By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The letters written about JoAnn Witte described her as a woman whose mission of love had no strings attached.
More than three dozen letters outlining Witte's efforts to boost Catholic education were written by family, friends and admirers in support of her nomination as the 61st recipient of the Golden Deeds award from the Quincy Exchange Club. Those letters will be put into a book that Witte will receive when she is formally honored on May 10 at a luncheon at America's Best Value Inn.
Witte dedicates much of her time to running the Gene Grawe Fund, which has donated more than $362,500 to help families send their children to Catholic schools. This fund supports the schools through the buying and selling of gift cards, which in turn helps cut the cost of tuition.
In fact, Witte thought she was coming to Quincy Notre Dame High School on Tuesday morning for a meeting with school officials about more fundraising opportunities. Instead, members of the Exchange Club, along with teachers and local Catholic officials, surprised her with the award during a short presentation.
Rick Gengenbacher, a longtime Exchange Club member, said Witte's time, effort and giving attitude touches the schools she works with and the community as a whole.
"She makes our community, not just the Catholic community, a better place to live," Gengenbacher said. "She's just one of the nicest, kindest people I've ever met â€¦ she just sets the tone for peace."
Witte's father, Gene Grawe, sent each of his 11 children to Catholic schools. Eight years ago, the Grawe family began the fund in his memory, but Witte coordinates the bulk of it. She coordinates sales each weekend at Quincy's four Catholic churches and weekly at each school.
"My dad was such an inspiration to me, and he was so positive," Witte said. "He was always at a school board meeting or doing something for the school itself. Whenever he saw something that needed to be done, he did it."
Kurt Stuckman, director of the Quincy Notre Dame Foundation, has seen this program blossom from a small project at St. Anthony School to include five area schools. When St. Anthony's closed in 2005, Witte used the program to encourage the remaining schools.
"She's dedicated to Catholic education and doing whatever it takes to keep it alive and well in the community," Stuckman said. "It's just immeasurable in what she's been able to do."
All students who attend a Quincy Catholic school may benefit from the scholarship program regardless of income, financial need or religious affiliation.
"The Bible says we should spend our lives helping each other," Witte said. "It's the small things that you see that need to be done, and you just do it."