Board Members

Board Members

Gillian Waukau - Board President

Gillian Waukau is the Board President for Patriot K9’s and has been an active member of the organization since 2019.

She originally joined the board because Patriot K9’s was a passion of her father’s but grew to love the mission quickly. She continues to serve because she wants to take care of the veterans who risked their lives to defend her freedom.

Gillian has had many dogs in her lifetime. She currently has a German Shepherd named Lola, who acts as her personal support dog.

Gillian has lived in Wausau for more than 40 years, and currently works as a manager of the claims department at United Healthcare.

She has been married to her husband for 14 years and has four kids and two grandkids.

Diane Durante Photo Update
Diane Durante - Board Secretary

Diane is the Patriot K9’s Board Secretary, Operations Support Specialist, Assistant Instructor, Grant Committee Chair, puppy raiser and puppy foster. She’s been involved with the organization since she started volunteering in 2018.

Diane is not just a part of the Patriot K9’s team, but she knows what it truly means to have a service canine make a difference in her life. Though she’s not a veteran, Diane has experienced suffering and trauma, and in 2018, decided to see if a canine could help her live a fuller life. She met Patriot K9’s founder Sarah Thuot by accident, shared her story, and the two decided completed the train the trainer program. With her dog Anders, the two completed the training, and now Anders helps mitigate disabilities from PTSD and several medical conditions.

Now Diane continues to pay that forward, helping raise or foster six canines for Patriot K9’s. She continues to serve the organization because she says the Patriot K9’s family has been an integral part of her healing journey, and “it has been a privilege to be a part of positively impacting the greater community and our veterans.”

Diane was born and raised in the Wausau/Weston area, where she still lives with her two sons Ryan, and Brandon. Ryan enjoys tinkering with cars and Brandon likes to fish and hunt. As a family, they enjoy helping raise and foster puppies for the Patriot K9’s organization.

Diane earned her bachelor’s degree as an occupational therapist from Concordia University in Wisconsin and earned her master’s from UW-La Crosse in Education Professional Development. She’s now a nationally board-certified massage therapist/bodyworker and can also provide canine massage.

Rob Board Photo
Robert Kittel - Board Treasurer

Robert Kittel serves Patriot K9’s as the Board Treasurer, a post he took over in June of 2021.

Robert was born and raised in Wausau. He left to attend college at UW-Oshkosh, where he received both his BBA-Accounting and MBA.

While working in Appleton at his first job, Robert met his wife, Kelly. They moved back to Wausau to raise their two children, Emily and Clark.

Robert recently retired from a local bank where he served as the Chief Financial Officer. He wanted to put his accounting skills to use for local non-profits, and chose Patriot K9’s.

He and his family currently enjoy the company of their son’s Springer Spaniel, Sophie.

Robert also volunteers in various capacities at his local church.

Gary Bezucha - Board Vice President

Gary Bezucha joined the board of Patriot K9’s in July of 2021.

Gary grew up in Milwaukee but came to Wausau more than 30 years ago to work at Wausau Hospital. He’s spent his entire career in health care, first as a physical therapist, then as healthcare administration.

Gary has been around dogs his entire life, and currently has a 14-year-old yellow lab named Hannah.

Ivan Mitchel - Board Member

Ivan served in the Army as a parachute Rigger with the 11th Quartermaster Company at Fort Bragg, NC for 3 ½ years; he graduated Airborne School in June of 2009. In 2011 Ivan became a member of the Wounded Warriors. Since 2017, Ivan has worked at Marshfield Clinic Health System Information Services at a Help Desk Analyst I.

Ivan has experienced firsthand how Patriot K9s of Wisconsin helps to improve the quality of life for a veteran. Ivan and Ali graduated from the program in July of 2019; the whole experience was very moving. It was at this time Ivan realized that this was something bigger than just he and Ali living a good life. The relationship and friendships built during the class were not only great with the K9, but with the other veterans in the class as well. Patriot K9s of Wisconsin is truly one big happy family that creates an at-home filled atmosphere, Ivan knew he wanted to be a part of the family.

