Researched and Presented by Kate Olski

What was the beginning? The first thing we need to remember and give thanks for are all the people who helped start what we now call Sunshine House. In the late 1960’s, Social Services, Public Health, and Day Care services had talked about the possibility of having a Sheltered Workshop here in Door County. Well, in 1971, Mr. Robert Borkovetz invited a group of interested people to tour Holiday House in Manitowoc. It was a great example of what these concerned people in Door County were looking for.

John Michalski, Director of Social Services, called a meeting to discuss the possibility of a Sheltered Workshop. Mr. Borkovetz was elected chair and the group began plans to incorporate the workshop. Attorney James Ebbeson indicated he was willing to undertake the legal work. Mr. Halvorson, Director of Manitowoc Holiday House, offered to advise the group and also to serve on the Door County Board of Sheltered Industries. And at the same time, the Door County Mental Health Association agreed to pay rent for the opening of Happy Days in the old Door Theater.

On June 15, 1971 the name was changed from Happy Days to Sunshine House and was officially incorporated. The first Director of Sunshine House was Henry Marshal. There were 23 clients from all over the county. Simple craft items and a ceramics program were started, as well as personal development issues.

As the ceramics and craft programs grew, a gift shop was established and Christmas wreaths also became a good shop item in December.

On January 24, 1972, Sunshine House moved to Sturgeon Bay’s old vocational school and shortly after that moved to a building on 12th Avenue. This gave more room for the ongoing crafts as well as more room for serving clients. Sunshine House was now providing day care, therapy, working with “Birth to 3” along with the mothers, and the important issue of ceramics – important as a money maker – but even more so – it was a work item for the older clients. They were learning how to do something for Sunshine House as well as for themselves.

The most difficult issue, as can be supposed, was the funding. Government support was crucial. But as the programs grew, more support was needed and the Unified Board gave help because of the need for a program for birth to 3 years old.

The 80’s was a crucial decade, but great things happened. Fred Julien was a name mentioned often as doing so many diverse things for Sunshine House and he was awarded a plaque in recognition for all he did.

Tom Bergerud’s name came into the minutes in 1981. When I saw his name, immediately the picture came to my mind of him sitting at his desk in front and I was talking to him.

James Ebbeson filed Articles of Incorporation for Sunshine House in 1981. But then, lo and behold, Paul Kok’s name appears in 1986. That’s 20 years ago! August 10, 1986. That’s a big WOW!

And I have to put this in here because I didn’t realize it but my name is on the membership for 1982. Where has the time gone?

February 3, 1984 – a great day for having a ceremony of burning the mortgage.

The year 1986 seemed to be a big year:

  • In January, Sunshine House clients and staff were all referred to from this time on as employees.
  • The major focus for 1986 was construction of a new facility in the Industrial Park.
  • The first annual Employee of the Year award was presented to Chad Schmelzer.
  • Don Olski resigned as Editor of the Grapevine. He said 99% is now put out by the office staff, using the computer. He would still consult.
  • In October, we were planning ahead. The move into the Industrial Park required special attention concerning corporate image. We are in a manufacturing community and still provide training and support services to our clientele.
  • On October 22nd, the Door County Chamber of Commerce named Sunshine House Inc. as Door County’s Industry of the Year.

In February 1987 there was a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new facility, and later that year, in December, Christmas sales were up $1000 from 1986.

A Day Activities Program was being developed in August 1988. A lift was being constructed for the new van to allow wheelchairs to be lifted. There was a swimming program for people in wheelchairs.

An Annual Meeting was held in May 1989 and the Treasurer’s report showed the percentage of income Sunshine House relied on from Unified Board decreased from 65.3% in 1987 to 57.2% in 1988. Production sales increased from 19.6% in 1987 to 23% in 1988.

April 1990 was a great month! Employee transportation was within budget. 102 people had been certified through Wisconsin JOBS, with 90 new positions. Another 24 were in process of being certified.

We began using computers in 1993 and began some community outings such as trips to the library, fishing excursions, and a car wash fund raiser to help pay for a Washington Island trip. Four employees were involved in a tutoring project and it was successful. Workshop safety in-service programs were set up for all employees and were successful. Clients were involved in some fundraising such as car washes and walk-a-thons.

In June 1994 the candle company work began; a great thing for Sunshine House.

By 1995 – THE SHIP – Sunshine House in Progress! THE SHIP – it will take us where we want to go.  A newsletter for families, caregivers, board members and others who support Sunshine House employees.

All through the 1990’s much time and energy was dedicated to working out the pathway that brought us here tonight. The clientele aspects, the financial aspects, the need for and use of various staff positions, and the publicity needed to help Door County as a whole know about Sunshine House.

The past 10 to 15 years brought about what we have now: clientele, Sunshine House staff, buildings, busing, communication with other Door County agencies, good publicity going out to all of Door County so all know who and where we are.