citizens of the year

The citizens of the year, from left, Mike Trainor of Fontana, Bill Duncan of Williams Bay, and Jason Gerdes of Walworth, were recognized by the Geneva Lake West Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Chris Schultz/Regional News)

FONTANA — This year’s citizens of the year do not let borders or village limits get in the way of their donations of time and effort.

Award winners Mike Trainor of Fontana, Jason Gerdes of Walworth and Bill Duncan of Williams Bay were recognized May 1 by the Geneva Lake West Chamber of Commerce during a ceremony at the Abbey Springs Golf Course clubhouse.

It is the 45th year that the chamber has recognized area residents who have made significant contributions to the communities on the west end of Geneva Lake.

Duncan, who served as Williams Bay village president along with other civic activities, said he finds a busy schedule stimulating.

“I like to be kept busy,” he said. “This keeps my mind engaged and keeps me going.”

Gerdes owns Gerdes Wholesale Nursery in Harvard, Illinois, and lives in Walworth. Members of the Fontana Garden Club recommended him for Walworth citizen of the year.

Trainor owns an executive team-building business called Terrapin Station, which travels across the country to organize team-building exercises. Through a church in Illinois, Trainor also has led youth missions to build homes in Mexico and to pack food packages sent to Third World countries.

Duncan serves on the Gateway Technical College board of directors, which oversees campuses in Walworth, Racine and Kenosha counties. He worked on the faculty at George Williams College from 1970 to 2011, retiring as the college’s vice president and chief academic officer.

At the award ceremony, the citizens of the year were honored with high praise.

Duncan was introduced by Jim D’Alessandro, a village board trustee, who reminded Duncan that in the 1970s, when Duncan was an associate professor at George Williams College, D’Alessandro was in the campus kitchen, washing dishes.

“I did not know that,” Duncan said later.

Duncan also serves on the Walworth County Metropolitan Sewage District board of commissioners.

“When you flush, I know where it goes,” he joked.

In introducing Gerdes through a prepared statement, Fontana Garden Club president Sally Raty wrote that Gerdes was their “garden angel.” Gerdes donated plants and trees to the garden club’s annual plant sale, which helped raise thousands of dollars.

Although Gerdes’ business is in Illinois, he said he fell in love with Walworth and still lives there. As his business grew, Gerdes said his feeling of civic obligation grew as well.

“As my business succeeded in Harvard, I felt I need to do more for my community,” he said.

Gerdes served on the Walworth Elementary School Board for three rears. He is now forester for the village of Walworth.

Last spring, he donated time and materials to landscape the Walworth village square and the year before, he replanted greenery in the atrium at Big Foot High School.

Through the Fontana Garden Club, his work has helped raise money for student scholarships.

“I know when I’m helping them out, I know where the money is going,” he said.

Trainor was introduced by Mary Kriete Green, who said Trainor finds a way to involve others in his charitable efforts.

“His drive to make the world a better place is contagious,” Green said.

Trainor said his secret is finding people who are willing to work.

“Make sure you surround yourself with people who are better than you,” he said.

During the summer, Trainor runs the boat club and lake house at the Boathouse Marina on Buttons Bay in Lake Geneva. He also sits on the board of directors of Santa Cause, which raises money for area charities.

Trainor said a program he wants to see grow is the Piers to Pantry program. Starting two years ago, Trainor went to friends who live along the lake and collected canned goods and dry foods they wanted to get rid of as the closed their summer homes for the winter. The goods were left at the ends of their piers where Trainor collected everything by boat and then distributed it to food pantries.

The first year saw collections from 30 homes, but last year 60 homeowners participated.

“A lot of us have what we need, and when we see people who don’t, to take time to help them is a small thing,” Trainor said.

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.