Boernke bids farewell to campus life
BY MIKE WARREN
MARSHFIELD — Change is not always good. But in the case of Michelle Boernke, almost constant change at Wood County’s UW campus is what kept her going for nearly 18 years.
Boernke, 58, is now retired from her job as Campus Executive at UW-Stevens Point at Marshfield, the former UW/Marshfield-Wood County. Her last day was Jan. 4, when she took some time to meet with us.
“I really believe that I’ve left the place as best as I can,” Boernke said.
As her job titles changed, so did the campus landscape. Boernke says her proudest moment came in 2018, when she was named Campus Executive of UWSP at Marshfield, as the UW Colleges’ 13 two-year campuses were merged with seven four-year universities as branches. A few months later, the Marshfield campus brought its newest addition – a nearly $7 million STEM building – to the finish line.
“For this campus, the STEM building was a big deal,” Boernke said. “Cutting-edge technology and labs that are amazing. It brought us to the 21stcentury.” The new facility celebrated its grand opening in the fall of 2018.
Boernke is also proud she was part of a theater renovation project and “keeping the theatre alive.”
“And we have even more productions and even more participation. UW-Stevens Point brings their Reader’s Theatre over here. We’re using the Black Box more than we ever have. We’re using the theater. It’s booked. We have just as much stuff as we did in the past,” she added. “And we updated the theater because of it.”
Boernke was also on campus through the addition of the Villas, a student housing complex, a greenhouse project, fitness center renovations and the addition of the new C2 (Collaborate & Create) Makerspace, a learning space for students and community members to “create and collaborate through innovation and exploration.”
The other major part of the equation that Boernke credits with keeping the Marshfield campus viable is its connection to the City of Marshfield and Wood County.
“That has been a lifesaver for us and for the community,” Boernke says. “The city and the county can share in the cost, but it also shares in the love. They both have a vested interest in it. It’s really been nice to have both. And you know what? Wood County keeps us on our toes. Those supervisors that say, ‘What about us? What about Wisconsin Rapids? What are you doing for us?’ You’re right”, she adds. “What are we doing?”
The city and county co-own the buildings and property at the campus, and the state owns all the removable equipment.
For a half century, the campus was known as UW-Marshfield/Wood County. It was under that name Boernke got her start, serving as Continuing Education Director from 2005 until 2012, when she was elevated to Assistant Campus Dean of Administrative Services. In 2016, when the 13 two-year centers became UW Colleges under a statewide restructuring, Boernke was also named Campus Administrator in Marshfield, as well as Regional Associate Dean of Administration and Finance, which included budgeting and finance for four campuses in the UW Colleges North Region – UW-Marshfield/Wood County, UW-Marathon County in Wausau, UW-Marinette, and UW-Barron County in Rice Lake. The final change for Michelle occurred in May 2018, when the UW Colleges’ two-year campuses joined with four-year universities in their areas, making Boernke Marshfield’s Campus Executive.
“That’s what’s made this job interesting for the last four years. Now we’re actually blessed with resources,” Boernke said. “There are a lot of different program options for students. And I think for my time here, I feel like I’m leaving at a good time, because the new person can kind of jump on board as all these new things have started, and he can take it to the next level.”
So what will new Campus Executive Tony Andrews be faced with? “I think the next new challenge is bringing back the new students,” said Boernke. “I call them the COVID kids. This is a new group of students coming up that did not get the full experience of high school. Now they’re coming to college and these students have a whole different mindset. But when I show them our distance education rooms, they’re like, ‘Oh that’s cool. I like that.’ They’re used to it. So we are totally prepared. We’re just finishing another distance education room, so we will have seven distance education rooms now.”
So what’s next? “We’re not going anywhere,” Michelle adds. “My husband’s been retired for two years. It’s driving me crazy. He’ll go fishing and I can’t go. And I have a grandson. It was time.”
And while Boernke is giving up her Marshfield job, she and her husband Keith are not giving up their Marshfield home. “We’re gonna stay here. We love Marshfield. We love Wisconsin. And our friends are here. We’re not gonna leave. Central Wisconsin – there’s something to be said about it.”
It was a job with the new Marshfield Area YMCA that first brought Michelle to central Wisconsin in 1988, from Elgin, IL. She then went to work for the Marshfield Area United Way for several years, before managing Northway Mall for five years. It was there she eventually opened her own store – Treehouse Toys, which she operated for five years. When the store closed in 2001, Boernke found herself back at United Way, serving as its Executive Director four years until joining “The Wood” in 2005.
In retirement, Michelle says she will enjoy bicycling and fishing with her husband, spending time with her grandson and even taking a stab at writing a book of memoires about the town she grew up in – the small Dunn County village of Knapp northwest of Menomonie.