Good moms seem to come from Walworth County.

Four out of the past seven Wisconsin Mothers of the Year have hailed from that area — and here’s the kicker: they’re all practicing Catholics, and they’re all good friends.

The most recent honoree, Heather Kucharski, is a parishioner of St. Andrew, Delavan. A mom of two, Kucharski said she was “surprised” to hear that she had been nominated by her friend Dr. Brenda Arens Reed, the 2018 Wisconsin Mother of the Year.

“I had been having one of those weeks — months? — where things hadn’t been going the way I would have wanted to. I was questioning my parenting and praying for answers,” she said. “Just to get a nod from another mom was enough.”

Established in 1935, the Mother of the Year Award is an annual recognition of a mother who is “harnessing her maternal energy to impact the lives of people around her,” according to the website of American Mothers, Inc.

State Mothers of the Year are nominated every summer, and the National Mother of the Year is selected at the American Mothers, Inc. national convention each spring.

“The experience has been lovely,” said Kucharski of being recognized. The moms in the organization are “the real deal, truly exceptional moms from all walks of life who care about their families and their communities.”

Kucharski’s two daughters were both born prematurely and required extended NICU stays, so she’s no stranger to adversity when it comes to the journey of motherhood. Her oldest daughter was also born with liver and kidney disease, and has since required transplants. Despite the bumps in the road, the joys of parenthood “are many,” she said, including “seeing my kids take their first breath, developing their own personalities, and watching them use the gifts that God has given to them.”

Her friend Dr. Reed, a parishioner at St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, agrees. “One of the great blessings of raising kids is seeing them experience everything life has to offer,” she said. “It’s almost like experiencing it yourself for the first time all over again.”

Dr. Reed, a veterinarian and mother of two, was nominated as 2018 Wisconsin Mother of the Year by her sister. Her aunt has been active in the organization for many years and is currently its president. “That year the convention was held in Washington, D.C.,” Dr. Reed recalled. “It was very inspiring to meet so many mothers from across the country who overcame so much as mothers. It was very humbling.”

Her own strength, she said, comes from other moms — her own mother, her sister, her sisters-in-law and her friends.

“I think the best person to understand the challenges of motherhood are other mothers,” she said. “Find moms with kids that are the same age as yours, or who are going through the same challenges your kids are going through. You can find so much comfort in the fact that you are not alone in your struggles as a mother.”

The following year, Dr. Reed, who sings in the St. Patrick parish choir, nominated the parish cluster’s music ministry coordinator, Elaine Sellenheim, for the honor. Sellenheim said she was “surprised and excited” to be recognized as the 2019 Wisconsin Mother of the Year.

The old cliche about motherhood, said Sellenheim, is definitely true: “It’s the hardest but most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.”

“I did not fully understand the love of God in my life until I felt that self-sacrificing, all-encompassing love toward my children,” she said. “It is a love that doesn’t diminish; it only grows and changes.”

Sellenheim’s motherhood journey, in a way, parallels her journey of faith. Raised United Methodist, she fell away from the practice of her faith after college. Her husband of 18 years, Joe, was baptized Catholic but never confirmed. When Sellenheim got a call to fill in as an accompanist at St. Patrick in 2014, she had only been to a handful of Catholic Masses in her life and had just had a baby. Her husband urged her to accept the gig to get some time out of the house.

“Slowly, I started to play for more and more Masses, and learned a lot more about the faith,” she said. Her husband was confirmed in 2017 and Sellenheim was confirmed at the Easter Vigil in 2018. The whole family is now deeply involved with their Catholic faith, and Sellenheim is the coordinator for music ministry at the parish cluster of St. Patrick in Elkhorn, St. Andrew in Delavan and the St. Catherine worship site in Sharon.

In 2023, Dr. Reed nominated her friend Karen Connell, a lifelong St. Patrick parishioner, as the 2023 Wisconsin Mother of the Year. Connell is a published author, a teacher for more than three decades and a mother of five. She and husband Rick have been married for 34 years, and for more than 22 of those years Connell was a full-time working parent and primary caregiver while Rick was serving in the Army.

After her children were grown, the Connells became a foster family, caring for five children over the course of several years. “The youngest we picked up from the hospital the day after he was born,” Connell said.

“The vocation of motherhood is so different for everyone and so amazing,” said Sellenheim. “Every one of us is just doing the best we can, and it looks so different for each of us and that is what makes it so amazing.”

Heather Kucharski, the 2024 Wisconsin Mother of the Year, along with her husband Dave and their two daughters. (Submitted photo) 

Walworth County has had four of the past seven Wisconsin Mothers of the Year, including (from left) Karen Connell (2023 Wisconsin Mother of the Year), Elaine Sellenheim (2019 Wisconsin Mother of the Year) and Dr. Brenda Arens Reed (2018 Wisconsin Mother of the Year). (Submitted photo)