Both Ken and Mary Schmitz were born in Wisconsin, and they have eight children. They live in rural Shell Lake on a farm nestled in rolling hills, which makes their former farm the perfect place to request lots of people into work.
Ken has spent his career in the excavation business, and Mary has not only been a full-time mom, but she and her daughters were dairy farming for a few years back in 1995.
They attend the Spooner Wesleyan Church.
Twenty-some years ago, they heard that the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College was holding a wreath making class and they both decided to attend, along with their girls, and several people from church.
It was love at first sight.
For a few years after the class, the couple made wreaths basically for family. They soon starting crafting their fresh wreaths for friends, too, and it wasn't long before they tried their hand at selling them commercially.
They sold outside of Walmart one year and soon added some natural crafts along with the wreaths, and sold their hand-crafted items from Spooner to Winter, and Eau Claire.
Customers had a hard time resisting these creative, fresh wreaths when they saw the abundant bundles of balsam, cedar, and pine that made up each wreath.
They embellished their wreaths with either bows and decorations, or the all-natural wreaths replete with pine cones, birch bark, moss, antlers, both turkey and pheasant feathers, and all things natural.
That was twenty years ago, and they've gone to making just a few to making a thousand a year.
Their focus has changed as to where the money from the sales goes too.
Through their church, they learned about the need in foreign countries for clean water wells. There was also a call to help with the daily needs of children living in Bangladesh. These children have been stranded by their own fathers and the people of Uganda. "Their need for help is serious."
With those needs in mind, by the time Monday, October 21 rolls around, they've gathered all the needed supplies, and are ready for volunteers to start assembling the wreaths.
The barn in full of greens and shelving and the milk house is ready for the cutting of the greens, and assemble the finished product.
Fifty wreaths are assembled per day until they've reached one thousand finished wreaths, taking almost six weeks to accomplish.
They make grapevine wreaths and natural crafts like their popular "birch bark cones" that are attached to a wooden back that has been fitted with a hook for hanging. These, too, are filled with natural products and can be displayed all year.
The six-day workweek, with Sundays off, begins at 7a and goes until 5p each day at the farm. Volunteers from age 16 and up can spend as much or as little of the day as they wish, either decorating or clipping branches in the heated facility. Snacks, coffee, and water are supplied to supplement the sack lunches each person brings in, and Mary assures all there are nice cushy chairs to sit on while working.
Their kids help with the making of the wreaths, and also help by attending numerous craft shows within a wide radius of Shell Lake. Their first show, starting on November 16, in Duluth at the DECC, and they'll be in Spooner at the National Guard Armory on November 23.
One hundred percent of the proceeds go to overseas people in need.
Here's how you can help.
You can volunteer to assemble or decorate the wreaths, or you can donate money to the cause, and you can also donate unbreakable Christmas ornaments or natural products for the wreaths by taking them directly to the farm that's at 22835 Schmit Lane, Shell Lake, WI 54871 It's seven miles due west of Shell Lake on the Sand Road. If you're writing out a check, make it to Uganda Partnership or Vessels of Mercy, and either mail it or drop it off.
There will be two classes this year, taught by Jennifer Kunselman, for budding artists or accomplished decorators to create their own wreath to take home. The greens will already be on the wires, and the Schmitz's decorations will be available, whether it's for the glitzy or the all-natural wreath. The cost for the finished product is $30, and classes will be held both Friday, November 8, from 6p to 8p, and Saturday, November 9, from 10a to 3p. Snacks will be included in the experience.
For more information, you can call the Schmitz' at 715-468-1121. These are the folks who are offering you an opportunity to experience the true meaning of Christmas, helping give financial gifts that go on and on and change lives forever.