You Gotta Grab Life By the Wheel – Two Inspiring Wheelmobile Stories

We’ve already introduced you to Alexandria, the Wisconsin Rapids woman who won $17,500 in cash and prizes on Wheel of Fortune – after taking part in the Wheelmobile at our Oak Creek Steinhafels this past fall. Wheel of Fortune is currently in its 35th season, and we’re so excited to be part of the action!

UPDATE: This Thursday Night, Matt Pitton of Whitefish Bay won big on the national stage! Matt won $48,850 in cash and prizes, including a trip to Costa Rica, which should help with his upcoming nuptials! Matt is a physical therapist and a huge college basketball fan – always rooting for his alma mater, Marquette University. Matt says he’s been watching America’s Game® for the majority of his life. 

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(photo: Carol Kaelson)

Besides Matt and Alexandria, there are several other local contestants who made it all the way to Los Angeles to compete with Vanna and Pat on the big wheel in the last few weeks.

Eric and Kari are a couple from Racine.

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Lynelle lives in Waunakee, just north of Madison.

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Check out this video highlighting these big winners, and some of our favorite moments from the Steinhafels and CBS 58 Wheelmobile event:

Wheel Winners Kari and Lynelle took the time to answer some questions about the “Wheel of Fortune Experience.” It’s fun to see how their wheel journeys differ, and to learn a little more about what inspired them to throw caution to the wind and try out. One of the women didn’t even plan on attending Wheelmobile, and another sees her whirlwind win as just another sign that we all need to live life to the fullest – following a scary family illness.

Read on for their inspiring stories!!!

STEINHAFELS: First off, tell me briefly about yourself, and if you are a big Wheel fan.

LYNELLE: I was born in the Philippines and my family moved to Green Bay when I was 5 years old. I grew up in Green Bay, about a mile from Lambeau Field, but have never been to a Packers game! I currently live in Waunakee. I’ve been married to my husband Torben for 21 years, and have two smart and beautiful daughters. I am a part time para-educator at Waunakee High School – I supervise Junior/Senior study halls. In my free time, I Crossfit and volunteer for the Philippine-American Association of Madison and Neighboring Areas (PAMANA). I have watched Wheel of Fortune since I was young girl. It was always fun to try to solve the puzzles, but I never thought I would get on the show.

KARI: Eric is from Racine and I’m from Belgium, WI. We were married two years ago and have a six month old son named Magnus. I am currently a stay-at-home mom and Eric works in Sales. We have both watched Wheel of Fortune since we can remember. I recall even as a very young girl having it on TV. Eric’s first crush as a young boy was Vanna White! We watch the show now as a couple whenever we can. We enjoy trying to solve the puzzles before the contestants.

STEINHAFELS: What made you come out to the auditions at Steinhafels Oak Creek?

LYNELLE: I receive emails from the Wheel Watchers Club. In October 2017, I received an email saying that the Wheelmobile was coming to Oak Creek Steinhafels, and they were looking for contestants. They said that was the first time in 10 years they would be in the area. My family strongly encouraged I go, but I only wanted to go if my husband drove. I hate driving long distances, especially at night. On the day of the Friday, Oct. 27th Wheelmobile event, my husband was too busy at work to be able to leave at noon as planned. I told my younger daughter Ebba, who was coming with, that I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to drive home from Oak Creek at night. She strongly urged that we still go and reassured it would be OK driving back at night since she would be with me. After some thought, we ventured to Oak Creek. We allowed plenty of time to drive there in case of traffic. We arrived at 1:30 and found four other women waiting in line already. It was nice that it was at Steinhafels because we had couches to sit on while waiting!

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KARI: We had heard about the Wheelmobile being so close in Oak Creek and decided last minute to attend. We thought it would be an amazing opportunity, although unlikely we would get picked. We went in blind, not knowing what the process was going to entail. It was very fun and the hosts really tried to energize the crowd and keep it high-energy. When Eric’s name was pulled from the drum, I was just shocked. It was totally random out of hundreds of applications.

STEINHAFELS: When did you find out you got on the big show? What was your reaction?

