Successful telethon fundraiser evolves from humble beginnings

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The 12th Street Telethon Party co-hosts Tammy Otteson (second from left) and Liz Bremmer (second from right) presented a check for $6,500 to the Eagles Heart and Cancer Telethon last January. They are pictured in front of the Heart Donors ($1,000 or more) board with Liz’s daughter Taylor, and telethon co-hosts Tom Nelson (far left) and Tom Stram. (Photo by Randy Paske)

Various gift baskets, Brewers memorabilia, a fire ring and a framed print were among the auctioned items at last year’s 12th Street Telethon Party to benefit the Eagles Heart and Cancer Telethon in Prairie du Chien. (Submitted photo)

By Correne Martin

The challenge has been set. For 23 years, the 12th Street Telethon Party has been raising money for the Eagles Heart and Cancer Telethon—from as little as $200 to as much as $6,500 last year—and now, they’re challenging others to do the same.

Sisters Liz Bremmer and Tammy Otteson, both of Prairie du Chien, are passionate about organizing social gatherings and they’re great at collecting money for charities as well. Over two decades ago, they had a telethon viewing party in Liz and Rob Bremmer’s trailer house with just four friends.

“We drank, laughed and giggled. We had little intentions of actually watching the telethon,” Liz recalled. “But we decided, as long as we were together, we’d pull a little money together for the cause.”

Back then, the sisters were in their 20s with young families. As their families and networks of friends grew, so did their telethon party. When the Bremmers moved to a bigger house, the party moved with them. Eventually, it outgrew their house, and when someone suggested holding it at the Bridgeport Fire Station, the sizeable facility seemed like the perfect place.

“This will be our fourth year at the fire station,” Liz said.

In 2013, the first year in the new location, the still-somehow-aptly-named 12th Street Telethon Party raised $2,000 for the telethon. In its second year, they ended up with $3,200 and, last year, $6,500 was collected by the group—the most ever.

“We were shocked last year,” Liz remembered.

“We like to see if it can be bigger and better every year,” Tammy added. “Raising money is kind of our wheelhouse. We’re just good at organizing.”

Telethon co-host Tom Nelson commended Liz and Tammy, “It’s a serious fundraiser. They do such a great job. We’ve even invited them to come to our telethon meetings.”

Tammy described the numerous, entertaining activities that make their telethon parties unique and charitably successful. “We’ve had an ugly sweater contest, where even the kids had ugly sweaters on. One year, every time (co-host) Tom Stram said ‘um,’ we put a quarter in a bucket,” she noted.

Another year, they challenged co-hosts Stram and Nelson to a competition that resulted in the opportunity to deliver a pizza to the 12th Street Telethon Party while the telethon was on-air. Needless to say, Stram had no trouble joining the fun on location.

Additionally, they started providing a meal for a $5 donation (people bring their own drinks) and putting together silent auctions for gift baskets and 50/50 raffles—both of which have become their bread and butter in fundraising.

“Just about everybody brings something to raffle,” Tammy said, listing a Badger basket, wine basket, Bloody Mary basket, a day on the river, gift cards, Packer memorabilia, a grill package, a pool party, a Valentine’s Day basket and a St. Patrick’s Day basket as examples of donated items for the silent auction. “Most people go together and make a basket. They get pretty creative.”

Liz added that, oftentimes, the silent auction turns into a live auction, as she goes around asking party-goers if they can beat the highest bids.

“Last year, we had about 80 people attend. I send out invitations and post a Facebook event,” Liz said.

“It’s crazy. Everybody’s talking. People are playing cards,” she explained. “The TV is usually on and, if something special comes on, we get everybody to quiet down so we can watch. Time flies pretty fast for the two of us because we’re always so busy.”

As the telethon winds down, so does the 12th Street Telethon Party. They try to wrap up the auction and raffles before midnight so Liz and Tammy can go to the Eagles’ live telethon and present their total donation.

“Last year, we didn’t tell everyone what we’d raised until we got on air. It was pretty cool,” Liz said.

To recognize the 12th Street Telethon Party for their efforts, the Heart and Cancer Telethon puts them on its Hearty Donor list for those contributing over $1,000.

After the big announcement, everybody cleans up and heads home. However, the night is not done for the two sisters, and a few other family members and friends, as they continue the joyful night at the Eagles Club.

This year, in addition to all the flurry, a meat raffle is planned.

With the telethon just one week away, anticipation of the night is at its peak. As they look forward to their own festivities, Liz and Tammy would like to issue a challenge to the telethon-viewing public.

“We know a lot of people are out there watching it,” Liz said. “Why not put some money in a pot.”

“Start out small,” Tammy added. “Find something that’s a passion of yours and run with it. Then, see if you can make it bigger and better each year.”

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