North Entrance Opening & Ribbon Cutting

After several months of renovation, the North Entrance of the City/County Government Center has reopened to the public. The entrance has been upgraded to include an elevator to provide a more accessible way into the building.

Former Fond du Lac Police Chief and County Board Supervisor Mel Heller was on hand to cut the ribbon, marking the official opening.

“Before it was very difficult for the elderly or people using wheelchairs to access the building at this point,” stated Fond du Lac County Executive Allen Buechel. “Both City and County officials determined it was time to create a safe and easily accessible entrance that accommodates people with disabilities.”

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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

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.

County’s Employee Loyalty Strong in Midst of ‘Job Hopping’ Challenges

“I can’t believe the years have gone this fast,” says Sue Schmid in disbelief. Schmid, a certified occupational therapy assistant and activity aide at Harbor Haven Health & Rehabilitation, is one of a large, but shrinking number of employees who have worked for Fond du Lac County for their entire career. With nearly 42 years of service, Schmid is currently one of the most tenured employees, something that caught her off guard when she discovered it. “I can’t even fathom it’s been 40-plus years. It’s gone so fast. Truly, it only seems like 10 years.”

Sue Schmid (Harbor Haven) reading what's next on the Activities Calendar.

Sue Schmid (Harbor Haven) reading what’s next on the Activities Calendar.

Historically in the United States, it was very common for an employee to stay at the same company for decades and the company reciprocated with benefits like healthcare and pensions. “I wanted to get a car,” laughs Ardell Klaske, who currently serves as Fond du Lac County’s Register in Probate. Klaske grew up on a farm and was active in 4-H. She used that experience when she started in the UW-Extension Office as the 4-H secretary nearly 42 years ago. Klaske remembers starting her career at $1.60 an hour, which felt huge for her in her life.

For Schmid, who interacts with residents at Harbor Haven Health & Rehabilitation and the former Rolling Meadows Nursing Home, recalls being in unchartered territory when she started. “I was going to give it six months and see if I liked it and now it’s nearly 42 years. [The residents] are my second family and we have a blast together. I’ve never had a day that’s dragged.”

As younger employees begin entering the workforce in a changing world, many are changing jobs at a much higher rate than previous generations. County Executive Allen Buechel recognizes this growing issue, acknowledging that “workers, especially young people, feel different than they used to about their jobs and we need to respond in the workplace.” Buechel shares that recruitment has changed and employers need to be more flexible to retain employees. “It’s become more about job satisfaction than a pay check.”

Ardell Klaske

Ardell Klaske (Probate) in her office in the City/County Building.

Over the course of her career, Klaske gets the most satisfaction from working with the public. In the Probate office, she meets with people who have lost loved ones who need to go through the Courts to arrange financial matters. “Probate is not something people understand until they are faced with it when a parent or loved one dies. In those moments, what people truly need is someone to listen to them.”

Over the past 42 years, a lot has changed for Fond du Lac County and the workforce in general. From new buildings and infrastructure to the emergence of a larger and more diverse public, the County has had to continuously evolve in its efforts to meet the needs of its citizens. Technology has also played a role in how the County operates, going from making copies using onion skin paper to using iPods in Music & Memory programs for Harbor Haven residents. Klaske claims that technology has made her job a little more challenging but the human interaction is still valued and it’s seeing the person in the moment that makes it worthwhile for her. “But believe me, I wouldn’t want to go back to the onion skin paper!”

“I knew this was where I needed to be.
I know I am making a difference here.”

County Executive Buechel says the County has a reputation of being a good place to work and values the service of all its employees. “People with longevity are a good barometer of what the company culture is like. When you have long service employees, you know it’s a good place to work.”

Both Schmid and Klaske state there is no slowing down on the important work they are accomplishing. Their passion is visible and their drive for success is even stronger than when they both started nearly 42 years ago.

Keeping things fresh has been the key to Schmid’s long term success at the County. “Probably in my 40’s, when I was contemplating a career change, it hit me: I knew this was where I need to be. I know I am making a difference here.”

By Justin Kluesner