Konitzer saluted upon her retirement

Public Health manager has worked for Oconto County for 35 years
By: 
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

Deb Konitzer is retiring this week as Oconto County public health manager after 35 years.

Konitzer, who became a more visible public figure as she led the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was saluted at the beginning of the Dec. 21 Oconto County Board meeting.

“We’ll never know how many lives she saved by her actions and what she did during the pandemic,” County Board Chairman Al Sleeter said after presenting Konitzer with a certificate of appreciation for her years of service. “All I remember is what I saw in New York City when it first hit and I thought, ‘Good Lord, I hope that won’t happen in Oconto County,’ and it didn’t, thank goodness.”

Konitzer thanked the board for the recognition and said much has changed in public health over the three and a half decades she served the county.

“I couldn’t imagine having done something else with my career,” she said.

She credited a countywide team effort for the Public Health division’s success.

“I have always had a supportive county board, a supportive health and human services board, a supportive director, and lucky enough to have always had good staff that I have been able to lead to do the work,” Konitzer said, “because without all of them nothing would happen, because we need their passion in order to make things happen. It takes all of us, and I have been so blessed that for 35 years I have had so support to do what I love.”

She acknowledged the support of four county leaders in waging a successful effort during the pandemic — former County Board Chairman Paul Benarek, who came to the office every day to help at the height of the outbreak; Sleeter, who was chairman of the health and human services board at the time; Sheriff Todd Skarban and then-director of emergency services Tim Magnin.

She and those four individuals had their share of disagreements as they worked to balance public health needs and the needs of county residents, she said.

“But by the time we left that room, we had a solid plan to move forward with, that we could all live with and deal with the ramifications and consequences that came from it,” Konitzer said.

COVID challenged all of us to look inside at what we believed, she said.

“We had some challenges along the way, but in the long run, I believe we did the right thing,” Konitzer said. “We had to make some tough calls, but we made them.”

Konitzer also received a state accolade, as Chris Kolata of the state Department of Health Services presented her with a Partners in Public Health Certificate of Recognition.

Jayme Sellen, executive director of the Oconto County Economic Development Corp., joined in praising Konitzer’s efforts. The public health manager played a role in obtaining a $250,000 grant for Encompass Early Education’s new child care center in Oconto Falls, using American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“Her vision to see that child care was needed in the community and to find a resource for that, I mean, that’s the reason we were able to get Encompass,” Sellen said.

Jaelyn Staidl, an RN and public health nurse with the county, was named in October to succeed Konitzer as the new public health manager effective Jan. 7.

wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com