By Lisa Pett
Mary Kneebone is proof that you don’t need to be born into something to love it.
The 7th district alderwomen is sitting in Al’s Diner, a popular gathering place in her district. She has a quick, hearty laugh and close-cropped silver hair.
“I have reinvented myself more times than anyone I know in terms of jobs I’ve done, paths I’ve taken,” Kneebone said. “I’ve kind of done a little bit of everything.”
She wasn’t born in Stevens Point but went to college at UWSP and has lived here for the past nine years with her spouse, Jen, a Suzuki music teacher.
“I went to college in the late 60s and didn’t do very well. I just wasn’t really ready for it,” said Kneebone.
She left college before earning her degree and did a stint in the military where she served in the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic in the early 70s.
“I had some great experiences in the military,” said Kneebone. “It came a long way to helping me figure out that I’m okay the way I am.”
She got out of the military and got certified as an aircraft mechanic so she could work in the private sector.
“I graduated about the time the bottom dropped out of the aviation industry,” said Kneebone, laughing.
She found herself unable to find a job but was eventually hired part-time at the VA in Madison. That turned into a five-year job.
She left Madison and spent several years in St. Louis for a property manager for a Girl Scout Council. The job sparked something in her. She decided she wanted to go back to school.
“Coming out of [the] property management position with [the] Girl Scout Council made me realize I wanted to do something in the environmental field. I felt that an area I could make a difference was in the planning area.”
Her mother was living in Madison, so she returned to school in Wisconsin at the age of 39 to finish her degree.
“UWSP’s College of Natural Resources had a really good reputation so I got a degree in Resource Management but you need a Master’s degree, really, to get a job in planning,” Kneebone said.
So it was back to Madison to earn her Master’s. After earning her degree she and Jen (who she met in Stevens Point) ended up in Dallas where Kneebone worked for five years as an urban planner for the city.
Her education complete and in a comfortable, stable relationship, she started looking into her own adoption as an infant. She’s known since childhood that she was adopted so she started sifting through records, requesting copies of her birth certificate as well as her adoption file.
“I’ve found out information about both sides of my biological heritage. So I’m doing some genealogy research,” said Kneebone.
A persistence search led her to find both birth parents. She has made contact with blood relatives.
“I know that what my mother did for me was absolutely the best thing she could have done,” she said.
She and Jen, who’ve been together for 24 years, moved to Stevens Point in 2006. It was an easy choice for them.
“I feel safe here. I hate big cities. Point’s got everything. A vibrant community. It’s a perfect place. It’s a great place to retire,” said Kneebone, who just retired after spending eight years working at a local Starbucks.
She found herself running for an aldermanic seat on the city council after disagreeing with a council decision on a piece of property in her neighborhood.
“You can either piss and moan or you can do something about it. So I thought, ‘you know what, I’m going to retire, I would have plenty of time to devote to the position’,” said Kneebone.
She was elected, winning 66% of the vote.
Kneebone has completed a lot of searches for information. Into who she is, what she wants and what she can do to make a difference. She reads lots of reports and gathers information before going to the council meetings.
“I go to a lot of the commission meetings,” she said. “Park Board, Historic Commission, redevelopment, police and fire. I’m curious and I have the time.”
The more information she has, the more comfortable she is making a decision.
Kneebone sits on several commissions including Public Works commission, the Plan Commission and Finance.
“The mayor asked us which committees we wanted to serve on. For me, the Plan Commission was a no-brainer, with my education and experience. But these all tie so closely together. I think a lot of it inter-relates to each other. Planning to me was obvious because of my Master’s degree,” said Kneebone.
She takes a holistic approach to government, understanding that things like finance and infrastructure can affect economic development.
“You want to make life the best it can be for everybody,” she said.
Of Stevens Point, she says, “You can’t beat the quality of life here. That’s why I want to give something back to the community.”