Jennie Bueneman and Heide Halleman, of Wright City, MO, were honored as Hidden Heroes by The Warren County Record newspaper.
Jennie Bueneman and Heidi Halleman walked into the library at West Elementary School in Wright City with a group of kids, not expecting to be surprised.
But they were, as the two women were named the Warren County Record Hidden Hero for January.
“We are excited today that we get to present you guys and recognize both of what you guys do with Unite Wright City,” Record Publisher Tim Schmidt said as he presented the two honorees with their superhero capes.
“Oh my God, that’s so nice,” Bueneman said.
Bueneman and Halleman were both nominated to become Hidden Heroes by an anonymous person, but that person made sure the two Wright City women stood out.
“It was an easy selection for us when we saw it,” Schmidt said.
It wasn’t the first time the two women shared a deserved honor.
“We got person of the year in 2020,” Bueneman said. “We had to share it, just like we are now. … I just think it’s really nice that people are still what Unite is doing and it’s still important to the community.”
“It’s very exciting to have that honor,” Halleman said. “But it’s not about us. It really is about the program.”
The two women started Unite Wright City because they wanted to help people in need.
“We see so much need, we see so many people wanting help,” Bueneman said. “So we were like, ‘let’s just start a Facebook page.’”
And that Facebook page took off, allowing the two to connect people in need with people willing to help.
“Every time there’s a need, we’ll post it,” Bueneman said. “And it was like within 30 minutes, we had the needs fulfilled. So we just kind of started growing it.”
Bueneman and Halleman also worked to bring together organizations within the community so they could introduce themselves to each other.
“And that made a huge difference just in the knowledge of what else is out there,” Halleman said. “And to this day, we’re still figuring out what else is available in our community because there’s a lot of need. But there are a lot of people already helping.”
When Halleman and Bueneman speak of “need,” they aren’t just talking about the big things.
Yes, Unite Wright City helps after tragedy, but they’re also there to make sure those needs that seem small are also taken care of.
“We’ve had a mom reach out like ‘I need a birthday cake for my child,’” Bueneman said. “It’s like, ‘yeah, no problem.”
“The fire department will reach out if somebody loses their home. The band department will reach out if somebody can’t pay for something to do in band. Everything under the sun,” Halleman said.
“Everybody’s needs are different,” Bueneman responded.
Whatever it takes to fulfill a need, big or small, the two women will do. And though their service is focused on Wright City, the two women are willing to help anyone in Warren County.
“I’m not going to shut anyone down,” Halleman said. “As you know, we’re missing a lot here. So we connect with a lot of different places.”
Helping others is “a great feeling,” Halleman said. But it’s not why they do what they do.
“It’s really not about me,” she said. “It’s just about connecting.”
“There’s so many good people,” Bueneman said. “It makes you proud to be part of our town.”
The work Bueneman and Halleman do also has the long-term ability to make Wright City and Warren County better places for everyone who lives here. It shows the next generation the value of serving and helping others.
“I feel very proud when my kids come and they want to help somebody instead of judging them,” Bueneman said.
The two women have also taken on a new project that is designed to help get more kids active within the community.
“The next program that I’m really going to focus on, and United will be part of that, is I’m working with a special ed group at the high school and we’re looking for business in the local area that we can get some of the kids hired on,” Halleman said.
It’s part of a program that would see the state cover 100 percent of the business’ expenses should they add one of those students.
Bueneman is working to expand the Destination Imagination program in the city. That’s a program that teaches kids problem solving, performing, creativity, engineering, and getting up in front of crowds.
“I just think it’s an awesome thing for any child,” she said. “So I want to bring more awareness that the program’s here to get more coaches.”
She said there weren’t enough coaches this year and some kids had to be turned away.
“So I would like to solve that so next year everybody’s accepted.”
Both new programs, along with their desire to continue the Unite program is what defines the superhero-like qualities of the two women.
“I feel like it’s just in our nature,” Bueneman said. “I think we want to show our children and their friends that it doesn’t take a lot. You can help in different ways.”
“We just saw the need and when we would do things, we do it full force,” Halleman said. “We’re just helping people.”
The Warren County Record routinely accepts nominations for Hidden Heroes. The next recipient will be honored in March. Nominations can be made online at warrencountyrecord.com/hiddenhero.
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at email@example.com