Portage County’s first all-female board of commissioners hail from three different generations

By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Starting in January, there will be three women serving as commissioners in the Portage County. Kathleen Chandler (left) Maureen Frederick and Tommie Jo Marsilio photographed in the Commissioners office in the Portage County Administration Building on Thursday, December 13, 2012 in Ravenna, Ohio. (Paul Tople/Akron Beacon Journal)

Don’t point out to Tommie Jo Marsilio that come Thursday all three Portage County Commissioners will be women for the first time in the county’s history.

Marsilio, who joined the board two years ago, calls that point irrelevant.

“When you have a conversation about us being women, there’s an innuendo that we should be surprised that women have accomplished this,” she said.

Far more interesting — and possibly far more beneficial to the county, she pointed out — is that the women represent three different generations, bringing diverse perspectives to the role of public servant.

Marsilio, in the middle of her first term, is a 40-year-old Republican, divorced mom, attorney and member of Generation X.

Maureen Frederick, re-elected for the third time in November, is a never-married 64-year-old Baby Boomer Democrat.

And the board’s newest member, 80-year-old Kathleen Chandler, is a Democrat, career politician, mom and grandma born to the Silent Generation.

“That’s the best cross-section you can have: three different generations,” Marsilio said. “It changes how you think.”

Added Chandler, “Each person brings his or her own life experiences and background and each makes a contribution in that way.”

Being raised in three very different eras doesn’t stop a well-intentioned board from finding common ground for solving public problems, Frederick said.

“You wouldn’t be in public service unless you wanted an efficient and effective government. I think all three of us agree on that,” she said.

Here’s more about the three women sharing Portage County’s top office:

Kathleen Chandler

The Silent Generation refers to those born between 1927 and 1945 who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. It was the time of big bands and swing music, when women stayed home to raise kids and men who found a good job stayed put for life.

According to marketing studies that attempt to understand generational differences, it was also a time marked by suffocating conformity, postwar happiness and the first drumbeats of civil rights.

Individually, members of this generation are considered disciplined, self-sacrificing, cautious and have a strong sense of values and near-absolute truths.

Today, they are considered the richest and most free-spending retirees in history, though “retirement” mostly means sitting in a rocking chair and living in peace and quiet.

Chandler won’t quibble with most of that, but said she prefers not to be pigeonholed into one generation because she has lived through every generation that came after her.

“As I lived through one generation and into the next, each generation has an influence on your life. Your thinking and decision-making is influenced by your life experience and you’re living through all of them,” she said.

Still, in reading a description provided to her about the Silent Generation, Chandler did see traits that contribute to her success as a politician. Among them is a strong work ethic.

“That, of course, crosses many generations in the Midwest,” she said. But for those coming of age during the Depression, motivation came from seeing widespread poverty and unemployment.

“When it came time for me to go to the university, I had to support myself by working long hours,” said Chandler, who was born in 1932. “I worked 60 hours a week and took 15 hours of credit, and I was happy to do it because I thought I was accomplishing something.”

Her mom was a nurse at a time when nurses were not well-paid and had little room for advancement, so Chandler was encouraged to go into teaching. Because of a shortage of teachers during the war, she was allowed to begin teaching in Michigan at the age of 19 with a simple certificate. She later finished her bachelor’s and a graduate degree while teaching there and in Texas. Her speciality was reading, heavily influenced by illiteracy challenges that became the cultural cry of “Johnny Can’t Read.”

Chandler married a professor, then stayed home to raise her children. When the family moved to Kent, she did a lot of volunteering and was asked to run for Kent City Council in 1980.

“As a child, I did not imagine myself in politics because women generally were encouraged to ... engage in nurturing professions,” she said. But she took the advice of friends and ran. She won and served eight years.

“I decided if I was going to serve in government, then I should educate myself about government,” she said, so she collected a master’s in public administration from Kent State University in 1990.

By that time, she was the city’s mayor. She later became a county commissioner, then spent eight years representing the 68th Ohio House District, until term limits prevented her from running again after 2010.

“I stayed home for almost a year and a half then wanted to get back in public service, so I ran for county commissioner,” she said. “I believe I do bring a unique perspective to the board, not from my generation so much, as from the insights that come from the many years of service in government at the local and state levels as well as the education and training opportunities I have had.”

Maureen Frederick

Baby boomers, one of the largest generations in history with 77 million people, includes those born between 1946 and 1964. They range from the save-the-world revolutionaries of the 1960s and ’70s to the yuppies of the ’80s.

