Rheba Mabie Zimmerman: Living Legend 2014

RHEBA MABIE ZIMMERMAN NAMED STORMY KROMER LIVING LEGEND
AT THE TENDER AGE OF 36.
UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine chosen for Stormy Kromer donation.

Unless you’re 90, heck, even if you’re 90, you probably haven’t imagined half the adventures and challenges our newest Living Legend has seen in her young life. Which is precisely why her mom nominated her.

She’s a science and agriculture teacher.
She’s a tap-dance teacher.
She’s a U.S. Golf Association National Team Player and Wisconsin Golfer of the Year.
She’s coached the Wisconsin High School Champion curling team.
She’s a figure-skating instructor.
She’s helped show the #1 Old English Sheep Dog at Westminster for years.
She’s a student pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
She’s fighting Multiple Sclerosis—and winning.
She’s a clown.

No, seriously. An actual, professional, size-20-shoes clown.

And she’s done it all because she knows life is too short to miss out.

“I am thrilled to have this award, but I really do need to share it with my brother, Hammie,” said Rheba, who grew up in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, less than an hour from Stormy Kromer. “I watched him grow up struggling against total physical and mental disability. I watched him fight just to breathe and to do things the rest of us so carelessly take for granted. He inspired me to do the most with what I’ve been given.”

What she was given was an opportunity most of us would see as a calamity.

In Rheba’s sophomore year of college, she developed a bout of double-vision that lasted several months. It forced her off the golf team, and as it grew worse and stole her ability to read or study, it forced her out of college. It took over a year to diagnose the problem, and when she learned she had MS, it was somewhat of a relief.

“My disease had a name, and that meant I could face it,” added Rheba, who’s lost and regained the use of her extremities and suffered numbness in every part of her body at one point or another. “I was very scared, though, because you only hear of the worst cases. But I did my research, and now I do everything I can to reduce other people’s fear.”

That’s another thing to add to this Living Legend’s list of accomplishments—work as a national patient advocate —speaking around the country and one-on-one to help every MS patient she can.

“It made me more outgoing,” she added. “I was always the quiet one, which is why it was such a surprise—even to me—that I ended up in clown school. It’s a long story, but the short version is that none of these things would have happened if I’d been healthy enough to stay in school. And I’ve learned that it’s okay to be outgoing and to do silly things. I’ve learned to have confidence like never before.”

Now, as Rheba studies to complete her dream of becoming a vet, she credits this confidence with getting her over her apprehension of heading back to school.

 “People are surprised that I’ve done so much in such little time, but that’s what life is all about—doing what’s worthwhile while you can.”

“I want to thank everybody for voting for me and for giving me this award. I want them to know that there are always doors open for them. There is always something positive waiting to happen.”

That’s spoken like someone who’s truly living a legendary life, and at Stormy Kromer, we’re proud to say we know her.

“I am so excited that Rheba is our 2014 Living Legend,” said Gina Thorsen, Kromer VP of Marketing and Sales. “She’s young and vibrant, and at the same time, she has a lifetime of gifts to offer.”

Rheba’s Living Legend prize money will be used to support the Veterinary Medicine

program at UW-Madison. In addition to a $500 Stormy Kromer gift certificate, 3% of sales at www.stormykromer.com between January 7th and January 31st will, according to Rheba, “do a lot of good for animals in the Midwest.”

The legend of Stormy Kromer began with a unique cap created in 1903.  In 2001, Jacquart Fabric Products proudly became the Caretaker of the Legend, not only continuing to produce the iconic cap, but expanding the brand and product line to feature a wide variety of men’s and women’s clothing, outerwear and accessories to complement the popular caps.  Today, the company continues to strive to provide classic yet contemporary products sewn with passion and practicality and still proudly made in the USA for more than a century.

An update on Phil Beatty, the man who credits his Kromer as a life-saver.

“I tell everyone I know to buy a Kromer. You never know how much it could mean to you.”

Phil Beatty couldn’t tell you a thing about the accident that nearly killed him. Which is good because, well, it nearly killed him.