LYNELLE: A few days after the Wheelmobile event in Oak Creek, I got an email inviting me to the second auditions in downtown Milwaukee, which was scheduled for a few weeks later. At that audition, we played quick versions of the game, but this time they called your name, you stood up enthusiastically, smiled and called out some letters. I only called out two letters. Next, we took a written test, which consisted of partially filled in puzzles.  We had to solve as many as we could in five minutes. I may have completed half of them. After the coordinators reviewed the tests and did some consulting, they came back in the room and asked some contestants to stay. I was not one of them and the rest of us went home. We were told that if we got on the show, we would get a letter in exactly two weeks. Well, that same evening, I got a call, but since I didn’t recognize the number, I didn’t answer it. They immediately called back and my husband told me to answer it, just in case it was Wheel of Fortune. So I answered the phone call and it was! They told me that my auditions were great and they wanted me in Los Angeles on December 1st to be on the show. I was ecstatic!

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KARI: The second audition was intense, lots of playing a mock version of the ‘Wheel,’ taking a quiz on our puzzle skills, sharing about ourselves with the group, etc. We spent about four hours at the audition and had a lot of fun. We thought we did well and let our personalities shine. They commented on our great teamwork while playing the game. It was just a matter of waiting to see if we got into the contestant pool. Well, the waiting wasn’t long. We received a call that evening asking us to be in L.A. in 13 days! I think I squealed when Eric got off the phone. I heard his conversation and knew he was talking to the ‘Wheel’ folks. We were beyond excited and booked our flights that night.

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STEINHAFELS: What was the show-taping process like? What were Pat and Vanna like? Were you nervous?

LYNELLE: The day of the taping, 20 contestants arrived at the studio at 7:45 a.m. (18 guaranteed on the show and 2 were alternates from the LA area). They were taping 6 shows that day. Immediately in the morning, we signed legal paperwork, mostly saying that we were not to let anyone know of the outcome of the show. After that, we had rehearsals. We got to be on the game platform and practiced spinning the wheel and calling out letters. We also did a promo video for our local station. The contestant coordinators were so helpful that day! They told us everything we needed to know.  They really made it comfortable for us to play the game.

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Pat and Vanna were really nice, pretty chill people. Pat really knows his stuff. He knows exactly what to say during the show, like when he makes his small comments during the game. He is pretty smooth. They are in person what they portray on TV. I was fortunate I got to chat with them at the end of the show.  

STEINHAFELS: Tell me how the show went down… were you nervous at all?

KARI: By the time the show was about to start, I was so nervous. We both promised each other to just have fun no matter the outcome, although we said we were going to win. :)

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We had studied a bit about letter frequency and some other game strategy so we had our ‘game-plan’ per say. We planned to rotate spinning the wheel but after the practice spin, I popped a blood vessel in my finger and was all swollen. This happened right before we were on so that’s why Eric spun every time. He did well I might add!

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STEINHAFELS: Were the puzzles hard? How is being ON the show different than solving puzzles at home?

LYNELLE: The puzzles on the show didn’t seem too hard, after the fact. I played on the Wheel of Fortune app for 2-3 hours a day for two weeks before being on the show. I played on the app to help me strategize and try to solve the puzzles with minimal letters. I practiced a lot with the bonus round puzzles, to see what additional letters I should call. The puzzles in the app seemed harder.

Being on the show is much more difficult than playing at home. There were so many things to remember – such as smile, clap, be clear on your letter calling, focus on solving the puzzle, look at the used letter board, etc. What was comforting is that, between each puzzle, we stepped down, took a breather and met with the contestant coordinators. They gave us water and advice, fanned us (because it was hot), and the makeup person powdered us. The contestant coordinators really did help us in so many ways that day of the show!

STEINHAFELS: Lynelle, you won it ALL, correct? What was that like? What was your final puzzle?

LYNELLE: Yes I won it all. I’ve watched my show many times already! I recently realized that I solved 5 of the 8 puzzles in the main game and also solved the bonus round puzzle which was ‘Family Physician.’  During the taping of the show, I didn’t realize I had solved that many puzzles!! I took it round by round. I didn’t know that Rei, the other female contestant, hit so many bankrupts – I was so lucky with that. I was just focused on solving the puzzles and didn’t really pay attention to much except for when Pat told me it was my turn. I was in a zone.

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STEINHAFELS: What were your total winnings? Have you been to St. Lucia before?

LYNELLE: My total winnings were $60,300 in cash and prizes. $50,800 in cash and $9,500 is the value of the St. Lucia trip. I’ve never been to St. Lucia before but had been to Aruba. I love the Caribbean and we are excited to bring our kids with us.

STEINHAFELS: Kari, this must be such a whirlwind for you and Eric. Besides the trip to Hawaii, any plans for what you’d like to do with your winnings?

