Hides for Heroes seeks donations
By Angie Landsverk
Matt Tennessen struggled with adjusting back to life in Wisconsin after serving in Afghanistan for a year.
“I wasn’t good when I got home,” he said.
Tennessen was 26 when he decided to join the Wisconsin National Guard in 2006.
The Kaukauna native graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2003 with a double major in political science and public administration and policy analysis.
He explained his decision to join the 951st Sapper Company, out of Rhinelander and Tomahawk.
“I was always extremely thankful for all the stuff I had gotten,” Tennessen said. “I felt blessed with everything.”
He was also told his management skills were needed in the military.
Tennessen served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to November 2009.
The unit’s mission was to provide route clearance for combat operations.
On Easter Sunday in 2009, Tennessen was wounded from an IED blast.
The following October, one of his friends died as the result of a rocket-propelled grenade attack.
The injuries Tennessen sustained resulted in numerous surgeries, and after six years in the Wisconsin National Guard, the combat wounded Purple Heart recipient was medically retired.
“Our platoon was the most awarded National Guard platoon since World War II,” he said. “Our National Guard company we deployed with was the most awarded since World War II.”
During a turkey hunting trip near Wausau in 2012, Tennessen began to heal.
The trip was through the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation.
The national nonprofit provides outdoor sporting activities to Purple Heart recipients who were wounded in combat.
It does so to recognize and honor their sacrifice and to also promote healing and wellness through a shared passion for the outdoors.
A platoon sergeant initially told Tennessen about the foundation.
Tennessen, who currently lives in Kimberly, decided to contact the organization after he was told by a police officer, who was also a veteran, that he needed to talk to someone about his struggles after returning home.
“It’s extremely simple. It’s such an easy concept,” Tennessen said.
During that hunting trip, he spent time with other veterans who knew what he had been through.
“It’s peer to peer, veteran to veteran,” Tennessen said. “It made such a difference in my life that after that weekend, I had to help.”
He became an associate and offered his professional fundraising experience.
“We pay 100 percent,” Tennessen said of the costs associated with the trips.
That includes travel, equipment, hunting licenses and lodging.
His involvement in the foundation resulted in him meeting Waupaca resident Dave Hintz a couple years ago, at an event in Phillips, Wisconsin.
Hintz, who has a cabin there, attended the event and began talking to Tennessen.
As Hintz learned more about the foundation and what it does, he had an idea.
“I’ve been doing a deer hide drive for years. I cut deer on the side during the season,” he said.
Hintz worked as a meat cutter for 10 years and found a way to turn that skill into a way to raise money.
When the Iola-Scandinavia School District was building its new football field, he started putting out boxes for deer hides, salting them and then selling the hides as a fundraiser.
“Each year, it was for something different,” Hintz said.
Since three of his four children were in band when they were in high school, much of the money raised supported that program.
“I met Matt when my youngest was a senior,” he said. “I kept thinking that I had to keep giving back, because I have such a good program going.”
That was the beginning of Hintz’s Hides for Heroes fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation.
“The first year, we made $3,500 from the hides. The next year (last year), we made $5,000.”
Hintz works at Waupaca Foundry, and the foundry donates the wooden boxes Hintz places throughout the area, where hunters may drop deer hides.
In addition, the foundry buys the salt Hintz uses to salt all the hides.
General Beer also donates between $1,500 and $2,000, Hintz said.
This is the third year of Hides for Heroes.
Wooden boxes are located throughout the area, including at each of the foundry’s plants, Mel’s BP in King, JR’s Sportsman’s Bar in Waupaca, the Cenex station in Weyauwega, the BP station at Sunset Curve outside of Fremont, JR’s Sports Shop in Iola, Depot Street Station in Iola, the convenience store in Scandinavia, the feed mill in Big Falls and Sandbur Corners of Ogdensburg.
He said there are also boxes in Winneconne and in Phillips, and Hides for Heroes has a Facebook page.
Helping Hintz locally is Chuck Houtman, First Sergeant Bravo Battery 1st. BN 120th FA (field artillery).
Hintz placed boxes throughout the area around Nov. 1 and picks up the hides as the boxes fill.
Volunteers, including his sons, salt the hides.
Then, Hintz watches the market, waiting for the best time to sell them.
“It’s not an easy job. It’s all outside,” he said of salting the hides.
He sells the hides throughout December and into January.
All the money raised through Hides for Heroes stays in Wisconsin to support hunting and fishing trips for Purple Heart recipients.
“It’s an opportunity to showcase our natural resources,” Tennessen said. “We’re putting a combat wounded veteran with another combat wounded veteran. The outdoors helps people heal naturally.”
People from throughout the country come to Wisconsin for events.
Last year, Hintz was invited to a camp.
“It was gratifying to see thse guys and hear their stories,” he said.
Tennessen said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is not able to provide this type of mentoring.
“That is where the nonprofits come forward,” he said.
Hintz said raising money for the foundation is gratifying.
Tennessen said, “We need the support of the public, financially and time, even if it’s someone who throws a hide in a box.”