For the love of kids

Mother of six, grandmother of 19, Karen Conradt works at three jobs at schools and the YMCA, just to be around the children she loves
Ozaukee Press staff

For Karen Conradt of Port Washington, life has always been about children.

Whether it’s her six children, 19 grandchildren or her three jobs working with children, it’s the kids that make Conradt go, especially those ages 3 to 8.

“They just love you,” Conradt said. “All they want to do is talk about their teeth and where they’re going.”

Conradt is a lunchroom supervisor at Lincoln Elementary School, a 3k assistant at Port Pre-School and a day-care helper at the Feith Family YMCA in Saukville.

She remembers 23 years ago asking former Lincoln Principal John Taylor if she could work at the school, and he told her to come in.

“I didn’t fill out my resumé. That’s how it was back then,” she said.

She is also filling in as a paraprofessional at Lincoln. She works in a classroom, handles lunch duties and then returns to the classroom.

A decade ago, Conrad tfilled in for someone at the preschool and never left. On Wednesday mornings she babysits at the YMCA.

What’s nice, she said, is she gets to know the children when they’re young and sees them again at Lincoln.

Many of the students connect with Conradt. Mira Stimac, now a senior at Port High, once did a profile of Conradt for the Lincoln school newspaper.

“She can’t stand a day without kids’ smiles,” it read.

“If she had permission to make a lunch for kids, she would have build-your-own pizza and chocolate sundaes. How cool is that? Mrs. Conradt, you are very cool!!”

Conradt loves seeing children having fun during recess, but it can be a source of stress, such as the time a boy in kindergarten disappeared.

“He decided he didn’t want to be in school,” Conradt said.

She felt especially bad since she was the one who took the class outside and noticed he was missing when students lined up to go inside.

The school called his home and the boy answered, pretending to be somebody else.

Conradt said the boy only lived a block from school and planned his escape, running around the school on a side of the building where he couldn’t be seen.

The student, 2020 Port High graduate Jason Goebel, had written a letter to Conradt as a school assignment back in 2015.

“You were freaking out when I ran away! That was one of the best days that I remember of kindergarten,” he wrote. “I didn’t tell anyone because I thought they would tell you. Then my whole plan to go home would have gone to waste.”

As a punishment, Goebel had to spend two “long weeks” in a teacher’s room during lunch.

“I had a lot of fun with you because you were nice to me and talked with me,” he wrote.

Conradt said she loves the interaction with children, but has a hard time picking out her favorite part.

“That’s so hard for me to say. I just love the energy, the smiles,” she said.

Conradt likes to help 3k students who miss their mothers feel at ease.

“You want to distract them, take them for a walk, show them the library. You just want to be there for them,” she said.

Lincoln Principal Jane Gennerman said Conradt makes a difference every day.

“She is just one of the most exceptional humans I know. She comes to work just joyful to see the kids,” she said. “They energize her and she energizes them.”

Gennerman said she can also see the impact when she rides with Conradt in the annual homecoming parade.

“Kids will shout out her name and wave the entire parade route. I think she knows everyone. She just brings so much to the lives of the children,” Gennerman said.

Children, Conradt said, also make an impact on her life.

Once, when Conradt said she was feeling lousy and just wanted a hug, a student came out of a room and obliged.

Losing that personal contact due to the Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most difficult adjustments Conradt has made this fall.

“It’s so hard. You don’t get to touch them. They come to you with arms open. It’s tough,” she said.

One parent Conradt saw on the street gave permission to hug her child, she said.

“The best is taking them outside. I get to take off my mask. It’s just like old times,” Conradt said.

Gennerman said people like Conradt have become even more important during the pandemic.

“I have no doubt during this time to have those consistent adults like Karen is very important to have. She really just cares about kids and that they’re doing well,” she said.

Despite no hugs, this beats spring when Conradt lost all three of her jobs in one week.

She walked with her collie and biked often to pass the time. One of her children let her in the house to see her grandchildren.

“It was about old people, and I’m old,” she said of the risk of catching the coronavirus.

Conradt, 69, remembers a statement she made when she was 21 and working as a licensed practical nurse at the city’s old St. Alphonsus Hospital that is now the site of a senior living campus.

She told someone she would have six children.

Whether those were actual plans or just small talk at the time Conradt isn’t sure, but that’s exactly how many children she ended up having.

After having one child with her husband Doug, they had another so the first wouldn’t be lonely. Then they moved to a bigger house with room for a third.

After seven years, Conradt missed Santa and the tooth fairy. The couple had three more children in a seven-year span.

One of her children lives in Illinois and the other five are in the area. Conradt often gets to see her grandchildren at school.

Conradt, who enjoys walking, biking and reading and watching movies about history, has no plans to retire.

“I can’t tell you how wonderful that place is,” she said. “I don’t want to quit, as long as I can walk and talk.”



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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