teaching them how to save energy, talking about how to be safe around gas and electricity and working with area youth. Eventually there was a push for companies to be more socially responsible, so community relations became even more important to WPS. Lemke had the opportunity to grow with the organization and within the department.
“I always liked working with people and I knew this was what I wanted to do,” says Lemke. “This job is about building relationships and portraying the company’s image — working to bring the company’s assets to the community to help solve the community’s needs.”
Today Lemke leads a team of five — a talented team with more than 150 years’ combined service to the company. She explains their task is
to develop and nurture strategic partnerships with community organizations, nonprofits, chambers and business-education entities. “The work we do has a direct impact on the company’s bottom line and positions the company for success in the future,” she adds. Lemke reveals two of her greatest professional accomplishments are bringing the WPS Kids Power Run and WPS Volunteer Awards to the company.
The WPS Foundation is the company’s charitable giving arm — a foundation that is funded by shareholders of the company, not customers. Lemke says the foundation supports activities that promote arts and culture, community and neighborhood development, education, human services and health and the environment in communities throughout Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
“One of the benefits of working for a company for so long and in my role is the people and relationships I’ve made along the way. That is what I cherish the most,” says Lemke. “I’m like a matchmaker, trying to connect my company and its resources — employees, donations, expertise — to meet the community needs.”
Each year, the WPS Foundation donates approximately $1.4 million to worthwhile organizations. Since its inception, Lemke explains the WPS Foundation has awarded more than $32 million. Over the years, the foundation has helped fund a variety of local projects, including City Deck, Bay Beach Amusement Park, Fox River Trail, Green Bay Botanical Gardens, NEW Zoo, Heritage Hill and more.
“All of these projects have built a strong community, drawing in millions of visitors to the area each year and adding to the quality of life for those who call northeast Wisconsin home,” she says. Lemke suggests the most challenging part of her job is not being able to help every cause out there because of limited resources. “Every day I get inquiries from great organizations. Many we have long-term relationships with and there are a few new organizations that reach out,” she says. “We have to make choices and prioritize.”
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Working in community relations, Lemke reveals no two days are alike. She may start her day attending a board meeting at the Salvation Army, then meet with a nonprofit to learn about a potential partnership, host a group of students from Brown County Teen Leadership and prepare documents for an upcoming Foundation board meeting.
“There is a lot of collaboration that takes place between my company and community groups,” she adds. When Lemke leaves WPS each day, she reflects on her contribution to the community. “I get the greatest satisfaction knowing I’m making a difference, whether it’s short-term or long-term.”
Lemke explains she could be gone every night of the week at a Chamber function or nonprofit event, but she works hard to balance community events and family time.
While her role at WPS is to be involved in the community, her passion for giving back spills outside of work hours. She’s served on various boards and committees over the years. Her current list includes the Salvation Army Brown County, Cerebral Palsy, Inc., Catholic Foundation, Green Bay Regional Grant Makers Association, Bay Area Community Council, Greater Green Bay Chamber’s Partners in Education and more.
Lemke is a graduate of Leadership Green Bay and is a member of Association for Corporate Contribution Professionals. “I have carefully selected the groups to be involved with because of a connection to the mission,” says Lemke. “One of my most rewarding experiences was
years ago as a loaned executive to the Brown County United Way — it was rewarding not only personally but also professionally. I have a deeper appreciation for our community and the needs as a result.”
OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
While away from work, Lemke loves to spend time with her family. Lemke and her husband have two daughters in college and a teenager in middle school. They spend a lot of time attending their daughter’s sporting events as well as camping, biking, walking, kayaking and caring for their yellow lab. Lemke also makes plenty of time for her mom.
“It’s because of her help that I’ve been able to have a robust career and be as involved in the community as I am,” says Lemke. “When my husband or I are busy with our jobs, she’s always there to give a ride, cook a meal or help with the kids whenever needed — for that I’m grateful.”
CONTINUING TO MAKE AN IMPACT
Lemke believes every little bit helps make an impact on the community — and everyone can give something. She considers herself a philanthropist on behalf of WPS but she’s also done her own giving. In the last few years, Lemke started a fund at the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation through the Women’s Fund.
When asked what the future looks like for her, Lemke says she will be the best mom, wife, daughter and employee she can be. She concludes, “I look forward to finding socially innovative solutions to serious community issues through my professional and personal contributions.” w
Commited to Community: Karmen Lemke
Karmen Lemke has worked at Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS) in Green Bay nearly 30 years. Spending
much of her career in community relations, she’s had the unique opportunity to touch and to impact countless
lives throughout Greater Green Bay.
Lemke is currently the manager of community relations and
corporate giving for WPS. She is also the director of the Wisconsin Public Service Foundation and the president of the WPS Community Foundation. She manages the corporate citizenship strategy for the company as well as serves
as a philanthropist on behalf the organization.
“Much has changed in the energy industry, like many others, but what hasn’t changed is the company’s commitment to the community,” says Lemke. “And that’s why I feel so passionate about my work. I’m thankful that the company values community and working in collaboration with other community partners.”
JOINING AND GROWING WITHIN WPS
Lemke joined WPS in 1987. Her first experience with community relations was as a consumer consultant — an external facing role that focused on helping customers,