2009 Heart of the Event Award Winners

Wally Kirchoff

National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter

Linda is the love of Wally Kirchoff’s life—his best friend, his confidante, his inspiration. She was the reason he became involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter back in 1986. He was motivated to do something—anything—after his wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable disease that strikes the central nervous system.  That something he chose to do was volunteer as an intersection safety volunteer for a bike MS race, supporting the cyclists and walkers who raised funds to support MS research, education, and advocacy programs. He liked it so well he’s been doing it for 20 years now, eventually becoming the lead intersection safety supervisor for the Bike MS Series, including the Allianz Twin Cities Ride in May, Larkin Hoffman MS 150 Ride in June, and Star Tribune TRAM Ride in July.

Before the rides, Wally spends more than 60 hours recruiting and training volunteers, planning logistics, and serving on the Bike MS Safety Committee. During the rides, he works long days—rain or shine—coordinating groups of volunteers who monitor Bike MS routes.

“It is truly something I love to do,” he says.

In the past two decades, there have been tremendous breakthroughs in treating MS and improving the quality of life for those diagnosed. Seeing this progress makes Wally feel as if he’s making a meaningful difference in the fight against this disease.  And volunteering during the Bike MS Series, he adds, gives him the chance to say thank-you to some very important people: the riders, his fellow volunteers, and most importantly, his wife Linda. 

His kind smile and thankful, appreciative attitude hasn’t gone unnoticed by those participating in the bike events.

“Wally is well known for expressing his gratitude every chance he gets, never missing a passing cyclist or walker,” says Emily Wilson, media and marketing coordinator with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter.

Wally says he was touched and “very humbled” at being selected a Heart of the Event winner. “I know there are more people who deserve this honor,” he says. “But it is one I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Dave Ness

American Heart Association

Through the encouragement of a colleague, Dave Ness volunteered to help the American Heart Association develop a health care plan. His buddy told him it would take two or three meetings to finalize the plan and then Dave could “go away.”

“Well, that two or three meetings turned into 30 years,” Dave jokes. “I fell in love with the organization. I just couldn’t ‘go away.’”

He served on various local committees and eventually chaired a national committee, leading the organization through a period of tremendous change. In 1994, while serving as secretary of the national board of directors, Ness chaired the 21st century steering committee, resulting in a restructuring of the organization. In 2001, he received the AHA’s most prominent national award—the Gold Heart—for his accomplishments and years of service. In 2007 he helped launch the association’s new Start! movement to encourage corporate America to lead the way in fostering employee wellness.

He knows a thing or two about fostering employee wellness. As Medtronic’s vice president of global rewards and human resources operations, he focuses on maintaining a healthy workforce. Improved employee health saves the company money, reduces absenteeism and increases worker productivity.

The concept of the Start! movement—and improving the cardiac health of the state, the country, and ultimately the world—fit right in with Medtronic’s mission to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend lives. Because of Dave’s passion in “making sure his employees don’t get to retirement and find themselves in poor health,” Medtronic was the first local company to sign on as a Start! sponsor.

How does a busy father, grandfather, and business leader find the time to volunteer?

“When you find what you’re passionate about, time will find itself,” he says.

Thankfully Dave found the time to meet with the AHA 30 years ago.

“So huge has his impact been on the organization—nationally and locally—that a new award, The David Ness Start! Impact Award, was created this year in his honor,” says Elizabeth Warmka, communications director with the AHA- Twin Cities. “It will be given to a new leader each year going forward in his honor and example.”

Donald R. McNeil

PACER Center

Despite the fact that Don McNeil is often awake at night because one of his children has severe autism and can’t sleep, he never says no when it comes to the PACER Center. He gives of his time and energy because he believes in the mission of the organization: To expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of “parents helping parents.”

“As a father of two children with disabilities, I wanted to ensure that my children, and others like them, were given a chance,” he explains of his decision to volunteer with PACER Center seven years ago. “All children should have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

He juggles his time working as a partner in business litigation at the law firm of Coleman, Hull, & van Vliet, PLLP, spending time with his wife Julie and their three children, and serving as president of PACER’s board of directors, as a member of the corporate sponsor and silent auction committees, and on the state’s legislative Special Education Task Force.

“Don’s energy, ideas, and never-ending willingness to do one more task for PACER is awe-inspiring,” says Julie Holmquist with PACER.

Thanks—in part—to Don’s dedication, the annual PACER benefit has become one of the premier benefits in the Twin Cities. Last year, Dreamgirls star Jennifer Hudson performed to a crowd of 3,000. “It was wonderful to see such a large crowd come out to support the PACER family,” Don says.

His behind-the-scenes work making calls, sending letters, bringing creative ideas to the table, reading contracts and providing pro bono legal advice has been vital to the benefit’s success. And while he views his recognition as a Heart of the Event award winner as an opportunity to draw attention to PACER and other nonprofits, the real heroes, he says, are “the legends in the disability community—Paula Goldberg, Mary Schrock, Virginia Richardson, Sue Folger, and Sharman Davis Barrett at the PACER Center. These women have stood firmly and boldly for children with disabilities. I am grateful for the work that they do.”

Debra Roesser

Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota

Some people can be part of a community their whole life and never find the time to volunteer. Others—like Debra Roesser—move to Minnesota from New Jersey and waste no time finding a cause to support.

She called the Make-A-Wish Foundation in late 2008, a few months after moving from the East Coast, and was soon helping in the office, helping plan the Walk for Wishes 5K Race, and serving on committees for the annual Wish Ball. One of her roles, as a Wish Ball auction committee member, was to pursue local artists and designers and pair them with wish children to create unique pieces of artwork to be auctioned off at The Wish Ball gala. Wish children were involved in the inspiration and creation of each item, and a videographer documented the stories of these children to show the projects in action.

