Community pitches in to make ‘field of dreams’ a reality

Community pitches in to make ‘field of dreams’ a reality

By Colleen Jurkiewicz

Special to Conley Media

GRAFTON — Al Duhr and Matt Malkowski never met each other. One was an 18-year-old senior in high school, looking to a bright future; the other, a 78-year-old husband, father and grandfather who was enjoying his golden years as a snowbird, tooling around Brandenton, Fla., in the winter behind the wheel of a 2006 Sebring convertible.

But both men loved sports (baseball in particular), their families and their communities — Malkowski was member of the Grafton Volunteer Fire Department, and Duhr, a Cedarburg resident, supported many local organizations through his Duhr Family Foundation.

Both suffered tragic, unexpected deaths – Malkowski on April 30, 2010, a month after a car accident, and Duhr on May 6, 2017, suffering a fatal heart attack while visiting a sick friend in Florida.

This summer, the two will have something else in common – something unexpected: that 2006 Sebring.

On Saturday, July 20 at 8 p.m., as the final day of Melapalooza 2019 wraps up in Grafton’s Centennial Park, the car will be raffled off to help realize a longtime dream of Grafton Little League and of Malkowski’s family: a “field of dreams” in Malkowski’s honor at the GLL’s developing fields complex on Lakefield and River Bend roads.

It all began a month ago when Duhr’s wife, Peggy, made a call to Mel’s Charities with “an unbelievable offer,” said Mel’s executive director Tom “Mel” Stanton – the mint-condition Sebring, which has only 55,000 original miles. It was only owned in Florida, so has never suffered the ravages of a Wisconsin winter.

The Duhr family have been longtime behind-thescenes supporters of the charity and loved that all the money raised by their “great times for great causes” stayed in Ozaukee County.

Stanton said he immediately knew that Mel’s was going to use the car to help raise funds for Malkowskis’ field. Mel’s has donated money to support scholarships in Malkowski’s honor for the past nine years, and the Malkowskis in turn have worked tirelessly to promote the work that Mel’s does throughout the community.

“They are just all-in helping Mel’s,” said Stanton. “They’ve become a part of our family.”

When Peggy Duhr heard that the monies raised would impact Grafton Little League and the Malkowskis, she was “overjoyed,” said Stanton.

In the years since Matt’s death, the Malkowskis have taken on a major project in memory of Matt: a brandnew senior field for the GLL, an organization close to Matt’s heart. And though their fundraising efforts with the annual Pitch for Matt cornhole tournament have been well-received by the community, there was a shortfall.

Doing the field the right way comes with a laundry list of requirements – parking considerations, concessions, restrooms – and though the number kept growing, no one wanted to cut corners.

“We need to do this the right way,” said Jan Duhr.

Last year, Ansay & Associates of Port Washington stepped in to support the project after hearing Jan share her story at a Mel’s event. Mike Ansay, chairman and CEO of Ansay & Associates, said that he was inspired by the passion the Malkowskis had to provide this field for the community in Matt’s honor.

“You can’t ask for a better opportunity to help people,” he said.

Ansay’s support was the shot in the arm that the fundraising process needed, and ground broke at the “field of dreams” on Friday, June 28.

“It was an emotional day,” said Stanton.

The field will be planted this summer and the Malkowskis and Stanton are hopeful that, with the support of community members like Ansay and the raffle of Duhr’s Sebring, the remaining gap in funds will be closed and the first game can be played next spring – 10 years after Malkowski’s passing.

The field, said Jan, will be “a place where little kids can come out and be little kids again.”

“They can play ball all day long if they want — they don’t have to spend their days sitting in front of the TV playing video games,” she said. “It’s going to be here for decades.”

Raffle tickets for the Duhr family Sebring are being sold for $100. Winners or a proxy must be present to win. Five names will be drawn at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 20, at which time five keys will be distributed. Only one will start the car. To make arrangements to purchase a raffle ticket, email awesome@melscharities. org.

Pictured in front of a Grafton Little League field under construction, with the Chrysler Sebring being raffled off are, from left, Tom “Mel” Stanton, Jakob Olson, Reed Schaefer, Olivia Schaefer, Drew Olson and Tim Harrington.

Photo by Mark Justesen