She's the Cheer Up Lady

Linda Hillebrand sat at a desk in her Saukville home with dozens of cards to send to people who need cheering up. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Linda Hillebrand doesn’t have a medical degree, but if laughter is the best medicine, she might just be a doctor.

The longtime Saukville resident has made it her passion to cheer up people going through hard times with greeting cards.

Not just on birthdays and holidays. Hillebrand sends out cards every Monday to a special list of people that changes as needed.

Now the list has 35 people -— she topped out at 40 — who cherish her well wishes. Most are family and friends, but some she doesn’t know well.

“Well, they aren’t strangers for long,” Hillebrand said.

Recipients range in age from the 30s to 70s and their ailments run the gamut, from surgeries to depression to Covid-19. The most common is cancer.

Hillebrand introduces her routine with a nice card and a warning.

“I heard you could use a laugh. Get ready for some stupid cards,” she said.

It’s not just cards. Hillebrand has expanded her hobby to include prints of memes and funny sayings. Inserts started with the Minions from “Despicable Me” because she loves them. She has strict policies on topics: no politics allowed and no subjects she thinks would be offensive to the recipients. Aging and animals are common themes.

When the pandemic caused shutdowns, Hillebrand’s hobby became more important. One of her inserts joked, “When is it too late to take off my sleeping pajamas and put on my working pajamas?”

“They needed the laughs,” Hillebrand said, “especially the silly Covid inserts.”

It’s hard to gauge the reach of Hillebrand’s hobby, but it often doesn’t stop at the card holder. Cards and inserts are brought to support groups and doctor appointments.

“They don’t always end with that Monday person,” she said. “This is the start of it. Where it ends I have no idea.”

Her silliness started in 2011 with a serious issue. Her older sister got breast cancer, and Hillebrand started sending her a card every week. Her cousin was diagnosed with cancer a week later, then another cousin the next year, and the hobby began to grow.

Acquiring tools for her trade became a challenge.

She called Avanti Press to order in bulk. When she finds a card she likes, she buys 40 of them.

“They said, ‘What’s the name of your shop?’” she said.

Conversation led to Hillebrand cutting a good deal.

She regularly buys from D and D Cards and Gifts in Grafton, which puts aside funny cards when they get shipments and calls her when there’s a sale. She has been buying cards and knickknacks from the shop for decades, starting when it used to be in Manchester Mall.

“It’s just a little local card shop with good people,” Hillebrand said.

It might not be far from what Hillebrand’s basement office looks like.

Inside her cabinets are boxes of meticulously organized cards.

“If I need a certain card, I know which of the six boxes to pull out,” she said.

Her cards and inserts are logged in spreadsheets so nobody gets the same ones twice. She highlights text boxes in yellow for the Minions ones. She has 541 inserts.

Holiday cards cover six months of the year — Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween. The rest are year-round cards but they have become harder to find. Entire aisles have been reduced to just one section, Hillebrand said.

So she buys birthday cards, whites out “birth” and inserts “Mon” to wish people a happy Monday.

Inserts are another story. When she started them in 2016, she tried to print them at home but went through too much ink. Now she forwards emails with memes to Don Clark at The Village Printer, Inc., in Saukville. His wife was on Hillebrand’s list for a while when she was ill.

“She was getting the inserts she printed,” Hillebrand said.

She makes sure the cards only require one stamp, which eliminates ones with googly eyes that require more postage. When she hears of a rate increase, Hillebrand buys a bunch of Forever stamps. A few people have sent her sheets of stamps.

More women than men are on Hillebrand’s list, and their tastes vary.

“The guys love Maxine,” she said of the popular sassy cartoon character on cards.

Sometimes, she will address a card to the husband of the woman on her list.

“I hear from the wife. ‘You know how happy he was to get a card from you?’” she said.

Hillebrand writes out recipients’ names and addresses herself.

“It’s a personalization thing. I’m not going to do labels,” she said.

She also puts stickers on the envelopes. Despite her husband of 51 years claiming adults don’t like stickers, they are a hit.

Hillebrand also includes personalized notes. Sometimes, it’s as simple as “I guess this card says it all.”

Most of Hillebrand’s recipients think they are the only ones getting cards. She finds people through various channels, including when she signs church services at area parishes — she has been doing that for nearly 40 years after learning from deaf children at camp when she was young — and through her involvement with the Saukville American Legion Auxiliary.

“Sometimes people find me. Sometimes I just hear about people who are having a bad time,” Hillebrand said.

She works her hobby around her office job at her husband’s company, Electron Beam Fusion Corp., in Milwaukee. It does work for GE Medical and Oshkosh Truck and was deemed essential so it never shut down during the pandemic.

Hillebrand took a break when she spent a couple of weeks in the hospital. Her husband Tim sent out her cards telling people Linda was in the hospital last year.

“He’s very patient with me. He understands this is a lot of money,” she said.

Her passion takes time — 550 hours last year alone — and insists she will keep going.

“I just try to do something good. No noble reason. When you’re having a bad time, you need a laugh, so I just try to provide a laugh,” she said.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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