The Wisconsin Association of Family and Consumer Sciences has awarded Mary Harp-Jirschele as this year’s winner of the Friend of the Family Award. Established in 1984, the award is presented to an individual or organization that has affected policies for families. In order to be eligible an individual or organization needs to be involved at the national or international level in the policy-making process, and their work over time has made significant contributions that affect the well-being of families.
A lifelong advocate for families, Harp-Jirschele began her career as a journalist with the Appleton Post Crescent. From there she moved to Thrivent, formerly Aid Association for Lutherans, as communication specialist and eventually became the vice president of communications. She was also vice president of a Fox Cities employment company and for the past 10 years and served as the executive director of JJ Keller Foundation before retiring in 2016.
Harp-Jirschele has been involved in family policy issues in her many professional roles. This has included efforts addressing dental health, affordable health care, basic needs of families and affordable housing. Mary is not just an advocate for these needs she is also a tireless volunteer on the local level, and does not hesitate to find the time to prepare meals at the local Homeless Connection site, as well as find funding for the many programs needed by area families.
Her many accomplishments include serving as the driving force in establishing a mobile dental clinic that includes a bus donated by Bob Glass that travels from school to school to offer free dental work to area students in Northeast Wisconsin. She also worked with Habitat for Humanity building efforts, assisted in getting multiple health organizations to work together to develop Catalpa Health – mental health clinic for children, assisted with the establishment of the Oshkosh Area Food Pantry and Riverview Gardens.
Another of her many talents is working with fund raising, such as helping with the US Venture Golf Outing this past year – their 30th Annual outing that raised 3.61 million for basic needs funding in the Fox Valley area in collaboration with the Basic Needs Committee of the Fox Valley Community Foundation.
In her retirement, Mary continues to serve on a variety of community volunteer and leadership groups. She is an active member of the Appleton Rotary and is currently recruiting Rotarians to be a part of the outreach volunteer work she has been doing at the Homeless Connection.
The Friend of the Family award was presented Friday March 3 at the Wisconsin Association of Family and Consumer Sciences banquet at the Paper Valley Hotel. As the state winner Harp-Jirschele will be eligible for the national award. Karen Dickrell, Outagamie County UW-Extension family living educator and department head along with Chris Kniep, Winnebago County UW-Extension family living educator will be presenting the award on behalf of the awards committee for the Wisconsin Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.