Written by Katie Rosenberg
Marathon County’s Diversity Affairs Commission might just be a gateway to County Government. It seems to attract folks who are new to the area and interested in making a difference . . .
A few months into my tenure on the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, I was sitting in a Diversity Affairs Commission meeting, and a young woman who had just moved back to Wausau from Madison with her infant daughter joined us.
Ashley Lange was enthusiastic and fired up about getting involved:
“I had been just literally Googling if Wausau had any organizations or groups that focused on diversity or racial equity because I wanted to get involved with something that I thought would directly benefit Jane’s ability to thrive in the community — being biracial in a very white area. I was also hoping to learn how to use my privilege as a white mother to benefit the community. Diversity Affairs was the first thing that popped up on Google, and I started communicating with Tony Patterson. He invited me to check out the meeting.”
It was tough moving back to Central Wisconsin after going to school and working in Madison. Ashley was just embarking as a new mother, starting a new career, and overhauling her life after recovering from alcohol addiction.
However, that Diversity Affairs Commission meeting started a chain reaction, and in 2017, Ashley decided to fully commit to her community and run for the Marathon County Board.
“I just had this weird epiphany one day. I thought, ‘I want to run for local government.’ I had this mindset shift where I didn’t want to leave Madison and I didn’t want to be here, and I thought, ‘Okay, what are you going to do? Feel sorry for yourself and just go through the motions? And not want to be here and point out everything that’s bad about this place? Or are you going to step up and make it better?’”
Ashley realized while she was out knocking on doors that she would be bringing an underserved voice to the County’s governing body — and it wasn’t just generational and gender differences. Her experiences allowed her to empathize and advocate for issues that aren’t always “top of mind” in Central Wisconsin.
“My whole life, I’ve been super-impatient about what I’m supposed to be doing or how I am supposed to be living, but ever since I moved back up here, I started to get into the mindset that the things I am supposed to be doing will present themselves and you just have to recognize them. So, having a history with addiction — I realized that’s that a sign of something. Having a biracial daughter is another sign that I have a unique story.”
While we talked about what brought her back to Wausau, Ashley reflected on the most important person in her life: Jane.
Jane is now 3 years old and a ball of energy with an amazing sense of humor and interests beyond any child I’ve ever met. During our interview, Jane talked about who Rosa Parks was, how just smelling peanut butter sandwiches can make your mouth water, and how she had just watched a U.S. Women’s National Team soccer match and was ready to become a professional soccer player.
Ashley says that Jane has brought a new sense of wonder — and patience — to her life:
“Since I had Jane, she’s pretty much the reason for anything I do, either directly or indirectly. She’s obviously my greatest influencer. I’ve had to learn how to have a little bit more patience. It’s part of my philosophy now; you have to be patient. The things that you need will find you when they’re supposed to find you. But that’s kind of what Jane did. She was a surprise. She was not in my long-term plan at the time, but it turned out that she was exactly what I needed when I needed it. I have more fun nowadays because of her. You get to re-live all the fun things you loved when you were little. You can help mold a person into somebody. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
Jane is starting 4K this school year, and Ashley has been reflecting on her own childhood and thinking about what it means to be a parent in 2019:
“I always thought of my life from my parents’ perspective. When I was Jane’s age, did they have these hopes and dreams? One of the trickiest things about parenthood that I had to learn very quickly was that it’s not your job to mold them into what you want them to be. You have to mold them into what they’re meant to be, and those are two very different things. I would love it if Jane loved camping and outdoor stuff as much as I do, but that’s just not Jane. It’s fun watching her come out of her shell and find things that she’s into.”
Ashley says that Jane is an ever-present reason for her to stay sober because it isn’t just about her anymore. Ashley has remained committed to herself for the last 5 years and to Jane for the last 3. She’s also found that by talking about her alcoholism publicly, more people are empowered to come forward and talk about the process of overcoming addiction:
“It’s a very common struggle. Not a lot of people are as lucky as [I am, with] supportive family and friends. Five years isn’t that long, but it seems like a completely different lifetime ago. For each person, it’s different. It’s interesting how many people come out of the woodwork and feel comfortable talking about it. I had to completely detach from that person and almost re-wire my brain. My attitude has changed. I am a lot more empathetic of a lot of other situations.”
Now finishing the first year of her first term as a Marathon County Board member, Ashley has been able use her passions to fuel her appointments on the Environmental Resources Committee and the Social Services Board.
Ashley didn’t join County Government to fill a role; she came to make a difference.
Her goal is to help build a community where Jane — and all kids — can enjoy life to its fullest potential.
No one told Ashley that promoting social justice or protecting the environment would be easy. In fact, she knows it will be hard. Fortunately for Ashley and Jane, the struggle that Ashley experienced in her past has developed the strength, the resiliency, and yes, the patience that the two of them will need.
Ashley says that her next chapter hasn’t presented itself to her yet, but she’s ready for when it does . . .
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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