Forever 56 Foundation Continues to Create Legacy During Fundraising Banquet

Forever 56 Foundation's Mission: Helping the young people of Belleville and the surrounding communities through college scholarships and the support of youth organizations.

 

April 11, 2019

Marian Viney

From left to right: Sherry, Tony, Steve, and Kristen stand by a poster of Eric during the Forever 56 Foundation Fundraising Banquet. The Foundation was founded by the O'Connor family and their friends in memory of Eric O'Connor, who died as a result of an accident in July 2017.

On March 30, 2019, more than 300 people attended the second annual Forever 56 Foundation Fundraising Banquet at Deer Creek Sportsman's Club in Mount Vernon.

The Foundation was founded by the O'Connor family and their friends in memory of Eric O'Connor, who died as a result of an accident in July 2017.

Long-time O'Connor family friend Mike Krawczyk helped organize the event and kept everything on schedule along with volunteers who staffed the different stations including ticket sales, t-shirt and other Forever 56 Foundation themed items, and raffle ticket sales.

Riley Kahl auctioned off more than 25 live auction items, including a chance to be the first, second, third, and fourth tables in line at the buffet; an autographed Badger Football; Brewers tickets; fire rings; deer camp signs; pheasant hunt; artwork; UW Basketball tickets; a weekend stay in Minocqua; and more.

The silent auction offered more than 40 items, ranging from baskets to gift certificates.

The 52 Chance Walk-Around offered a chance to win rifles, binoculars, a chain saw, drill set, spa basket, a family photography session, a bar basket; UW Basketball tickets; and more.

No one left hungry. Staff with JL Richards Prime Meats and Catering in Oregon made sure of that while serving chicken, pork, vegetables, potatoes, salad, and desserts.

Van Rear and other bartenders kept up with the drink requests.

"The banquet was about friends and family coming together, community, making something good out of a bad situation, celebrating life, and continuing the legacy of Eric and his family and friends," said Eric's father, Steve O'Connor.

During the banquet, Steve, Sherry, Kristin, and Tony, on behalf of the Forever 56 Foundation, recognized and presented a check to Belleville High School Senior Danny Enloe. In February, Enloe was selected to play in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star Game and is raising funds for the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.


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The family also recognized and presented a check to New Glarus High School senior Jaden Kreklow, who was selected to play in the Division 4 Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game and is raising funds for the battle against childhood cancer.

"It was important to us and those involved in the Foundation to recognize these two outstanding students and athletes," said Steve. "We also wanted to recognize a student in another community other than Belleville."

The Foundation is still in its infancy but has held two very successful fundraisers in about 10 months, "and we're just getting started with some of our ideas like sponsoring scholarships for college students," said Eric's mom Sherry.

"For a while after the accident, we weren't ready," said Steve. "But then we started talking with others who were in similar situations and friends and family continued asking and offering to help."

As one of Eric's hunting friends, and having known the O'Connor family since 1979 when Krawczyk's dad asked Frank O'Connor if he could hunt in their woods after he continued to see deer when driving through the area, Krawczyk knew he wanted to be involved in the Foundation.

"Friends and family met to brainstorm some ideas, set some goals, and then when Sherry, Steve, and the family were ready, we started formalizing our plans," said Krawczyk.

The Forever 56 Foundation board of directors include Steve, Sherry, Kristin, Tony, Krawczyk, Jason Eyler, and Korey Trainor.

The fundraising banquet committee members include Chris Meier, Greg and Peggy Hicks, Kristen Lowery, and Laura Eyler.

"And like its mission says, the foundation supports local youth groups and youth by providing scholarships to ensure Eric's legacy continues," added Steve. "The name Forever 56 came from Eric's high school football number 56."

During the first year, the goals of the Forever 56 Foundation were met.

"The Forever 56 Foundation presented $20,000 in scholarships and donated $6,400 to other organizations that support the youth of Belleville and surrounding communities," said Sherry. "This wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the tremendous support of our local communities."

It is amazing what the power of community can achieve.

"Because of you, Eric's legacy lives on and has made an impact to the youth of our local communities," added Sherry.

Eric's sister Kristin serves as secretary of the Foundation and her dad proudly adds that she is the official IT (information technology) person.

"I schedule the social media for the Foundation, I use a scheduling app so I can make up content in batches and I do a majority of the graphic design work," said Kristin. "Another thing I pushed for was to sell tickets online, so I was in charge of managing that process along with the Sign-Up genius for volunteers."

In May, Kristin will graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in Hospitality Management from Northwood University in Michigan. She is planning to move back to the Madison area.

Eric's brother Tony is majoring in Ag Business at UW-Platteville, and is starting an internship at Premier Cooperative in Mount Horeb for the summer.

"Eric was an avid hunter and fisherman who always enjoyed the great outdoors, growing up he was involved in Cub Scouts, 4-H, and youth sports, and while in high school, he participated in choir, FFA, basketball, football, and track," said Sherry.

Eric was certainly a hunter and fisherman agreed his dad, who admits he can't fully understand the joy of sitting in the cold in a tree stand during the early morning hours.

"He couldn't get up at 7:00 to do chores but he'd be up at 4:00 a.m. to go to the woods or the river," laughed Steve. "Hunting, fishing, and being outdoors, that was his passion."

Eric was fun loving and could put a smile on everyone's face, always the life of the party. He also loved to be in the outdoors hunting, fishing and kayaking the river with friends. He loved to cook for all of his friends, especially the wild game they would hunt.

Eric couldn't save a penny, recalls Sherry.

"If he had cash, he couldn't wait to spend it...usually at Cabela's," added Sherry. "This is what Eric would want us to do. Helping his friends and people he didn't even know. It helps us to remember him by helping others."

His family wants you to remember Eric by his contagious smile, vibrant personality, and sense of humor and like the song by Luke Bryan, "Huntin', fishin', and lovin' every day."

Upcoming events: Culver's Forever 56 Foundation Fundraiser, 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 22, and New Glarus Forever 56 Foundation Trap Shoot, Sunday, July 14, organized by Jason Eyler.

"All I can say is WOW," said Krawczyk when asked about the banquet. "Everyone came through again. A few of us wondered if we'd top last year, and we did. Everyone who donated, sponsored, attended, bid, purchased, ate and drank are members of the Forever 56 Foundation. Eric O'Connor represented community, and that community is the Forever 56 Foundation."

Krawczyk added that, "Because of you, Eric's generosity, good will, and care and concern for others continues on in his name, but Eric's legacy is not the money we raise, it is not the donations we give, Eric's legacy is the smiles resulting from those things."

Marian Viney

Long-time O'Connor family friend Mike Krawczyk helped organize the event and kept everything on schedule along with volunteers who staffed the different stations.

 
 

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