APPLETON, Wis.— Hank Grishaber wanted to send a message. Fortunately for him, he had a means to do so.

So outside of Hank & Karen’s bar on the city’s southeast side, he changed the letters on his marquee and said what he wanted to say: MARY BETH N. THANKS FOR ALL YOU DO.

“Sad to say I don’t know her very well, personally,’’ Grishaber said of Mary Beth Nienhaus. “If I see her, I recognize her, but that’s as far as it goes. But what she does for the community, and the city of Appleton, is unbelievable."

“I just wanted to say, ‘Thank you, Mary Beth.’ Maybe open people’s eyes up for what she does for the community.”

The sign outside Hanke & Karen's Pub in Appleton, Wis. (Spectrum News/Mike Woods)

If you drive around the city, it will definitely open your eyes to the impact philanthropist Mary Beth Nienhaus has had on this community.

From sports complexes to Habitat for Humanity projects to veterans housing to the “Marigold Mile” — a curbside flowerbed with over 10,000 flowers leading to and from downtown along South Oneida Street — the lifelong resident has given her time, talent and treasure to help improve the lives of those around her.

“What I talked about today was her heart for the community, that she cares so deeply, and so personally about the community,’’ said Appleton Mayor Jake Woodford after ceremonies celebrating Nienhaus’ latest donation, a pickleball complex. “It’s not just about the dollars Mary Beth donates, but it’s the passion that she gives to our community that helps move us forward makes us a better place to be."

“So what does Mary Beth mean to this community? Well, she’s an incredibly important part of the life of our city and we’re so grateful to have her.”


Golf has long been a centerpiece of Nienhaus’ life. She grew up across the street from a golf course, had her first job at a golf course and when she reached Marquette University, she became the first female that played on an interscholastic team. Yes, that would be the men’s golf team.

“I always felt bad for the guys who were playing against me because, if they would lose, you know, they would never hear the end of it from their teammates,’’ Nienhaus said. “I can’t remember anything that was negative (from teammates). You know, they probably weren’t maybe too happy if I out drove them.”

After she began what would be a 28-year career as a physical education teacher and girls’ golf coach — among several other sports — at Appleton West High School, four area businessmen offered her the opportunity to become the head pro at Winagamie Golf Course in Neenah.

“They said if I did a good job after the first year, I could become part owner,’’ she said. That was 1971. In 1992 she bought out her final two partners and owned and operated the course until 2014. She gifted the 27-hole facility — worth an estimated $2.5 million according to a story in the Appleton Post-Crescent — to the Appleton Education Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for Appleton Public Schools.

During her tenure, she taught thousands of area youth to play the game and one of her high school players, Sue Ginter, played the LPGA Tour. She also became the first high school coach to be named the LPGA Coach of the Year, and was inducted into the Wisconsin State Golf Association Hall of Fame in 1994.


Mary Beth Nienhaus remembers feeling unsure the first time she made a large donation.

The minor-league baseball team in town moved to a new facility, leaving Goodland Field vacant. Appleton West, formerly Appleton High School, was land-locked and had no facilities on site for many of its sports teams, leaving them to play at various parks and middle schools around town. The idea was to give Goodland Field a complete facelift and give many teams at West a place to finally call home. 

“It was interesting because at that time my mother was still living, and my parents were very frugal,” Nienhaus said. “You know, my dad worked at KC (Kimberly-Clark). So not a lot of money. And so when I approached my mother, and I said this is what I would like to do, I really thought that she was going to be very hesitant and probably was not going to be too happy. And she said to me, ‘I think it’s a good idea.’"

The Marigold Miles plants approximately 8,000 to 10,000 marigolds on the boulevards of South Oneida Street from the Skyline Bridge south to Calumet Street and other streets beyond The Marigold Mile. (

“So that was the breakthrough, because it was a hunk of money and she thought it was perfectly fine.”

And soon after the Nienhaus Sports Complex, with baseball, softball, soccer fields and signage, was born.

“And the cutest thing is that when we had that dedication, she was there and I could tell she was just really proud that that had happened,” Nienhaus said of her mom. “And it was really cute because you know the name, Nienhaus. We would have to drive by there, lots of times, for my mother take a look at that.”


She is 79 now, but has a schedule a 29-year-old would find hard to handle.

Besides helping thousands in the Fox Cities, she has also gone on over 50 mission trips, many in third-world countries, to help those less fortunate.

She is more comfortable in her jeans, work gloves and hands in the dirt rather than talking about herself, but she did share she recently put in a new patio. And in true Mary Beth Nienhaus fashion, she cut out all the sod and laid the pavers herself.

She is dedicated to her faith and her church, and is thankful for what she calls the “God winks,” those circumstances that allow her to connect with those in need.

“We did a StrengthsFinder personality test a few years ago,’’ said Father Don Zuleger, the former pastor at Sacred Heart Parish. “And Mary Beth and I always laughed because one of the more obscure qualities was Woo — winning others over."

“A lot of people don’t realize this but she knows is she puts her name to something, she’s going to get others involved, automatically. She puts out six figures, but it’s always a matching fund. She knows a lot of those people. They wouldn’t get involved because they don’t want their name connected to it. But if, say, Mary Beth gives a half million, she has the ability to win them over to make a sizeable contribution. She’s not doing it for her own ego, but it accomplishes the mission.”

Those winks and subsequent missions have uplifted the lives of so many.

“She has impacted many organizations, but I don’t think we will ever fully understand the full impact of her work because she has improved the quality of life for so many people,” said John Weyenberg, President/CEO Greater of Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity. “Whether it’s through supporting Habitat or supporting the YMCA, Harbor House and, you know, the list goes on and on.

“She’s really just improved the Fox Cities in so many different ways and all of us, if we call this place home or even visit this place, we’re somehow impacted by the generosity of Mary Beth and the way she’s made our community a better place.”

Hank Grishaber is the latest to publicly thank Mary Beth Nienhaus, but certainly not the first. Years ago, in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Post-Crescent newspaper, a fellow missionary wrote about the time she was with Nienhaus in a remote village near Lake Victoria, Kenya.

“(Nienhaus) was so moved by students sitting on the dirt floor that she had the classrooms furnished with new desks. On the front of all the desks, someone painted, ‘Thank You, Mary Beth.’ That goes for all of us.”

Indeed it does.


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