VIP Services Executive Director Cindy Simonsen presents John Fleming, of Delavan, with the honoree of the year award at the Elkhorn agency’s 31st annual recognition dinner at Evergreen Golf Club in Elkhorn on Feb. 4. (Heather Ruenz photo)

VIP Services Executive Director Cindy Simonsen presents John Fleming, of Delavan, with the honoree of the year award at the Elkhorn agency’s 31st annual recognition dinner at Evergreen Golf Club in Elkhorn on Feb. 4. (Heather Ruenz photo)

Recipient with disabilities known for cheerfulness, helpfulness

By Vicky Wedig


John Fleming is known for his cheerfulness and his eagerness to help other people despite being born with cognitive disabilities.

“He’s as happy as can be,” said his sister, Dottie Bruno, of Delavan.

Bruno gets a phone call from her brother, who thrives on routine, at 6 a.m. every day, and hears an enthusiastic good morning.

“He calls me every morning,” she said. “He’s always cheerful.”

The 69-year-old was tickled pink, Bruno said, when his name was called at VIP Services’ 31st annual recognition dinner Thursday as its Individual Achievement Honoree of the Year.

“He was overwhelmed,” Bruno said. “It meant a lot for him. I think it’s great for their self-esteem. He’s just as proud as a peacock.”

Fleming was born in Norristown, Pa., with numerous congenital problems and moderate intellectual disabilities, Bruno said. He lived with his parents, Virginia and Francis Fleming, in Pennsylvania until moving to Delavan six years after his dad died.

Bruno and her husband had been transferred to Chicago through an employer and had a summer home on Delavan Lake before moving to Delavan Lake. After her dad died in 1989, Bruno said, her mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, decided to move to Delavan to be near her daughter in 1995.

Fleming, who, along with caregivers, helped take care of his mother with MS, came along.

Virginia and John Fleming moved into an apartment at Abbey Way in Delavan where caregivers came in during the day to help care for Virginia, Dottie said. They would set things up for dinner so that John could later push the button to start the stove, give his mother dinner and get her to bed, she said.

“That’s why he, I think, he really likes to help people,” Bruno said. “He loves to go up to the nursing home.”

When Virginia Fleming died, John Fleming stayed at the Abbey Way apartment and lives independently with one of his mother’s former caregivers, Pat Brown, checking on him routinely. Bruno said Brown has become like part of the family and stops in two mornings a week for companionship and to do laundry or tidy up.

Fleming is a familiar face at the nearby Shopko and Piggly Wiggly stores where employees become concerned if they haven’t seen him in awhile, Bruno said.

After their mother passed, Bruno said, she also felt Fleming needed to have something to do and heard about VIP Services in Elkhorn by word of mouth. He started working in the facility’s workshop 13 ½ years ago.

“John absolutely loves it,” Bruno said. “He goes two days a week, and that’s his highlight of the week. It’s just a family there. It’s such a nice environment.”

Fleming doesn’t read and his speech is difficult to understand, but he communicates and understands a lot through pictures and associations, Bruno said

“He’s very social but you do have a hard time understanding him,” she said.

His short-term memory is poor, but his long-term memory is good, Bruno said. She said if he were younger, he would likely be even higher functioning than he is. When Fleming was born in the 1940s, facilities like Lakeland School weren’t available, she said.

“He was born at a time that there wasn’t a lot of avenues like there are today,” Bruno said.

At VIP Services, Fleming labels Kikkoman bottles and follows specific one-on-one directions.

“You have to give him the direction and then he’ll get the job done,” Bruno said.

She said Fleming loves to be asked for help like raking leaves at her house but needs to be guided through each step of the task.

“If I ask him to do anything, he really likes that,” she said.

Bruno said Fleming has a green thumb, loves plants and decorations and decorates for every holiday.

VIP Services benefits specialist Carolyn Morris presented Fleming’s award at Thursday’s banquet at Evergreen Golf Club in Elkhorn.

She said Fleming received the award not just for reaching one or two goals but because he achieves every day. Morris said Fleming follows directions and doesn’t stop when assigned job is finished but asks what he can do next.

Bruno said Fleming will help other VIP clients with their tasks as well and loves being there.

“It gives him a purpose,” she said. “These people need a purpose to get up and to interact.

“I’m very fortunate, and he is extremely fortunate, that we have a place locally that reaches out to those with disabilities.”

Angie Brunhart, of VIP Services, wrote in remarks about Fleming that he is a consistent role model for what it means to be a valued worker.

“John is a consistent bright light,” she wrote. “He is always upbeat, friendly, cheerful and positive. He never fails to do his best, no matter how challenging the task. When John sees someone who needs help, he never hesitates to step in to lend a hand. “

At Thursday’s reception, which VIP staff say is a high point of the year for its clients, area businesses also were honored.

Kikkoman Foods Inc., of Walworth, was named the Business Partner of the Year, and Continental, of Delavan, was named Employer of the Year.


For nearly 45 years, Kikkoman Foods has been a member of the Walworth County business community. Globally known and respected, Kikkoman is the largest soy sauce manufacturer in the world. As a longstanding and multi-faceted partner with VIP Services, it is an exceptional example of corporate citizenship, according to VIP Services.

As one of VIP’s original business partners, Kikkoman has engaged in a mutually productive partnership with VIP’s production workshop by providing steady subcontract packaging and labeling work for its clients.

“Partnerships like the one we have with Kikkoman Foods are vital to nonprofit organizations particularly in these challenging times,” VIP services wrote in its acknowledgement of Kikkoman “It’s with tremendous gratitude and thanks that VIP Services honors Kikkoman Foods Inc. as Business Partner of the Year. “


Continental, formerly Synerject, is an international company that provides engine management systems and components to the marine, motorcycle and recreational industry manufacturers. The company has a strong commitment recruiting and hiring people with disabilities, according to VIP Services.

VIP Services recommendation led to the company being recognized as an exemplary employer for people with disabilities by First Lady Tonette Walker and the Department of Workforce Development at the Southeastern Wisconsin Business Summit. By providing employment for people with disabilities, individuals are able to lead a more self-determined life and gain greater vocational independence, according to VIP Services.



Comments are closed

Sorry, but you cannot leave a comment for this post.