Woman of the Year

Wendy Jirsa, fifth from left in the first row, was awarded “Woman of the Year’ by the Madison Leukemia and Lymphoma Society chapter. She and her team raised $63,000 for the research organization during a 10-week period.

Verona resident Wendy Jirsa is no stranger to working with money.

As bank manager and assistant vice president for Capitol Bank on East Verona Avenue, Jirsa works with other people’s funds all day long.

But she realized managing other people’s money was a lot more difficult when she was asking for them to donate it.

“You have to break down your barriers, asking for money,” she said. “It’s flat-out, ‘Will you give me money?’ And yes, it’s not going to me, but it’s still asking people for money … they don’t get anything out of it, it’s strictly a donation because people want to help other people.”

Jirsa was asking for donations to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) for its “Woman of the Year” competition, which ran from March until June 1. She and her 10-person team won after raising a total of $63,000.

“I had a lot of support,” she said. “This was not something I did on my own … my personal family and my Capitol Bank family really rallied around me.

“My name is on it, but I could not have done it without everyone that helped,” Jirsa added.

Jirsa had no idea she’d won until the night of the LLS’ Man and Woman of the Year Gala on June 1. She knew she’d reached her goal of fundraising $50,000 the day before the gala, but with the event being the last opportunity to fundraise, she had no idea how much was still to come.

More than 50 people attended the gala to show their support for Jirsa, she said. The final night resulted in three of the 11 candidates reaching more than $50,000 raised throughout their 10-week campaigns, and together, the group doubled the amount raised by the group from last year, Jirsa said.

With all of the support, Jirsa said, it didn’t matter to her who won at the end of the night.

“I joked from the start that I’m very competitive,” she said. “I really just wanted to make sure I felt like I gave it my all, and there was nothing else I could have done. If I came out top fundraiser, great; if I didn’t, knowing I met my goal and did everything I could, I was going to be perfectly happy with it.”

Jirsa was approached by LLS to be a candidate last November by its executive committee. One of its members had worked with her before, and thought she would be a good candidate, Jirsa said.

Jirsa agreed, partly to honor the memory of two of her uncles who died of leukemia in the last seven years, and partly for Capitol Bank’s founder Jim Dolister, who died of blood cancer in 2017.

Jirsa set a fundraising goal of $50,000 for herself with the hopes that if she raised that much, she’d be able to dedicate a grant in memory of someone. That grant would be given to a researcher working through LLS.

“I just thought, ‘What better way to honor my two uncles and then Jim?’” she said.

Planning the campaignAfter accepting in November, Jirsa had four-and-a-half months to plan her campaign before it kicked off in March.

In working with Kim Lanzel, campaign director for LLS’ Madison chapter, Jirsa planned a campaign that reflected who she was as a person.

LLS gave Jirsa flexibility in how she wanted to design her campaign.

“Obviously, you have to make sure you’re running on behalf of LLS, and people need to be aware of that, but as a nonprofit, you have a lot of options you can do,” she said. “I just sat down and made a list of events that would be fun and that I thought I could coordinate.”

Jirsa couldn’t physically start fundraising until the starting date of the campaign in March, but she spent the time in between asking family members and clients for future donations, either to her campaign specifically or for sponsorships for the June 1 gala night.

Jirsa also did the planning for her events prior to the start of the campaign, scheduling six Culver’s Share Nights at both the Verona and corporate-owned restaurants and coordinating other events like a paint night, a “boot camp” event, a brat stand at Miller and Sons’ Supermarket and “Jeans Day” at Capitol Bank, prior to the start.

“Once the campaign started, everything just fell into place,” she said.

Coming together

Having lost their CEO less than two years earlier, Capitol Bank employees took Jirsa’s fundraising campaign as a way they could all partake in honoring Dolister’s memory.

Jirsa said a lot of her support came from Capitol Bank and its employees, as all of her coworkers participated in the campaign.

“We’re big in community events and supporting employees with what they get involved in,” she said. “We all really wanted to do something to honor him.”

Natalie Gregerson, marketing director for Capitol Bank, said Jirsa made it easy to participate because of how many events she held.

“She was always coming up with ways, whether it was “Jeans Day” at work or going to Culver’s after work, she gave everyone the opportunity to be involved,” she said. “It was a no-brainer for us to support Wendy and the cause.”

Setting a good exampleDuring the campaign, Jirsa wondered whether her three children would ever get sick of eating Culver’s.

Turns out, her two daughters and one son didn’t.

Her daughters, ages 11 and 8, were at all of the Culver’s Share Nights with her, helping deliver meals to people who had donated. One still wears the shirt that was designed for her mother’s campaign, Jirsa said.

Her children’s schools also pitched in for the campaign, with both Glacier Edge Elementary School and her son’s Once Upon a Time preschool holding cash drives for Jirsa.

One of the most rewarding experiences of the campaign was showing her daughters the benefits of community service, and seeing them get excited about helping others.

“Seeing them realize that there are people that want to do good out there instead of having them focus on what’s not always good was pretty cool for me,” she said. “It was just cool to see my daughters … figure out, ‘Hey, it’s fun to do good for people.’”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.