County Staff Cross the Finish Line in Fondy Fair 5K

As lightning illuminated a deep red sky at dawn on a summer weekend, a small group of county employees awoke with excitement and anxiety for the day to begin. The stormy morning was the moment many of them have been working towards with effort, determination, and heart. The Fondy Fair 5K was about to begin. Under looming severe storms, these employees set out to accomplish their goal: run the 3.1 miles it takes to complete their first 5K.

Taking up running can seem like a scary prospect, especially if one feels out of shape or unfit. Many feel like they do not know how to start. As an avid runner, Justin Kluesner (Human Resources) knew the benefits that running provides and offered to lead a Couch to 5K program at Fond du Lac County. A Couch to 5K program is a running plan developed to help absolute beginners get into running. “For me, running has provided the obvious benefits that come with exercise, but I also feel I have more energy, more confidence, and a more positive outlook on life,” says Kluesner.

CouchTo5K group 2015Seven employees soon joined the program, which met every Tuesday and Thursday after work for nine weeks. Brenda Woelfel (Probate) says she joined because “running a 5K is something I had always wanted to do, but I felt I didn’t have the capability and was never sure how to start.” The first day the group met, they alternated between running 60 seconds and walking 90 seconds, for about 20 minutes total. After a few weeks, the running times slowly rose as each participant gained the strength, endurance, and stamina it took to run 30 minutes straight.

When the morning of the 5K arrived, severe storms delayed the start time one hour. “Since it was postponed, I got anxious the closer it got to [the start time],” recalls Marsha Spittel (Child Support). “I just wanted to get going!”

When the starting horn finally sounded, nearly 200 participants took off in temperatures that seemed to keep climbing. While starting the race made some nervous, the elation of completing it soon erased those fears. “I had a time in mind that I wanted to beat so that is all I was thinking when I was getting close to the finish line. Crossing the line is exhilarating,” states Becky Wagner (Land & Water Conservation).

Couch to 5K group at RaceOne by one each racer finished, most well under their goal times. In those moments, the hard work of the past several weeks flooded into their minds. “I came from being winded while running 60 seconds on the first week of the program and now I just completed the race!,” says Mary Fortney (Human Resources). For Kay Lock (Health Department), the experience has proved she is capable of more than she imagined, stating, “I thought I was getting old as I turned 52 this year, but I realized I can still do lots with the appropriate training.”

Reflecting back on the last several weeks has left Kluesner pleased with all the hard work and determination his colleagues displayed. “I am beyond proud of everyone for completing the 5K. I love to think about that first week when everyone was wondering what they got themselves into, because at that finish line, I saw 7 confident individuals who proved that they could achieve anything they put their mind to,” proclaims Kluesner.

Continue reading about each of the Couch to 5K participants and their experience.

Continue reading

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County Employees Give Back With “Giving Garden”

The idea came to Melanie Boone on a spring-like March day, while walking outside with a few colleagues during a break – “It would be cool in the future sometime to start a garden here.” The very next day, plans were already being drawn up to start the first ever Giving Garden on the grounds of the Agriculture Service Center, home to the Fond du Lac County Land & Water Conservation Department.

Kelli Neitzel and Melanie Boone working in the Giving Garden.

Kelli Neitzel and Melanie Boone working in the Giving Garden.

Once County Conservationist Paul Tollard received approval to begin, Boone and Kelli Neitzel brought in leftover seeds from their personal gardens at home. Soon enough, plants began to grow in every window of the building. Everything from fencing and tomato cages to fertilizer, and even a hose extension was donated by numerous employees in the department. “Everyone kind of pitched in,” says Tollard. “It was neat to see.”

The Giving Garden is home to plentiful tomato plants, peas, green beans, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, and kale, all of which are harvested and donated weekly to Broken Bread, a food pantry at St. Paul’s Cathedral that serves more than 1,000 people every week.

Broken Bread coordinator Terry Hansen-Beno is very excited by the donations, especially because she can serve locally grown produce, which is not something the guests often see. “I love when [Melanie and Kelli] come in with the baskets of food,” says Hansen-Beno. “I can see the pride in their faces when they offer it. They take pride in what they have done.”

