Karyn Powers :: Resilient, Remarkable, & Retiring After 30+ Years With the County

Written by the Wisconsin Central Time NEWS Editorial Staff


Q. Tell me why Marathon County staff hired you all those years ago. What experience, skills, and personality traits do you think set you apart?

“At that time, the County wasn’t as focused on creating programs. The job was more about managing facilities at the parks, and I had a wide variety of experience with aquatics and risk management, which was really important because Wausau had 3 City swimming pools at the time. I was a certified lifeguard and lifeguard instructor who had a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis in Parks and Recreation.

I did graduate work at Southern Illinois University managing building reservations, working with union set-up crews, and coordinating special events like weddings and sorority and fraternity nights. Essentially, I had 10 years’ experience working in community recreation at the local level for the City of Shawano and as Assistant Director and then Director for the City of Merrill Parks and Recreation Department.

Also, to be honest, THEY KNEW ME. I had done my internship in Wausau when I was a senior at UW-La Crosse in 1979, and I had kept in touch with the Department over the years. In fact, I made friends in the Wausau community that semester whom I’ve remained in touch with for over 40 years now.

Plus, I loved the area…

I fell in love with Wausau during my internship. I loved the hills, the valleys, the rivers, and the sheer variety of opportunities for outdoor recreation — while still having a small-town feel. And, coming from a family of teachers and a home filled with books and poetry, the rich arts and culture of the area fueled my desire to get back to Marathon County and matched their desire to hire someone who wanted to live and thrive here.

I enjoy a community that enjoys itself, and Wausau certainly does that.”

Q. What got you interested in working in recreation?

“I didn’t ever think of doing anything else.

Actually, that’s not true. When I started college, it was the height of Watergate, and I wanted to be an investigative journalist. But then I spent a month in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico backpacking with Outward Bound, and we did rock climbing and zip lining and canyon runs and sat down next to rattlesnakes, and I came back from that and I thought, I don’t want to be a journalist. I wanna do this recreation thing.

I hadn’t been involved in our local parks and rec at all. I was the fifth of 6 kids, and at our house it was more like, “Find something to do or I’ll find you something to do.” There were always chores to be done.

Karyn Powers with her brother Brian
Karyn Powers with her brother Brian circa 1960. (Photo courtesy of Karyn Powers.)

We learned quickly to make due with playing in our neighborhood and running “free range,” as they say. So, now to be able to help people play for a living… That’s a grand thing.”

Q. Is there something that you’ve always wanted to do at work, but never got the chance?

“Yes — drive the Zamboni.

I’ve wanted to drive the Zamboni since I was a Night Manager in 1979 at Marathon Park. At that point, it was the union who controlled that — and rightly so. Gosh, you can’t let just anybody on that thing. It’s a pretty expensive machine.

I’ve always watched them resurface the ice, and I’ve written about driving the Zamboni in this newsletter, but I never, ever got a ride.”

Zamboni-from front.JPG

Zamboni machine being driven by Tyrone Radkey at the Marathon Park Ice Arena to prep it for a high school hockey practice. (Photo courtesy of Karyn Powers.)

Q. Is there a challenge you faced in your 30+ years at the Wausau and Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department that has inspired you in your life — either personally or professionally?

“The most glorious and most gut-wrenching, the most beautiful and most heart-breaking work that I’ve found in my time here is being an employer of adolescents. To watch a 15-year-old work with you every summer until they’re 20, and see them develop their confidence and find their purpose and learn about teamwork is amazing. I’ve had youth come work for me whose parents worked at the department when they were teenagers themselves. To watch these kids then work with other people’s kids through adverse weather conditions and while going through typical teenage angst is really something. In 90 days, their whole life can fall apart…

I’ve known kids whose parents got divorced or who found out for the first time that they were in love, and that’s pretty powerful. And there’s the kids who you hope learn how to develop empathy or how to show sympathy for others, but over the course of the summer you realize that they simply don’t understand how to relate to the people around them. So, watching the development of teenagers as they strive toward their future and as they try to do a good job for the City or the County — in spite of all the challenges they face — that, to me, is truly inspiring.

In public service, you learn to get moments of sublime from unexpected places sometimes.”

Q. What one word would best describe your tenure working for Marathon County?


We often think of that as being stewardship of the land, but there’s also a stewardship of community. And when you help people build memories — whether it be in playgrounds or through swim lessons or by having picnics in the park or by participating in special events that tie them to our area — that’s a form of stewardship.”

Q. What would you like to be remembered for in your time serving Marathon County?

“I think the strongest thing that I can put my name on is relationships — whether it be with service clubs like the Noon Optimists or the Community Connections program of the Wausau School District or United Way of Marathon County with its Partnership for Youth coalition. There’s always been a need for communication across these agencies, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to be a part of these work groups. Especially during this pandemic time…

They’ve all been very creative in how they keep their connections going with the kids and the families in the community who need their services to make sure kids don’t fall behind and so youth can still attend a virtual Student Hiring Fair this year to be able to practice adult skills they’re going to need. If they get a job through the fair, they can then help pay for insurance and gas and a car for themselves to take some of that burden off their parents.

Booth at a past Student Hiring Fair held at the Boys & Girls Club of Wausau. (Photo courtesy of Karyn Powers.)

Our shared vision as we all come to the table to develop and enhance these community relationships is that every youth in Marathon County will go on to become a productive adult, with all the skills they need to do it.”

Q. What are you most looking forward to doing after you retire on March 1st?

“The first thing I’ll be looking forward to is getting my COVID vaccine, because I see that as a gateway to randomly drive around the state to visit my family members, whom I haven’t seen in over a year. I can’t wait for the opportunity to show up surprisingly on my family members’ doorsteps and hug them. That’s a simple, joyful thing I want to do.

On a larger scale, we’ve had to cancel our trip to Ireland twice now due to the pandemic. So, I’m looking forward to travelling — and dragging my reluctant husband of 25 years, Pat, along.

Karyn Powers with Husband Pat
Karyn Powers with her husband, Pat, at her nephew’s wedding. (Photo courtesy of Karyn Powers.)

I’ve written some poetry and have always been in a writing critique group in the area. But due to the pandemic, I haven’t been in any of those groups since March of last year. Instead, I’ve taken up painting. I have 3 pieces submitted to a magazine that incudes art and poetry. After I retire in March, I suspect I’ll have more time to devote to honing my painting skills.

painting collage
Sample of canvas paintings done by Karyn Powers. (Photos courtesy of the artist.)

One day in the future what I look forward to is finding myself in the middle of a large crowd of people with absolutely no responsibility for their happiness. Whether that be an outdoor festival or a music concert or a crowded, happy day at a parade — I just want to relax knowing there’s absolutely no chance that my cell phone will ring asking me to fix anything related to the event. Now THAT will be a great day!”

Karyn Powers Putting Her Feet Up
Karyn Powers “putting her feet up” as she plans to do in retirement. (Photo courtesy of subject.)

You might also like…

Marathon_County_LogoPlease email our Editorial Board with your comments, suggestions, and article ideas.

And if you spot a typo or an inaccuracy, please contact us so we can fix it. Thanks!