Updated to reflect previous small claims court issue at the foundation's previous address. Note also that recent information that has come to light brings much of his backstory mentioned below into question. Many of the previously-published stories about his life may be in error or exaggerated. 

Local philanthropist, school board member, and activist in the LGBTQ+ community Joe Luginbill has suddenly disappeared after the news broke that the utilities at the State Theater were shut off for non-payment. This has been shocking to many local citizens. But first, let's take a step back to this young man's quick rise to fame.

Since graduating from high school in 2012, Joe Luginbill has caused a splash in the Chippewa Valley. At the age of 18 he gained fame as a YouTube star, making his own cooking shows, which became quite popular after being mentioned in Twitter by Julia Child's account. This led to a whirlwind of activity in which according to press accounts in 2013 he was offered a $1 million contract to do a regular talk show for young people. (article is behind paywall).

He decided to turn down the contract, which ended in some difficulty with the producer and Luginbill signing a non-disclosure agreement keeping him from discussing details of the contract.

He then began studying at CVTC and turned his attention to local matters and philanthropy. He became a foster care caseworker and started the Luginbill Family Foundation, which embarked on a large number of projects including Smile House, a place for children aging out of the foster care system. He also ran for the Eau Claire School Board and won election to the board in 2015, when he became the youngest (20) member of the school board. He ran for re-election and won, after which he became president of the school board in 2018. In Nov. 2019 he announced that he was resigning from the board, saying that he had taken a position "away from home" that would take him away from Eau Claire too much to stay on the board. 

In October 2019, Luginbill spearheaded the re-opening of the State Theater in Downtown Eau Claire. The State had been the home of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, which was closed when the new Pablo Center for the Arts opened. The building had for some years been considered problematic, with some structural and functional problems. The building was purchased by Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound, who also owns several other businesses in the Chippewa Valley. His property management company is Azara Properties.  According to plan, Azara would own the theater while Luginbill's Children's Foundation would manage the building. Plans included doing work training programs (one of which happened), film screenings and events, and other activities. The office portion of the building facing Farwell St. would be leased out to community non-profits. Recently the Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ non-profit moved into the building and was ready to start programming.

Last Thursday, January 23 the staff of the LGBTQ+ group was surprised by entering the building and finding there was no electricity, water, or heat. Attempts to contact Luginbill and the owner of the building failed, and it was soon discovered that the power to the building had been cut for non-payment. It was also quickly discovered that most of the social media and web properties associated with Luginbill had been shut down or made private. The Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ issued a statement 

Hi all, we want to be as transparent with our members and friends as possible. Due to unforeseen circumstances on behalf of the State Theater and Community Center we can no longer function as a entity out of that building. We are hoping to be moving into a new space on February 1st - until then, we have moved our support groups and meetings to different locations throughout downtown Eau Claire. Because there are no working utilities at the State Theater, our phone is also not accessible. If you have any questions, please email info@cvlgbt.org and we will respond in a timely manner. You can also donate to CVLGBT+ here: https://cvlgbt.org/product/donate/ as we have very little information on when or if we will be seeing a return on our pre-paid rent. Thank you for your continued support. We want to embrace challenges, as it's something to make us stronger.

This morning we received a statement from Breana Stanley, President of Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+
Joe Luginbill did not pay his bills at the State Theater - therefore all utilities were shut off and essentially the center had to move out ASAP. Whether we will see the remaining of our pre-paid rent or not, is yet to be seen, but we are working on it. 

Luginbill Children's Foundation has left a lot of groups and community members in the dust - including other businesses and orgs that had cut checks to the State Theater, his CV Youth Chorus, The Smile House. He had deleted all social media, website, etc. and shut off his phone.

The contents of their office were moved out of the building and are now in storage.  (I helped move some of it since they were in need of a truck and I was going to Eau Claire anyway). 

Things deteriorated from that point. Several organizations were hit by the sudden news. Smile House is in a state of limbo as Luginbill had suddenly stopped communicating with them and was not providing promised funds. 

