Written by Katie Rosenberg
If anyone ever made a movie about what it was like to be on the County Board, I think it would end up being a slowed-down version of The Breakfast Club . . .
When everyone shows up on Day One, it’s essentially 38 strangers with nothing in common except each other. There are stereotypical cliques that Marathon County Board Supervisors fall into, but instead of the geeks and the delinquents, we have:
- The elders — Who’ve been on the board or involved somehow for decades.
- The city supervisors — Who are more likely to be asked about public transportation than county highways.
- The upstarts — Who have a passion and a platform.
- The rural supervisors — Whose districts span many miles, multiple townships, and could contain as many cattle as people.
The thing about County Board Supervisor Tim Buttke, though, is that he doesn’t fit into any of those stereotypes. Tim is a cultural chameleon whose life experiences range from farming to banking, and from world travel to bowling a perfect game.
His roots go deep . . .
Buttke’s great-grandfather was the first baby born to settlers in the town of Stettin. And Tim is continuing the legacy on his family’s homestead.
“My ancestors came over from Germany, Prussia — Pomerania to be more exact — in 1858, and homesteaded our farm. They founded our church.”
That willingness to work hard but know when to take a calculated risk is something that Tim and his family seem to have inherited.
He graduated from UW–River Falls in the early ’80s and got straight to work managing his farm. During that time, Tim met a passionate med student, Kay Gruling, who was earning her doctorate. Despite the crazy hours they both put into tending to their careers, they settled into a grind.
“When we first started dating, she was in medical school at UW–Madison and I was 3 years out of college. We were both putting in some lengthy hours. It was challenging.”
Despite the challenges, they stuck it out. Kay became a family physician, and the couple married and settled down, back in the town of Stettin. But change was coming . . .
After growing up on the farm, earning his degree in Farm Management and Animal Science, and running his dairy farm for more than a decade, Tim traded in his work boots for a suit and tie and went into the banking business.
“I took 5 whole days off. I sold the cows on May 26, 1994, and started at Farm Credit on June 1, 1994. I’m still very close to agriculture though.”
I asked if the move from farming to banking felt drastic. While he conceded that it was a change, Tim thought it was a great fit.
“I was able to earn a lot of credibility with customers because I’ve been on both sides of the table.”
Instead of applying for loans, he was now the person helping farmers grow their opportunities by lending capital to them.
His family’s old barn and farmhouse are still in use. After building a new home on the back 40, he and Kay rented the farmland out to a cattle farmer.
Tim has always been interested in politics and government. He’s been a member of the Farmers Union, the Farm Bureau, and the Partnership for Progressive Agriculture and has seen firsthand how policy affects people.
In 2015, he ran for and won the Stettin Town Board. In 2016, he earned a seat representing District 33 on the Marathon County Board, where he serves alongside Supervisor John Robinson, who happens to be Kay’s brother-in-law. Tim is the Vice Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. He also sits on the Finance Committee, the Aging and Disability Resource Center Board, and the Transportation Coordinating Committee, and he chairs the Capital Improvement Program Committee. His golden rule:
“I listen to people and build relationships.”
The biggest issues Tim sees facing the Marathon County Board are twofold:
Local governments have seen dwindling state aid and have had to make tough decisions about what to support. He expects the board to have conversations about the Marathon County Jail and the potential multimillion-dollar price tag that comes along with it.
Tim noted another, more abstract reflection about Marathon County:
“We’re looking for growth, but we’ve lost some businesses over the last decades, including some that had the local brain trust.”
Tim was optimistic that there is opportunity to rebuild with the right leadership and stewardship of Marathon County’s resources.
Outside of work and government meetings, Tim loves to travel and enjoys sports. He said that County Board work cuts into his bowling time, but he was averaging a 209 and even earned a perfect score one night at Marathon Bowling Center!
Tim and Kay have two grown children who have launched into the world in a big way. Their daughter, Calla, graduated from Stanford University with a Master’s degree in East Asian studies. She married a man from Central China, and they split their time between Stettin and Zhengzhou, China, where she teaches.
Tim’s son Isaac recently graduated from UW–Madison and is taking on a new adventure with the Los Angeles Dodgers this spring.
Tim and Kay plan on visiting Calla in Zhengzhou again this year, but Tim hopes to make some time to travel a little more. On his travel bucket list: Bali, the Baltic States, and Montenegro to visit a former foreign exchange student.
Tim knows that Marathon County is facing some big issues in the next couple of years with the jail and the opioid crisis, but he’s up for the task. He views the policy-making process the same way he approaches life:
As an opportunity to build relationships and trust so that his colleagues are comfortable taking a calculated risk.
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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