Festival rescued by spectator impressed with its mission

By Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon

While the 2019 Unity Music Festival was billed as likely the final curtain call for the popular annual concert to benefit the Sheboygan County Cancer Care Fund, a new organizer has stepped forward to breathe new life into the 2020 edition of the show set for Saturday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts in Sheboygan.

After launching the cancer care fundraiser in 2005, Unity Music Festival founder and organizer Mary Ann Waldbauer of Sheboygan Falls bowed out last year, following a highly successful run heading up the event.

With the Unity Music Festival’s future in serious doubt, Belgium resident Jon Bolker seized the opportunity to keep the community-based concert alive.

“Last year was actually the first time I had attended the Unity Music Festival,” Bolker said. “Even though I was not very familiar with the event, I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the program and after hearing how it has helped so many families dealing with cancer over the years, I felt it just had to continue.”

“At intermission, I went to find Mary Ann. I told her I would take over the Unity Music Festival,” he said. “Ever since that night nearly a year ago, I have been focused on carrying out Mary Ann’s original mission of aiding families dealing with cancer in Sheboygan County, by bringing the community together by providing an enjoyable evening of entertainment.”

While previous Unity Music Festivals had featured a wide array of mainly local musical performers, this year’s show, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will feature BritBeat, a world-renowned Beatles Tribute band.

Bolker, who founded and operates Shop Your Bank and Medical Parts International, says this year’s 16th annual Unity Music Festival will take on a more traditional look, focusing solely on the national headliner BritBeat.

“When I stepped up to take over, I felt it would be best to simplify it by making it more manageable and less labor-intensive going forward,” Bolker said. “To Mary Ann’s credit, she organized live music, an auction, multiple raffles and a gala buffet all in one night. I was quite impressed at how she was able to find so many people to volunteer throughout the years and how she was able to put everything together all while she worked a full-time job. I knew from the start that for me to be successful, I needed to simplify things quite a bit.”

Bolker said a major driving force behind his interest in taking over the Unity Music Festival is his close, personal connection to the devastating impact of cancer.

“I watched both my mother and sister battle cancer most of my childhood,” Bolker said. “My mom passed when she was only 43, I was only 8. My sister too battled the disease very early on in her life, eventually passing at 35. For me that night really hit home.”

“The Sheboygan County Cancer Care Fund [] is a very worthwhile organization that does so much good for the people in the community battling cancer and blood related illnesses,” he said.  “I just knew I must not let this special event end. Knowing that the money raised through this event directly goes to families and people battling this disease made it very meaningful to me.”

The Sheboygan County Cancer Care Fund is a publicly supported 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions by the public are fully tax-deductible.

Established in 2000, The Sheboygan County Cancer Care Fund is the brainchild of local medical oncologist, H. Marshall Matthews, who recognized the need to help cancer patients through their cancer journey.

The Sheboygan County Cancer Care Fund since it was founded has been responsible for assisting Sheboygan area residents struggling with cancer to the tune of 1.5 million dollars.

Through the efforts of Mary Ann Waldbauer over the past 15 years, the Unity Music Festival has been responsible for raising close to half a million dollars that has directly benefited the Sheboygan County Cancer Care Fund.

“SCCCF is just awesome,” Bolker said. “It helps so many people struggling with cancer on so many levels. The positive impact it has on people’s lives is truly amazing. In addition to providing survivors some financial support, through the Survive, Thrive and Be Fit program the fund provides survivors support by connecting them with other survivors and provides them with free healthy lifestyle activities.”

According to Bolker, BritBeat is set to bring a fun-filled evening of hit-laden Beatles music to the Weill Center stage.

“Along with doing a spot-on live performance of all the popular Beatles songs, BritBeat takes you through a historic journey of the Beatles with a well-choreographed multi-media presentation all while making six costume changes,” Bolker said. “They truly sound just like the Beatles. In fact, a few years back BritBeat performed live to 40,000 fans at US Cellular Field featuring Pete Best, the original drummer for the Beatles.”

As Bolker strives to keep the musical talent at a high level, he has already been thinking about who might be featured at the next Unity Music Festival.

“I am hoping to have my friend’s band perform next year,” Bolker said.

“They routinely are asked to be the headliner at Chicago’s Navy Pier before and after the city’s Lakefront fireworks shows. They are extremely talented.”

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