Ivan is inspired by how the organization reaches out to the community, providing a great resource for military families as well as educating the public about service dogs. He is excited and honored to be a part of helping fellow veterans and K9’s come together to better the quality of life for both.

Mimi And Timber
Mimi Rethaber - Board Member

Mimi joined the Patriot K9’s organization as a volunteer in 2019 and became a member of the board in 2020.

Mimi served in the Army Reserves as a combat medic from 1991-1999.

She was the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, graduating with a degree in social work. She now works as a Certified Social Worker in the Wausau area.

Dogs have always been a big part of Mimi’s life. Her and her family have had dogs for 22 years and have had German Shepherds for the last 12. She has three daughters, and the youngest have their own German Shepherds and train in Schutzhund.

Mimi continues to serve with Patriot K9’s because “I feel that this is a great way to help those veterans that need that added assistance to live a long healthy life.”

When Mimi isn’t helping at Patriot K9’s, she’s spending time with her family and gets involved at her daughter’s school.

David Holcomb
David Holcomb - Board Member

David Holcomb became involved in the organization in 2022.  His passion to help veterans has been passed along from his grandfather and his mother.

Bringing animals into the mix was an added benefit.  David has had many dogs throughout his lifetime and continues to learn more about the training process and the mentality of the different breeds.

David is the Board liaison with the Jr. Board that was just established in 2022.

David works for Marathon County as an administrative specialist within the County Clerks office.

Cassandra Powell
Cassandra Powell - Board Member

Veteran, Wisconsinite, Mother, Animal Connoisseur, Hobby Collector, Foodie, Travel Seeker and Always Letting the Dogs Out.

For almost a decade she cascaded through clouds, strapped heavy heated boots on her feet, and mastered the multifaceted structure of my Naval occupation, motherhood and online education forums. She traveled without question to foreign places and filtered between complete concord, bliss, dissention and the deepest of torments that one should never feel. Her time in service came to an unexpected end being medically retired and confronted her with another challenge to stomp grounds with.

It was during this transition that she found Patriot K9’s of Wisconsin and became a service dog team with now 8-year-old golden retriever Angus. “It was a profound turning point in my life. I was and am profoundly impressed by the communication and the desire PK9 staff and members have to aid veterans in their service team endeavors.” She has been volunteering with PK9 since 2021 and became a board member in 2023.

Cassandra has had and been around dogs her entire life. She has some experience in assisting with fear responsive dogs and basic training. She has an affinity for servitude and is currently pursuing a Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Cassandra currently lives in Holcombe, WI with her two daughters Juliette and Aubrey, and her partner Tyler.

Megan Bozinski
Megan Bozinski - Board Member

Megan was first a volunteer with Patriot K9s of WI in 2019 and was the handler for Liberty who was the face of Patriot K9s of WI at the time. March of 2023 Megan joined our Board of Directors.

Megan was born and raised in the greater Wausau area and graduated from Northcentral Technical College with an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. Megan has worked in Law Enforcement for the last 11 years. She has seen first hand in both her job and personal life the struggles veterans experience and that’s why she’s passionate about Patriot K9s of WI.
Megan and her husband Jeremy have 3 Labrador retrievers, yellow, chocolate and black. Their chocolate lab loves running FastCAT and flyball while the others prefer to relax on the couch.

In her spare time, Megan enjoys being outdoors with her dogs and spending time with her family.

Eli Alsteen Photo
Eli Alsteen - Board Member

Eli joined the board of Patriot K9’s in January of 2023.

Eli graduated from North Central Technical College with a degree in IT Networking. Eli currently works as a Cyber Security Analyst.

Eli has been around dogs his entire life and loves how dogs can impact people’s lives for good.

Brandon - Board Member
Brandon Caceks - Board Member

Brandon Cacek started training with his Service Dog Hawk in April of 2022 and they both graduated the program in October of the same year.

He graduated from Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School in 1998, and then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps where he served as an Aviation Ordnance Technician. He deployed multiple times with Headquarters Squadrons & Marine Aviation Logistics Squadrons under the Command of both the 1st and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wings. After his time serving on Active Duty he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Change & Development from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and then he completed his Master of Science Degree in Organizational Leadership & Quality in 2013.

