Pat and Jerry Papenfuss have a passion for philanthropy. Both Pat and Jerry grew up on farms in Minnesota and know the value of hard work and giving back. Giving to others was a core value instilled in them by both of their families. After settling in Winona, and over the course of their 60 year marriage, they have established a strong legacy of philanthropy and have touched the lives of so many who call Winona home.
Pat and Jerry sat down for an interview with the Winona Community Foundation. They spoke about their beginnings, the causes they’re passionate about, and why they are proud to call Winona home.
Tell me about your early backgrounds. Where did you each grow up?
Pat: I was one of 8 children in a family we grew up on a farm about 30 miles west of the twin cities. I came to Winona when I graduated from college and I got a job here.
Jerry: I was raised on a dairy farm in Winona county. I’m one of three children. I’ve lived in Winona County all my life. Pat and I have been married for 60 years.
You both have such a strong history of giving back to others in the community. Where did this begin?
Pat: That was the style of our family. That was what we did, so we assumed this is how you live. That’s how I got started. It was a family value.
Jerry: It was in our family, too. While they did not have very much in material things, just as Pat’s family didn’t, they gave of their time, talent, and treasures what they could.
What makes Winona unique to you?
Pat: The culture is different here than we’ve seen in other places. People are friendly; they take care of each other. We go down the street and say “hello” to people whether we know them or not, because they’re people here just like us, so we’re friends.
Jerry: Winona is a very entrepreneurial community. We have many instances of companies that were started here that do business worldwide. The culture of giving goes way back to when Winona State University was organized and started. So the community has a long history of giving and of working together.
You were the owners of Winona Radio for many years. What was your hand in Winona Radio’s commitment to community service? How did Winona Radio support philanthropy?
Jerry: We saw our obligation to the community as to tell the story of the community. So we put a lot of time and talent into working with the organizations. Not only did they come in for a lot of interviews, but we made it a point to go out into the community when there was anything going on. We always tried to be there and let people tell their own story about Steamboat Days or any other event that was going on. We took Community Service as a very important part of our obligation to having a radio license.
Pat: It wasn’t just us that did this, it was the whole staff that did this. The staff would contact them and set that up with them. It was a [team] effort. It was the whole staff that had this outlook.
Jerry: It was our job to set the tone and provide the resources for the staff to do the job. And we took our job very seriously and we are known as hard workers. We set the tone and made it possible to do all this.
Pat: If you grew up on a farm in Minnesota, everyone in the family worked hard. That’s just what you did!
What are the issues or initiatives you are most drawn to?
Jerry: When we look back on our giving, I would say education is number one.
Pat: Both of our mothers were teachers, and our fathers very strongly supported education.
Jerry: Human services would be the other category. For instance, we are very supportive of Family & Children’s Center.
Jerry: Pretty much everyone agrees that an education is the key to success. Maybe you get a good high school education and that’s all you need. Or maybe you go to the technical college and learn welding, and you go out and get a good job. But, you do need a good education. We know that education is expensive, so our investments in the three Winona institutions of higher learning, and also at Marquette where Pat’s a graduate, were meant to try to make it a little bit easier for students to get their degree.
What is your personal philosophy in regards to helping others?
Jerry: First of all, we say that there are three legs to community service: volunteerism, fundraising, and philanthropy. We’re quite unique in that we’re involved in all three. For instance, we were given the presidential award because we have a record of working in all three legs of the stool. Our community service started out mostly as volunteers, because we didn’t have a lot of money. And then as we were more successful, we were able to give more. And fundraising is a form of volunteerism, so that started early.
Pat: We decided that when we are asked if it’s okay to use our names that we donated something, and we say, “Well, yes, because people would understand that if we could do it, they could do it, too.” It wasn’t like we had so much, but if we could give something in whatever way, then others would say they could do it, too.
When you reflect on your years of service, what are you most proud of?
Jerry: When we reflect back, I would say that we believe that we’ve been good community servants.
What was your response when you learned that you would be honored as 2023 Founders Award recipients?
Jerry: We’re honored and humbled.
Pat: We volunteer to others, but we’re at the other end of things, too. We’re in a community where we say “thank you” because we’re helped all the time. So, it’s not just us do all the helping, people help us all the time.