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Looking back on the last 24 years of my work at Community Advocates, I feel I have been a truly lucky guy. I came to the agency needing a job to supplement my pension after retiring at age 62. Never in my wildest dreams at the time did I believe I would hang on for another 24 years, nor did I believe anyone would want such an aging character wandering around the office.
Why indeed did I continue to work? The answer is simple: I would not have continued to work here if didn’t want to.
I had the feeling that our efforts at Community Advocates were serving a real need for some of the neediest citizens of our community. What could be more satisfying than knowing that you were a part of something seen as “doing good” for the community?
Also, I quickly found my co-workers to be welcoming. I found there was less conflict among the workers than I had ever experienced in my previous 50 years of employment.
For those two reasons, I found it easy to awake early in the morning to go to work; how many other places of work make one feel good to get up for work? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, since it seemed most of my co-workers seemed pleased to be there as well. The spirit in the office was usually friendly and open.
There was always a fairly common understanding at Community Advocates that we wanted to do the best we could for the individuals and families we served.
Perhaps we should credit our founder Ramon Wagner for this spirit of serving. I like to think that we were helping people to find their dignity and to provide them at least with the realization that we cared about them, even though sometimes we were unable to resolve their problem usually due to various rules and regulations that made it impossible. And, then, we knew the agency would seek to take steps to advocate to change those rules we felt were unjust.
Wagner founded the agency 40 years ago on a shoestring budget and gave virtually the remaining 30 years of his life (until his death in 2005) to developing and nurturing programs that he felt would best serve the people of Milwaukee. I believe that spirit of Ramon Wagner continues to live in Community Advocates today even though the agency has moved most of its services from humble housing on Fond du Lac Avenue to more comfortable digs in downtown Milwaukee.
Perhaps some of the workers at Community Advocates may not share the same idealistic view of the work of the agency, but I never knew of any. We weren’t always perfect, nor did we always succeed, but I believed we tried. Some of the people we served were not always easy to deal with, but I think all of us understood that most of them had challenging and difficult daily lives, causing tensions that caused some to become unreasonable and sometimes confrontational. Nonetheless, in most cases, we all sought to overlook whatever personal affronts we experienced to do the best for all of them.
As I leave my friends at Community Advocates, I thank everyone with whom I met for enriching me, for educating me and for tolerating me in the last 24 of my “senior” years. You have all made Community Advocates a great place to work and to serve.
Ken Germanson retired last week from Community Advocates after 24 years of service. He most recently worked on the Coming Together Partnership to End Gun Violence as part of Community Advocates' Public Policy Institute Division. We will miss Ken so much!
Posted Feb 16, 2018
Posted Feb 2, 2018