Riding With The Angels

Community means everything for Kyle Schmee, who lives in Park Falls, Wisconsin. A Technology Education teacher at Chequamegon High School, Kyle learned the importance of volunteering and giving back at an early age from his mother, Marny, who passed away on February 6, 1998, due to cervical cancer six days before Kyle’s twelfth birthday.

“I’m very well involved with the community doing projects and volunteering with the local Chamber of Commerce and other organizations in town,” Kyle said. “Being a teacher allows me to spend my summers gaining experience and helping to improve the area any way I can.”

Marny was remembered for this same dedication to others. “She once had a craft store where she would provide adult crafting lessons,” said Kyle. “Many times she was up till 2:00 or 3:00 AM making sure a bride and groom had their flower arrangements done in time, and often did it for free.”

Years later, Kyle, an avid bike rider, wanted to do something to commemorate his mother and contribute to others in their situation.

“I thought up the bike ride three years ago while on an icy March winter ride. I was riding a mountain bike I bought in high school with money left behind from my mother,” Kyle said. “I had just scored my first teaching job and was feeling high on life for the first time after five years of college.”

Kyle decided to use his passion for bike riding as a way to raise awareness for Angel On My Shoulder.

“Being in my hometown makes it even more important to help where needed. As an impressionable young kid, you follow those that others talk about. Community members never let me forget who she was and the things she did for this town. I try to focus my energy towards the youth in any way possible. Mom did … so I want to.”

Kyle also serves as an assistant baseball coach for their high school and summer league baseball teams. “When I’m not at work, I’m typically riding my bike since I like to do amateur mountain bike racing,” he said.

When asked how he first became involved with Angel On My Shoulder, Kyle said, “My cousins Shawny and Ben heard about Angel On My Shoulder through their college experience, as they needed to complete community service hours. The ‘need’ quickly became a ‘want’ for both of them and they were involved for numerous years. They were persistent enough that I broke from my busy schedule to give it a whirl and that’s when I fell in love with the camps. So a huge thanks to both of them!” 

Kyle’s original goal was to ride his bike 50 miles out and back in all four directions from Park Falls

“On the map, it’s a perfect ‘PLUS’ sign. MARNY, short for Marlene, was what my family and friends called mom.”

In honor of his mom, he named the ride “Mom’s Angels Ride to Nurture Youth” – MARNY PLUS. “Something my family and I came up with during a family wedding,” he explained.

“I knew if I just started pedaling people would donate. I did some research on what it takes to do 100 miles. It’s not as easy as just getting on the bike and riding. The mental toughness kicked in as I thought about all the people I’ve seen in hospitals and the stories the Angel On My Shoulder campers have told me over the last eight years. All the victims of cancer would love to be doing what I was doing rather than trying to beat cancer. Climbing hills hurts but you forget the pain and focus on the reason you decided to do it in the first place.”

Asked what some of the most memorable things are he’s gotten from doing the ride, Kyle said, “My friend Joe Hall from Glidden, who is in the US Air Force, lost his mother when he was young. He saw the MARNY PLUS advertisements on Facebook and asked me a series of questions, thought the idea was awesome and he said to me, ‘With a family of my own and the schedule I have I could never do what you are doing. How does $5,000 sound for a donation?” $10 dollars makes it worth it. $5,000 makes a grown man cry.”

For anyone considering volunteering, Kyle had this to offer: “Stop thinking about it as I did for two years. Just jump in and do it! Every first year volunteer has an eye opening experience that ‘Puts you on cloud nine for a solid month straight’ (Ben Schmidt).

“Whether you are affected or not by cancer, these kids need someone to help them forget cancer for a moment to realize there is more to life then stewing on all the negative effects that cancer has on all those who are coping with cancer. The kids will never forget and neither will you.”

– Mark McNease

Making Lifelong Friends at Camp Hozhoni


Brian currently lives in Fitchburg and works as a Comptroller for a not-for-profit organization in Madison.  This coming February he will be a 28-year cancer survivor.

Michele lives in Madison with her husband, John, their children, Priya and Josef, and their beloved dog, Juniper.  She has been a special education teacher in Madison public schools for 26 years. She also serves on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, representing the Northside of Madison. 

The journey to their friendship began when Brian was diagnosed with cancer in 1991 and found himself at Camp Hozhoni.

“My parents learned of Camp Hozhoni shortly after I was diagnosed in 1991 and ‘dr agged’ me there that year,” said Brian. “I came in thinking this would be a weekend therapy session, which I wanted no part of.  I quickly realized, however, that I was surrounded by an amazing, supportive group of volunteers and other kids my age who were going through a similar experience as me in battling cancer.”

Michele Ritt Family

Michele, a counselor when Brian arrived, took a different path to her involvement with camp.

“During my first year at Edgewood College, I had a class requiring a 40-hour practicum,” she said. “A representative from Camp Hozhoni invited us to sign up as counselors.  I was delighted with the idea of camp as well as fulfilling my entire practicum in one weekend. I signed up immediately. This was 1988.”

Destiny brought Brian and Michele together again when Brian later decided (with his mother for a few years) to become volunteers at camp.

“I knew I wanted to work with the teen group since I felt I related to that group the most,” Brian said. “Michele happened to be one of the remaining teen group volunteers and when we were approached to lead the group, we naturally bonded as we shared the same vision for what we wanted to accomplish with this group each year –  being silly and trying to make each Camp Hozhoni a memorable weekend for the campers and volunteers.”

“I have completely lost count of how many years I have been doing this,” Brian said. “As a group co-leader along with Michele, we plan activities for our group during our breakout sessions at Camp Hozhoni.  The best thing about volunteering at Camp Hozhoni is seeing so many of the campers grow over the years and being inspired by their progress as they overcome having to deal with cancer.”

Michele said, “Every year camp is special.  The families and counselors that come to camp are meant to be there.  Even though camp lasts one weekend, less than 48 hours, each year we become instant family.”

“We are so close and work so well together,” she added, “that many campers as well as counselors at Hozhoni assume we are married. I love Brian dearly.  He is soul family.”

Michele & Brian with Teens

There have been some changes over the years. “I no longer plan the details of camp throughout the year,” Michele said. “Currently, Brian and I assist the Angel camp director with anything that she requests.  During camp weekend, we help train the volunteers and assist the director with administrative tasks. The bulk of our focus is planning and implementing the teen activities each year.”

When asked about her most memorable moments from camp, Michele said, “All of the moments are memorable.  Brian and I have so much fun planning our activities.  Camp itself is so profound, it is difficult to capture it in words.  It is almost impossible to think about kids being sick. And the stress that the families endure is overwhelming.  Hozhoni is an outlet for all of that. Parents can be with other parents who understand. They get information and support.  They get to laugh together and maybe even take a walk. Families can enjoy a hayride. No one has to cook or clean. The kids can be kids.  It’s all about family time in a place where everyone understands.”

“Outside of camp weekend, my most memorable moment with Angel was when I met Lolly for the first time,” she added. “That first year with Angel on My Shoulder, I felt so grateful.  Several Angel representatives came to camp that Saturday morning to see Hozhoni in action.  They were dressed up and so professional. I was introduced to Lolly. Instead of extending my hand, a giant hug burst out of me and onto Lolly.  I don’t think she was expecting that, but hugged me right back. That was my first favorite moment with Angel on My Shoulder.”


– Mark McNease