Written by Katie Rosenberg
The most beautiful people wear their hearts on their sleeves,
and their souls in their smiles.
— Mark Anthony
Retiring Marathon County Clerk Nan Kottke wears her heart on her sleeve . . . and on her face . . and in her voice.
When I sat down with her to talk about her 48-year career in the County Clerk’s Office, her voice trembled a little bit as she reflected on her decades of service:
“Depending on what day it is, every emotion has played.”
Nan began her journey with the County the summer after her junior year at Wausau West High School. She had taken secretariat classes and learned shorthand and was hoping to land a job as part of a program through her Office of Education class, where students would go to school in the morning and work in the afternoon. Nan interviewed with the Wausau Daily Herald, with Marathon County Social Services, and with the Marathon County Clerk’s Office. Before she had even finished her other interviews, County Clerk Ray Ott had called Nan to offer her the job.
By the time Nan graduated high school in 1972, there was an opening in the 5-person office, so Clerk Ott hired Nan to fill out the team. She started in the mailroom, sorting incoming mail and stamping postage on the outgoing pieces. Nan recalled:
“I was the Courier. Twice a day, I would go to the County offices outside the courthouse — making stops at the Chamber of Commerce and Wausau City Hall. I also worked the counter, where my duties included issuing marriage licenses, filing paperwork, answering phones, and helping anyone who came into the office.”
She reminisced on those early days with a twinge of nostalgia.
The Clerk’s Office staff were like family. On election nights, they would eat out together at LoMar Supper Club so that they were ready to hand-tally all of the ballots:
“Results were called in from the polls, and we all answered and took the results. Those results were gathered and given to the people in charge of each race. We put the results into a big spreadsheet and tallied the results by hand with the help of a calculator. Most elections we were there until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. During the big elections, I remember leaving at 6:30 a.m. to change clothes and coming back by 8:00 a.m.
Chairs were set up in the lobby, where the results were displayed on poster boards so the public and candidates could view them. The news media stood up behind us as we calculated the numbers — they were breathing down our necks and wanted the results immediately! It was a big production back then. It was also exciting and fun.”
From there, Nan’s trajectory in the County Clerk’s Office kept moving forward . . .
When Clerk Ott retired, Louann Fenhaus was elected to the office. Under Clerk Fenhaus, Nan became the Assistant County Clerk — a role that helped her develop into a knowledgeable and dependable public servant.
In 1997, Clerk Fenhaus retired and encouraged Nan to run for the seat. Nan was hesitant:
“I was scared. What if I lost?”
But with lots of encouragement, Nan decided to throw her hat into the ring.
Incidentally, talking about her first run for office was the only time that Nan mentioned political parties during our interview. Clerk Fenhaus was a Republican, and Nan was a Democrat. While Fenhaus was privately encouraging Nan, she wouldn’t publicly support a Democratic candidate. It didn’t matter too much that first election, though, as Nan ran unopposed. In fact, she’s been unopposed in every election cycle except one during her more than 2 decades of holding the constitutional office.
Throughout her tenure, Nan took time to develop herself as a professional and as a leader, earning her Certificate of Professional Development, her Certificate of Public Management Essentials, and a Master County Clerk designation — all from UW-Green Bay. She was deeply involved in the Wisconsin County Clerks Association as both the Past President and Chair of the Mentor/Manual Committee. She was also a member of the Wisconsin Election Administration Council.
Nan’s work as Marathon County Clerk garnered significant respect throughout the state. Last year, she was recognized with the Wisconsin Counties Association’s 2018 Friend in County Government Award. During that presentation, WCA Executive Director Mark O’Connell praised her decades of service:
“The WCA Friend in County Government recognizes County officials that have performed dedicated service not only in their own counties, but also for counties statewide. Nan has been a tireless supporter of Marathon County, as well as all 72 counties. She is a leader amongst her peers, and her commitment to our state is unparalleled.”
Outside of work, Nan took on the role of caretaker for her aging parents. She was the middle child, born between her older brother Darrell and her younger sister Wanda.
Nan is a fun-loving aunt to nearly a dozen nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and nephews.
Her mother suffered from dementia and passed away in February 2016. Almost a year to the day — and on their 65th wedding anniversary — Nan’s father passed away, too. That’s when Nan started thinking about her own next chapter:
“My life changed when I lost both of my parents. First mom and then finding dad on the kitchen floor. It was tough, taking care of them all of these years and then — poof — they were both gone within a year. My whole outlook on life changed. I thought, ‘You know, Nan, life is too short . . .’ Now I’m going to do Nan things.
Nan says that she’s excited to travel a bit and work on her crafts. Last year, her cousin asked her to go to Branson for the Christmas market, but (Wouldn’t you know?) the trip fell on Election Day.
“I’m excited to make my coffee and sit on the deck. I love to make baskets. Love to make fleece blankets. Knitting, crocheting — l love crafts.”
She says she could not have had a better staff at the Clerk’s Office and that she thinks they’re well prepared for what’s next.
Nan believes that it’s important the next clerk has the right soft skills to work with the public, but the number-one trait she thinks the next County Clerk will need is election experience:
“An election isn’t what people think — starting a month before. In September, we’re preparing for next year. There should be some kind of knowledge of what to expect, how to handle the media, and you need to be a people person — you have to be compassionate and be able to work with everyone.”
Nan says she’ll be just a phone call away if the team needs help, but she wants to give the next clerk time and space to establish their own office.
Nan’s last day on the job will be Friday, September 13, 2019.
We all certainly wish her well in her next chapter, doing “Nan things.”
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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- Marathon County Board Supervisor Ka Lo :: Student of the Past. Agent of Change for the Future.
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