Nancy Russell works harder than ever during retirement
Community: Lake Geneva
Job: Supervisor on the Walworth County Board and representative of several other sub committees
Favorite place: "I don't get away very often, but I like to get up to Door County about four or five days in the late spring."
Hobbies: Antiques and post cards. "One thing about post cards is you don't have to have a big investment. It's really fun when you go to antique stores in the area … and to other parts of the state, I always look for post cards."
LAKE GENEVA Nancy Russell is retired. Judging by the time she invests as one of Walworth County's busiest elected officials, however, you'd never know it.
Russell, 75, of Lake Geneva has been a county board supervisor since 2002. That's just a fraction of her commitment to local governments that includes more than a dozen standing and advisory committees.
She also has roles with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the Milwaukee 7, the Workforce Development Board and the Tri County Board with Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties. That involves several subgroups within some of those bodies.
"When you look at yourself on a day-to-day basis, you think, 'Oh gosh, I'm really getting a lot done,'" Russell said. "My philosophy is always to look at things positively. I think that this country is successful and will continue to be successful because we respect the vote of the majority and the rights of the minority to be heard."
Russell moved to Wisconsin from Chicago in 1966. She retired at 58 from the Gordon Co., now Watlow, as part of its general management team. She also was the human resources manager overseeing about 300 employees.
Russell was putting in 60 hours a week before she retired. She said it was becoming stressful wearing two hats at the company, and she wanted to take her life in a different direction.
She first got her feet wet in politics by serving on the city's parks committee. She helped lead the charge to win a transportation grant for a local trail.
Russell said she was soon encouraged to run for city council, which she did. From there, she made her way to the county board.
One of her first projects was the controversial White River State Trail—an abandoned railroad bed the county wanted to use for recreation.
Russell said she was one of three people who worked tirelessly to get the plan passed. They were successful, and she said she hasn't heard any complaints since.
"I didn't really have a one-item agenda," Russell said. "It sounds so much like a cliché to say 'give back to the community,' but it is really true when you spend a good deal of your time here, and I didn't have a good deal of time to do that (before)."
Russell has been asked to serve with many local charities, but she said there's too little free time right now to handle the workload. She has worked with an area food pantry outside of Lake Geneva and mentored students for three years through a "word program" to help them read.
Ken Yunker, executive director with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said he is impressed with Russell's commitment since she joined the group in 2008. He said it's "relatively unusual" that a member would dedicate her time to so many committees created by the commission, including administrative, personnel and executive boards.
Members of the commission do not get paid.
"She's been very giving of her time and expertise in the commission's efforts, which are for the benefits of Walworth County, the entire region and the entire state," Yunker said.
Russell said she's unsure how much longer she'll stay involved in county government, but she doesn't plan to scale back anytime soon.
"I've thought long and hard about that," she said. "As long as I can make a difference and people encourage me to stay on, I probably will continue to run … It's always much better to have people say 'why did they retire or leave' rather than 'why don't they retire or leave'."