Prairie du Chien welcomes non-profit leader trying to raise funds and a little hope

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The S.S. Hail Mary is a makeshift pontoon captained by Eric Mische, executive director of Spare Key, a Minnesota organization that helps families across the U.S. through medical crises. Mische stopped in Prairie du Chien at the beginning of his Hope on the River journey to keep the organization afloat. (Submitted photos)

Prairie du Chien Mayor Dave Hemmer (left) stands at Washington Street park along the river with Spare Key Executive Director Eric Mische.

By Correne Martin


About one week into a 10-state, 1,700-mile, two-month journey to save the Minnesota-based nonprofit, Spare Key, Executive Director Eric Mische drifted into Prairie du Chien on Sept. 5.

Captaining his modified shed, which sits proudly atop a 50-year-old rotting pontoon—the S.S. Hail Mary—Mische has a mission to find “Hope on the River.” He shared that with Prairie du Chien Mayor Dave Hemmer during his local stop on the river. 

It all began Aug. 27. Mische hopes to help raise money for the non-profit Spare Key, which, since 1997, has served over 4,000 families in the Upper Midwest facing a medical crisis with nearly $4 million in financial assistance to help them focus on their loved one’s care and recovery. The organization serves families in 46 states, including Wisconsin.

Spare Key has found itself struggling its way through the COVID-19 pandemic like so many other non-profits have this year. The impact of COVID-19 on the economy has ruptured Spare Key’s revenue pipeline to such an extent that it stands to lose upwards of $500,000 in funds because of canceled or postponed events.

Thus, Mische has grasped onto some hope. Hope that he can find supporters along the Mississippi River and its communities full of people, places and stories of life and all its challenges. 

Mische’s journey will end in Baton Rouge, La. 

To keep up with his travels or donations, visit You can also text ‘RIVER’ to 52000 to donate $5.

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