You see, he was driving along a winter roadway last January, when an oncoming snowplow kicked up a road reflector—right through the windshield and into Phil.

We wrote a blog about it, not just because it was a miraculous story of survival, but because he survived thanks to a Stormy Kromer Original cap.

“My first Kromer was a red-and-black plaid Rancher, but that’s not my favorite one,” said Phil, who is happy to be back out on the road again. “My favorite Kromer is a green Original with a hole in the front. That’s where I got hit.”

Doctors weren’t sure how Phil would fare, but they certainly didn’t expect him to get back to work in under a year or two. He was back at it, though, in seven months.

“No one can explain why I’m doing so well,” added Phil. “They are all amazed.”

It wasn’t an easy road back, however. Phil was in a coma for three weeks. He doesn’t remember anything from the first seven weeks—even the night he tried, successfully, to escape from the hospital. He only knows he wasn’t in his right mind.

“My friends tell me I was like a six-year-old, and even though the accident was in January, I wasn’t thinking like myself again until June. I tell you: when you have trauma like that, you have to start your life all over.”

Now that he’s back to better-than-ever, we have to ask: Was it really the Kromer that saved him?

“I give God the credit for my recovery, and I have to thank the snowplow driver—who is an EMT—and the woman in the car behind him—who is a trauma nurse. It was those two—and the Kromer who stopped the reflector from going any deeper—that saved my life. I am thankful for them all.”

Meet Living Legend Finalist Elizabeth Tigue

Nominated by: Bethany Dunning, friend & colleague
Back in 2006, I met Liz, a high school biology teacher, at an after-work function.

Several short weeks later, I was out in the woods with Liz, chaperoning a wilderness survival trip with 40+ high schoolers, along with her husband Tim. Liz grew up in the outdoors, and is a true outdoorswoman. Liz and Tim have raised their kids to be fantastic, balanced human beings, teaching them to love the outdoors as they both do, taking them hunting and fishing, and having them spend time with their Aunt Lisa, a paleontologist and geology professor, hunting for rocks and fossils. Their daughter Megan loves raising her chickens and spending time in the woods with her bow, as well as being an amazing Irish dancer (a hobby that she shares with her mom!). Brian is all boy, and is right there with his sister in the woods. And every November, Liz and Tim embarked into the wilds of northern Michigan to pass on their love of the outdoors to a new set of suburban teens, during which time they experienced rain and snow, sun and clouds, windy and still conditions. Tim took one for the team several years back and went “swimming” in the cold November waters of the Manistee River to help out 2 high schoolers who had tipped their canoe.

About 3 years ago Tim was diagnosed with lymphoma, but continued to go on the trip. Even the year that he wasn’t strong enough to paddle, he drove a chase vehicle on the trip, and slept on the ground with the rest of us, on a trip that included 4 straight days of cold November rain. Less than a year later, Tim, Liz’s rock, lost his battle with cancer.

Liz continues to be an amazing mother to her 2 kids, and continues to take kids into the woods every November, just so that they have what may be their first experience in a world without electricity and cell service, guiding them through the ups and downs of paddling and camping, just to pass on her love.

Charity: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

Hometown: Rochester, MI

Meet Living Legend finalist Joe Pettorini

Nominated by: Tim Obukowicz, fellow volunteer & Melissa Nieman, friend
We nominate 63-year-old Joseph “Ironman Joe” Pettorini for his dedication to his love

of sports, Mother Nature, and his volunteer work for our local YMCA.

Locally, his endurance activities are legendary. He has participated in 238 triathlons, 6 Ironman-length triathlons and over 37 running marathons. He has also completed the Ice Age 50-mile trail run and the 4-day Minnesota Border to Border competition. Joe is an avid snowshoe racer, having competed in the 2011 National Snowshoe Racing Championships, and is on the planning board for the Treehaven Snowshoe Race. In May, 2008 he kayaked the entire 430-mile length of the Wisconsin River. Joe bicycled around Lake Superior in 2010 with a friend and their journey was featured in several magazines. His current dream is to compete in the New Zealand International Ironman Distance Triathlon before turning 65.

