“It’s very fulfilling. This is what Christmas is all about—giving.”
That is how Chilton resident Don Knaus describes the spirit with which he has approached Christmas for the past 11 years. During December, he has engaged in obtaining and delivering gifts to dozens of people who might otherwise be overlooked on the day.
Knaus is well known in the area as an artificial insemination (AI) technician for North Star Select Sires on more than 50 dairy farms—most of them in Calumet County with a few in Fond du Lac and Manitowoc counties.
As of Jan. 1, Knaus will have been doing this for 37 years, starting with American Breeders Service for six years and then North Star’s predecessor Sire Power. Because of the affiliation changes, there is no official count on his AI services but he estimates it is approaching 150,000.

Christmas activities
Before this professional anniversary arrives, however, Knaus will have spent many hours during the weeks before Christmas preparing for what he loves to do for his fellow men and women in the spirit of the holiday.
He does this in two phases—a shipment of personal hygiene items, board games, phone cards, batteries, newspaper comics and puzzles, and food treats to area native military service members who are stationed overseas, and the distribution of bags of fresh fruits to local elderly residents and those coping with various challenges and disadvantages.
Knaus was inspired to send care boxes to military members after the death of 21-year-old Chilton native Kyle Hemauer of a non-combat injury while he was serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan during May 2005. He titles this project “Christmas for Our Troops.”
The 2016 military recipient is Oscar Castillo, who is serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Japan. His mother Janet is a waitress at the Seven Angels Restaurant in Chilton, where Knaus often eats breakfast.
A year ago, the recipient was Taylor Schultz, an army specialist stationed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He is the grandson of Chilton residents Tom and Candy Roberts, who are also very active members of the Chilton Optimist Club, which picks up the shipping costs for the materials.
Knaus relies heavily on fellow Optimist Club members for contributions of the materials being sent to the military members. He prefers to have several recipients, sharing items for which there are two or more contributions. If he does not have enough recipients in a given year, the remaining gifts are taken to residents at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King in Waupaca County.
Within the Optimist Club, Knaus is a leading seller of tickets for the Football Frenzy project and Friend of Youth raffle, a helper at Tri-Star Basketball, brat fry fundraisers, and highway cleanup, and a previous board member. He was honored as the club’s Member of the Year for 2015-’16. He is also the secretary for the Chilton Eagles Club.

Christmas fruit bags
On the Wednesday morning before Christmas, several Optimist Club members help Knaus prepare the bags of fruit after the group’s weekly meeting. Then, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, he is almost as busy as Santa Claus in delivering the fruit bags which contain two apples along with grapes, an orange, banana, and pear. He obtains the bags, along with Christmas cards, from an area Dollar Tree store.
Knaus began this practice about nine years ago as a Christmas gift to his cousin Patty Boehnlein, who was blind and living at group facility in Chilton. In doing that, he met another couple (one of whom was also blind), spent a portion of a Christmas Eve with them, and described that as “a very memorable experience.”
Although Boehnlein died in 2015, that is not deterring Knaus from continuing what has highlighted his approach to Christmas. He is resolved to “making a difference by doing something special.”
After undertaking the fruit bag gifting with just a few persons as “a Secret Santa,” the project has grown exponentially as Knaus made new friends and added more locations to his distribution route. In addition to Century Ridge, where his cousin lived, Knaus also makes the rounds at Stanton Place (a residence for the independent elderly), Libby House (an assisted living facility), and The Atrium (a nursing home), and a few other residences.
At times, Knaus has had an elf accompany him on the deliveries which he either makes directly to the recipients or leaves at the door if necessary. Seeing the expressions on the faces of the recipients “tells it all” for what continues to motivate Knaus.
Knaus has nearly 175 recipients on his list for this year, having added the local nursing home to his Christmas itinerary. An additional reason for doing so, he suggests, is the chance to share the karaoke singing that he also enjoys.