Last night the port Washington-Saukville Rotary presented Joe and Jane Dean with the "Paul Harris Fellow Award."

This award is named after the founder of Rotary which was established in 1957 in appreciation for a contribution to the humanitarian and educational programs of the Rotary foundation. Honorees have established projects that save and invigorate the lives of people around the world and enhance international friendship and understanding.

Along with Governor Scott Walker, RightWisconsin Editor-in-chief Charlie Sykes spoke at the ceremony, held at the Ozaukee County Courthouse. From his remarks:

The first thing about Joe is that he doesn’t know the world impossible.  He has no idea that his ideas are crazy impossible  --things like leasing a 747 or renting out Miller Park.

Lately when I talk with Joe, we come back to a same theme: I can’t believe that all these things actually happened.  The flights…the Homecomings…. the Honor Flight movie... the tribute and world premier of the movie at Miller Park… all the stories that I can’t begin to tell you…

But they all started with one of Joe’s ideas.

Most of us might react: What if it doesn’t work? Joe’s response is: Yeah, but what if it does????

Joe will tell you that he draws inspiration from that amazing generation that fought and won WWII. This was a generation that never asked for anything; never asked for recognition. And we waited too long to give it to them. It took 60 years for us to build a memorial to that generation, and even longer before someone like Joe came along to make sure they got to see it… 

Joe heard about Honor Flight and,as he tells it, one morning said to himself: Somebody should do this? If not me? Then who?

To date there have been 18 flights from Milwaukee, more than 2500 veterans have had a chance to go see that memorial. But Joe didn't do it alone.

I have to tell you how lucky Joe is to have Jane… not JUST because she puts up with him. Jane is also an extraordinary woman, who does things that seem and still seem to me impossible: the extraordinary logistics of mail call. I have no idea how they put together all those thousands of letters and cards, and can’t even begin to convey how much that means to the veterans. 

Give Jane any name of a veteran who has flown with us the past 5 years and she’ll recognize it and remember them from sorting their mail call. She has made "mail appear" even if the veteran was just booked on the flight the night before.

At Miller Park, I said to Joe, thanks for making me part of this… it was so amazing... but I've never had a chance to say this to Jane: Thank you letting me be a part of that amazing moment when these elderly men, open up their envelopes and read letter after letters, card after card from family members, from children, grandchildren… sometimes total strangers… thanking them for their service.

Let me tell you how I think about tonight:

This is your George Bailey moment. (You’ve all seen it’s a Wonderful Life.) Tonight I’m thinking about  much the world would be different if it wasn’t for Joe and Jane Dean -- how many veterans would never have had the opportunity to see their memorial. 

Think about how the lives of men like Joe Demler, Harvey Kurz, Julian Plaster Orville Lemke were so fundamentally changed by your passion, your willingness to take those risks, your patience and your respect for each and every one of them. 

Without you, how many families would never had that opportunity to say good bye. How many good men would not have had the chance to see their life summed up: by having us say to them: your life mattered, we haven’t forgotten. 

Joe and Jane, I hope you realize that’s the message tonight for you: what you did mattered. 

In the movie you say that the challenge the Greatest Generation left us was that "WE DARE NOT LIVE TRIVIAL LIVES."

You haven’t. 

You made a difference

Thank you for letting us be part of this.