Laura Fuhrman, a longtime resident of the Lakeland area, was named last week as the newly-appointed executive director of the Northwoods Wildlife Center in Minocqua.
As a 1980 graduate of Lakeland Union High School, Fuhrman said her involvement with many businesses across the area over the past couple of decades has prepared her well for her future with the center.
That includes life experiences in helping with the family business, Dick Fuhrman and Son Excavating, as well as various jobs with businesses around the area.
“I’ve had several jobs in the area, including working at [The Lakeland Times], Marston’s, Dean Witter, and the Northwoods Animal Hospital,” Fuhrman said.
After graduating high school and spending a couple of years studying graphic arts management at UW-Stout, Fuhrman went west to Colorado where she spent a year or two back in the early 1980s.
After getting engaged, she and her husband, Rick, spent a year together out West before deciding to move back to the Lakeland area in 1984 where they have resided since.
Over the past several years of being an at-home mom and working for the family business, Fuhrman said that she has continued to hone her skills in accounting and bookkeeping.
At the center
In 2012, she was asked by Geri Miller, the center’s board vice president, to help with the books at the wildlife center after the director at the time, Diane Chart, was killed in an automobile accident.
“I came to the center and started doing books ... [they] needed help in figuring out the books, so I came in and helped weed through things. That was at the end of December 2012.”
Over the course of her work with the center, she became familiar with the inner workings of the non-profit.
“My predecessor was hired, but she eventually decided to pursue other things. She stepped away last February,” Fuhrman said.
At the time the center’s board started looking for a director, Fuhrman said she thought about it for a short time before deciding that it was a “worthwhile place to work that was interesting to me. It’s something different from accounting and bookkeeping. I have managed employees before and I felt this is a nice professional place to work,” she said.
Miller had this to say about the hiring of Fuhrman, “Laura has been working part-time with NWC for the past few years as our financial administrator and has a real understanding of the needs of NWC, it just seemed natural that she move into the executive director position.
“Laura has spent most of her life in the Northwoods, she brings success in managing a business, fundraising, and has held leadership roles in many community organizations and events, all the attributes we were looking for.
“She is passionate about our mission, to provide a better future for wildlife through rehabilitation, education and research. We feel very fortunate to have Laura join the NWC family in this leadership position.”
The hiring process took about a month and Fuhrman was interviewed by the hiring committee, the board and some of the employees who were all involved in the interviewing process.
Fuhrman found the hiring process interesting, especially being interviewed by the employees.
“They [employees] raised questions from a different perspective than the board ... overall, it was a very interesting process.”
Though she has been working part-time at the center leading up to her appointment as executive director, Fuhrman said there has been a strong effort on the part of everyone associated with the center to make sure jobs got done.
“This board is very hands-on and active. Everyone has a role and that’s helped with the break-in period.”
Fuhrman officially starts in the new position July 1 and talked about what she sees as her main duties.
“The primary thrust [of the position] is getting out into the community so people know who I am.”
And though Fuhrman said she considered the duties of the job as “a little outside my comfort zone, the appeal of helping a community organization was really important ... I’ve been involved in other community organizations in the past ... I’m on the Oneida County dive team; I’m an outdoors person – that was the easy part for me. We have a youthful group here, but there are so many others involved here, too. There are so many volunteers from the community. People come in and are doing things that really help with the center,” she said.
During the summer, the center has eight interns and a couple more in the fall and spring.
“The interns are involved pretty much in all aspects of the center, but they rotate duties,” Fuhrman said. “Some will work the front desk, others give tours and answer the phones, while they also are involved in the intake of wildlife.”
Just what the center needs
While Fuhrman doesn’t have any licensure or degree in dealing with wildlife, that’s not what the board was seeking when they began their most recent search for a director.
“I’m not licensed as a rehabber. I will be more involved in the area of promoting and education and making people aware of what we’re doing.
“I will be going to Rotary. A lot of the people there I know already, so that will be a good organization to start with,” she said.
