A progressive, inclusive and experienced leader.
Shirley was born and raised on the prairie of South Dakota. Picking rocks out of fields, tossing hay bales, and mucking out barns were the “not so fun” jobs. Driving tractor, gardening, canning with Grandma and playing with kittens were more fun. Growing up in a 4-H family, she remembers showing cattle when she was still too short to see over the top of them. Their farmhouse had indoor plumbing but not all of their neighbors’ did.
Her heritage is German, the group of Germans who moved to Russia at the invitation of Catherine the Great because she saw them as hard-workers. A few generations later, those Germans were forced out of Russia. One of Shirley’s ancestors was carried off on horseback by the Cossacks, never to be seen again and leaving his family terrified.
The Germans moved en masse to the United States, settling in large communities in the Dakotas. Shirley’s mother learned to speak German before she spoke English and many folks in her hometown have strong German accents to this day. Shirley’s parents didn’t want the kids to learn the language because during and after the war, being German was not a good thing.
When her hometown pastor hosted a student from war-ravaged El Salvador to attend the local high school, Shirley was first introduced to the idea of study abroad. Pre-internet days, she did her own research to find out how she could study abroad, too. She became an international exchange student to Norway.
Shirley was the first person in her family to go to college. She earned her bachelor of arts degree at South Dakota State University, studying political science and economics. She served as a Student Association Senator for the College of Arts and Sciences for two terms and was appointed the sole student representative on the South Dakota Board of Regents Testing Assessment Committee. She benefitted from the Perkins Direct Loan program and worked two jobs to pay for school.
She met her husband, Rich, in college. Even though they didn’t know each other at the time, he too, was an exchange student to Norway. He speaks Norwegian and Spanish. He moved to Washington, D.C. to work on Capitol Hill, and after Shirley’s college graduation, they got married and she joined him in D.C. They have been married for thirty years and have three adult daughters, Mattie, Andrina, and Selena.
Shirley’s first job out of college was with United States Senator Larry Pressler from South Dakota. Way back in the late 1980’s, one of the issues she worked on was the importance of pollinators and why we need to be concerned with their health.
After their first child was born, they moved back to SD to live with Rich’s parents while he looked for a different job. He found one and off they went to Wisconsin.
Their second child was born in WI. Shirley was a full-time mom and worked nights and weekends at various jobs. She was a grocery store clerk, a reference librarian, and an in-home childcare provider to make ends meet.
Rich received a full scholarship to the University of Minnesota Law School which brought them to St. Paul. Their third child was born here and Shirley was a full-time mom as the girls were growing up.
Nearly five years ago, she was hired by a local non-profit, Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, as the Executive Director. In that position, she has worked extensively on issues within the community and with city, county, regional, state, and national government officials and staff.
Shirley has been elected to the Union Park District Council Board of Directors three times. She has served on the Executive Committee and Environment and Parks Committee.
She is a founding member of Saint Paul STRONG. A few years ago, after she realized that citizen participation on city boards and commissions was substantially below capacity, she and others from STRONG worked with City Council Members Rebecca Noecker and Jane Prince and Mayor Chris Coleman’s office for 18 months to recruit people of color. When Mayor Coleman gave his final State of the City address, he touted these diverse appointments as one of his greatest accomplishments.
In 2016, she founded the group, Women Who Get Stuff Done. She realized she was meeting many amazing women who really needed to be talking to each other about what they were working on and how they could support one another.
Shirley participated with her children in Early Childhood Family Education programs and all three girls attended St. Paul public schools. They were synchronized swimmers through St. Paul Community Education, played other sports through the recreation centers, participated in library story times and summer reading programs, and were frequent visitors to our great parks and users of our trails.
Shirley has volunteered for the American Red Cross and has mentored teenage mothers through Children’s Home Society. Shirley knows, through first-hand experience, that the decisions made at City Hall have broad implications for people’s daily lives.
The call to engage in public discourse and work in collaboration with others to find solutions to common problems has always been part of her DNA. Growing up living off the land, caring for the earth is inherently part of her life. Education was her key to a better life and a bigger world and she believes everyone should have access and opportunity to live to their fullest potential.