Written by Chad Dally
When I asked to interview Marathon County Supervisor Bill Conway to write a profile of him for this newsletter, he said felt like his story was not all that interesting and joked that our conversation might bore me to sleep. I’m glad that I pressed on anyway, as I found his perspective on life and on County-level governance to be anything but boring.
Elected in April 2020, Conway is serving his first term on the Marathon County Board as Supervisor of District 16, an area that includes Ward 9 in the Village of Weston and all of the City of Schofield. He grew up in Baraboo, WI, and attended college in state before finishing with a degree in English and minor in Psychology — “which is just enough to annoy your friends,” he said — from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
Not only is this his first term as a County Board Supervisor, but this also is his first go-round as an elected municipal official, although he has served on governance boards for charter schools in the past. His wife, Kristin, “has always been an involved community member” with organizations like the YWCA and through starting a local chapter of the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action, he said. Also, now that their four children are in their pre-teen and teenage years (ages 11, 12, 15, and 16, respectively), Conway said they are a little more self-sufficient, which frees up time for him to serve on the Marathon County Board.
One big reason Conway decided to run for the District 16 seat was the controversy over a 2019 County Board resolution for Pride Month and supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Conway was in favor of it, and the previous District 16 supervisor had voted against it. From there, it was a classic case of persuasion from people to whom he complained about the controversy pushing him to run for office. Conway recalled:
“In talking with a number of people, they said, ‘Well, why don’t you try it?’ I was goaded into it by my friends, but I do strategic planning at work all the time, and I’ve done other board work stuff.”
His day job where he does that strategic planning is at Northern Valley Industries, Inc., where he is the Operations Manager. The Wausau-based non-profit organization assists with the vocational needs of differently abled individuals and others moving from welfare to work. He’s been with Northern Valley for more than 20 years and said it’s provided him with valuable experience that he’s able to bring to the County Board, adding:
“When you look at the makeup of the board, there’s really not that many ‘human services’ people on there — there’s no nurses or teachers or case managers — so I think my perspective is more… I don’t want to say more valued, but it’s at least a necessary component that you need someone to look at the human side of stuff. It’s not all just numbers and budgets and that kind of thing.”
Conway is able to look at the human side of County Government operations in part through his spot on the County’s Diversity Affairs Commission, one of two committee assignments he holds, along with the Environmental Resources Committee. Even though he is a self-described “middle-aged White guy,” he’s jumped into the work of Diversity Affairs with fervor and seems especially dedicated to a resolution working its way through County Government that would declare Marathon County “No Place for Hate.”
Work on the resolution began in June, and although he bristled when talking about some of the changes that were made to the original resolution — for example, words like “implicit bias,” “systemic racism,” and “White privilege” being removed in favor of terms like “disparities of opportunity,” Conway said — he’s nevertheless excited about what he called “the teeth of the resolution,” which calls for increased cultural competency in the County’s policy making such that, according to Conway:
“Anytime we create new policy, it has to go through this lens of whether it will adversely affect people of color, or adversely affect basically anybody that’s not White.
Conway is also a self-described “city kid” who represents a district that is itself more urban than other parts of the county and contains a surprising amount of diversity in terms of income, as well as a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial development. All of that often contributes to the different perspective he brings to the Environmental Resources Committee.
“More than one time, I’ve heard ‘Oh, I bet he’s never milked a cow before in his life.’ No, I haven’t, but I want to know what buffers are and why you need them, because [the] staff says we should have these things. I think the staff appreciates the stupid questions that I ask all the time, and I don’t know if I’m getting anywhere, but I make them explain things that would not have been explained because some of the old farm guys are like, ‘That’s not how you do it, you do it this way.’”
Like other first-term supervisors recently profiled in the County’s newsletter (e.g., William Harris, Rebecca Buch, or Johathan Fisher), Conway joined the County Board just as the COVID-19 pandemic started to ramp up in spring 2020. While some supervisors may lament the inability for all 38 supervisors to be in the same room and build camaraderie, Conway said he prefers the virtual meetings and reaching out to other supervisors individually. One reason being:
“It is more of an honest boardroom because the little talks afterward or before or walking out to the car — I’ve seen it happen on other boards — there can occasionally be the unintended walking quorum agreement that ‘we should do this thing’ or ‘let’s meet later and talk about this thing’ that we shouldn’t be talking about because it’s supposed to be in an open meeting.”
His job at Northern Valley Industries, his County Supervisor duties, and the responsibilities of being a parent keep Conway busy enough that he said he doesn’t really have time for too many hobbies, but he does like to tinker with old cars — including the 1957 Chrysler Imperial in his garage.
Conway also considers himself “a bit of a foodie” and enjoys the variety of restaurants we have in the area, as well as the bevy of farmer’s markets, and that is one of the reasons he’s stayed in the area for more than 20 years.
Although he and his family have no plans to leave Marathon County anytime soon, it’s possible they won’t call Central Wisconsin home forever… His wife, Kristin, hates winter and wants to move south somewhere warmer. Conway has fended off moving with a variety of reasons over the years — like the installation of a pool, and then a garden, and now he’s on the County Board. But he joked that he still has plenty of excuses to stave off uprooting the family for a while. And, until then, he’ll continue to serve the underserved at Northern Valley and bring his unique perspective to the Marathon County Board of Supervisors.
Library Specialist | Marathon County Public Library
Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction. Email Chad Dally
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- Supervisor Rebecca Buch :: Faith, Family, & Forty Years in Marathon County
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