A Part of the Pack: Jen Gutekunst
Being a mom of four means Jen Gutekunst is a professional-level schedule juggler. There’s school, of course. And then there’s soccer, basketball, track, tennis, volleyball, hockey, golf and skating. Oh, and don’t forget football: her husband Brian Gutekunst is the general manager for the Packers, so the football team’s schedule casts a shadow the size of Lambeau Field over the family calendar.
Brian was promoted to general manager earlier this year after serving as director of player personnel in 2016 and 2017. Prior to that, he served as the director of scouting for the Packers.
Like most families in the National Football League, the Gutekunsts have bounced around a bit.
The Gutekunsts met while students at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. After graduation, Brian became a scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs. About a year later, he became a scout for the Packers and the couple moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. They were there for 12 years before finally moving to Green Bay in 2012.
“We knew this is the lifestyle – that we’d be moving every couple of years,” Jen said. This time, though, “We hope we’re staying here. Plus, if we stay, that means the Packers are winning.”
Gutekunst readily admits the frigid winters took a while to re-acclimate to. What wasn’t a difficult transition for them, however, has been the people.
“It was kind of a culture shock to move back,” Jen said. “We moved from Raleigh, where there’s a lot of money. Everything there is big and new and fancy. When we were looking for a school here, we chose private because we like a little Jesus in our school. We walked into St. Mark Lutheran School and during the tour they said, ‘Here’s the library. It’s also the cafeteria. It was a shift in perspective. Here, it isn’t about a shiny, new building. It’s truly all about the people.”
The Gutekunsts had four children in five years. So, busy is their default setting. School mornings and evenings are a whirlwind. Jen has a DIY command center overflowing with team schedules and event flyers, a visual reminder to the entire crew about their varied activities. But between dropoff and pickup, Jen squeezes in a little personal time in the form of a group run with friends. She labels herself a “social runner” and has finished a couple of half-marathons and her first full marathon – the New York City Marathon last fall.
“We usually go about six miles with up to five friends,” Jen said. “It’s kind of my mental health for the day. But once school is out, I have to put my ‘mom running shoes’ back on again.”
And for this family, that means plenty of time in the car. “I don’t really love being the taxi,” Jen said. “I prefer the nights where we can call sit down for family dinner. I’m a homebody so I don’t like the rushed pace.”
Between her kids’ schedules and Brian’s schedule, Jen said the Gutekunsts have become adept at quality over quantity family time. “It has evolved throughout our 17 years of marriage,” Jen said. “Early on, he’d be gone during the fall for six weeks at a time. It took us a little while
to figure out that a schedule like that was not going to help our marriage last. Eventually, we figured out that a 10-day trip with a long weekend was a good compromise during the fall scouting season. He would always be really good about ‘being present’ when he was home.”
These days, as general manager, Brian doesn’t travel as much throughout the year. But Jen said they still put an emphasis on meaningful time spent together.
“I’m more organized and he’s more spontaneous,” Jen said with a smile. “We call him the fun parent because he’s always instigating a game of soccer, baseball, basketball or swimming with the kids.”
A PART OF THE PACK
Jen attends most home games, sometimes accompanied by one of her children. But with four children 12 and younger, the team’s family events are more a draw for their brood.
“We love family night – the kids love going onto the field for fireworks,” she said. “And everyone loves training camp to see the players on the kids’ bikes.”
Traveling to away games with a family of six is too daunting a task. But Jen said she and Brian head south a couple days early and make a couples weekend of the Packers’ annual game in Chicago.
And when the family is due for a vacation, “We try to tag along on a scouting trip,” Jen said. “That’s usually how we sneak in a little family time.”
Gutekunst volunteers with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) of Brown County. As an advocate, she spends an hour per week working one-on-one with a child who has been deemed abused and neglected by the court system.
“I’m trying to be a voice for them,” Gutekunst said. “Sometimes they’re in foster care. Sometimes their parents are recovering addicts. I just hang out with them and give a sense of consistency for the child.” Sarah Quinette, advocate supervisor and volunteer recruitment coordinator for Brown County CASA, works directly with Gutekunst and occasionally accompanies her on client visits.
“She is very engaging with the children. She visits them at daycare and sometimes in their home. One thing I was impressed with, is immediately she got right down on the ground to play with them. It is very clear she is there for the kids and that is her focus,” Quinette said. “It takes a very special person to do this role. Sometimes you see some hard things kids have gone through. Every visit shows the kids that you’re there for them. It shows her compassion and willingness to share her time. And for her to take time out of her busy life ... It’s pretty amazing.” w