His work as a YMCA of the Northwoods volunteer is just as impressive. Joe is at the Y at least 20 hours a week, and willing to do anything – from picking up a paint brush to handing out candy on Halloween to dressing up as an elf for Christmas. Joe’s most memorable volunteer moment was riding a spinning bike for 6 hours in our lobby to raise funds for our Strong Kids Campaign. The Strong Kids Campaign ensures no child is turned away from the Y due to financial circumstances. The Strong Kids Campaign also applies to adults seeking financial assistance to participate in or be a member of the YMCA. In 2011 he was named Volunteer of the Year.

We never have to ask him to help, he is always there saying, “When do you need me?” When asked why he loves to help us so much (especially why he dressed up as an elf) he said, “I was never blessed with children, and I loved seeing them smiling, happy, and having fun.”

We could go on all day about Ironman Joe. You truly have not met someone like him, he is family to everyone he meets and we are beyond blessed to have him in our lives. He is truly worthy of the title “Stormy Kromer Living Legend.”

Charity: YMCA of the Northwoods

Hometown: Rhinelander, WI

Meet Living Legend Finalist Harvey “Bill” Morrison

Nominated by: Beth Morrison, daughter
My dad has been my hero my entire life but I didn’t fully come to appreciate him until I

was much older. As a young 19 year old he was off to WWII and stepped up early on for the tough and dangerous role of a glider paratrooper. He brought his fearlessness and strong work ethic back home to Detroit at the end of the war, his Purple Heart in hand.

Dad, now married to my mom and a new father, worked hard to save funds to work toward his dream of owning his own business. After being sidetracked with being called back to serve again during the Korean War, he and my mom finally made that dream a reality.

With his love for northern Michigan, he brought his growing family of 3 kids to Hillman and bought a small grocery store. Our family grew and so did the business. My dad still found time to attend his now 5 children’s sporting events, serve on the school board, volunteer at church and help the community. One time in an awful snowstorm I recall helping him deliver groceries on a snowmobile to older folks who were snowed in. He was always looking out for his neighbors. Dad hired so many Hillman teens at the store that decades later he still receives phone calls and visits from these now much older adults.

And still at 87 years old you will see Dad ringing the Salvation Army bell for hours in the cold and with his Stormy Kromer on – he has been ringing that bell for over 60 years! His love for family, his community, his friends and his faith have left strong marks on the lives of my siblings and so many others. He is one of a kind and a true living legend.

Charity: Salvation Army

Hometown: Hillman, MI

Meet Living Legend Finalist Rheba Mabie

Nominated by: Patricia Mabie, Mother
Nothing means more to Rheba than to fulfill her lifelong dream to become a veterinarian!

While she may have faced roadblocks, she is determined not to allow anything else to deter her. Many would have started a career in veterinary medicine earlier in their lives but she is determined her life experiences have made her even more qualified to be a superb veterinarian.

Explaining the experiences that have made her who she is today is no easy task. Her work ethic and compassion began in early childhood as she realized she should be appreciative of everything she was able to accomplish. Her brother Hammie was totally mentally and physically handicapped and watching him struggle to breathe and being unable to do tasks most take for granted like moving or eating made her try to do the most with the gifts she had been given. Having Hammie in her life she felt was a blessing, and she worked hard at all she did, whether it was academics, athletics or personal relationships. This drive continues during her years now at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.

Rheba excelled in all aspects from academics to athletics. She was her high school’s valedictorian and one of the top 4 students in the country chosen by USA Today. Rheba was a 4 year high school All State Girls’ Tennis Player and All State Girls’ Golf Player. She was not only an American Junior Golf Association Rolex All-American during high school but also an All-American Academic Golf Scholar at UW-Madison.

Rheba was doing well at UW-Madison and was making great strides towards veterinary school when she was forced to take a medical leave. Her health issues that began in college were finally diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. She eventually completed her degree through an extended degree program while helping her mother care for her ailing grandmother and aged godmother. She thought no doors were open for her as she was about as far from veterinary school as she could be. A school district was in desperate need of a teacher and she accepted a position teaching high school math.

