Multiple facility options are being explored as HSF and the School District Administration review potential upgrades to best accommodate year-round needs; as well as what other donations HSF might facilitate to help in the improvements.
Dr. Swank, a long-time physician at Ascension, and his wife Judy moved to Rhinelander in the 1980’s. Small town values and outdoor living were priorities in the move. Dr. Swank noted, “We looked at many places in Wisconsin, in the southern and central part of the state, but my wife kept saying we had to have a place up North. We were familiar with the community. We were familiar with all the communities around the area, but because of what Rhinelander had to offer, we chose Rhinelander."
Dr. Swank noted the strong school system as a major reason to move to Rhinelander and in his decision to give back. He commented, "It was fantastic for my son. He got a tremendous education and had great teachers. My wife was very involved. She coached junior high track for a while, and for about 15 years, she coached cross-country skiing. She enjoyed the kids. She always told them, it is not how good a skier you are, it is how good a person you are. I think the kids remembered that."
The Swank Family was very involved in activities and saw the success of the cross-country team with both their son and the state team being inducted in the Hodag Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Dr. Swank lost his wife Judy to cancer in 2009 but Dr. Swank continued their family mission to be active and involved. He is an avid outdoor enthusiast known for biking, skiing, and enjoying the outdoors. However, his passion to make this donation did not come from what he saw outdoors, but what he did not see indoors. Dr. Swank commented, "I've always felt that the most important thing we can do is educate our kids, and I was concerned by the fact that the kids did not have a place to do spring activities. I read in the paper that the kids were practicing in the hallways, the gym, and classrooms due to the short spring. I know that other communities in the area have indoor facilities; I thought that Rhinelander should have one too."
Dave Heck, President of the Hodag Schools Foundation stated, “HSF thanks all of our donors and supporters and is thrilled and appreciative of the Swank Family and their donation. It provides options for year-round activities, which are often limited by the weather in Northern Wisconsin. There have been so many disruptions for fall/winter/spring activities: field problems, students practicing until late at night, which affects grades and family life, all due to lack of space and year round facilities. This donation helps provide a great start to facility improvements and benefits the entire community.” Heck further commented, “We have had interest from other donors to help, our goal is to work with the School District on options and raise more money to help provide options for year-round multi-purpose space.“
HSF and the School District sincerely thank the Swank Family and applaud Dr. Swank’s objective to help the community and the Rhinelander students.