“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.
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.