The Courage Kenny Foundation's annual Judd and Barbara Jacobson Award honors the pursuit or achievement of a business entrepreneurial endeavor by a person with a disability. Three 2017 recipients: Gaelynn Lea Tressler, Cheryl Bemel and Robert (Bob) Wilsie, were recognized at a reception on October 26 at the Edina Country Club. Each received a cash award to help advance his or her business endeavor.
Gaelynn Lea Tressler, Duluth, Minn.
Since 2013, Tressler has been a private fiddle instructor through her business Gaelynn Lea Music. Tressler, who has Osteogenesis Imperfecta or “brittle bones,” is a motivational speaker on disability awareness issues, speaking to schools, advocacy organizations and nonprofits. An accomplished fiddler, she won NPR’s 2016 Tiny Desk Concert contest in March 2016. She and her husband Paul began touring full-time about a year ago.
Her $10,000 gift from the Jacobson Award will enable Tressler to hire a publicist for the busiest five months of her upcoming 2018 tour schedule, with the goal of propelling her career forward, making it more financially viable. The publicist will help spread the word about her upcoming shows through interviews with local radio and TV stations and newspapers. Working with a publicist four to six weeks before a concert can help increase audience size, which in turn will enable Tressler to book larger venues. The extra publicity will lead up to an important album release tour in September – October of 2018.
Cheryl Bemel, Mendota Heights, Minn.
To build up her body to combat symptoms of Lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome and Reynaud’s Disease, Bemel, a psychologist with Allina Health West St. Paul Clinic, created her own exercise program which includes bicycling. And, because she often likes to bike after work, Bemel developed PsychoLights, an LED device that provides safety for people who like to bike, skateboard and snowboard after dark. PsychoLights is easy to attach to almost any helmet, does not compromise the helmet’s safety, and is easy to remove.
Bemel plans to use the $5,000 she received from the Jacobson Award to complete production design work and place an initial order of 1,000 lights for a planned spring 2018 launch. PsychoLights plans to give a portion of all proceeds to help people with mental health issues.
Robert (Bob) Wilsie, Blaine, Minn.
Wilsie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a decade ago. His struggles with dexterity, walking, and tremors, left him unable to continue his real estate appraisal career. After he left his corporate career, Wilsie revived his creative side. Today, he produces both practical and artistic items in his garage workshop. His work now focuses on handcrafted, hardwood guitars and ukuleles. He found he enjoys making instruments as much as playing them.
Wilsie said he will use the $5,000 from the Jacobson Award to purchase equipment needed to reduce production time and cover expenses until sufficient income is generated through sales. Reaching the niche market that values the beauty and quality of handcrafted musical instruments, he plans to offer his products on Etsy, Ebay and Amazon.
About the award
Established in 1992, the Judd and Barbara Jacobson Award exemplifies the business entrepreneurial spirit of Judd Jacobson who was a committed, creative and innovative spirit in both his vocational and avocational endeavors. Judd was a Minnesota business leader who became a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident in 1943. Funds for the Award are made possible by a gift from the late Daniel J. Gainey, a lifelong friend of Judd and Barbara Jacobson.
About Courage Kenny Foundation and Allina Health
Courage Kenny Foundation raises funds to support patients and clients of Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, part of Allina Health.