NASHOTAH — Jeff Tjugum’s overgrown mustache was a conversation starter.
It was also admittedly, “kind of ridiculous” looking, but that was exactly the point.
Tjugum was one of about a dozen St. Joan of Arc School dads who were sporting the throw-back facial fashion as a way to initiate donations for the Nashotah school.
“Teasing was the fund raising driver for my donors,” said Tjugum, who raised $1,200 of the $5,300 total, by sharing the experience in nearly excruciating detail to friends and family.
“I shared the challenges my wife and I would face if we were unsuccessful in our efforts,” he said, adding, “Several donated for my wife’s benefit, as she does not like facial hair. Others enjoyed the good-natured fun of raising my discomfort during the ordeal. I kept them up to date with pictures and the final results of our success.”
The Mustaches for Cash fundraiser was the brainchild of Dan Mowbray, who got the idea after seeing a picture of a baby-faced friend sporting an uncharacteristic and amusing mustache.
“The picture was very funny and the dads at St. Joan thought it would also be a funny way to raise some funds for our school,” he said. “As far as fundraising goes, we are like most dads of Catholic schools, supporting a wide range of fundraising such as buying and selling everything from candy to socks.”
Mustaches for Cash lasted a couple of months, as the participants began growing their facial hair prior to hunting season and the last wisps were shorn by New Year’s Day.
The end total surprised everyone, and although growing time was supposed to run Nov. 1 through Jan. 1, rules were changed to accommodate the already met goals, allowing for an early trim in time for Christmas.
“We were blessed with some really generous donors that seemed to fall into a few categories,” mused Mowbray. “They were, ‘1. Sure we will support the school, it’s a good cause, 2. Yes, we’ll donate; we want to see you look ridiculous, and 3. I’ll sponsor you so you can reach your goal and shave that thing off.’”
While Tjugum was the lead money winner, Mowbray stated that it was a close shave to reach first place as Tom Schoenauer was tied for first or just a hair behind in second place.
“Some of his sponsors demanded that he go until the full Jan. 1, deadline,” he said. “So it was funny seeing him with a fu manchu mustache at Christmas Mass.”
Growing facial hair destined for public ridicule didn’t faze Mowbray, who recently went door-to-door selling nuts for the Daisy Scouts.
“We all agreed that Mustaches for Cash was easy, fun, and not too time consuming,” he said. “Our parish is very generous with supporting our small school and we have a yearly goal of $50,000 to give back to the parish. There are so many people who work hard trying to come up with funds for our school and parish that we wanted to pitch in with something unique and fun.”
Brian Borkowski, another participant, provided graphics for the fundraising, including a “Mustaches for Cash” kit, and helped make the event successful.
“He included a desk sign for work, pledge cards, posters, the standings poster and much more,” said Mowbray. “He was really huge with this campaign.”
Friends and family of the participants, but especially students, fueled the enthusiasm for the fundraiser. Weekly standings posted near the front office drew a plethora of attention by students wondering whose dad was raising the most money.
For Borkowski, the daily cheering from his second grade son, Zachary, kept him from giving in to the beguiling power of the electric razor.
“It was tough at times to go to work with a goofy mustache when you typically have a clean cut face, but the kids loved it. Zachary enjoyed watching the progress on the weekly graph,” he said.
And, of course, misery makes good company. The knowledge that each of the participants endured the same chiding went a long way to seeing the fundraiser to its completion.
“For whatever reason, seeing cheesy mustaches on your friends made for good conversation,” said Mowbray. “I was compared to the guy on “My Name is Earl,” when I was really going for the Burt Reynolds look.”
Donations poured in from all across the country in support of shaving or growing the manly facial hair.
“My sisters from Rhode Island and Chicago supported my mustache, as well as a friend of mine from Cincinnati, Ohio,” said Mowbray, laughing, “Once we reached our goal everyone gladly shaved. We didn’t have a shaving party because we thought it might be scary as well as violate some health codes.”
The love exhibited by parents and parishioners for St. Joan of Arc School, which has received exemplary status from the Milwaukee Archdiocese, is similar to a tightly woven family. Principal Mary Ann Rudella is grateful for the overall volunteer spirit.
“I have been a principal for 18 years and that reason our school is what it is, is because of the school community,” she said. “They have a tremendous sense of stewardship by giving to and serving the school and the parish community.”
While this effort was more amusing than the ordinary fundraising projects, Rudella admitted that without the creative efforts of parents like those who grew mustaches, St. Joan of Arc School would be unable to exist.
“Oh my gosh, we are very grateful for the help, and our parents are very creative with fundraising efforts, and with the cost of education rising all the time, we are so blessed with the help,” she said. “On top of that, the kids thought it was so funny and enjoyed teasing all the dads and watching them get scruffy.”
With small class sizes, a country setting and family spirit, parents like Mowbray, Borkowski and Tjugum are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the continuation of a high quality Catholic education for their children.
“Everything about St. Joan of Arc is welcoming. The campus is really an unbeatable setting located right in the middle of corn fields, but close to everything,” said Mowbray. “It’s cool to be part of something that is definitely a best-kept secret. A lot of people have never heard of St. Joan of Arc or know where Nashotah is; it sounds like up north but it is really Delafield. Everyone knows each other, the class sizes are small, the test scores are great, and the staff is talented and energetic. Even our maintenance guy is cool.”
When not fundraising or helping children with homework, St. Joan of Arc families often gather for Friday night family open gym to connect, play dodge ball and have fun.
“We have an attitude of not taking life too seriously,” Mowbray said.
The dozen men are a bit tight lipped as to future fundraising efforts, but Mowbray did reveal a possibility that might just top the mustaches.
“Maybe Mullets for Moolah,” he joked. “I think I’ll start growing mine so I have it in time for Summerfest.”