Six Women Leaders in White Bear Lake Share Their Stories

It’s not a coincidence that six women leaders in White Bear Lake share many of the same traits. They’ve found success and fulfillment not by accident, but rather by seeking out and following their dreams, passions and goals. And we were lucky enough to chat with each one of them, learning what makes them tick.

Julie Swanson
Title: Chief of Police
Years in this role: 3; member of the department for 17

Proudest career accomplishment: “Being promoted to sergeant,” says Swanson, who began her career as an officer. “That set the wheels in motion for the rest of my career.”

Advice for other women: Keep a positive attitude. “I try to always have a positive focus,” she says. “I have the mentality that tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow will be better.”

One thing most people don’t know about her: Chief Swanson was married young—at age 20. “We’ve seen each other through the hard times,” she says of her husband. “We’ve learned to be strong, patient and positive.”

Carol McFarlane
Title: President, White Bear Lake Economic Development Committee
Years in this role: 3

Proudest career accomplishment: McFarlane, a former state representative for White Bear Lake, part of North Oaks and White Bear Township, and a former member of the White Bear Lake school board says: “I’ve loved being able to represent people at both the school district and state level.”

Advice for other women: Be yourself. “I’ve learned from my experiences on the school board and in the Legislature that I need to stay true to what I believe,” McFarlane says. “When I was approached to run for the Legislature, I was told, ‘They need real people. Like you.’ ”

One thing most people don’t know about her: “Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough,” McFarlane, a multi-tasker and collaborator at heart, says. “There’s not enough time to truly connect with people with whom I really enjoy spending time.”

Sandy Matzdorf
Title: President, Main Street Board; board of directors, Economic Development Corp.; co-owner, ReUse ReStyle
Years in this role: 2 years at Main Street Board, 7 years, ReUse ReStyle

Proudest career accomplishment: Matzdorf mentions three distinct areas of her life. “I’ve raised two successful daughters, have had a successful 34-year career at IBM, and have learned what I need to feel healthy and strong.”

Advice for other women: Invest in yourself. “I’ve spent time learning about myself. When I need a break, what I need to do to take care of myself, what I need to do to decompress,” Matzdorf says. “Find the time to learn what’s important to you and make time to do those things.”

One thing most people don’t know about her: Matzdorf holds a double major in business administration and art from Bemidji State University, as well as a master’s degree in project management from George Washington University.

Ellen Richter

Title: City manager, White Bear Lake
Years in this role: 1

Proudest career accomplishment: “I love that I’ve had the opportunity to serve and live in White Bear Lake,” Richter says.

Advice for other women: Read every day. “I attempt to get up early enough in the morning to read,” she says. “I keep up with the news and read books about leadership.”

One thing most people don’t know about her: “I started off as a music major, but I had too many other interests to explore, and music is an incredibly focused major,” Richter says. “I earned my degree in political science.”

Anne Kane
Title: Community Development Director
Years in this role: 5

Proudest career accomplishment: “Reclaiming the lakefront for public enjoyment,” says Kane. “It’s s o fun to see young kids fishing off the pier in the Marina Triangle District. We’re passing on traditions to the next generations.”

Advice for other women: Do the next right thing. “It’s easy to get off track when you’re thinking 20, 30 years down the road,” Kane says. “It’s so inspiring to think we’re laying the bricks for the next generation. But I also need to stay present and focused on today’s tasks.”

One thing most people don’t know about her: In the early 1990s, Kane was a flight attendant. “I’ll never forget my first flight—from JFK to Tokyo. I assisted in first class and spent the entire flight making drinks and desserts I’ve never heard of,” she laughs. “I got through it.”

Jo Emerson

Title: Mayor, White Bear Lake
Years in this role: 6

Proudest career accomplishment: “Serving in public office. This is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s humbling and encouraging to have the confidence of the voters.”

Advice for other women: Take risks. “Running for mayor has been one of the biggest chances I’ve ever taken,” Emerson says. “I had to put myself out there and risk losing. But it’s all paid off; it was worth the risk.”

One thing most people don’t know about her: “My life is an open book! When you run for office, you can’t hide much from people,” Emerson laughs.

A Shared Love of Community

Even though the women we profiled come from different backgrounds and hold different positions, they have lots in common. They all are determined and driven, they all make time for exercise and they all have positive, optimistic attitudes. But, most of all, they all love White Bear Lake.

Carol McFarlane has learned that what keeps White Bear Lake thriving are the strong bonds between friends and neighbors. “I want to help make this community the best it can be today and in the future,” she says.

Mayor Jo Emerson says she feels lucky to work in a community where residents care about each other. “We’re not a suburb,” she says. “We’re a small town.” Ellen Richter notes community involvement and volunteerism. “We have this small town feel with all the amenities.”

And perhaps Anne Kane said it best when she said, “White Bear Lake was Minnesota’s first resort town. We continue to live by that mission.”