The tee shirt was designed by my nephews for the national meet. They determined I needed a “name,” so Racine Machine is what they came up with. I also had car magnets. The circle represents a free weight plate, and the State record is on it. Soon to become a collector’s item! The other things are blankets and shawls I’ve made. The orange one was started at North Beach and finished in France.
Please introduce yourself:
Hi, I’m Gretchen Herrmann, who currently works in the Mayor’s Office.
Where are you from originally?
I’m a nearly life-long Racinian.
How did your life’s journey keep you (mostly) in Racine?
I had a short hiatus from Racine when I went to college (shout out to Oshkosh!) and then a year in Appleton (still love the Fox Valley) when I taught 7th grade, but I got called back to teach Music and English at St. Cat’s and here I’ve been, ever since. The longest working stint of my career was at Johnson Financial Group – 25 amazing years at an amazing company. My latest career move has been to work in the Mayor’s office. It has been my pleasure to work for three separate mayors in three years. I currently work for Mayor Mason at City Hall and every day is an adventure! Regardless of what my work was all about, I was, and am, a hometown girl.
What do you like best about Racine?
I mean, sure, we have problems like every city has, but not every city has a fantastic lakefront, a downtown that is on the brink of greatness, a glorious river. Everyone should canoe or kayak up that river around the bend toward Island Park, or out near that confluence near the dam – such beautiful places! I’m sure half of Racine has never experienced it and wouldn’t recognize it as part of our beautiful city. Trees, parks, neighborhoods… If you were a tourist here, you would come back. No question about it.
Please share some insight into your current role and its positive impact on the community.
Make no mistake about it – working in the public sector is a world apart from working in the private sector. And working in the Mayor’s Office has been an eye-opening experience. I have learned a lot about how municipal government works – the various roles of the Common Council and committees, how they work and the path that public decisions about ordinances takes. I have built some great relationships with our Alders and appreciate what they do and their role between constituents and the government. I’ve also learned quite a bit about people in our city. There are some beautiful souls out there – people who only want to do the right thing by their family or their neighborhood or their city and they want to know how to get it done. And I love it when school kids visit the mayor.
On the other hand, I have been surprised at the occasional rudeness and venom some residents use to try to accomplish their goals. Luckily it’s pretty rare. I really do enjoy solving problems, listening to the individual stories and trying to help them see a way to resolution. I wish people could understand that, sometimes, the Mayor is not the person to go to. There are a lot of people working here that are experts in their chosen field and that’s who they should be talking to. Finally, I love the people I work with. These are smart people who work hard on our behalf. Appreciate them!
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I guess it depends on who you talk to about me as to who will be surprised by what, but I used to sing and was a pretty proud Alto. I hurt my voice a while back and haven’t really done much singing since. But I don’t know who I would be without the friends that singing has given me.
I am also very much into knitting and lately, crocheting. I love the ability to create something beautiful out of sticks and string. I feel connected to the past but love the infinite possibilities of both those crafts. I’ve been knitting since I was six. My Grandma Herrmann taught me how and, except for a little break during high school, I’ve been knitting my way through my ups and downs ever since. There’s something about the texture of the yarn and the finished project that settles me down – grounds me, really. And I love color. Love it.
Then there’s the powerlifting. I’ve been doing strength training for a little over five years, all of them with Ernie Zuberbuehler at his Balanced Fitness studio. I guess I should say I’m 61 years old. Originally my goal was to make sure, in my advancing age that I would be able to get up once I fell down. I think avoiding falling down in the first place was beyond my imagination. And as it turns out, I’m pretty strong. I still feel funny saying it. Growing up in my era – the 1970s – girls rarely lifted weights – I mean, maybe three pound hand weights, feeling the burn with a Jane Fonda workout, but not actual iron, non-plastic coated weights. Which means I never went in a weight room.
So as I started lifting with Ernie, I had no real frame of reference for my abilities, especially bench pressing. I had no idea if what I was doing was normal or not. And I had this old-school girl feeling that it couldn’t be all that great if I was doing it. Apparently, though, I’ve got some talent. So I kept at it. Ernie is an amazing coach – he knows which buttons to push to get me to keep going, when to back off, when to be…assertive… when I need a hug. I owe a lot to him – everything really.
Last January the State meet was held here in town at Horlick and I decided to try competing to see what that was about. As it turned out, I broke the state record for my class (67.5 kg or 148.8 lbs.). Last month I went to Nationals in Pennsylvania and my goal was to win. I lifted 77.5 kg – 170.8 lbs. and got a gold medal. I still have to remind myself that it’s first place. It might mean an invitation to the National team – we’ll see. That would mean a trip to Tokyo. That would be something my 30 year old self couldn’t have imagined.
My next goal is the National record. It seems doable. And then the world record. Definitely within reach. You know what I like about lifting? It’s such a personal thing – there’s no one else there. It’s just you and that heavy thing. And we aren’t enemies. I’m just curious to see if I can do it. If I can, fabulous. If I can’t, what do I have to do to get there? Until January I always said bench pressing wasn’t hard, it was just heavy. When I started training for nationals, I stopped saying it so much. It’s heavy and hard. But it provides an incremental and tangible sense of progress and so even lifting a little bit more is really satisfying. And there’s not that much thinking involved, which is nice.
What’s the best way to contact you?
I’m at City Hall, 2nd floor, or you can call (262) 636-9111.