Mike Spinner tutoring

Mike Spinner, tutoring third-graders (from left) Jerome Wright, Deacon Vang and Ryu Xiong Wednesday at Northside Elementary School in La Crosse, received the Volunteer Award at the annual dinner meeting/awards ceremony of Great Rivers United Way Wednesday.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

Mike Spinner’s love of reading as a child carried over into adulthood and followed him into retirement, where he now tutors students so they can revel as he does in the realm of the written word.

The Onalaska man’s diligence in nurturing students at Northside Elementary School in La Crosse earned him the Volunteer Award from Great Rivers United Way during the organization’s 68th annual meeting, dinner and awards program Wednesday night.

“I just love the kids,” Spinner said in a phone interview before the event. “They really want to read, and I always liked to read.”

Spinner, who has been tutoring Northside students for two years as part of United Way’s third-grade Read to Success program, is retired after a career working with developmentally disabled people.

He is so dedicated to the tutoring that folks at the GRUW office in Onalaska use him as a backup calendar of sorts.

“At United Way, a sure sign that it’s almost fall is not school supplies on store shelves, but rather the calls from Mike asking when he can start back up again,” according to the United Way awards announcement.

“I just love being with the kids,” Spinner said. “I love the expressions they make when I tell them they read well.”

He also passed on the reading gene to his son, Vincent, who plans to go to law school. Mike and his wife, Rene, don’t get to see Vincent much, as he now works as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., until he starts law school.

Among other volunteer gigs, Spinner routinely visits a 96-year-old woman at Eagle Crest North in La Crosse, which he said is as rewarding for him as it is for her.

“I just come out of there bubbling with her stories,” he said.

Spinner also visits a 92-year-old man who lives at Eagle Crest South. The gentleman, who worked for what is now Inland, has an artistic flair and does cartoons for Spinner, he said.

Volunteering also takes Spinner across state lines, to Minnesota, where he visits a Hokah man a couple of hours a week.

Other honors awarded during the meeting included:

Jen Rombalski mug


Kyle and bro zachary


Advocate Award: Jen Rombalski, director of the La Crosse County Health Department, earned the kudos as “an individual whose passion for community health is contagious. Rombalski is on GRUW’s board of directors, where she also chairs the agency’s new health initiative, the Great Rivers Hub, and is an adviser for the Better Together Project and Compass Now, United Way’s community needs assessment.

Give Award: This honor saluted the employees of Westby Cooperative Creamery for increasing giving by 124 percent since their first campaign and boosting participation 233 percent in just the past year.“Partnerships like theirs allow us to make a difference in Vernon County,” according to the United Way award announcement.

LIVE UNITED Award: The honor, which recognizes an individual or organization who follows the United Way values of give, advocate and volunteer, went to Dakota Supply Group in La Crosse for its longstanding support. Employees there participate at or near 100 percent a year and contribute time and talent during United Way’s annual Day of Caring.

Power of 1 Award: This honor went to Kyle Lang of West Salem, who ran across the country to raise money for three charities near and dear to his heart, including Great Rivers United Way. One-third of the more than $18,000 he raised will be used throughout the Coulee Region, according to United Way.



Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

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