For most of us, midlife course corrections involve a great deal of agonizing. We want to be sure we’re making the right choice, the one that does the most good for the most people. Ending her involvement with the Lauderdale City Council was one such decision for Karen Gill-Gerbig, and she’s positive that she made the best decision.
Gill-Gerbig, who has a B.A. in anthropology from Hamline University and an M.S in continuing studies and archaeology from Mankato State, had exactly the right background for her 12 years on the City Council.
She worked for the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota Science Museum and, most recently, for Hamline University (where she still works) as an adjunct professor.
These involvements gave her insight into the environmental, cultural and historical implications of the issues she dealt with on the council.
Although Lauderdale is only four-tenths of a square mile, the size of the State Fairgrounds, the same issues arise as in larger communities. The same county, state and federal laws and regula-tions apply; there are just fewer people (about 2,300) and a smaller budget (about $2 million).
Gill-Gerbig said she really got an education in zoning laws, environmental regulations, bonding, taxes and fiscal responsibility in general. She had to put aside personal feelings and a need to please others to do what she thought was legally and ethically right for the community.
One of the biggest issues she dealt with was infrastructure, specifically problems and opportunities stemming from adding a storm water system to the existing sewer system. The council arranged to have the water pipes updated while the streets were torn up and educated residents about what would be happening and what private citizens could do with gas or water lines in their yards while everything else was being done.
Though this was a major disruption, the improvement in community health and esthetics made the whole process worthwhile, she said. It gave the residents of Lauderdale a greater sense of safety and prodded many to make further home improvements.
The council also addresses such issues as licensing, property assessments, crime, public spaces, community activities, housing requirements and other typical concerns in any community. But because there are only four members and the mayor on the council, each person must be knowledgeable about a wide variety of issues.
Gill-Gerbig moved to Lauderdale with her husband, Bruce Gerbig, in 1983. After her daughter and son were born, she got involved with the Park Committee, a sort of booster club concerned with social activities in the community, focusing on children.
In 1995 a council member left the City Council in the middle of his term, and Gill-Gerbig was asked to fill out the remaining time. She ran for election that fall and was elected, then was re-elected twice after that.
Gill-Gerbig was good at her job and enjoyed doing it, so why is she quitting? The short answer: Murphy.
Murphy is a border collie- German shepherd mix who came into Gill-Gerbig’s life from a shelter two and a half years ago. Murphy recently qualified to become a therapy dog, but the training would take place on Tuesday nights, the same night as council meetings. And Gill-Gerbig was up for re-election for another four years.
“I could have put the training off for another four years,” she said, “but then both Murphy and I would be four years older. Could we still do the training? Would she qualify a second time? I could have come late to the meetings, but in a small group each person is too valuable to miss part of every meeting, and I just wouldn’t do that anyway. And if I did put off the training, would I give the council my all? I’m not a person who does things halfway. The choice was either to run or to do the training, and I chose the training.”
There were many components to this choice. Gill-Gerbig wants to help people with her dog. Therapy dogs can be used with the elderly, with special-needs children, with people who are sick.
“I want to be positive and useful,” she said. “I can’t stop war and famine; I can only do what I can do. I have to have some part of my life doing something really worthwhile and constructive, to make life better for others. I want to pay forward for all the good things others have done for me.”
Another ingredient in Gill-Gerbig’s decision was the death of her friend, Mary Croteau. Mary lived her life selflessly and, because of her illness, did not get to have the dog she really wanted. So Murphy is that dog, the reminder of Karen’s friend and the good that she did in her life.
In the end, what could be better than to leave a job that you know you did well to do another that will benefit many others? That is the best of all possible decisions. Karen Gill-Gerbig has no regrets.