Written by Katie Rosenberg
When we sat down to talk about her route to local leadership, Marathon County Board Supervisor Sara Guild said:
“I actually have a bit of a meandering path. Government was never a goal for me. I was interested in service and education. Those were my passions. So, teacher, social worker, high school counselor — those were the degrees I was looking at.”
But as happens sometimes, life had other plans for her…
As we chatted for the better part of an hour, Guild’s guide to navigating a fulfilling life and career began to emerge. She’s been able to transform difficulties into possibilities and to continue to build her body of work both despite and because of change.
Step #1: See Challenges As Opportunities
Guild’s life changed drastically when she was a teenager growing up in Shawano, Wisconsin. She said that her decisions as a young person nudged her in a different direction than she was expecting:
“I had my daughter my junior year. That put me on a different path. I went from being a straight-A cheerleader, really clean-cut, and all of a sudden, there I was — not even 18 and looking to raise a kid.”
Guild took her new responsibility as a mother seriously and worked to be a strong role model for her young family.
“The next 10 years of my life were basically me learning how to be an adult while raising my daughters in kind of a tough relationship with their dad.”
It was not always easy. But Guild notes that because of her early challenges, she intimately understands the struggles some families have to work through.
“I know what it’s like to be on government assistance programs — on WIC [Women, Infants, & Children]. I’ve been on food stamps. I’ve been couch-surfing between family members, and I moved quite a bit in order to try and reposition my family.”
She uses that understanding to help inform her policy positions.
Step #2: Be Ready to Pivot
If repositioning challenges as opportunities to learn is Step 1, then understanding that there are moments when you can accelerate growth is Step 2. And when those moments arose, Guild was ready.
“My first really big move was to Rochester, Minnesota, when I was 18, and I started working for Mayo Clinic. I moved there because I have an aunt in the area, and it was a great experience. It exposed me to the world of medicine — and the world of pharmacy in particular, because I was a pharmacy technician. I became certified, and that was really eye-opening for me. It was my first real grown-up job.”
With the birth of her second daughter, Guild moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to her family, and things took another turn:
“I completely switched it up and got a job working for Schneider National Trucking. I did security, switchboard, and some dispatch. That gave me a whole new experience on what it’s like to work in the world of transportation, what our over-the-road truck drivers go through day in and day out, the challenges they face, and how our roads and infrastructure impact our communities.”
However, as her daughters grew up, she realized that she needed to make another move:
“That was a second-shift position. I needed to get into a first-shift position, so I got a job working for the Oneida Tribe. You could say it was my first government experience.”
Guild said that working for the tribe offered her a glimpse into how tribal government worked.
She went back to working in pharmacy. During that time, she also got serious about going back to school and getting her college degree. Guild had been taking classes on and off for years but found it challenging to juggle a college schedule with a babysitting schedule.
Step #3: Find Your Kin and Love Them Totally
Guild started out at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, where she fulfilled the general education requirements for her degree before transferring to the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay to finish up her bachelor’s degree. She started re-evaluating what she wanted to do with her career.
“I had a friend at the time who said, ‘You know, you need to look into local government.’ For me, local government had never even been a blip. But my friend said that with my interest in learning and my interest in serving, local government could be a great fit.”
After thinking it through, Guild decided to give it a shot by interning in a village clerk’s office.
“It was awesome. I got to start their very first newsletter. I used [Microsoft] Publisher, I wrote all of the articles, I made all of the graphics — I did all of it. By doing that, it forces you to research your community.”
After working in the clerk’s office and a stint in St. Norbert College’s registrar’s office, Guild was ready to take on a new challenge with a new person in her life. Smiling, she noted:
“The friend who told me to look into government had become more than a friend. Once we got serious, he was in the process of moving to Marathon County.”
Supervisor Guild married Weston Village Administrator Daniel Guild in 2013, and the two moved their blended family to Weston. And while you would be right to assume there is a lot of local government talk around the dinner table, the two make room for other family interests and activities. She joked:
“We are not 24/7 government geeks. We’re a family that when we want to recharge, we pull in together. We just have to make that time. We try to have a movie night every weekend. And with each of the kids, we try to have at least one hobby that takes a priority. For my son, it’s Boy Scouts. My younger daughter likes cooking, and she really likes ‘Mom time.’ I make sure that every weekend we take some time where it’s just me and her — whether it’s shopping or taking a car ride or cooking in the kitchen. She needs that time to open up. My older daughter really likes the stereotypical ‘sit down at the kitchen table and have heart-to-heart discussions.’ And, actually, she talks to my husband a little more than she does me. Our goal is to make sure they each get that attention.”
Step #4: Stoke Your Passions
Guild thinks it’s an exciting time to be involved in local government, especially as a young person and a woman, but there are barriers to getting started.
“There’s so much evidence that women feel the need to master something before they do it. Men feel no such obligation.
But she points to her leadership training as proof that you can reframe that challenge and rise to it.
“It’s not about whether you can do it now; it’s about whether you trust yourself to learn what you need to know eventually — when you need to know it. If you trust your own ability to learn, you shouldn’t hold yourself back.”
When Guild was elected to the Marathon County Board in 2016, she was appointed to the Education and Economic Development Committee, where she was able to fuel the passions she cultivated while working at the Wausau Area Chamber of Commerce.
“What I’ve learned is that our businesses are our people. Most of our businesses are run by our neighbors. There aren’t a lot of distant corporations here in Marathon County. And I love that.”
Guild also flexes that economic development enthusiasm as the Marathon County Ambassador to the Wisconsin Counties Association’s legislative team. Last week, she attended the annual legislative summit.
“We are extremely limited in how we can generate new revenue between the caps and everything else. If we can develop economically, we will be able to raise revenues without having to raise property taxes, which none of us wants to do.”
Guild notes that developing Marathon County’s workforce will help Marathon County grow, but there’s more…
“We’re all hearing about the demographic shift, the silver tsunami of retirements, and the fact that we have fewer people coming in than we have going out. And we talked about how to help counties solve this problem. Things like making the County more open and welcoming to the students that we currently have — your middle and high school students — keep them if you got them. But then, even if we kept everyone, we still would need more, according to the statistics. It was also about making our communities more open and welcoming and inclusive to people from all walks of life.”
Supervisor Guild is finishing up her first term in office. She is running unopposed in Marathon County’s District 20 in 2018.
Marathon County Board Supervisor | District 1
Katie Rosenberg is a Marathon County Board Supervisor representing District 1. She is passionate about engaging the community and is active on social media and in organizing neighborhood constituent meetings with her Wausau City Council counterpart, Alderperson Pat Peckham. In her free time, you can find Katie enjoying the outdoors with her husband on bike, on roller skates, and in trail shoes. She also enjoys attending all manner of political events, traveling the world, and cooking up a mean vegetarian soup. Email Katie Rosenberg
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