After being diagnosed with MS in 1999, Rheba traveled down another life-changing path. She went to a Minnesota clown school led by veterans from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses in the summer of 2000. She donned a lavender wig, purple dress and size 20 shoes to become “Tutu Cute” the Clown. Within four years, Rheba won so many competitions that she was inducted into the Midwest Clown Association Hall of Fame.

Rheba began to play competitive golf again in 2005. In 2006 she progressed to the round of 16 at the 2006 USGA Ladies Mid-Am. In 2009 Rheba won the Wisconsin State Stroke play and was named 2009 Player of the Year. She has been chosen to represent the state of Wisconsin at the USGA National Team Championships in ‘07, ’09, ’11, and ’13.

Rheba became a science and agriculture teacher but in her heart still wanted to be a veterinarian. She has helped show the top Old English Sheep dog at the Westminster Dog Show in NYC for many years. Her love of animals has never waned. In ’12 she applied for the School of Veterinary Medicine at the UW and was accepted.

Rheba has persevered through the adversity and has endured. Rheba is a national MS patient advocate who uses her abilities as a golfer, clown, teacher and soon to be veterinarian to prove that life certainly can go on if you are unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with MS. Rheba is the ultimate Stormy Kromer Living Legend 2014.

Charity: University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine

Hometown: Madison, WI

Meet Living Legend Finalist Chris Hillier!

Nominated by: Sandra Lowe, friend
Christopher Hillier is not a man who talks about a “mission.” He doesn’t claim to be any

more than a man who loves to hike…long distances. Anybody who agrees to go for a walk with Christopher already knows he can go for miles and miles. This hiking man has been on countless trails for months at a time and still revels in the joy of walking anytime, with anyone. Christopher takes the time to include individuals for whom hiking is a challenge. He encourages virtually every person he meets to “get your boots on let’s hit the trail.”

Christopher is an Army veteran and has represented Burning Boots, a hiking group of veterans who are seeking solace and health through walking in nature. He also walked, or “hiked,” non-stop in May 2013 to raise money for the American Cancer Society at the 24-hour Relay for Life. He led a group of vision-impaired young people on a hike through western Michigan. Christopher also crossed the state with a bicyclist who uses a prosthetic leg. He encourages and inspires everyone around him to get moving. Overweight, Asperger’s Syndrome, elderly, young people…these are all individuals who have walked with Christopher and have been moved, literally, by him. His generous acts of inclusion make him a Living Legend.

In addition to hiking, Christopher also educates those around him. He has given talks at a local library and several hiking associations, as well as quasi-governmental agencies, giving advice on gear, terrain, survival, and anything else a person about to go on a hike would need to know. Christopher was nominated for the Governor’s Fitness Award and optimized the opportunity of speaking with Governor Snyder to talk about the importance of accessible and connected trails in Michigan.

No, Christopher isn’t on a mission. But this remarkable man has a vision that anybody who wants to walk should not have obstacles in order to do so. He has taught me and many others that the only real obstacle is lack of motivation.

Charity: American Cancer Society

Hometown: Taylor, MI

Meet Living Legend Finalist Adam Freeburg

Nominated by: Brooke Freeburg, wife
9 years ago, I met Adam just two weeks before he fell over 40 feet while rock climbing. He never once complained about his broken back, leg, or other various broken bones, which luckily have all healed. Through those 9 years I’ve gotten to see how much Adam loves life, and all things outdoors – from skiing the back country in the Tetons and Washington State to rock climbing (against my wishes). He is an Archeologist, PhD Student, Father, Mountain Biker, Hunter, Fisherman, Rock Climber, and Awesome Husband.

Adam is an amazing human being who gives so much of himself to everyone around him.

To know Adam is to love him. Adam deserves to be a Living Legend because of his love of life. Much like Stormy Kromer, Adam loves baseball and all things outdoors. If he COULD sleep in a tent 365 days a year he would, but that would mean that I would have to lock the doors at night myself. Unlike George he doesn’t have a temper, but he deserves to be a Living Legend for putting up with mine (among everything else). When we found out that we were going to have a son, he said he wanted to start him out right in life. A few days later a small red Stormy Kromer arrived in the mail.