Debra coordinated nearly 20 “wish parties” with local artists and a Target design team to create the special pieces. Wish children worked side by side with artists to add their own unique touch. They produced a variety of pieces: a quilt, jewelry, clothing, blown glass, a Vikings mural, and tooth fairy pillows (to name a few).

Debra put in countless hours of phone calls, scheduling, and arranging photographers and videographers in an effort to ensure that each party was a great experience for everyone involved. She didn’t once consider it a chore. She thought of it as an opportunity to do something important for the organization.

“Through my involvement with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, I hope to help make wishes come true for children and families dealing with life threatening illnesses, meet new people, and show my children the importance of ‘giving back,’” Debra says.  

She knows that people are busy but says that giving just a few hours a few times a year can really make a difference to a charitable organization. You just need to make that first phone call to get the ball rolling.

“Debra instantly jumped in with both feet,” says Sarah Gavigan of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota. “She has become a true member of the Make-A-Wish family in the short time she has been here.”

Linda Kiernan

Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation

After losing her husband Jerry to heart disease in 2002, Linda Kiernan knows first-hand how fragile life is. She lives every day like it’s her last, laughs often, and never misses an opportunity to let her loved ones know how much they mean to her.

Jerry’s legacy lives on through the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foun­dation’s annual charitable golf tournament, an event he started in 1981.

“Jerry’s passion was infectious,” Linda says. Being a cardiac patient never stopped him from living with an intensity that inspired and motivated others. “He got me to sell raffle tickets in 1983 and I’ve been on board ever since.”

Today she serves on the planning committee, gathering silent auction and raffle items, recruiting volunteers, and contributing as a generous sponsor. To date, nearly $3.5 million has been raised through the efforts of the Kiernan family, friends, and the local community. This year, she will be the 28th Annual Golf Classic’s most visible cheerleader, selling raffle tickets, taking pictures, greeting golfers, and maybe even playing a few holes. As a familiar face, she stands tall as a reminder that cardiovascular disease not only affects the patients, but their families, too.

Mike Schroeder, a longtime employee of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, says Linda’s loyalty to the tournament is a testament to her husband, her gratitude to a surgeon who allowed Jerry to see his children grow up and grandchildren be born, and her unwavering belief that research today will be something else entirely tomorrow.

“I’m so honored to be receiving this Heart of the Event award,” Linda says. “I couldn’t have done any of this without help from the MHIF staff, my family, and my friends. They never say no when I ask for a donation or help.”

She is determined to carry on her husband’s mission to eradicate the world of heart disease. 

“My only regret is that Jerry isn’t physically here to see me receive this honor,” she says. “ But I know he’s looking down, beaming with pride.”


Bill Morrissey

President, Morrissey Hospitality Companies

Bill Morrissey’s dad died when he was seven, and just like that his mom’s status went from “married” to “widow with five kids.” He watched his mom struggle as a single parent and knows from experience how tough it can be for one-parent households to raise a family.

Because it’s such a struggle, some kids slip through the cracks. They get into trouble on the streets, lose interest in school, or don’t learn right from wrong. They need to know that someone cares—and will always be there for them—and that’s where the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities come in.

Boys & Girls Clubs offer club programs and services that promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence. The Clubs are a safe place to learn and grow, while having fun.

Bill started volunteering with Boys & Girls Clubs nine years ago and loves every minute of it. 

“For my wife Mary Jo and I, we look at people with a disadvantage, youth and single parents, and asking ‘How can we help? How can we connect?’” he says.

As president of Morrissey Hospitality Companies (MHC), Bill and Mary Jo have far-reaching connections in the hospitality world. They are ready, willing, and able to help young people learn interviewing and job skills, and go the extra mile by coordinating charitable events, organizing field trips, and brainstorming new fundraising ideas.

“In the hospitality industry, you have to learn to be polite, friendly, caring, well-groomed, hardworking. Those skills are intertwined,” Bill comments. Add to that the fact that hospitality professionals are “always wanting to help” due to their caring personalities, and you have a perfect set-up for mentoring, training, and teaching young people.

He realizes that some of the kids look up to him as a role model because he runs a successful company, but he’s quick to clarify that “happiness isn’t money.”

“We still live in a land of opportunity. If you want to live a good life, you’re going to live a good life. If you’re happy in your work, your life will be a joy. And if you’ve got family, you’ve got the world.”

His goal is to help even just one family become a better family.

“We are so grateful to Bill Morrissey and his group at MHC. They have worked tirelessly to provide the youth at the Boys & Girls Clubs a brighter future,” says Marlene Wright, vice president of marketing and communications for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities. “The Boys & Girls Clubs change lives, but we can’t do it without the support of the business community and leaders like Bill Morrissey.”

When Bill isn’t spending time with his own family, he’s riding his motorcycle, traveling, or dabbling in woodworking. “I use my time for my family, my hobbies, or I volunteer. It’s a great way to get engaged in the community.”

The value of volunteering, he says, is that you not only meet some great people and help an organization, but you become a better person. 

Rather than judging others and their situations, everyone should look for ways to help.

“The thing about living is that no one is perfectly equipped for it. We all do it one time; each one of us is going to make mistakes. All we can do is learn from one another and try to help one another. Nobody wants to be poor, homeless, and insecure. If we just help each other out, the world will be better off.”

Tria Restaurant and Bar is the proud sponsor and host of the 2009 Heart of the Event awards. Tria is part of MHC’s distinguished restaurant division.