Savanna Ploessl

Holmen High School senior Savanna Ploessl takes servant leadership to heart by volunteering countless hours for numerous community organizations.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

For Savanna Ploessl, learning how to give back started early.

Growing up, the Holmen High School senior and her two sisters, Madelyn and Isabel, would help their father, Barry Ploessl, with his volunteer work, whether that was riding along in the Holmen Kornfest parade or working with the women manning the Lions Club car show concession stands.

Those experiences helped build a passion for serving the community in Savanna, who is an officer in the high school’s National Honor Society, volunteers to tutor math and science and is a member of the school’s Interact Club. Seeing the power and impact a few donated hours can make on others is a great feeling, Savanna said, as well as an eye-opening experience about the struggles some people in her community face.

“My dad taught us that any way you can you should give back,” she said. “It is really good to be able to give your time and make people smile.”

Barry, an Edward Jones financial advisor in Holmen, said the value of volunteering was impressed upon him by his own parents. But with work and the organizations he was involved in, including Rotary and the Lions Club, he knew that bringing the family along would be the only way to get to spend more time with his kids.

“Dad was always a role model for us,” she said. “I could see how happy it made him to do these things.”

They would ring bells together for the Salvation Army during the holidays, or deliver the food for the local Meals on Wheels program. Savanna said she was really excited the first time her dad asked her to help out with the car show until she found out the work was in the concession stand.

As a middle school student, she said she thought checking out all the cars would have been cooler, and was worried the older ladies at the concession stand would make the hours of service long and boring. But the women had such interesting stories that the time flew by, and she was impressed by all the work they put into making the food they served at the event.

This was the first time her service would shatter her preconceptions, but not the last. She also started helping her dad deliver Meals on Wheels at the same time, and after a few trips, her dad decided it was time for her to do a delivery solo.

A shy girl at the time, Savanna said she was terrified to go up and ring the doorbell without knowing who the stranger behind the door was. But the people were so grateful, that she warmed to the experience and learned a lot about those living in her community.

“I could see them so happy to get a meal,” she said. “You’d really get to know these people and their stories.”

For some of the people they delivered to, Meals on Wheels might be the only hot food they had all week. Another recipient shared how she split the food between her and her pet.

“The people were so kind,” she said. “It made you more happy and grateful for what you have.”

Savanna, 17, will graduate from Holmen this spring and hopes to attend a four-year university and study entomology with the hopes of becoming a forensic entomologist, or someone who uses bugs to help in criminal investigations. She said the character Jack Hodgins in the long-running FOX drama Bones made the career interesting, and growing up, she was always interested in beetles and spiders and how they help protect the environment.

“My mom (Lisa) would always freak out when she would see a wolf spider or something else,” she said. “My teachers always knew they could count on me to shepherd and spiders out of the classroom.”

Kelli Korneta, one of the high school guidance counselors and co-advisor of NHS, said Savanna is the epitome of what teachers want in their NHS students. To join the society, juniors and seniors must have a nearly 3.7 GPS and volunteer a number of hours at school and in the community; Korneta said Savanna doesn’t look at those requirements as a checklist and loves to go above and beyond what is required.

“Giving back is just part of who she is,” Korneta said. “She is always focused on what she can do for the community in Holmen.”

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Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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