They ushered in the era of rock ’n’ roll, free love, protests and a buy-now-pay-later mentality. They were also the first generation to begin tolerating divorce, homosexuals and interracial relationships.

Personality studies have concluded they tend to be self-righteous, optimistic, driven and team-oriented, with a strong desire to change the common values for the good of all. Women left their kitchens in record numbers to join the work place.

Boomers tend to be more positive about authority, hierarchal structure and tradition. In retirement, they tend to forgo the rocking chairs of their parents for exercise, hobbies and travel.

Frederick, born in 1948, said not all of the stereotypes apply to her personally, but others are undeniable. She does buy on credit, but pays it off monthly because she hates paying interest.

“I think I bring that same personal philosophy to my job,” she said.

She’s definitely a child of the rock era. She didn’t go to Woodstock, but she bought the music.

“I can remember my parents saying, ‘How can you listen to that stuff?’ ” she said with a laugh. “Of course, now I hear things today and say the same thing.”

Frederick also recalled her first year of college, walking in a protest about the poor living conditions and wages of migrant workers.

“I don’t think I realized the way some people lived at that time,’’ she said. ‘‘I didn’t realize there could be multiple families living in one house. It’s when I really became aware that there are so many people that don’t have the good fortune or opportunity that you have,” she said.

Frederick recalls fondly how her parents showed up on the picketing line to pass out hot chocolate, and credits them with instilling in her a “sense of right and wrong.”

“I am a compassionate person. I would hope that anyone in public service can say the same thing. Some people say that’s trite, but it’s true. People are important,” she said.

Her experiences continue to affect her in her role as commissioner, whether its voting on a budget or setting policy.

“I think government should be responsive in helping meet the basic needs of people,” she said. “We may have philosophical differences there, and that’s healthy. I know people are skeptical of government and say it’s too big, and it is. But some of those same people, when they are in need, are outraged when services aren’t available.

“I think of people who come in for the first time to ask for food stamps. It’s hard for them, but our system has to help those people.”

If there is one trait she’d like to adopt from the generation that came after her, it would be the ease with which they adapt to technology.

“I still have a ‘dumb’ phone,” she said. “I couldn’t figure out the smartphone.”

Tommie Jo Marsilio

Born in 1972, Marsilio is a member of Generation X, people born between 1965 and 1980. They were the latch-key kids who grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven parents.

Individuals tend to be entrepreneurial and individualistic, and believe individual rights should prevail over the common good. They are more committed to self rather than a specific organization, and average seven career changes in their lifetime.

They desire a chance to make a contribution, but are cynical of major institutions, government and big business. They are more interested in saving the neighborhood than the world.

Studies suggest they are late to marry and quick to divorce, are deeply in credit card debt and are short on loyalty. But they are also survivors, self-reliant and more tolerant of all people.

“Overall, that’s a very fair and accurate description of my generation,” Marsilio said. “Individually, they don’t all apply, but I look at people who are my approximate age, and unfortunately, it’s dead on.”

She said she frequently fights a perception among older people that her generation is filled with shallow individuals who don’t know a day’s hard work.

“One of my biggest barriers is my age,” she said. “I am regularly dismissed, especially when I’m with people in their 50s and 60s. I have to think they are making assumptions” about her generation.

Some stereotypes she will defend, like the argument that fixing the pieces can be more practical than tackling the whole.

“Many of us want to save the neighborhood because we’re smart enough to know if you’re going to save the world you need to start with the neighborhood,” she said.

If she is mistrustful of authority, she said, it comes from her parents, who grew up in the era of Vietnam and were very “jaded” about government.

“When you grow up hearing about it, that is the starting place” for her own skepticism about government, she said. “But then I go further and say, ‘OK, let’s be a part of this. Let’s jump into that and fix it.’ I can’t be Ronald Reagan, but I can be a county commissioner.”

Marsilio said she is proud of what she brings to the table and thinks her perspective provides balance to the board’s makeup.

“In terms of how I see the world, the first presidential election that I remember knowing anything about was Ronald Reagan. I have to believe Kathleen [Chandler] will laugh when she hears that,” Marsilio said. “But in terms of my views of America and what’s good for the country, that’s the first time I had to pay attention.

“But even now, it’s a different America,” she said, “just like my daughter doesn’t know America prior to Sept. 11.”

Descriptions of generations used above came from MarketingTeacher.com at www.marketingteacher.com/lesson-store/lesson-six-living-generations.html#. Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.


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