August 16-19, 2018

August 16-19, 2018

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Volunteer of the Year

Joseph Hughes Milwaukee Irish FestJoseph Hughes
Volunteer of the Year

Our 2016 Volunteer of the Year, Joe Hughes, is a person that we all know, respect and admire. Joe has received more nominations for this award over the past 10 years than any other person in that time frame. Joe comes to us from the trenches. Without people like Joe, there would not be a Milwaukee Irish Fest. He is one of our many volunteers who not only dedicate a week of their vacation time to the festival's success but also spends countless hours of preparation in the months before. 

Joe Hughes has been with the festival since the beginning, having started as a bartender in the Miller area. He is a leader, and a worker who is one of the first people on the grounds during festiavl set-up and one of the last persons to leave when the festival is over. 

He is known for his fashionable appearance, outstanding personality and professional demeanor. Our honoree helps to build and deliver the Irish Fest float for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Milwaukee. He is the coordinator of the Moore Street Market and co-coordinator of the Grounds and Set-Up Area.

In addition to his Irish Fest activities, Joe has organized the Shamrock Club parade and played drums for their Color Guard. He has served as president of the Shamrock Club (Milwaukee Chapter), the Milwaukee Hurling Club and the Shorewood Men's Club. 

Joe's active involvement in the Milwaukee Irish community and his dedication to the Milwaukee Irish Festival makes this year's nominee an outstanding ambassador for our festival. Irish Fest honors Joe Hughes, as the 2016 Volunteer of the Year! Slainte!



Jane WalrathJane Walrath
2015 Volunteer of the Year

Congratulations to our 2015 Volunteer of the Year, Jane Walrath! Jane Walrath has a passion for the Irish Fest organization and plays a very important part within. Jane is smart and funny and a positive energy and attitude always accompany her. She welcomes new folks into the fold as if they had been part of her life/circle forever. Jane has consistently volunteered for many of the Year round Irish Fest events both inside and outside of the center. Always willing to assist – no matter the task - she is an incredible resource of time, talent, knowledge and experience. She is tireless in her commitment to everything we do at Irish Fest!

Jane’s life has been one of service to others, to Milwaukee Irish Fest and to the community. Jane started her Irish Fest participation in 1981 in the Children's area and in 1984 she became the coordinator of that area. She served as President of the Irish Fest Board from 1999 - 2001, Assistant Treasurer, and board member from 1987 to 2004. She has been involved with the Summer School for over twenty-five years and is the current Director.

Jane has served on many Irish Fest committees including the PR Committee, HR Committee, Green Tie Committee, 30th and 35th Anniversary Committees and the Celtic Boutique.  She has been a long time member of the Entertainment Committee and has represented Irish Fest at many festivals and conferences in the US and Ireland. Jane has volunteered in the office once a week for the past few years and in 2013 undertook the responsibility of co-coordinator of the Entertainment Cafe.

Jane has been a great ambassador for Irish Fest in her activities within the Irish community, which include serving on the Milwaukee Feis Board and planning for Winterfeis. She started as an Irish dancer and went on to become Executive Director of the Cashell Dennehy School of Irish Dance. In addition she has volunteered at the University Lake School, Channel 10/36, and has served on the Hartland/Lakeside School Board. She is a former newspaper reporter for the Lake County Reporter and a former editor for Golden Books.

Milwaukee Irish Fest is proud to have Jane Walrath as our 2015 Volunteer of the Year!

Nancy Madden Walczak
2014 Volunteer of the Year

Nancy Madden WalczakOur 2014 Volunteer of the Year, Nancy Madden Walczak, started with Irish Fest in 1981 in the Information booths. In 1982 she took over responsibility for the Irish Fest Cultural area which was organized into three separate components – cultural, harp and theater arts. Nancy organized many cultural exhibits in the early years of the festival working with associates from the UWM Irish Studies Program and Irish Fest volunteers to bring in exhibits from the Guinness Brewery Museum, James Joyce memorabilia and a Lady Elgin exhibit among others. Her participation in the Milwaukee Harp Ensemble helped jump start a larger presence of harp music at the festival which included a workshop with harpist Derek Bell of the Chieftains on the rooftop of the Park East and an eventual visit to Irish Fest of Janet Harbison and the Belfast Harp Orchestra. She coordinated the Harp area when it moved to the new Folk stage along the lake walk and eventually to the larger harp tent when the Cultural area moved to the south end in 1998. She has been involved with the summer school as a volunteer and frequent lecturer on language and culture since its early inception in 1987. Nancy has lectured on Irish culture for Irish Fest at the Getaway weekend, in the Gaeltacht area, at the Milwaukee County Domes and other Irish Fest related events. She served on the Scholarship Committee, took over the Poetry Contest when the previous coordinator passed away, and is a regular volunteer at year round events. She continues to help keep Irish Fest true to its cultural objectives with new ideas such as a Limerick Contest, docents for tours in the cultural area and Irish “village people” personas in the cultural area. In addition to her many contributions to Irish Fest, Nancy is co-founder of the Irish Studies program at UWM and active with the Shamrock Club, Celtic Women International, the ICHC and the local Irish language club. We are pleased to acknowledge and honor Nancy as our 2014 Volunteer and the community-at-large.

