The Keystone - Dawne Cramer
There is a concept in biology known as a “Keystone Species”: A species that exerts a dominant influence on other species in an ecosystem, the absence of this species can create a ripple effect across the ecosystem they inhabit. In Wisconsin, wolves certainly are a Keystone species in the ecosystem where they are found.
Many visitors come to see our wolves, these magnificent “Keystone” creatures in a close and personal way. No visitor loved our wolves more than our Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director, Dawne Cramer. Sometimes after a particularly frustrating day, Dawne would call and ask if she could visit the wolves. It was one of my greatest pleasures to see the childlike wonder in her eyes and the joy on her face as the wolves approached. Like our wolf Dawne was strong-minded, she could be very frank, but at heart was a furiously loyal and loving person.
On Tuesday, November 27th, after a truly remarkable battle with cancer we said our final “Goodbye” to our revered Park, Recreation and Forestry Director, Dawne Cramer. To all who knew Dawne, you quickly came to know that her word was her bond, “you could take it to the bank” quality. Her unvarnished honesty, integrity and her complete and selfless dedication to her department and its staff were well known. Those who knew her held her in the highest esteem.
It would be completely accurate to say Dawne literally grew up within the Green Bay Parks Department. Dawne spent her youth in Park programs and at 12 years of age, she became a part-time park employee. This set in motion a path where Dawne would find her future. This path continued as a student at Southwest High School where she umpired youth leagues. She loved working with sports teams and the youth of our community.
During her college years, she would return home from UW LaCrosse and spent her summers as a “Parkee” working with kids who came to “her” park. Dawne enjoyed working with the hundreds of kids who came through the Parks system each year. Touching so many lives as a dedicated and positive role model, she earned the James Engel Leadership award.
After graduation Dawne worked briefly as a teacher, then in 1977 she returned “home” when she was hired as a Recreation Supervisor. Here Dawne supervised park summer programs, pools, and leagues. She wore many hats in this role and it suited her well. She challenged each “Parkee” to make a significant difference in the life of at least one child who came to their park each summer. They were to consider themselves a role model, someone a child could look up to. With this initiative, Dawne and her staff served as mentors to many kids growing up in Green Bay.
Dawne’s influence increased when she was promoted to the Superintendent of Recreation in 1994. Always striving to improve and innovate, she led the Recreation Supervisors in the implementation of many new programs. Her efforts were recognized in 2007 when she was awarded the Mayor’s community Impact Award Employee of the Year. She was always striving to make the City of Green Bay a better, stronger community.
Upon the retirement of the much respected Bill Landvatter in 2011, it only seemed natural that Dawne would become the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director. Who knew the Park District better than Dawne! She understood it, she loved the Parks, it was her life’s blood. Under her dedication and leadership, the department blossomed. She encouraged her staff to be innovative, think out of the box. She challenged us to move beyond the traditional, grow beyond what they had been doing for years. Her direction led to growth in infrastructure and programs for the Recreation Division, Bay Beach Amusement Park, and the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary.
I am always amazed by the number of individuals I meet who have fond memories of Dawne from their childhood. In her final days, many of the hospital staff shared with her what the parks had meant to them growing up. They felt like they knew her, she had been part of their lives. Dawne had touched more people than she had realized.
Like the wolf in nature, Dawne truly fits the definition of a “Keystone”, her influence and guidance reached far beyond herself as an individual. She lived by example and set a standard of community service that each of us should strive to achieve. Her untimely departure will have a ripple effect across the entire community, however, the team she left behind will pull together to achieve the vision for the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department she so dearly loved. Her memory will be honored but her daily presence will be sorely missed.
Mike Reed, Director
Click Dawne M. Cramer to see Newcomer’s visitation details.