The Chippewa Valley Youth Chorus was supposed to be provided insurance by the Luginbill Foundation, but apparently the foundation had never filed the paperwork and the chorus had no insurance. This insurance was needed to meet requirements to rehearse in the Eau Claire School District's facilities. The chorus has had to cancel an upcoming rehearsal. They will now be rehearsing at the UWEC Haas Fine Arts Center instead. 

Luginbill had participated in many campaigns in the area and had been the treasurer for the campaign of Zoe Roberts for re-election to the county board. When asked this morning about plans for her campaign Roberts responded

Due to recent events, I am replacing Joe Luginbill as treasurer on my campaign effective immediately. I am not familiar with the details of his foundation or what is happening at the State Theatre and Community Center. It is currently appropriate for me to separate Joe from any financial responsibilities he has with my campaign.

Several hours later Roberts announced that paperwork had been filed to make UWEC Professor Selika Lawton her new campaign treasurer. 

It is likely that there will be more ripple effects through the community as Luginbill was involved in many projects. This is what we know at the moment:

  • Luginbill has not responded to media queries from us or from any of the other local media.
  • According to WQOW news today, the Luginbill Foundation owed $20,937 to Xcel Energy in past-due bills before they were disconnected.
  • Luginbill's Facebook page, personal web page, and foundation web page have either been removed or have been taken private. The State Theater's Facebook page is gone. His YouTube page has also been removed. The foundation phone has been disconnected. The disappearance of his life from the internet is making it difficult to piece together some of his history.
  • His Twitter account is still active and contains a fairly cryptic tweet from Jan. 19 "Please reserve the time and space to take care of yourself and receive the support that you need. If you feel this tweet is meant for you today, then it is."
  • Sarah Strunk, the project lead at Smile House says she has not heard from Luginbill for a week. The building is in the midst of rehabilitation and work has stopped.
  • The Luginbill Children's Foundation filed for non-profit status in 2018 but has apparently never filed the required 990PF forms disclosing their finances. This is not terribly unusual for small non-profits, but one should have been filed for calendar year 2018 and should be on-line. It is a family foundation and therefore there are not many publicly-available records.
  • The state corporation for the Luginbill Children's Foundation was declared delinquent in October. This is probably because they did not renew their paperwork.
  • He had recently (Jan. 6)  been appointed by the governor to the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board. (update - he is no longer listed as being on the board)
  • According to his Twitter account he was recently on vacation in Europe.
  • The owner of the State Theater, Azara Properties today produced a statement that they did not know about this until they read about it on Thursday. They are apparently also owed money by the foundation and have not been able to contact Luginbill. Azara Properties is currently attempting to resolve the issues with the different organizations and intend to keep the State Theater open. The Luginbill Foundation was responsible for utility payments for the building.
  • A CCAP records search indicates that the Luginbill Children's Foundation was taken to small claims court in March of 2019 by Banbury Place, the previous location of the foundation. This appears to be for non-payment of rent. The case was dismissed in court because Banbury had been paid in full. Luginbill did not appear in court. 

People we have spoken to in the last few days have different responses, ranging from being greatly disappointed to angry to being concerned for Luginbill. Universally those who have been involved with him feel this is wildly out of character. I have known Luginbill casually for several years and am personally taken aback by this. At worst my strongest negative feelings toward him would have been that he does a level of self-promotion that I never would be able to find comfortable for myself, and that I was never very clear on how all of these projects were being funded.  It would appear likely that financially things started becoming complex around last October and came to a head this week. The effects will probably continue to become more complex but at the moment it's not at all clear what has happened to Joe Luginbill and his foundation. It's an odd and incomplete story. 

Note that this story has been updated several times in the last hour with some new or corrected information, particularly Luginbill's removal from the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board and a previous Small Claims Court settlement with Banbury Place.

Support local news with a membership!

Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Consortium, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley

News Section

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.