December 21, 2011 | 07:50 AMWILLIAMS BAY — The Lake Geneva Classic Car Rally may finally be at an end.
The Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, which ran the rally the past three years, is withdrawing sponsorship.
Intended to be a fundraiser for the agency, this year's rally, beset by bad weather, may have actually lost the agency money.
"It was a lot of work to put together," said Ted Peters, GLEA director. "And when we figured in labor costs, we were losing money on the deal."
The 2011 rally, Sept. 23 to 25, was particularly tough, with the bad weather, the rally didn't get the number of participants it needed, Peters said.
George and Jan Kreissl started the rally in 1978 as a fundraiser in memory of their daughter, Corrine Kreissl, who died of cancer the year before at the age of 2.
From 1978 to 2007, the event raised funds for the Corinne Kreissl Memorial Foundation. George Kreissl died in 2007 and in March 2008, Jan Kreissl announced 2007 was the last year.
The rally proved a solid fundraiser. In a story announcing the end of the rally, Jan Kreissl estimated it raised about $700,000 for cancer research over 30 years.
Near the height of its popularity, the rally attracted as many as 1,000 classic cars. In the last few years, there were flyovers by antique aircrafts and war birds.
The rally missed a year in 2008.
In early 2009, with donations dropping off and some grants being cut back, the GLEA turned to the idea of restarting the classic car rally around the lake as a fundraiser.
To organize the rally, the GLEA began hiring marketing interns with money that had been used to hire science interns.
In a way, the rally was drawing the agency away from its main mission of monitoring the lake and educating others about it, Peters said.
"In the past we hired students to do science," Peters said. Hiring an intern to do marketing did not sit well with some of the GLEA's regular donors.
"I was uncomfortable with it as well," Peters said.
This year, the GLEA hired Whitney Wagner, a marketing student from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, to market the rally.
"She did a good job," Peters said. But the weather and circumstances worked against the event, he said.
Wagner was hired on a $5,000 grant, but the rally brought in only $3,000, Peters said.
Peters said some donations are picking up again, helping to fill the GLEA's coffers.
This year donations from groups and individuals increased, he said. The GLEA budgeted $12,000 in donations this year, and received $13,000.
And Peters said he wants a science intern back next summer to help the GLEA with the lake bottom study it does every four years to track the lake's zebra mussel population.
Reasons for the failure of the rally are probably many, weather aside, Peters said.
Not having the rally for a year hurt.
And now there are many car rallies from which classic car owners may choose.
"When it (the Lake Geneva Car Rally) started, it was really something," Peters said. "Now there's a car rally almost every week. We didn't have that little niche anymore."
Overall, the agency runs on a budget of $113,000 a year, with $20,000 coming from each of the agency's four members, Lake Geneva, Fontana, Williams Bay and town of Linn.
The remaining $30,000 or so is covered by donations and grants from public and private organizations.
As for the venerable car rally, Peters said the GLEA has announced that it is looking for someone to take it over.
"It's out there, and we're willing to help," Peters said.
So far, however, there have been no offers, he said.