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  • Sue Leamy Kies

Best Wishes and Thanks to Grace

It took me a while to be able to pronounce Grace’s last name. I don’t know why because it sounds just like it is spelled: Mill–an–ow–ski. Now that I’ve finally mastered it, she’s leaving. And, though Don Francis, a wonderfully qualified new Lead Coordinator, is taking the helm, Grace’s contributions to PCA will not be forgotten. (See the end of this interview for comments from members of her PCA family.)

I asked Grace a few questions about her time spent as PCA’s Lead Coordinator. Her answers give us an insightful view of PCA from the inside.

When and why did you begin working for PCA?

Clay (Shaffer) and I were both hired in February of 2020. We were both excited to hit the ground running in our positions and were forced to take a step back from that because of COVID lockdowns. Obviously, that was disappointing and challenging but it was a good time for me to get started on a lot of administrative tasks I could do from home (like becoming familiar with PCA files and learning how to use and remodel the PCA website). I was excited to find the position soon after I moved to Dubuque. It sounded like a great combination of use of my environmental science background and experience in helping grow nonprofit programs. I visited the trail soon after I submitted my application, and I was really impressed with how much community support there was for the trail, simply based on what I read on kiosks and seeing every light pole, bench and trail structure had a community sponsor.

What part of the job was the most appealing to you?

I loved that the organization was open to new ideas and ways of doing things. It was exciting to work in an environment where I had support for implementing new ideas, trying new events and programs and increasing restoration efforts and also had the volunteers who were enthusiastic about getting involved with all of those initiatives. I really enjoyed any time I was able to be on the trail working with PCA volunteers, too. Everyone working on the trail was happy to be there and incorporating learning new ecological knowledge, socializing and usually snacks into every shift, made any workday enjoyable to attend.

What part of the job was the most challenging?

As with any nonprofit that has a Board, the relatively slow pace of progress can be challenging. I think the PCA board is great at making careful, well thought-out decisions but because monthly time together is limited, it required a lot of planning and looking ahead a couple months at a time which was a bit of a learning curve for me.

What accomplishments are you most proud of in your years of working for PCA?

I'm proud of the great strides PCA volunteers helped us make in restoration efforts along the trail. Thanks to hard working volunteers, the ecology committee's guidance and Clay's leadership, the group made a lot of progress in removing invasive species in a relatively short amount of time while I was there! I'm also happy that many of our volunteers have increased ecological knowledge and plant ID skills from lots of practice removing the most common invasive species along the trail.

As you leave, what project or projects do you see as the most important for the future of PCA?

I think it's important that the PCA keeps sharing all the great things they're doing and think the organization is in a great place to offer more recreational and educational events for the community. Sharing stories about PCA's dedicated volunteers, restoration projects and all the hard work that happens behind the scenes I believe will increase community support and lead to growth in the organization.

What does the next episode of your life look like?

I'm hoping to have good news to share soon about landing a position that includes environmental education, working with volunteers and plenty of time for birdwatching too!

Outgoing President Bob Hundhausen said that Grace’s “passion for our trail really helped us move our organization forward and embrace our vision of connecting the community to the Rountree Branch corridor through conservation, education and recreation.” He cites her as “the organizing force behind the scenes” who set up “bird watching walks and native seed plantings and worked shoulder to shoulder with our volunteers.” He also appreciated that she often spoke at fundraising and community events, taking much pride in PCA and sharing it publicly.

Gene Weber said, “Grace is a true professional, a leader of men and women, a knowledgeable environmentalist and ecologist and wonderfully effective in working with volunteers.” On the light side, Gene added, “Despite being a Michigan fan, Grace was loved by everyone and enjoyable to work with.”

Clay Shaffer said that his former coworker had “a wealth of knowledge about all plants and ecological information, yet never flaunted it.” He said she implemented a “quiet leadership of wit, humor and participation.”

We wish you all the best, Grace! Please come back and visit us and the trail when you can.

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