A Thanksgiving Thank You For Public Employees

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On November 20th, my mother-law-Charlotte Geier passed away. She passed peacefully, surrounded in her last days by loving family, compassionate nurses from Ascension hospice care, and the great staff at Bella Vista senior living.

If you would like to know more about Charlotte Geier, look for her obituary in the Oshkosh Herald. My purpose here, in this Thanksgiving season, is to offer sincere thanks to the public employees who contributed to her contentment and quality of life over the last ten years. How did they do that? Let me explain.

Charlotte spent many years in El Paso, Texas as a parent, budding photographer/artist, and working at a variety of jobs including rental property management. She loved taking road trips to photograph the beautiful southwest landscapes.

Charlotte Geier
The late Charlotte Geier is the mother of Oshkosh Mayor Lori Palmeri. The quality of her life in Oshkosh was enhanced thanks to the efforts of mindful public employees.

In 2010 Charlotte survived a devastating stroke that left her partially paralyzed. For the rest of her life, mobility without a wheelchair was limited. In late 2010 she moved to Oshkosh to be closer to family.

Though she was always a southerner at heart (she spent much of her childhood in the Richmond, VA area) and had dreams of someday returning to her beloved southwest, Charlotte came to love Oshkosh. A major reason for that was the humane, generous, and dignified interactions she had with public employees during her time here. I would like to especially thank parks, transit, and fire department personnel for the positive difference they made in Charlotte’s life.

Even though her disability limited her movement, Charlotte was able to live independently for most of her time in Oshkosh. Except for spending time with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, her greatest joy was roaming in her motorized chair at Menominee Park. She took thousands of photos in the Shoreland Restoration area, Ames Point, and the zoo. She thoroughly enjoyed her interactions with parks employees, and appreciated how they would try to maintain accessibility on the paths even during special events season when people with mobility issues are often made to feel like second-class citizens.

As for transit, during Charlotte’s time in Oshkosh we learned that the bus drivers here are truly outstanding people. They always greeted her cheerfully, interacted with her as they helped secure her chair, and made sure she got safely to her destination and back. On numerous occasions Charlotte told me how pleased she was with the quality of the bus service in town. The drivers treated her the way all of us want to be treated: like a human being who matters.

Emergency medical personnel from the Fire Department literally saved Charlotte’s life a few times. Riding a motorized chair is not as easy as it might look to people who have never done it, and on a couple of occasions she missed the curb cut and tumbled out of the chair. For the person who takes the tumble, situations like that are traumatic not just physically, but also emotionally in the panic that can set in as the person waits for help. When emergency medical technicians assisted Charlotte, they were always gentle, kind, compassionate, and made sure she received all the physical and emotional support she needed. They never made her feel that she had somehow done something wrong by merely misjudging the width of a curb cut. [Just as an aside: as we approach winter season, please make sure the curb cuts and sidewalks on your street remain clear of snow and ice. It’s not right that people with mobility issues should be stuck in their homes because others do not keep the sidewalks accessible.].

In her last week of life, the EMTs moved Charlotte from Aurora hospital back to Bella Vista for hospice care. The level of professionalism and compassion they exhibited was nothing short of extraordinary. They would not leave until they were assured that we were okay. My family was moved by their kindness and will never forget it.

I know that in the last ten years in Wisconsin it has become fashionable to minimize what public employees do for us, and in some cases flat out denigrate them. The politicians can spend trillions of dollars on never-ending wars of choice without even giving it a second thought, and blow up the deficit with tax cuts for the uber rich, yet somehow the salaries and benefits of municipal, county, and state employees becomes the main reason why we are in such deep debt.

But based on the experience of my family, which I know is an experience shared by many readers of this piece, the real debt is the debt of gratitude owed to public employees like the ones I mentioned who thoughtfully, professionally, and compassionately make our lives better. In honor of my late mother-in-law Charlotte Geier, in this Thanksgiving season I want to say THANK YOU to those public employees. I urge everyone to do the same.

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About Author

Tony Palmeri

Tony Palmeri is a Professor of Communication Studies at UW Oshkosh. He teaches courses in rhetoric and public advocacy, freedom of speech, the rhetoric of rock and roll, and the communication career capstone. He maintains a blog called "Tony Palmeri's Media Rants." Tony served two terms on the Oshkosh Common Council and ran for state legislature in 1996 and 2004. You can find more information about him at www.tonypalmeri.com

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