Home and health: Mary McAllister-Charles
Most know Mari McAllister-Charles as executive officer of the Brown County Home Builders Association, an organization she has poured her heart into for nearly 25 years. And while McAllister-Charles does a great deal to make her mark on the community, she’s also committed to improving her own health.
HEALTH CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
Last winter, McAllister-Charles was one of five women from Greater Green Bay selected to participate in the American Heart Association’s Go Red Challenge, a 12-week program where challengers worked with fitness and nutrition sponsors as well as with financial fitness and mental well-being sponsors.
McAllister-Charles explains her father’s failing health inspired her to apply for the Challenge.
“About 5 years ago my father had a terrible episode. They thought he’d have to have stents put in and ended up having a quadruple bypass. In that period of time, his health greatly declined and I realized that I didn’t want that to happen to me,” says McAllister-Charles. “At that point, I probably weighed 200 pounds, wasn’t eating well and wasn’t taking care of myself — my knees hurt and I would be out of breath going up a hill.”
McAllister-Charles took the Go Red Challenge seriously. She cut back on carbs and gave up sugar. During the three-month program, McAllister-Charles lost 20 pounds. Add that to the weight she lost when she began her personal wellness journey earlier that year and she lost a total of 40 pounds.
“I did it to set an example for my family and as a personal goal for myself,” she adds. “The holidays were wicked. It really made me realize you have to pay attention to your body and to your consumption … no one is going to do it for you.”
The 56-year-old intends to continue focusing on her health. McAllister-Charles was invited to be part of Western Racquet’s Executive Edge program. She says, “That is my next step to a healthy lifestyle and getting back into an exercise routine.”
LEADING THE ASSOCIATION
When asked why she stayed with the Brown County Home Builders Association for so many years, McAllister-Charles explains she feels like an entrepreneur. “I try to run the organization like it’s my own business,” she says. “I’ve been blessed with amazing leadership within the organization and a great staff. I enjoy it. It never made sense to leave.”
A team of six women work at the Association. McAllister-Charles reveals when interviewing a potential new hire, she explains they can’t have an ego. “You must be able to shake hands with the governor in the morning and fry fish in the afternoon. We do it all,” says McAllister-Charles.
Frying fish is one part of the approximately 20 events hosted by the Brown County Home Builders Association. They have an all-you-can-eat steak and fish fry where they serve approximately 400 people.
The Association also organizes two new home showcases, a home expo, golf outing, annual auction and women in building event. There are several general member meetings throughout the year. The Brown County Home Builders Association celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2016. It has 700 members and a board of 20; 17 of these are men.
“While it’s a male-dominated industry, I’ve always been made to feel like I’m one of the guys. They treat me with that level of respect,” adds McAllister-Charles.
As executive officer, McAllister-Charles has oversight on everything from events and budgets to community outreach. There is no typical day.
“You can go into a day with a preconceived idea of what you are going to accomplish — your to-do list — and one phone call or one member walks in and it completely blows your day. Membership in our organization is 100 percent optional, so when a member walks through the door, they are our No. 1 priority,” she says.
A CHANGING INDUSTRY
The home building industry has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. Before, builders would push homeowners to build for resale. Every home needed a formal living room and formal dining room to appeal to a future buyer. McAllister-Charles explains today’s homes are built for lifestyle.
The internet and DIY television is now dictating home styles.
“Technology has impacted the industry tremendously by allowing homeowners to see what is out there,” says McAllister-Charles. “Before, a home show is where people got ideas and saw what was up-and-coming. Now, people go to the home show because they want to meet that individual. We are still very much in the relationship business. People want to meet those people and have a level of confidence working that individual; they want to see, feel and touch the product.”
Currently, the average age of an Association member is 50. McAllister-Charles and her team are trying to demonstrate the value of membership to the next generation of home builders, plumbers, electricians and more.
“We’ve done some strategic planning and we are due within the next year or so to do another strategic plan. I think one of the highlights of that needs to be how do we engage the younger generation,” adds McAllister-Charles.
OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
Much of McAllister-Charles’ involvement outside the office relates to the home building industry. She serves on the board for Crime Stoppers and Options for Independent Living.
“Our industry experiences a lot of jobsite theft. We have a program that we work with Crime Stoppers to help curtail that and give people an opportunity to report theft,” she says.
Options for Independent Living is a nonprofit organization that works to keep people facing a disability in their homes as long as possible. McAllister-Charles can reach out to members to assist with a homeowner’s independent living needs. She also serves on several task forces and subcommittees at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College that relate to construction.
As a member of Management Women, McAllister-Charles has an outlet to connect with others that don’t have a correlation to the industry.
When away from work, McAllister-Charles is focused on family. She has been married to her husband Tom for nearly 27 years. They have two children together, Drew, 25, and Katie, 23. “When we married, I was also blessed with my stepdaughter, Courtney. Our family rounds out with my son-in-law, Nick, and our granddaughter, Lyla, who will turn three in May.” Extended family is also close by.
When asked to imagine life in the next five to 10 years, McAllister-Charles anticipates retiring eventually, but she’s in no rush.
She concludes, “I love my job and the people I work with and for, so I’m not in a hurry to hang it up.” w