APPLETON — As the youngest of nine children in her family, Jill Lallensack can remember being a youngster and tagging along with her electrician dad, Norman Kneip, when he volunteered to do handiwork at St. Joseph Church in Appleton.
When she got older, she stepped up in a bigger way to help out.
“Then I started doing the church picnic and the decorating at St. Joe’s,” Jill said.
For her husband, Gary Lallensack, who grew up with six brothers and sisters on a farm in Belgium, Wis., the situation was different. Of volunteering and even altar serving, “We were told by our dad, that’s for city kids, you work on the farm,” Gary said. “We couldn’t even go out for sports.”
After the couple married, Gary made up for lost time. “Whatever Jill got us into, I followed along. There’s always needs,” he said.
They moved to the south side of Appleton in 1983 and joined St. Bernadette Parish with their two sons, Mathew and Daniel. Once the boys started attending St. Bernadette School, their volunteer efforts ramped up even more.
Gary served in the Air Force from 1968 until 1972 and then started a career in computer repair (originally keypunch repair) before taking an IT job at Menasha Corporation. He retired in 2015 after 21 years there. Jill was a stay-at-home mom until their oldest son was in sixth grade and then she worked in the office of St. Joseph Middle School.
Even when they both worked full time, they did their fair share of volunteering, including taking on the roles of cub master and scout master when their children were in Boy Scouts. Both of their sons became Eagle Scouts.
In the parish, they were on numerous committees. Jill headed up decorating the church for the various liturgical seasons and then they both became extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. For about five years, they were also in charge of the annual parish picnic.
For more than 20 years, Gary has been a member of the Knights of Columbus. “I was the treasurer for the St. Bernadette’s Council #12269 a number of years and then I moved on to financial secretary. I do paperwork, billing.”
The couple’s major commitment together at this time is heading up the Fox Valley Catholic Bible Study which is held Fridays at 6:45 a.m. in the St. Bernadette Center cafeteria.
“I’m the tech guy,” Gary said. “We started going to Bible study when I first retired. When the pandemic hit, I said, ‘I can figure out how to do the livestream.’” Even with in-person sessions going again, they continue to livestream Fr. Donald Zuleger’s presentations on YouTube each week.
Gary and Jill said they work with a group of dedicated volunteers who help keep the Bible study going each week.
Set up begins on Thursday. “We have to come in the day before to start the coffee machines to make sure the water’s hot,” said Jill. “On Fridays, we get here early, about 6 a.m., and make sure the building’s open. I bring my iPad to make sure the internet is up and running.”
They help out at St. Bernadette in other ways as well. “I sing in the choir, I distribute Communion, I come in every Tuesday afternoon and work in the office. If they go on vacation, I will come in and man the office,” said Jill.
Gary helps with wiring projects at church, including when they installed Wi-Fi. And, after missing the opportunity as a child, he is now an altar server, serving at funeral Masses and filling in for other Masses throughout the year.
The Fox Valley community as a whole also benefi ts from the Lallensacks’ volunteer eff sorts.
“Gary works at Habitat ReStore as a cashier,” said Jill. “I volunteer at Loaves & Fishes one day a week, I volunteer at the Fox Cities PAC, I sew for Dress A Girl Around the World. A group of ladies from all over northeast Wisconsin meet on Monday afternoons and sew peasant dresses (for missions worldwide). I sew for Project Linus making quilts and blankets (for children who are seriously ill, traumatized or in other need).”
Being at the stage where most folks are enjoying full-time retirement, Gary and Jill, who have two grandchildren now, are still going strong in their volunteer efforts.
“It’s the camaraderie of the community,” explained Jill. “Many of the volunteers we work with, our kids started kindergarten together, we’ve worked togetherover the years. When our kids graduated from college, we said, ‘What do we want to do?’ So, we put together this little travel group. Our social thing happens to be volunteering and traveling together. It gives you a purpose.”
“In the summer, we do a lot of biking and golfing,” Gary added. “But, in the winter, you need something to occupy your time.”