EAST GULL LAKE -- Karen Groshong is known in most circles as "the lady who runs the city of East Gull Lake."
For the past nine years she's worked as a jill-of-all-trades in the growing bedroom community nestled on the shores of Gull Lake.
She's been the city clerk since 1991 -- the first clerk to be appointed by the city council -- and was promoted to city administrator in January. She was a key player in the creation and adoption of the city's comprehensive plan adopted last year after a three-year process. She was a charter member of the East Gull Lake First Responders. She also serves as the city's planning and zoning administrator, city airport manager and wastewater administrator, among other titles.
"I know more about what happens after you flush the toilet than I ever wanted to know," said Groshong with a laugh.
On Friday, a day that has been officially proclaimed "Karen Groshong Day" in the city by Mayor Dan Collins in her honor, Groshong will be on an airplane bound not only for a new city and a new career, but also for the next exciting stage in her life.
Groshong accepted a position in the grant-writing department at Duke University in Durham, N.C. On Friday she will leave her East Gull Lake home, including her 20-plus deer she feeds in her wooded back yard each day, for the bright lights of the big city. It's expected to be quite a change for the Wisconsin native who moved to the Brainerd lakes area in 1986.
"I never thought I'd leave," said Groshong. "I saw myself here forever."
Life in the Brainerd lakes area dealt a devastating blow to Groshong shortly after she moved here. In 1988 she survived a fatal car accident that killed her husband, Duane Buranen, and his 7-year-old son, Nathan. It was then up to her to run his business, Brainerd Door Service.
"You wake up and you feel you have nothing," Groshong said of that dark period of her life. "Everything you've lived for is gone."
For the past nine years, Groshong has immersed herself in East Gull Lake politics. She's held a precarious post in the city, perched perilously between the commercial interests of the large resorts, the often differing demands of the seasonal and permanent East Gull Lake residents and the environment. She's often gone to the homes of people she believed would make respectable East Gull Lake council or commission members and begged them to run. Otherwise, she said, no one would run for office.
She talked Chris Robinson, a member of the planning and zoning commission, into running for mayor this fall. He's running unopposed. Mayor Dan Collins has decided to retire this year after serving eight years as mayor.
There have been many times before particularly controversial East Gull Lake City Council meetings that Collins and Groshong have taken a few minutes to pray together.
"I've tried to look beyond the person and directly at the issue," said Groshong. "My answers are sometimes not what you want to hear but they're honest and truthful."
"I wouldn't have been able to get along without her," said the mayor.
"She's the one who ran city hall for so many years by herself," said Randy Ramsdell, East Gull Lake wastewater superintendent. "It's going to be tough without her."
The city is now in the process of hiring a city administrator/planning and zoning administrator. Wendy Brusseau, a utility billing clerk for six years, is now serving as city clerk.
Friends introduced Groshong to the Raleigh-Durham area and she fell in love with its Southern charm. She decided to make the leap from city politics to university life this year as a way to rediscover herself, to find more time for God and herself. But she will miss all the people she's met over the years in East Gull Lake.
"She's made the community a better place, I tell you that," said John Ott, a Plymouth and East Gull Lake resident.
"I don't think Karen knows how much she'll be missed," said Craig Buchholz, chairman of the planning and zoning commission. "I wish (her) well."
For a reporter like myself who struggles to balance her own checkbook, much less be able to write coherently about city budgets or wastewater and bond issues, I have often had to rely on Karen to help me understand -- and convey -- issues affecting the city. She's put up with my endless questions and has always been very helpful. But most important, she's been honest and that's something I'll always appreciate.
So on Friday, I'm not sure how I'll celebrate "Karen Groshong Day." I'd feed her deer back in East Gull Lake for her if I could.
Goodbye, Karen. You'll be missed.
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