Job Diversity Pleases Swanson

May 17, 2004
Print
Text Size:
A A
GRAND RAPIDS — Her move may not have made "read all about it" headlines back then. But when Kent County Assistant Administrator Mary Swanson left the fifth estate for the public sector, it certainly was newsworthy to readers of the Holland Sentinel.

Swanson was the daily's community editor roughly two decades ago. She edited the paper's feature section and did some general-assignment reporting before she joined the Ottawa County version of ASCET. Writing and editing for the Sentinel was her first job fresh out of college and one she seemingly wouldn't have traded for another back then.

"I say to this day and tell my children, that experience in learning to write, learning to be objective, learning to interview people and finding out what they're thinking and working under deadlines has been a very valuable skill," she said.

"So even though I didn't stay in the newspaper business, I've always been very glad that I had that training very early in my career."

Just a few years later, Swanson bagged what she called her biggest career break. While at the Ottawa County job training program, an opening popped up for the planner and grants director position within the county. At the time, her prospect of snagging the job didn't look too rosy, as the grapevine had it that the county administrator already had someone lined up for the spot.

Still, Swanson threw her hat into the ring and got a chance to interview for the job.

"The county had a policy then that they would always give interviews to people who met the minimum qualifications who were internal candidates, and I ended up getting the job," she said.

"That gave me the opportunity to not just work with a segment of county services, but to see how county administration and county government, in all its complexities, operates."

Then in October 1996, Swanson switched county governments and began working for Kent County as a management analyst. Little did she know before the move that a newspaper would again change her life, but this time in a most uncommon and almost eerie manner.

Already living in Grand Rapids at that time, Swanson wasn't looking for a new job but was sprucing up an older home she owned here. While doing some interior painting, her eyes spotted a classified ad that somehow had completely escaped a page full of paint drips.

"I looked down and saw this job description and I read it to my husband. He said, 'It sounds like you.' He asked if I was going to apply. I said I almost should. So I did," she said.

Since that fateful day, Swanson has climbed the county's ladder. She was promoted two years later from management analyst to human and community services coordinator — then a new position at the county — because of her planner and grant-writing background.

Then the county board upgraded her position to assistant county administrator a little more than two years ago.

She has company in the office. County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio made Wayman Britt, the noted University of Michigan basketball player, an assistant county administrator just two months ago.

"We work as a team. Reporting to me right now is (the) parks (department). I've taken that over since Al (Vanderberg) left. I currently work with the health department, but that will be shifting over to Wayman. So we're in a real transition state right now," she said.

In addition to the parks department, Swanson also is immersed in corrections and the county's court system.

"I like the diversity of what I do. I work for the public sector because I like to have an impact on my community. I like government. I was a political science major in college and I've always been interested in how government works, and I like seeing how it impacts the community."

Swanson was born in Ann Arbor, but grew up, as she put it, bleeding maize and blue in West Chicago, a far western Windy City suburb. She earned her political science degree from Kalamazoo College and her advanced masters of management degree from Aquinas College.

"I really appreciated the program and how it is so team oriented," she said.

Swanson lives near downtown with her husband, Mike Malinowski, and her children, Becky, 15, and soon to be 11-year-old Jeff. Mike is a bankruptcy attorney and has an office in Alger Heights. As for her free time, it's scarce.

"I'm a working mother of two, so spare time is relative. I have a passion for soccer: high school soccer and elementary school soccer. I love elementary school track, right now, and performances of school bands and orchestras," she said, while adding that she also really enjoys cooking and making cheesecakes.

"They eat my mistakes. They're a lovely, forgiving family," said Swanson, who gets help in the kitchen from Becky and Jeff. "My free time is spent with my family."

Except when she is serving on the Advisory Council for the Discovery Program at St. John's Home. The program is aimed at rescuing youngsters who are alcoholics or on the verge of becoming one. The kids in Discovery are in their pre-teens and early teens, already have a drinking problem and carry around some alcohol-abuse issues.

"It's an excellent program. They have had, frankly, good success with the program and good referrals to it," she said. "They provide an in-house treatment program, counseling, and then some after-care to break the addiction."

As for her immediate future, Swanson sees herself doing more of the same: continuing to support county government and directing many of the county's most recent ventures.

"What I love about Kent County is, it is diverse. We have a lot of initiatives that we have undertaken. We have a lot of projects and programs. I'm working through the prevention initiative and making sure the evaluation component is set up and running.

"I'm working on Millennium Park. I think I'm young enough that I may be here to be able to see parts of it through," she said with a smile before getting serious again. "It's challenging and it's rewarding."    

Recent Articles by David Czurak

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus