“Serving people and helping people is something that’s very close to me,” said Nicole Lenz, store manager at St. Vincent de Paul in Waunakee (“Vinny’s Waunakee”). That has helped her not only professionally, but also when she faced great personal tragedy a few years ago. Lenz began her role as store manager in February 2018, but has been employed with the organization for several years. In 2013, she began at the Waunakee store on a part-time basis and then quickly worked her way up to assistant manager. She then spent a few years at the Stoughton store, as well as the organization’s Processing Center in Madison before landing back in Waunakee.
She loves being back here. “It is what I consider my home store,” she said.
And it doesn’t hurt that it is only 10 minutes from her home in DeForest. In addition to the local retail store where people can shop for bargains, the organization helps others in need in many different ways, including through clothing and furniture vouchers, its food pantry, transitional housing facilities, stand-alone pharmacy, and other services.
Just as importantly, she appreciates the feeling of community at the store.
“It’s more than a store for a lot of people who do come in,” Lenz said. For many of those who regularly frequent, it is a social outlet. When asked her favorite part about working there, she said, “I take things that people don’t want to give people what they need.”
She is appreciative of the community’s generosity. After Waunakee’s annual garage sale weekend this past May, many in the community donated their unsold items to Vinny’s Waunakee. It was enough to fill eight 53-foot semi-trailers, she said.
Lenz is from Tomah, Wisconsin, and graduated from Tomah High school in 1995. She went to Lincoln College in Illinois to become a radio broadcaster, but quickly realized that this wasn’t the career for her. “I like to be around people,” she said, and working in radio broadcasting meant spending a lot of time isolated alone in a broadcast booth.
She left that job and moved to Atlanta to try to figure out what to do next. She worked for a temp service agency and had a different job every few months. One in particular struck a chord and stayed with her– working for St. Jude’s organization by helping with fundraising and donations.
Due to the high cost of living in Atlanta, however, she ultimately moved back to Tomah where she met her husband, Kevin Lenz. They went out to breakfast one morning in 2000 and have been together ever since.
Kevin owns his own construction company, KMN Construction LLC. Each letter represents someone from their family: the “M” for Lenz’s stepdaughter, Morgan, the “N” for Nicole, and the K for Kevin. But the “K” is also for their son, Kyler, who tragically died when competing in a national ATV race in Minnesota in 2017, as a young teenager.
Kyler loved off-road racing. His goals were to win an ATV championship, then race Side-by-Side (UTV racing) and finally to retire in either Pro Truck or NASCAR racing. Lenz and her husband have chosen to stay deeply rooted in the racing community, which has provided a source of strength for them. To further help cope with their son’s passing, she said that she and her husband went back to doing what they know best, which is helping other people. One way is through Team 13, a youth ATV sponsorship program, named so because Kyler’s racing number was 13. This serves to help offset some of the costs associated with racing for other riders and their families. And Kyler Lenz Motorsports is their race and speed shop, under which they also began a UTV race program and helped a few riders at the national level last year. They also plan to set up a memorial fund in Kyler’s name.
She recognizes the importance of community, both in how it has helped her and how she can help others. The racing and St. Vincent de Paul’s community are very important to her, and she appreciates the support and connection at both.
“We’re all there for each other,” she said.