Currently he works as an Executive Consultant while also volunteering with a number of Non-Profit Organizations where he focuses on assisting other Veterans and their families overcome obstacles to live their best lives.

He lives in Marinette, Wisconsin with his wife and two children.

Dr. Wendy Nelson
Dr. Wendy Nelson - Board Member

After graduating from Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1989, Wendy moved to Wisconsin to practice mixed animal medicine.

She has been a practicing veterinarian in the Wittenberg-Birnamwood area since 1995. Like many others she has always had pets and understands the importance of the human animal bond.

She first heard about PatriotK9’s of Wisconsin at a Christmas party with her husband and Lani Rethaber. Raising a family of three busy boys and working full time did not allow her to devote time to any new organizations.

After her boys graduated from high school she was approached by Lani and asked to consider becoming a board member.

It has been an honor to become a member of such a worthwhile group that is devoted to helping our veterans who have served our country and now are in need of our help. Thank you for this opportunity.

Kelly Dahlke - Board Member

Kelly Dahlke joined the board of directors for Patriot K-9 of Wisconsin in November 2022 after assisting with an event.  Her desire to help veterans that suffer from mental health issue is in honor of her father and grandfather who proudly served this country.

Veterans and mental health are important topics to Kelly as she has family and friends that served for our country.  Her father, grandfather, and step-father served this country during the Vietnam Era.   She has seen how this organization can benefit veterans and their mental health. She feels privileged to be able to help veterans to be able to live an active life

Kelly grew up in Central Wisconsin area. She graduated from Edgar High School and Northcentral Technical College in Business Management and Healthcare Services.  She enjoys the outdoors and spending time with 3 children and two dogs during her free time.

She has had a number of dog throughout the years and has learned how each of them helped her family through the touch times.

Emeritus Board Members

Gil Holcomb
Gilbert E. Holcomb - Honorary Emeritus Board Member

Gil joined the board in 2019, bringing with him two separate careers of experience. Gil’s 23-year military career began with the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army; he ultimately retired as chief warrant officer at Fort McCoy in 1996, while concurrently building a 35-year career with Wausau Insurance Co. (Liberty Mutual Group).

Since “retiring,” Gil continued service to veterans through the American Legion, 82 Airborne Association and VFW Post 388. After meeting Sarah Thuot at a Marathon County Veterans Coalition, the connection was immediate. Patriot K9s of Wisconsin fits with his families’ future personal quest to assist his son, who is a 100-percent-disabled veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq operations as a member of the 3 Battalion 505 BDE U.S. Army.

Gil is inspired to stay involved because of the contact and impact that this program makes on veterans, especially his son.

Gil’s oldest son presently is serving as a chief master sergeant with the Wisconsin National Guard. “As you can see, we are a military family, on many different levels.” – Gilbert

Thom Passow
Thom Passow - Emeritus Board Member

Thom Passow is a board member for Patriot K9’s of Wausau.

Thom has been deeply involved with the Wausau community for more than 40 years now.

He has owned and operated Wausau Awards and Engraving since 1980. He was a representative for the State Medical Society of Wisconsin from 1974-1980.

Today, he’s also an officer for the Montgomery-Plant-Dudley Post 10 American Legion, as well as the President of the Wausau Masonic Center Association Board of Directors. Those are just a couple of the many organizations to which Thom gives his time.

Thom was also the facilitator for the Veterans Avenue of Honor project on Grand Avenue from May to November of 2021.

Thom served in the U.S. Army and Wisconsin National Guard from 1967-1973.

Bob Burton
Bob Burton - Emeritus Board Member

Bob was born in Peoria, Illinois. Him and his wife Karen were married September 3rd, 1961. Bob served with the 182nd Tactical Fighter Group, Illinois ANG from October 1962 to 1968. With three children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren he remains busy.

Bob’s business career of fifty plus years was spent in the electrical wholesaling, and contracting industries. Now his retirement years have been and are GREAT!

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