March 16, 2017
By Ed Byrne
The Brillion News
FOREST JUNCTION – Anyone who’s read “The Way of a Pilgrim,” a classic in Russian Orthodox spiritual literature, will immediately have a warm feeling when meeting Dennis Schulze.
If you visit his Facebook page, “Dennis’s Lambeau Journey,” you’ll understand a little bit better why this man, with one leg amputated, is making his journey from Beloit to Green Bay in the middle of winter – all in a wheelchair.
The journey is a fundraiser – and an “awareness” raiser – for five charities that Schulze has close to his heart.
Schulze is quick to explain that he wasn’t always the person you see now.
He was an over-the-road truck driver for many years and got into a horrific crash in 2012.
“They cut my right leg off, while I was awake, to get me out of the truck,” he said.
Many surgeries followed, thanks to an infection from the original injury. More of his leg was gone, including his right knee.
While he was hospitalized, his father died. A year later, his mother was diagnosed with inoperable stage four cancer.
Schulze took care of his mother until her death – even though he had only one leg.
“She passed away at my house in her sleep,” Schulze said. “She took care of me her whole life … She was my best friend.”
Despite all of the things that happened to him, Schulze felt he was in debt. He had ideas for giving back, and his journey is part and parcel of that.
Schulze uses his journey to raise awareness and money for charities that mean a lot to him.
His father died after battling Alzheimer’s disease; so he asks people to donate to that cause in memory of Richard Schulze. His mom, Betty, died of cancer; so cancer is another charity he asks people to consider.
Then there’s St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – “just because.” The March of Dimes, because one of Dennis’ cousins has a birth defect.
Then there’s his cousin Ryan Copeland, a McFarland (Wis.) police officer killed in a head-on crash while on duty. Schulze asks people to consider donating to the Law Enforcement Death Response Team (LEDR).
Schulze got the idea of making LEDR one of his charities in conversations with Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas.
“It touched my heart, and I thought that was the right choice,” Schulze said.
Schulze’s 170-mile journey will end at Lambeau Field. He rides in his wheelchair, making about five miles each day, and tries to meet up with law enforcement officers in every county and municipality along the way.
The journey went up State 26 to Waupun, then along U.S. 151 to Chilton, and then north on State 57/32 through Hilbert, Forest Junction and Greenleaf.
It is the people along the way who keep him going.
“We have people coming down the road, parking on the side, coming up to me to shake my hand,” Schulze said. “They know my story. I thrive on the people, the honking, the waving.”
Accompanying him, in a van, is Joan Sohn, a long-time friend.
“We are friends, and she helped me with my mom … When I told her I was going to do this journey, she wanted to go along,” Schulze said.
He told her “no,” but three days before he was supposed to hit the road, he suffered a seizure – a problem that started after the accident in 2012. Schulze reconsidered his “no.”
This is his second pilgrimage. The first, earlier this winter, was to Wrigley Field, also a trip to raise money and awareness for charity.
“I enjoyed the Wrigley trip so much that I couldn’t wait to go on this one,” Sohn said.
She drives along behind him as he pushes his wheelchair with his left leg. Whenever they meet anyone along the way, no matter where, Sohn takes a photo of Schulze and his newest friend, and posts it on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/dennislambeau.journey).
The journey has some all-star moments, like what happened in Juneau, where every student at the Dodgeland elementary, middle and high schools greeted Schulze and gave him a hug.
The end of the journey will be special. Schulze heard about the suffering that Charlie Knuth, an 11-year old boy from Darboy, has endured since he was born with a rare skin disease.
“I got up one morning and here was Charlie on TV, getting ready to have another surgery,” Schulze said.
Schulze reached Mrs. Knuth by phone, asked her about Charlie and told her about his journey to Lambeau Field.
“I told his mom that I want Charlie to walk me into Lambeau Field,” Schulze said.
Fingers are crossed; it will depend on how Charlie is doing when the day arrives.
Schulze said he’s comfortable with the attention his journey is getting, as long as everyone realizes it is not about him, but about the charities dear to his heart.
And, when the journey to Lambeau is over, Schulze has another journey in the works, but he’s not saying a word about it yet.
After two days in Brillion, Schulze and Sohn hit the road again, heading north from Forest Junction.
But they aren’t counting the miles. Just the blessings.
This story was featured in the March 16, 2017 edition of The Brillion News.