Charity: Don Jones Foundation

Hometown: Fairbanks, AK

Meet Living Legend Finalist Bruce Carnahan

Nominated by: Calli Ann Carnahan, daughter
Growing up in Ashland, Wisconsin, my father has always been regarded as the epitome of a “Man’s Man,” learning to hunt, fish, and survive in the woods from the day he was born.

While my siblings and I were growing up (and even today for that matter), my dad never

seemed to run out of amazing stories that seem so foreign from the way life is today. He tells grand tales of getting dropped in the woods at the age of ten, alone, on the weekend for entertainment. He says he would bring with a few cans of beans, and a sleeping bag, and spend his summer weekends in the woods.

His lifelong experience shows. I have always been amazed by the amount of knowledge my dad has, as never once has he flaunted it. I swear he knows every edible thing in the wild, how to track any animal, and can sense the direction he is facing with his eyes closed. I have never met another person who can ward off the cold as he does, not even wearing gloves while ice fishing out on Lake Superior.

Now, by the time I came along I already had a 10-year-old brother, and a 7-year-old sister. My mom was a stay at home mom and worked part-time at the Hardware Hank in town. My dad worked construction and had owned his own company for a few years by the time I was born.

My mom and dad met when they were in their teens, and my mom got pregnant with my brother, Tony, when she was 19, and my dad 24. I swear they have never once had it easy.

Their journey was remarkable. From what they say, they lived in a tent on Madeline Island for a summer while my dad was working there, in a hunting shack in Bayfield with no bathroom and a wood burning stove, with my grandparents on their farm, in a trailer on the outskirts of town, and eventually in a small cabin on McCarrey Lake in Iron River, WI.

My siblings and I all had different childhoods, but we can all agree on remembering 2 things very distinctively; love, and Kromer.

As I’ve mentioned, my dad worked construction, and had been doing so since he was 21. Everyday once the weather turned chilly, my dad left the house in a flannel shirt, a pair of Carhartts, and the Kromer he’s had since the beginning of time. No need for more than one, h¬e says, as they last your whole life. A Kromer is the one and only hat my dad ever wears. He wears it hunting, fishing, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, errand running, driveway plowing, and anything else that he’s doing outside in the cold. My Dad has influenced many in their purchase of Kromers, including my boyfriend Sam whom, didn’t follow his “you only need one rule.”

I swear, he just gets cuter and more loving every year. If he isn’t doing something outside, he is visiting us kids, playing with his grandkids, or has his arm around his wife of 33 years. He loves twitter and self describes himself as a “Builder, Hunter, Fisherman, Outdoorsman, Sports Enthusiast, Proud Gramps, Pops & Gruncle,” but I can assure you, he is much more than that.

Charity: Habitat for Humanity

Hometown: Iron River, WI

Meet Living Legend Finalist Chuck Brockman

Nominated by: Gary Strobel, friend & fellow board member


In 1989, Chuck founded Save Our South Channel Lights to help restore and rebuild two range lights in Lake St. Clair, Michigan that were built in 1859. For some context, that was before Abraham Lincoln was President or the zipper was invented. These lights were keys to the development of this region. One million dollars of merchandise passed through the area each day and the lights were essential to guide ships to the St. Clair River.

Painstaking volunteer hours and much dedication have brought the lights to their existing state. The front light remains to be restored and the rear light needs its keepers dwelling rebuilt. The rear light was restored in 2005 and maintenance continues. The group of 7 of us – led by Chuck – is dedicated and devotes many personal hours to come up with ways to raise money and to keep the lights in sufficient condition to hold weddings on the rear island. Chuck is 79 and does this all of this in the name of his late wife Scotty. Save Our South Channel Lights is an all volunteer 5O1(c)3 organization – 100% of money raised goes towards the restoration efforts.

Charity: Save Our South Channel Lights

Hometown: Harsens Island, MI