In looking for an executive director for the center, the board and staff really spent time focusing on the skills required to be the executive director,” Miller said.
“We looked all the way back to the beginning and found common strengths in our previous executive directors. We didn’t need a person with wildlife care and education experience, we needed a person who deeply cared about the animals, had strong overall business experiences, was involved in the Northwoods communities and understood the culture of our residents and visitors.”
That made Fuhrman a perfect fit.
Education and promotion
“I think that the education part is a good place to go. We’re the biggest and oldest rehab center in the northern part of the state and we really want to see it continue.
“It’s our 35th anniversary, so we will be trying to promote that, too.”
To keep the center front and center within the community, Fuhrman said they will hold their annual open house later this summer, an event at which they raffle the canoe for which they sell tickets throughout the summer months.
Center representatives display the canoe to a number of community events throughout the summer months in promoting the raffle ... one of the center’s bigger fundraisers.
“I’ll be talking to a few groups to make sure we have a fresh invitation to look at our organization and have people visit. We also hope to create one or two new events for the center. We want to look at doing some things that are fresh and that we haven’t done before.”
In addition to the center’s regularly scheduled programs held throughout the summer, educators also spend a great deal of time visiting schools during the fall, winter and spring.
“I would like to see us get involved in extra educational opportunities. Nicolet College has been running classes recently. They recently held a sketching class. I think it would also be interesting to have things outside in the outdoor area and maybe reach out to the high school to offer some sort of curriculum – maybe an introductory rehab course at the school.
“We’ll try to develop that and see if we can make it happen.”
During the winter when the animal rehabbing slows down, the education portion of the center continues.
“But you never know when we’ll have an injured animal come in,” Fuhrman said.
Another major winter fundraiser is the annual photo gala, but Fuhrman said they are also looking beyond that event to try something new at that time of year.
“I think it would be fun to have some sort of outdoor event ... maybe a snowshoe event. You know we have so much of winter ... might as well take advantage of it.”
Real world experiences
As a member of the dive team since September 2008, Fuhrman said it’s been a rewarding and valuable experience – an activity she said has helped prepare her for her role with the center.
She first became involved with the dive team because she heard they were hiring and because of her past experience as a diver.
“The nice part about it is it’s some law enforcement and some civilian members. I was a diver already and had thought about joining the Hazelhurst Fire Department with my husband, but I thought the dive team would be a good community thing to be a part of. It makes you feel good when you can help out ... especially in helping families.”
In addition, she said that she has learned about fundraising through the group. Each year, the dive team helps coordinate the Minocqua Island Swim Challenge, an event being held this weekend.
“I’ve been helping coordinate the swim fundraising effort.”
She is also enrolled in a non-profit management class through Northcentral Technical College – a class that covers fundraising, grant writing, and management.
“I go there twice per month, so that’s been very handy.”
The bottom line for Fuhrman, she said, will be continuing to push the education portion of the center’s mission.
While the center has its share of resident animals, such as Hortense; Woody the turtle; Rory the hawk; T.J. the kestrel; Eddie the bald eagle; as well as some owls, and a few snakes, the goal is to return animals to their natural settings.
“All the resident animals have disabilities that prevent them from being released. Rehabilitate and release ... that’s what we do. I would say most get released, but don’t know the exact data. It’s not our business to want to keep any animal.”
At this time of year, the center receives many types of animals ... “right now we have mostly racoons, fawns and birds ...”
And while they have assisted with the rehabbing of bears in the past, Fuhrman said they haven’t done any recently.
People can call the center when they see an animal that may be an orphan or injured.
“We very much encourage and teach people what to do.”
That means in many instances, leaving the baby animal in their environment. While there are times when it’s clear a baby animal has been left an orphan, more times than not an animal has been left by the mother, but will come back.
“Most of the time the mom is nearby and will find a way back. Sometimes we know its an orphan because the mother has been hit by car.”
Raymond T. Rivard may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org