Although I was born in Madison, my first years were spent growing up in South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and, ultimately, back in Madison. My Mom hailed from Madison, and my Dad from Walterboro, SC. I have a stash of fond memories spending time in the outdoors at my Granny's wooded home, as well as with aunts, uncles and cousins. I consider myself half "southern," and cherish my remaining family in the south. It was while visiting them that I developed my passion for civil rights.
Although I thought that I would grow up to be a teacher, my interest in writing was fueled by the current events of the late 60s and early 70s. While editor of my high school newspaper, I took every opportunity I could to write about how what was happening in the adult world related to life at La Follette High School, on Madison's far eastside. After winning a two-week summer "camp" in journalism at UW-Madison, my mind was made up. I went on to earn my bachelor of arts degree in journalism during the Vietnam War era, graduating from that hot bed of radicalism, UW-Madison.
Working during college at WPS Blue Shield, I was hired by the company to be an advertising assistant and writer upon graduation. By this time, WPS had moved to its new headquarters on the old beltline, now Broadway. I gained valuable experience writing, editing, doing layout and purchasing printing for numerous brochures and a newsletter to companies that contracted with WPS to provide employee health insurance. My most valuable experience came working side-by-side with a former Oscar Meyer graphic artist, who had taken a job at WPS during his last years before retirement.
I began my career with the state in 1976, when a former colleague who had taken a public information director position (PIO) at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission encouraged me to apply to work with her handling media contacts, publications and utility consumers' complaints. It was at the PSC that I gained experience working with technical staff, agency administrators, government appointees and reporters, which served me well as my career progressed.
I also learned the ins-and-outs of state government budget development, falling victim in 1979 to budget, and subsequent position, cuts. With a recommendation from a senior reporter I'd come to know as he covered the PSC, I transferred to the Bureau of Information and Education at the DNR. At the time, I had the gut feeling that I was jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Doing so, it was the best move of my young career. I was assigned the "beat" of PIO for the Bureau of Water Grants, which later expanded to include associated water and wastewater programs. My priority was to work with the media and the grants program staff to develop and deliver information to the public, the legislature and local officials. As these were the years when DNR had its own planes and pilots, I was fortunate to travel the state by car and air to learn about the work of our field staff and the service it provided local officials. businesses and private citizens.
Located in the Bureau of I & E, I honed my communications skills. It was there that I continued to advance my writing abilities, gain invaluable experience working with seasoned graphic artists, photographers and video producers. Without a doubt my most insightful lessons were learned working side-by-side with my public information, education and marketing colleagues.
There were times when I & E staff, myself included, were called upon to work as members of teams on department efforts of wide-reaching impact. For example, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to provide media support during fire season. Some of my most "colorful" and exciting work was done as a staffer for the media center during the years when spearfishing was most contentious. I'll never forget taking a call from a local resident who told me where I could stick a spear.
As our bureau developed, taking on more responsibilities for informing and educating the public, I was selected to become the section chief for the Media, Arts and Reference Section (MARS). This was truly a collective of highly-talented and in-demand graphic designers, typesetters, photographers, videographers and librarians, whose customers were drawn from virtually every DNR program. The demand for their services was proven by the fact that programs willingly supplement their salaries via chargebacks.
One of my proudest moments in this role was convincing the agency, which then exclusively used DOS-based computers, to allow us to bring in Apple computers for our graphic artists. Our designers went from feeling overworked and poorly equipped, to overworked with the equipment needed to better meet their customers' needs in a more proficient manner.
Prior to hiring the chief of the agency's Education Section, I served as interim chief. Certainly my management duties provided valuable learning moments, predominantly when it came to supervising educators. On the whole, however, I'd never had as much fun as I had approving purchases of food for bears and other residents of the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center. My biggest challenge and proudest accomplishment was pulling together various funding sources to erect a fence along the wall on the edge of the parking lot for the center's museum.
While "chief Martian," I was given responsibility for managing the agency's new recycling funds and some of its staff. This gave me more opportunities to participate in developing materials and work with staff who created and managed the state's first recycling program. I was honored to accompany the graphic artist to an International Association of Business Communicators conference, where we received an award for a handbook that provided tools for local governments to create and successfully manage their mandated recycling programs.
In the mid 90s, I was hit with my second position cut. I now was beginning to learn that a career change could be a chance to grow, in a new environment, with fantastic new colleagues. My new post was as chief of the administrative section in the IT bureau (name has changed twice more since then). Being a "word person," rather than a "techie," I was amazed when I actually had accrued enough knowledge of the technology, equipment and processes that I could converse intelligently with my staff and co-workers. What a strange and wonderful new world! This time, my focus was on supporting the fiscal, administrative and staff resources needed to serve DNR programs developing the technology they needed to serve DNR's external customers.
By the early 2000s, the political mood strongly focused on reducing the size of the state workforce. Once again, my position was placed on the chopping block, and I was off to an entirely different program: Forestry. Talk about the "difference between night and day." No longer in a support program that relied on other programs for operational funds, I was given the tools needed to recruit and hire foresters. I came to feel as though this was the job I'd been meant to do all along.
In 2006, with 30 years with the state, and having lived to the ripe old age of 55, I decided to retire from full-time state service. Given multiple family health care demands, including my Mom's developing dementia following my Dad's death the year before, my multi-tasking wasn't serving the requirements of my 50-60 hour-a-week job and those I loved. So, I looked at the numbers. Although I knew it wouldn't be easy, I decided that we could manage.
After meeting the 90-days separation rule, I returned to my roots in the information and education program. Once referred to as the "czarina of LTEs," I accepted my first and only LTE job as editor of the decades-old "DNR Digest." It was ironic that I had served as "Digest" editor in my early days, when the internal newsletter was written on typewriters and laid out by hand. I now could entirely write, edit, design, layout and publish online. Me--just one person. And, as it was during the "hands-on" days, my goal for the "Digest" was to give programs and their staffs a vehicle to share their work and accomplishments with other DNR employees located around the state. At the same time, it was my honor to be able to recognize the commitment to the department's mission, held fiercely by those employees. My LTE position and the "DNR Digest" ended in 2013, when the first-appointed (by Stepp administration) communications director decided that such an internal publication was frivolous.
During the years learning personally and growing professionally, I raised two wonderful children, Ethan and Meagan. I became a little-league-through-varsity softball Mom, long-distance bike rider and cross country skier. When I retired in 2006, I became an Avon Representative, further enriching my life through new friends, the dearest being those living in senior communities.
My husband Bob Spector and I live on the southwest side, with our Shih Tzu, Mazy. I've become--had to--quite knowledgeable about Wisconsin football and basketball. My commitment to the health of our environment and wise management of our natural treasures is stronger than ever.
While my Mom lived out her last years in memory care, she and I agreed that she may not remember what happened five minutes ago, but we sure what's happening in the "here and now." A perspective I'll cherish and use forever.