Tom Kennedy
2013 Volunteer of the Year

Leadership, innovation, reliability - these are characteristics often found in individuals who have received past Volunteer of the Year awards. And this year is no exception. Add the knowledge and success that Tom Kennedy has had in the business world, and familiarity with terms like inventory control, supplies, advance planning, improving revenues, customer service and satisfaction, one can understand why his contributions have been so important to the long term success of Irish Fest. Tom served as a member of the Board of Directors from 1986 to 2002 and was on the Investment Committee and Finance Committee for many years. He is the Area Supervisor of the dedicated and hard working volunteers who provide our security and beverage services. If success is measured in inches Tom's success, whether at the festival or any of our year round Irish Fest events, can be measured in ounces. Yes that's ounces as in 12 ounces or 16 ounces. Tom annually negotiates and sets beer prices, cup sizes, craft beer and major brewery brands. He decides whether to serve wine straight up or mixed, and how many satellite bars serve bottled beer. Tom is generally one of the last people off the grounds on the Monday after Irish Fest. He also has mentored his own replacement -now that's really impressive! Congratulations to Tom Kennedy, the 2013 Irish Fest Volunteer of the Year. 

Julie Smith
2012 Volunteer of the Year

Julie is a Milwaukee Irish Fest Area Supervisor, Coordinator of Irish Fest Transportation and a year round office volunteer. As an Area Supervisor, Julie is a tireless advocate for her coordinators and is always around to lend a hand or give them support. During the festival she is in charge of making sure the entertainers and all of our special guests get to and from the airport, festival grounds and anywhere else they need to go. She does an amazing job managing all of our transportation needs, always with a smile and a great attitude. In the office she has been a dedicated volunteer for many years. She not only answers phones and emails but also is a great steward of the Irish Fest Center- watering plants, replacing paper towels, and decorating for the holidays are just some of the many things she does to help keep the Center going. All of us at Milwaukee Irish Fest thank Julie for her years of hard work and dedication and look forward to working with her for many more.

Congratulations Julie!

Maureen Modlinski
2011 Volunteer of the Year

Maureen Murphy Modlinski has been involved with the festival since the very beginning starting as a volunteer and progressing to coordinator and to Supervisor.  In every one of these roles, she has been committed to making the festival a success.  Maureen is a leader who walks the walk and leads by example.  No job is too small or trivial.  She treats fellow volunteers and festival goers with respect and great enthusiasm.  While being a leader, a supervisor, and a former board member, Maureen has stayed under the radar of recognition and just does the job because she truly enjoys being a part of the Irish Fest family.

Maureen is not just visible at the festival but is dedicated and involved throughout the year. It would be easier to make a list of the Irish Fest associated events that she has NOT participated in or chaired than to list ALL the many events of which she has been an integral part.  At most Irish Fest events, you will see Maureen and her family not only attending, but working and greeting others.  When a helping hand is needed, she is one of the first to extend it. Maureen, along with her husband, Dave, has instilled in their children dedication and love for the Irish Fest community.  As a result some new young leaders are emerging. 

The people that nominated Maaureen wrote the following:

“Maureen Modlinski shows a gentleness, thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion to all, with a special emphasis to the Irish Fest Community. We feel that she is very deserving of this award and recognition.  It is time for Irish Fest to show her that she is truly appreciated for her dedication and commitment to the Irish Fest mission for the past 31 years.”

Maureen worked with Chuck Ward to organize the Great Irish Open and gives tirelessly of time and talent to make it an ongoing success.  Presently, she is the Area Supervisor of Outreach where she oversees the Getaway, Christmas Party, St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the choir.  She is the coordinator of the festival marketplace and serves as festival co-supervisor of sales and retail.

Congratulations, Maureen!

Brian Witt

2010 Volunteer of the Year

Brian Witt and Jane Anderson, Milwaukee Irish Fest

The 2010 Volunteer of the Year, Brian Witt, lives and breathes the Irish culture and his passion and dedication have contributed significantly to Irish Fest's success and to the advancement of numerous other activities and events in the Irish Community.

Brian attended the first Irish Fest, became a member of the Shamrock Club, took Irish language lessons and became involved with the Irish Fest theater. He has supported Irish music lessons in Milwaukee on a year-round basis, has been involved with the Summer School for years and is an active partcipant in the Online Development Committee. And, of course-Coordinator of the Cultrural Pavilion at the festival.   Witt seeks out exhibits for the Cultural Pavilion that educate and entertain fest goers. He welcomes guest presenters and oversees the exhibit placement and set up in the pavilion. He oversees the set up of each display as well as any special needs of each exhibitor. His work is instrumental in ensuring festival guests enjoy themselves in the pavilion. Witt is also on the Summer School committee. Each year he helps decide who will come over. He looks for those people who will have a widespread appeal, either in a cultural or entertainment fashion. In 2010, Witt took on the initiative of overseeing the Irish Fest history tent, called the Voyager Tent, due to the use of the sail from an earlier exhibit on St. Brendan's voyage done in the earliest part of the decade. Artifacts were exhumed from the 30 years of the festival, as well as pictures and DVDs of early festivals, and had information pillars, showing the attendance and high lights of each year.

Congratulations, Brian!

  • Aer Lingus
  • Catholic Financial Life
  • Celtic, Inc.
  • Habush Habush Rottier
  • Jameson
  • Jameson
  • Lakefront Brewery
  • Miller Lite
  • Potowatomi
  • Sprecher


  • Center: 1532 N. Wauwatosa Ave, Milwaukee
  • Festival Grounds: Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee
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