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'Idol' has Pierce County connection

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BAY CITY -- Danny Gokey has thousands of supporters from his home state of Wisconsin cheering him on every week when he appears on the "American Idol" TV show.

Gokey, a Milwaukee native, is one of four singers left after last week's performances.

However, there is much more to Gokey's story, even including a Pierce County connection.


Gokey's wife, Sophia, had a congenital heart condition and underwent multiple surgeries during her life.

Last July, she underwent another surgery to install a pacemaker and never woke up. She was 27.

"That's what stung so bad," said Tammy Jungerberg, whose husband Greg is a cousin of Gorkey. "He didn't have a chance to tell her goodbye."

Jungerberg explained Sophia loved watching "Idol" and tried getting Danny to watch it. Only until a year before she died did Danny start watching.

Sophia's plans also went one step further.

"She was encouraging him to audition," Jungerberg said.

Danny, a church music director for FaithFree Church in Milwaukee, made the decision to audition shortly after her death in Kansas City. He advanced to Hollywood and has been a fan favorite ever since.


After Sophia's death, Danny started Sophia's Heart Foundation, the goals of which are to help needy children by providing food, clothing and shelters, along with offering scholarships.

"Sophia's Heart Foundation was founded upon the life of an extraordinary woman whose love for children overflowed and touched the lives of countless others," it stated on the website

One way friends and family have helped are by selling buttons saying "Vote Danny Gokey" colored in red, white and blue. All proceeds from button sales will go toward the foundation.

Locally, buttons, at a cost of $2 each, are available through Bay City native Jody Hemphill, another cousin of Gokey. Buttons can also be bought at The Savvy Store in Stockholm. Hemphill said she wasn't a regular watcher of "Idol" until this season.

"Sales have been unbelievable," said Jungerberg, who lives in Fall Creek. "We have sold over 1,000 buttons already and the response has been so overwhelming."

Jungerberg said that, once "Idol" ends this month, Gokey will come home to Milwaukee for a short time before going out on tour. During that period, they hope to present Gokey with posters with people's well-wishes and a check for the foundation.

For more information, contact Hemphill at 594-3941, or to donate to the foundation, visit

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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