KARI: What a fun, whirlwind of a time. We can’t wait to go to Hawaii to create even more memories as a family. It was really surreal and truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. All of the staff – Pat, Vanna, everyone along the way, were amazing and great to work with. We were very surprised to get asked to be on Wheel of Fortune and to have been blessed with this opportunity and our winnings. In a way we are not surprised at the unraveling of events. We tend to live life in the fast-lane so this is very typical of us. Eric had a very serious brain injury at the end of 2016. That accident really has changed our outlook on life and motivates us to live a life of spontaneity, adventure, and fun! Trying out for Wheel of Fortune was just that.

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STEINHAFELS: Lynelle, any other big plans for what you’d like to do with your winnings?

LYNELLE: When I won the bonus round and saw the $35,000, the first thing that popped in my head was, ‘Yes – College tuition! Seriously!’ Majority of the winnings will go to college tuition/funds and house maintenance/landscaping. We are going to let our younger daughter pick out the tile for our kitchen backsplash. She’s a big HGTV fan!

STEINHAFELS: What was it like watching yourselves on TV?

KARI: It was entertaining to watch the show with family when it aired. Only a few knew we were going to be on the show, and nobody knew the outcome which made it so fun to witness their true reactions. It was so hard to keep it a secret for the six weeks between filming it and the show airing. Our friends and family were so happy for us. We felt privileged to represent Wisconsin and our town, Racine, in a positive way.

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STEINHAFELS: Final question – are you going to check out a Steinhafels store again sometime?

LYNELLE: Well, I would love some new furniture! :)

I think that after reading about both of these women’s journeys, most of us can agree that life is short, and we need to take a leap of faith sometimes. Congrats Lynelle, Kari, and Eric – you showed the nation how awesome Wisconsinites are, and made us proud.

Have a fabulous time on your trips to much warmer climates, and stay in touch.

And good luck to Matt on Thursday! Let’s get another big win for a Wisconsinite!

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Behind the Scenes: Salvation Army’s “Toy Shop”

Steinhafels has been partnering with the Salvation Army for years to help collect donations for the organization’s annual “Toy Shop” holiday toy distribution event.  CBS 58 has also come onboard, and it’s been a great way for all of our organizations to band together to help kids in Milwaukee’s inner city have new toys for the holidays.

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We got the chance to actually walk through the Toy Shop at the Salvation Army’s Distribution Center on N. 60th Street in Milwaukee.  We got a behind the scenes look at what it’s like for local parents to walk through and pick out some truly awesome toys!

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The toy shop is a well-oiled machine:  “Sorters” organize the toys that come in, “Stockers” man the toy stations and keep them overflowing with items throughout the event, and personal “Shoppers” actually walk around with the parents and help them pick the best toys for their kids.

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The event runs three days:  Friday 12/16, Monday 12/19, and Tuesday 12/20.  Over the course of three days, about 3,000 families will walk through, getting toys for about 9,000 kids!!  Of course, this doesn’t happen without a massive staff of dedicated volunteers.  About 1,100 volunteers will work the event.  If you are interested, they are still seeking volunteers for the Tuesday morning shift.  You can find more information ONLINE.

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This was Berenice Aguayo’s first time at the Toy Shop.  She has three kids ages 6, 5, and 2.  She couldn’t believe the great selection at the Shop.  A little something for all kids.  She said, “My kids like everything.  My boy likes mathematics, and my little girl likes anything with bright colors.”

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Linda Chaplin was Berenice’s personal shopper.  This was her first time volunteering at the Shop.  The local mom explains, “I think it’s always good to step out of your comfort zone and help others.  The more you step out of your comfort zone and help others, the smaller your problems seem.”

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And the shopping experience wouldn’t be complete without dedicated Stockers like Ann Michaels.  This is her second year working the Toy Shop.  She learned about it through work, and says she’ll definitely do it again next year.  “It is fun.  It’s really great to see the faces of everybody, and the toys they get for their children.”

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Isn’t that truly what the holidays are all about?  While it’s great to receive gifts–it’s the smiles on kids’ faces and people giving of their time to help others that exemplifies the reason for the season.  Thank you so much to all of our Steinhafels shoppers who have donated toys and coats over the past few weeks, and all of our employees who make sure these various outreach projects go smoothly.

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Happy Holidays from our Steinhafels Family to Yours!

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Fun fact:  This is the 81st year for “Toy Shop.”  The Salvation Army has been doing a toy distribution since 1935!!