MILWAUKEE — By day, Danny Pavlovich is a theology teacher at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, conducting courses on topics like Christian morality, church history and Scripture. By night, he’s “Thunder Dan” Pavlovich, lead singer for local band Fat Andy, tearing through covers of classics and current hits of all genres.
And one night a year, he gets to be both.
On Feb. 10, Fat Andy will perform its annual benefit concert at DSHA for Camp Hometown Heroes, a local nonprofit that offers a free summer camp for children of deceased members of the armed forces.
It’s the third year that Pavlovich and bandmates Brendan Shea, Mike Callies and Paul Rugolo have headlined the gig, organized by DSHA’s Camp Hometown Heroes Club.
“He’s an amazing teacher and everybody loves him. He’s a great role model,” said club member Haley Multerer, a junior at DSHA. “(Mr. Pavlovich) being able to do the band is so fun because it’s somebody who the student body knows, so of course you want to go see your teacher play a big concert.”
“I think a lot of girls get really excited about seeing a teacher in a band – that’s something that’s a little unusual but also very endearing, and it raises a lot of curiosity and excitement to go and see your teacher in a very different light,” agreed fellow junior and club member Megan Otto.
Pavlovich also serves as the moderator for the club, which got its start three years ago when several DSHA students viewed “Healing Hearts,” a 2014 documentary on the camp. They approached Pavlovich, an Army veteran, to ask him for his involvement. Among the founders was Multerer’s older sister Kelsi.
“It was such an awesome idea and organization that had such a good purpose,” said Haley Multerer. “We were so inspired. I’m pretty sure the documentary had my sister in tears, which is insane to see because she’s so strong and tough.”
Fat Andy concert to benefit Camp Hometown Heroes Friday, Feb. 10, 6 p.m. Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, 4257 N. 100th St., Milwaukee. Tickets: $5. Information: thefatandy.com
The club supports the camp by staging several fundraisers per year, including a spaghetti dinner and bake sale. The largest fundraiser is always the Fat Andy concert in late winter.
“The students really do the lion’s share of the work,” said Pavlovich of the club. “This concert is our big annual fundraiser but the students get everything set up, and we just kind of show up and play. It’s really driven by the students and their desire to help out the kids at Camp Hometown Heroes.”
Camp Hometown Heroes was founded in 2013 by Kapco Metal Stamping CEO Jim Kacmarcik and Neil Willenson. During the weeklong camp, held in rural Wisconsin, attendees partake in summer camp pastimes like swimming, archery and canoeing. But grief specialists from Wauwatosa’s Kyle’s Korner are also on hand to engineer healing experiences through discussion groups and art therapy.
The mission of the camp is all about providing these gold star children with the opportunity for fellowship with others who have experienced a similar loss.
“It gives these kids a really good opportunity to grieve the loss of their loved one in an atmosphere where they feel comfortable, and that they can do it with other people who are going through the same thing,” said Sara Achatz, a senior at DSHA in charge of communications for the club. “I think that’s really important to give them that opportunity to do that.”
Multerer volunteered at the camp last year with her sister and said she was moved by the impact it had on the kids in attendance. “It’s like a separate family for them,” she said. “They get to go and have fun with people who know exactly what they’re going through.”
Camp Hometown Heroes executive director Deb Paschke said the camp is expecting more than 180 attendees this year from all over the country. She called the DSHA club “fabulous … they’ve taken us on and really given support.”
With the money raised by the concert, Pavlovich estimates the club has paid expenses for about two campers per year. It costs about $1,000 for an in-state camper and $1,500 for a camper who requires airfare.
“The Fat Andy concert is one of my favorite fundraisers of the year,” said Paschke. “You can tell the kids love Mr. Pavlovich and I’m guessing the feeling is mutual, since he has done so much for us over the years.”
The prospect of seeing a popular theology teacher taking the stage is part of what has made the concert a success, said students.
“I never really knew he was interested in music. I was just so blown away about how good the band was,” said Achatz. “He loves to get the crowd going; he really loves interacting with the crowd, and you can see the passion he has for music and that he really loves being up there and entertaining people.”
“He’s definitely very confident, as he is as a teacher – you see a lot of the same qualities that he has as a teacher, which I think is cool,” said Otto. “It also shows another side of him – this artistic musical side. I remember the first time I heard him sing – his voice is incredible! All of us were like, oh my gosh!”
But for the members of Fat Andy, it’s the enthusiasm of the audience that makes it a particularly special gig.
“These students here, when we played for the first time, they made us feel like the Beatles. They were just going bananas for us,” said Pavlovich. “I put the guys on the spot that day while we were still in front of our audience and said, hey, would you come back and do this next year, can we make it an annual thing? Every one of them jumped at the opportunity.”
DSHA students also volunteer each year at Camp Hometown Heroes’ big annual fundraiser, the Grand Slam Charity Jam. The 2017 event is slated for April 1 at the Wisconsin Center and will feature The Commodores.
“These DSHA girls have been such an integral part of our group over the years at Grand Slam. We can’t pull off such a huge fundraiser without dedicated volunteers,” said Paschke.
There are about 100 members of the Camp Hometown Heroes Club at DSHA, estimated Pavlovich, though members are involved to varying degrees as their schedules allow. There is a strong core group of organizers, he said, and it’s their dedication to the organization that inspires him.
“It is a cause that is near and dear to my heart (as a veteran), because I think it’s a really beautiful thing that the organization does to make sure that people who have lost their lives in service to our country, that their families are taken care of and honored,” he said. “But really, I see how important it is to my students, who I love, and if I can help them do something that’s meaningful to them. I was just so flattered that they asked me to be the moderator.”
Achatz described Pavlovich as a “lively” teacher who is “very dedicated to what he does.”
“He said he has had previous jobs before, but if he had a million lives, he would spend them all as a teacher,” she said. “I think that’s so good to hear as a student because you know that he really wants to be there and he really wants to give you the best education as possible.”