Written by Katie Rosenberg
If you’ve ever filed for a marriage license or applied for a U.S. passport at the Marathon County Clerk’s Office, you might have talked to Kathy Kainz.
The County Clerk’s Office supports the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, so folks like me who have served on the Marathon County Board know Kainz as the woman with all the answers. Kainz is an unfailingly nice and informed fixture in the Clerk’s Office. But you might be surprised to learn that she’s been serving residents through that office for FOUR DECADES!
After working with three County Clerks, raising two children, hosting three exchange students, and welcoming one grandbaby, Kainz is saying goodbye to public service. I sat down with her last week when she retired to talk about her tenure over the last 40 years and what she’s going to do with all of her newfound free time…
As a D.C. Everest High School student in 1978, Kainz enrolled in a program aimed at getting students ready for office work. She applied and was selected to work at the Marathon County Clerk’s Office. Kainz recalled:
“I remember coming home and saying to my dad, ‘What’s a County Clerk?’ I had no clue!”
If you don’t know, the County Clerk’s Office is the chief election official and conducts all federal, state, county, local, and school elections. It compiles and distributes the Marathon County Public Officials Directory and the Property Valuation Statistical Report, and it issues marriage licenses, U.S. passports, hunting and fishing licenses, seller’s permits, and temporary car license plates, among other services.
Soon, Kainz got to know the intricacies of the position, as she spent half of her day in school and the other half working for Marathon County Clerk Ray Ott.
She started out in the mailroom, sorting incoming mail and ensuring that everything that needed to get posted went out. Then she moved to helping citizens with their requests, noting:
“The office was a lot larger then. We were combined with the finance department, and there wasn’t a County Administrator at the time.”
As her senior year wound down, staff at the Clerk’s Office knew they wanted to hang on to Kainz, so they brought her on full time after she graduated. It was perfect timing, as she and her high school sweetheart, Larry, started thinking about their future together.
Over the next several years, Kainz was part of some big changes in the Clerk’s Office…
Kainz worked through technological advances — starting off with a typewriter, moving to a programmable electric typewriter, and eventually using computers to upload notices and agendas to the County’s website.
She recalled that election night used to be a lot more nerve-wracking and suspenseful. The Clerk’s Office would even have a Xerox representative on standby in the office in case the voting machine broke down on election night.
“It was exciting. It wasn’t automated and the County had at least three different election systems. Mr. Ott had us go into the basement, which was like a bunker — an emergency government area. Otherwise, when we tried to work in our office, the media would be in there trying to literally grab stuff off our desks because we’d print a report and they’d want to meet their deadlines. The municipalities would call in their results and we’d pass them around the table. One person would total up the assembly races, another would total up the local races, and then we had a couple of people [re-]totaling each one to make sure the results were accurate. We would work until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and be back at 8:00.”
Kainz has been through political changes, too. Over the last decade, she’s seen marriage licenses expand to include domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages. She was involved in the historic presidential recount in 2016 that gave Wisconsin clerks mere days to pore over hundreds of thousands of votes. And she’s seen the duties of the office expand. For example, the County Clerk’s Office now helps travelers fulfill their U.S. passport requirements. Kainz beamed:
“It’s a happy service! They’re going on vacation.”
Now Kainz is looking to fill up her own passport.
“I love to travel. I really enjoy vacations where you get out and meet the locals — you get to know the real people. I’d like to do more traveling in Europe, maybe Iceland. So many places on my wish list! I would go anywhere, pretty much.”
Kainz is no stranger to other cultures…
Over the last 10 years, she and her husband have participated in a program through Northcentral Technical College that connects foreign students with local families for a semester. Since they got involved, the couple has hosted three students — one from Mexico and two from El Salvador. They’ve also gotten to know many other students through the program.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience. You learn as much from them as they learn from you. It really does make you appreciate what you have— especially when they come into your home and they ask, ‘How many families live here?’ [We have] all of these rooms and [only] two people live here. That’s been good for both Larry and I, to realize how much of the world is different. The more you learn, the more you learn [what] you don’t know.”
Kainz has even gone to visit former students in their own homes.
“Our trip to El Salvador was pretty amazing. It was definitely off the grid. We stayed at homes in the mountains and rented a little beach house. At night, they would close the gates and they would let out Doberman-type dogs. They took good care of us.”
Now that she’s retired though, she’s looking forward to spending more time with her daughters and granddaughter, her other friends who have recently retired, and maybe going deeper into her to-do lists.
“I’m 40 years behind in everything… Cleaning my closets. Photo albums. Catching up with friends. I have a mitten-making business — I’m in several stores. I might expand that. I like refinishing furniture and do other kinds of crafting. I am not committing to anything for a year. I’ve been asked to do all kinds of volunteer things. I’ve had a couple of people who have called up with job offers. But I am saying no, even to fun stuff.”
But she will never say no to her civic duty.
“I will always show up to vote.”
Kathy Kainz’s last day with the County was June 20, 2018. Though it’s only been a few days, we miss her already.
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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