Loretta Himmelsbach, Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired
Long ago, when Loretta Himmelsbach, executive director for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, made the Girl Scout promise and pledge, little did she know the impact both would have on her life.
It all started in elementary school, when her mother enrolled her in Brownies. As the only sister to four brothers, "I was becoming too much of a tomboy," she laughed, "and mom decided I needed to hang more around girls." The experience set her on a lifelong career track with the Girl Scouts. Himmelsbach, who, as a teen, was interested in social work and foreign languages, remained active in Girl Scouts throughout high school, where her leadership skills led to both national and international travel opportunities.
In college, she spent three semesters at the University of Vienna (Austria), studying in German, while learning Spanish as well as Russian. Her credits transferred to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where she graduated with a degree in sociology and German and a minor in Spanish. She taught for a short while in Indiana before refocusing on getting a career with the Girl Scouts organization. Through the years, her career took her to South Bend, Ind., Waukesha, Texas, Illinois and, finally, Madison, when in 1994, she was named CEO of the 10,000-member Girl Scouts of Blackhawk Council. Toward the end of her career, she was awarded with the Muriel Bissel Award for her commitment to diversity, volunteers, and staff. It was one of her proudest moments.
In 2009, when Girl Scouts USA consolidated its councils nationwide from 312 down to 109, Himmelsbach retired. A year later, she joined another council – the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. "I have two brothers with retinal disease, and a dad with macular degeneration. This is the perfect match for my skill sets."
As with most nonprofits, donations are down, she said, and vacant positions aren't necessarily being filled. Recently, she hired a grant writer, hoping to attract more dollars to accommodate a growing clientele. "The number of people we served went up 50% last year," she said, and totaled 11,000 individuals. And while the down economy has created more volunteers, that, too, may be short-lived as the economy picks up."
The council also subsidizes DocuScan, a program employing blind or visually impaired individuals to scan hard-copy documents, creating searchable digital files. "We'd like that to be self-sufficient," she said, "but it is not a revenue stream." That said, Himmelsbach encourages businesses to utilize its services. "Don't be afraid to hire these people," she urges business owners. "The only thing they can't do is drive a car."
Meanwhile, she keeps a keen eye on legislation affecting the blind and visually impaired, particularly where libraries and transportation issues are concerned. "I think I want to live long enough to see what history says about where we are with the state right now," she said. "This is an amazing segment of Wisconsin history." But no matter what the future holds, Himmelsbach will continue doing what she does best – helping people reach their full potential. "I'll always be a Girl Scout," she smiled.
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