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Boreal Community Media

Meet your Cook County neighbor: Karen Blackburn

Apr 15, 2023 06:17AM ● By Editor
Submitted photos

A Boreal Community Media Exclusive - April 15, 2023

How did you "land" in Cook County?  What drew you here to this area and what do you love most about Cook County?

I took canoe trips through Sawbill Canoe Outfitters during high school, and then worked there during the summer for a number of years. When I was at a crossroads in life, I  moved up here to figure out the next step. That was in 1995. The wilderness was the draw, but the people have kept me here. I have met so many people that I love in this small spot in the world. I am a Texas native, so the relationships have to be pretty strong to keep me in this weather. 

You have done so much for the community by developing educational programs, scholarships, and offerings to those in Cook County.  Please share with us how your career began with Cook County Higher Education and your motivation to bring such creativity to the community.

One of the aspects of Cook County I appreciate is that you don’t ever have to be bored – there is a board you can join, craft you can make, trail you can hike, cause you can support, or team you can coach. When I found myself bored in a job (the job, not the people), I started to look around and the CCHE Director position was open. Like a lot of people in Cook County, I did not really understand the variety of services Cook County Higher Education offers. CCHE is an amazing organization and I was lucky enough to convince the board to hire me! 

Taking the spot of someone that had been in the position for 22 years was a daunting prospect, but I soon found out that the best use of my time is to support the super competent staff here and figure out how to fund the work. The board, the other staff members, and I try to say “yes” to ideas and then work out how we can accomplish it. I guess there is creativity in that!

Proud mom moment ahead.  You have raised two incredibly kind and talented kids, Chloe and David.   What are some guiding principles you used in your home raising these two wonderful human beings?  How are they doing these days and what is happening in their lives?

What a kind question. I think I just got lucky because I, like most parents, thought I was getting it all wrong. Chloe is a junior at University of Wisconsin – Superior studying to become a High School English teacher and raising her dog daughter Ava. David graduated from University of Wisconsin – Madison last spring with a Computer Science degree and settled there with his girlfriend Maddie. He is working for Minitube USA, Inc. in nearby Verona and is enjoying it.

When you have downtime and need some R & R time, what is your favorite "go-to" spot in the County?

This is an easy answer – Sawbill Lake Campground. I try to camp as much as possible in the summer and this is my favorite spot. If I don’t have a lot of time, I go for a run at Pincushion. I can easily and quickly fill my cup in the woods. 

What is a fun fact about you that many do not know?

When I moved here in 1995, the first job I applied for was the Student Support position for the newly formed Cook County Higher Education organization! I didn’t get that job, but, as a result, I was asked to teach Introduction to Accounting for Fond du Lac Community College to Grand Portage students at the Grand Portage Lodge. I still see a lot of those students in the community. 

As someone who gives so much time to others in the community, how do you practice self-care?  Are there specific hobbies that you have that help you to wind down?

I am very good at self-care. I make time to exercise, travel, visit with friends, read, spend time with my family, and camp. And, I also LOVE community theater, and would do that all the time, if possible.

Lastly, if there is someone in the community who is curious about CCHE's educational offerings but is hesitant to step out of their own comfort zone, what would you like them to know about Cook County Higher Education's programs and staff?

Cook County Higher Education is for you, and it is free. We are kind and helpful people here. If you want to get any type of education, CCHE can help you figure out how to do it. CCHE is not just “higher education.” We support all forms of education and/or training. Lenna Stever-Sobanja is the Student Support Specialist, and her entire job is to help students thrive. She is smart, nurturing, and creative.

And, for those that like lifelong learning opportunities, CCHE is great at bringing relevant and timely programming to the community – either in person or on-line. Kelsey Rogers Kennedy, Associate Director and Program Director, makes connections from snatches of conversations, articles in the newspaper, comments in meetings, and a million different other ways, to make sure that what we produce at CCHE is needed and wanted by our community.

You can find out all about these services through our website which is maintained by Adrea Beres, CCHE’s Office and Website Administrator. She can also help you register for events, answer questions, and book room rentals. The website has a lot of information, so if anyone feels overwhelmed when looking at it, please give us a call (218-387-3411) or stop in our building at 300 W 3rd Street. I can show you around, and help you understand what we do. 

Finally, don’t forget about our low cost ($50-$150) refurbished laptop program which is available to anyone in the community. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have sold over 400 laptops to community members for work, play, medical appointments, chatting with family and friends, and school work. 

Thanks a lot for the chance to share a little of my story. 


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