The first harvest of the season produced nearly 10 pounds of snow peas, zucchinis, and kale.

The first harvest of the season produced nearly 10 pounds of snow peas, zucchinis, and kale.

After just three weeks into the season, nearly 40 pounds of produce has already been donated. With roughly 10 weeks left in the growing season, Land & Water staff members are hoping to harvest and donate a total of 300 pounds of produce from the Giving Garden. “Fresh produce can be expensive, and giving people at the pantry an option is important,” states Boone.

At Broken Bread, Hansen-Beno sees the impact the donations have already made. “It’s something that [the guests] are not able to get, and it’s so nutritious,” she says. “It stands out – the color and freshness. It’s so nice to be able to offer this to people who may not be able to afford it.”

The sprawling garden is primarily maintained by Boone and Neitzel, who volunteer their time during breaks and sometimes before or after work. They are both thrilled to use their talents to help make an impact in the local community. “I love to garden,” says Boone. “It doesn’t feel like work to me. We’re going to continue to give stuff until they tell us it’s too much.” The successful first few weeks already has them planning next season’s garden, and they’re hoping to start earlier to grow cold-weather vegetables and potentially expand the garden.

Melanie Boone, Paul Tollard, and Kelli Neitzel in front of the Giving Garden.

Melanie Boone, Paul Tollard, and Kelli Neitzel in front of the Giving Garden.

“This is a great highlight for the year. [The idea] came out of nowhere and it’s been a great thing to happen on top of the great stuff we’re already working on,” reflects Tollard.

Since 2012, Broken Bread has seen a 37% increase in the number of families needing assistance. If you have unwanted produce in your garden and would like to make a donation, stop by St. Paul’s Cathedral at 51 W Division St in Fond du Lac Monday through Thursday from 9am-1pm or Fridays from 8am-8pm.

Shawn Kelly Plans to Bring Register of Deeds into Digital Age

“I thought I wanted to be an astronaut,” laughs Shawn Kelly, the Fond du Lac County Register of Deeds. “That quickly faded, because then I wanted to be a baseball player.” While childhood dreams in professional sports didn’t exactly pan out the way he had hoped, Kelly spent most of his career in public service, culminating in an appointment to the Register of Deeds post by Governor Scott Walker in 2013.

The Register of Deeds is an elected county-level position that is charged with being the primary custodian of significant documents to both the community as a whole and to its individual residents. These may include land records and vital records, like birth and death certificates.

Shawn Kelly, Register of Deeds

Shawn Kelly, Register of Deeds

Kelly is the son of a West Coast attorney father and an East Coast engineer mother. They met in the Army and settled near the Quad Cities in a small town called Milan, IL. Kelly decided he would go to school for accounting, but still wasn’t quite sure where his life would lead him. During college, he met his future wife – a Fond du Lac native – and not long after graduation, moved to Fond du Lac to start a family.

Those early days in Fond du Lac consisted of driving 800 miles per week back and forth to the Milwaukee area while he audited for the State Unemployment office. In an effort to be closer to home, Kelly later took a job as an internal auditor at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh in 1997. Over the course of his 16 years there, he was promoted to Controller where he oversaw and managed the University’s financial affairs.

“Personally, I was ready for a new challenge. The days were long and work would still not be done. I saw the [Register of Deeds] job and thought I could do that. It’s organizational skills. It would be nice to be in town where I live. I just threw my name in the hat.” After a first round interview, Kelly was called to a sit down with Governor Walker. “It was more or less just a conversation with [him],” he says. Before he knew it, the phone call came and it became real. “I didn’t know what to expect. But I realized this was more about personal fulfillment and here I am.”

After learning the role and assessing the Office’s future with the County Executive and other closely related departments, Kelly’s first major goal is to integrate technology into the day-to-day operations, including bringing over 100 years of important documents online. “Some counties are way out in front and have been doing this for years,” says Kelly, “while others are way behind and barely have any electronic records.” Next will be an E-recording tool that will allow title companies to submit land documents and records online. Finally, a public notification system will be unveiled which can help alert property owners to potential fraud or activity on their land. According to Kelly, these upgrades are already underway and plan to roll them out over the summer and into next year.

Shawn Kelly is currently serving the remainder of a four year term through December 2016.