History teacher, veteran, community advocate, philanthropist, Tony Busalacchi wears many hats. Now in his 80s, Tony is most proud of two monikers in particular: artist and volunteer.
“This work – and more importantly the outcomes – is most gratifying, and it’s very humbling. There’s a service organization called The Christophers, and they say that’s it’s better to light one little candle than to curse the dark. I felt that this was a situation where we could lite a little candle. We didn’t realize that so many other candles would be lit at the same time.”
Tony is referencing his most recent service project, a series of self-produced and curated art projects that he has since sold to raise funds for Heartland Housing’s most recent permanent supportive housing development, St. Anthony Place.
St. Anthony’s hospital was built in 1931 in downtown Milwaukee, and Tony was born there in 1933. Born and raised in the community, Tony and his wife Pat have been longtime supporters of homeless services providers in the area for years. When he heard that the old abandoned hospital was to be converted into housing for the homeless, Tony knew he wanted to help.
“I’m a Korean War veteran, and for 11 years I would volunteer at the VA hospital in town. I would meet men and women that were really down and out, from physical wounds or emotional wounds. I feel that this housing project provided a dignified way for people to live.”
A painter, sculptor, and curator, Tony had created and collected dozens of art pieces over the years. Tony and Pat decided to sell their prized possessions, with the money raised going to furnish the 60 new homes. The couple had hoped to raise three or four thousand dollars with the fundraiser – but the event quickly went viral, with buyers from around the globe participating. Before they knew it, the Busalacchis had raised over $40,000 for the residents of St. Anthony Place.
Tony and Pat’s service have continued since the fundraiser. At the grand opening for St. Anthony Place, the couple was proud to show off numerous art pieces throughout the new development. Hanging from the ceiling of the St. Anthony Place meditation room is a metal mobile, hand crafted by Tony himself to commemorate the struggle of those who have had to endure life on the streets.
“One has to be very careful about the circumstances of another individual. This is an outright gift to be a part of such a great moment, and we are just proud to have a chance to give back.”
Above and beyond their fundraiser, Tony and Pat continue to find ways to help the new residents of St. Anthony Place. Pat has been holding donation drives, collecting clothing, toiletries, diapers, and the like. For their birthdays, the couple has organized smaller fundraisers with their family and friends – and they don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. For Tony, none of the titles matter – it’s all about the action that counts.
“My personal hero is St Francis of Assisi. He gave a sermon not of words, but of action. To me, a hero is a do-er. Giving, first and foremost, is about doing. It’s about action.”