Viterbo Alumna is Rebuilding Dreams
Volunteering is extremely important to Eve (Molzhon) Zellmer ’96.
“I know I’ll never have enough money to have a wing of a building named after me,” she said, “so I need to give of my time and talents.”
Given she has. Zellmer, 31, has donated countless hours and untold effort as the La Crosse Area Builders Association’s Rebuilding Dreams Project Coordinator.
Like the hit ABC television show Extreme Makeover, the Rebuilding Dreams Project has literally changed the lives of two families in need by performing a complete renovation of their homes. The project began in 2004.
“We created a committee to look into ways to get the La Crosse Area Builders Association (LABA) into the public eye,” said Zellmer, who at the time was serving as vice president of the LABA and owned her own business, EZ Print & Copy in West Salem.
After tossing around ideas such as a Trading Spaces activity, the committee settled on renovating a home after receiving a letter from the friend of a deserving family. Zellmer volunteered to be the project coordinator.
“I’m a control freak,” she laughed. “I’m one of those people who wants to make sure the job gets done right the first time, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get that done. As my mom so nicely puts it, ‘if you tell her she can’t, she’s going to do it just to prove you wrong.’”
The family involved was Larry, Jared, and Sandy Williams of Onalaska, brothers who were 20 and 16 years old, respectively, and their autistic sister, who had lost both parents. They needed a new roof, windows, and siding.
“We ended up gutting everything but the three bedrooms,” Zellmer said. “They had asked for so little. And we could do so much.”
She felt a special connection with the elder Williams. “I knew what it was like to be self-reliant and responsible for another person at a young age,” said Zellmer, who had run away from home when she was in high school and had taken her younger sister with her.
Zellmer had the huge undertaking of acquiring all the materials as donations to the project. Using the Internet, she contacted manufacturers directly and was able to secure everything needed. Ashley Furniture, CertainTeed, W.A. Roosevelt, and many other local and national businesses were extremely generous.
Her duties also included public relations, scheduling the 180 volunteers who were doing the actual building of the house during the seven-day process, and dealing with logistical problems.
“I had the megaphone and was ready to use it,” she said. “But I never had to. We were one big, happy family.”
Zellmer also found herself in the unfamiliar role of media darling. On the day of unveiling, she found herself doing countless interviews with reporters, including a crew from national news network MSNBC, who were shooting live at the location.
The event was a complete success. “Larry (Williams) started crying,” she said. “I knew people would help, but not to this magnitude.”
“We were the first group in the country to mimic the show and pull it off,” she said. “We did what ABC does with a $3 million budget with a budget of $0.”
She had averaged four hours a day on the project four months prior to the seven days of building. Her “great employees” were able to keep her business going during the project.
As successful as the project was in putting the La Crosse Area Builders Association in the media spotlight, the organization decided to do it again the next year.
“We had our first meeting, and the idea was to turn it over to someone else,” she said with a smile. “But if not me, who?”
This time, the house in question was much larger and more challenging. Karen Frey’s daughter, Molly, had been born in 2002 with a tumor in her stomach, forcing her to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. At eight months old, Molly’s liver failed and she underwent a liver transplant. Being a cancer survivor and transplant recipient has left her immune system severely diminished.
The project involved a complete gutting and addition, with special care given to air quality because of Molly’s condition. Securing donations from manufacturers was made more difficult because of Hurricane Katrina, Zellmer said. The construction again took place in just seven days.
“We were literally running out the back door when the Frey’s were coming in the front,” she said.
Zellmer said she greatly enjoyed the work she did on the Rebuilding Dreams Project. She began volunteering in high school, collecting and distributing food to area families in need. She doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“I find volunteering absolutely infectious,” she said.
For more information on the Rebuilding Dreams project, visit
Zellmer graduated from La Crosse Central High School in 1992 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Viterbo in 1996. She sold her printing business in December 2005 and is now the project coordinator for the Hmong Community and Cultural Center in La Crosse. She lives in West Salem with her husband Shawn Zellmer and her 13-year-old stepson, Drew.