Northern Wilds Magazine
WISE buffet kitchen crew 2021 [Left to Right]: Ann Marie Mershon, Judi Barsness, Ginny Padzieski, and Gerry Grant. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

WISE women of the North Shore

Cook County has an impressive group of women dedicated to supporting children, families, and education in the area, but people don’t seem to know much about it. Well, read on.

What the heck is WISE?

WISE is a young organization in Cook County, born from the former Lioness Club. In 2018, Lions Club International disbanded the Lioness program, expecting their members to join Lions Clubs. The Grand Marais Lionesses voted almost unanimously to go independent, adopting the name WISE, the Women’s Initiative for Service and Education. “We are a fun, diverse group of folks who love our little spot in the world,” said WISE Vice President, Laurie Spry.

What does WISE do?

As its name indicates, WISE supports local programs for children, families, and education. They make annual donations to 13 local non-profits, fund student and adult scholarships for higher education, and sponsor miscellaneous grants to community organizations. They also partner with the Lion’s Club to offer education/classroom grants for Cook County teachers. The organization’s annual budget is just short of $20,000 this year.

How does WISE raise their funds?

WISE sponsors two annual fundraisers.

The first is the Fisherman’s Picnic Buffet in a Box meal, which includes fishcakes, Swedish meatballs, ham, potatoes, a roll, coleslaw, a vegetable, and dessert. WISE members (and friends) work together in the CCHS Culinary Center to create a meal to remember for hundreds of happy customers. Once a buffet at St. John’s Catholic Church, the pandemic changed the buffet to a pick-up meal on the Wednesday before Fisherman’s Picnic. Members have enjoyed working together on the meal, accepting online orders, and delivering them to hungry community members in the school parking lot.

The WISE fishcake frying team [Left to Right] Gwen Mattice, Martha Rosbacka, Kathleen Johnson, Barb Heideman, Gwen Lenz, and Joanne Smith. | SUBMITTED

The second fundraiser is an online auction in November. WISE members, local businesses, and community members donate items for the online auction—items like catered meals, food, clothing, crafts, artwork, and adventure packages. This year’s auction will run for a week in mid-November, just in time for holiday shopping.

These two fundraisers raised over $15,000 last year, money WISE donates back to the community. Sue Futterer, the board’s membership chair, said, “It feels so good to know that the money we raise goes directly to people and other nonprofit organizations in our county. Even though it’s a lot of work to sponsor our fundraisers, it’s fun and rewarding to work alongside so many skilled and knowledgeable women.”

What else does WISE offer?

WISE offers social connections for its 50-plus members with four annual gatherings, including a winter holiday party. Member Virginia Palmer said, “I’ve met so many incredible ladies that I now consider friends; I wouldn’t have known them otherwise.” Members who want more frequent connections can join the WISE Board of Directors, which meets monthly to plan activities and organize programs, meetings that are as much socializing as work. There are currently two openings on the board. They’re seeking a new secretary and treasurer. Virginia Palmer is hanging up her account book after serving WISE (and the Lioness Club) as treasurer for 13 years. Most importantly, WISE offers local women (and men) an opportunity to serve the community and have fun together doing it. Who could ask for more?

How can people find out more?

Check out the website at: to learn more about WISE. There’s a page to become a member and/or make a donation. If you’re not online, call Laurie Spry (218-370-0183), who says, “I would encourage people to join us who are interested in promoting county wide education and service to our community through our two major events.” The website’s photos of members gathering and working on the buffet speak for themselves, demonstrating the spirit of this dedicated group. Joining WISE is a generous move—and it’s fun. WISE looks forward to including men in their ranks. Will that be you?

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