Wisconsin Woman Labors for Forest Industry

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Volunteer efforts earn Debby Blomberg activism award from Forest Resources Assn.

Debby Blomberg doesn’t remember exactly when it was that her husband, Randy, a logging contractor, brought home a brochure that he picked up at a mill scale shack. It was about a new group called Lake States Women in Timber. He thought she may want to become involved in it.
Debby subsequently joined the new organization, but for a few years she did little more than simply pay her dues, like a lot of other members.
“But then I heard Bruce Vincent speak,” Debby recalled. “He told the group I was with about the problems they were facing in the Pacific Northwest — not just the problems in the forest, but personal loss, like loss of homes and businesses, and families in distress.
“Though I’d heard about these problems before, it didn’t sink in until I heard Bruce tell his personal story. I went home and decided I had to do something, or we would soon be facing the same problems, that this was my future and my family’s.”
Debby went home and wrote a letter to Cathy Nordine, who was president of Lake States Women in Timber at the time. “I told her that I was a logger’s wife who wanted to do more. I said, ‘I like to write. I’m not afraid to speak in front of a crowd, and I’m looking for someone to put me to work.’ “
Thus began the volunteer activism of a woman who had been a stay-at-home mother in Ogema, Wis., who took care of her children and made a home for her family and also kept the books for her husband’s Blomberg Logging and Trucking business.
Debby was recognized for her efforts earlier this year by the Forest Resources Association. She was named the winner of the association’s annual award for activism. Association chairman Allen Bedell presented Debby with a plaque and cash award, saying, “On behalf of all of us who rely on the right to harvest trees, we thank you.”
Within a few months of contacting Lake States Women in Timber, Debby was on the organization’s board of directors. The following year she wrote one of the position papers that the Federated Women in Timber (a coalition of similar organizations around the country) sent to Washington, D.C. Shortly after that she became editor of the quarterly newsletter. She served as president of the Lake States organization from 1996-98 and again from 2000-02.
Debby also served as chair of Federated Women in 2002 and led a delegation of about 30 women on their annual spring visit to the nation’s capital. Debby has made the trip six times to Washington, D.C., an intense week of visiting every Senator and Representative on Capitol Hill as well as the head of the Forest Service and other federal officials.
“It’s a busy week,” she said, “and I’ve found that organizing the week and making sure that everything goes according to plan makes it just that much more intense.” Debby also keeps in contact with federal lawmakers and officials through her involvement — with Randy — with the Lake States Federal Timber Purchasers Legislative Tour.
In 1997-98 Debby helped write a script and then co-produced a video on safety in timber harvesting titled “Safe and Home Again” for the Lake States group. It was produced with a grant from the national Timber Harvesting and Transportation Safety Foundation. The video was distributed throughout the country and requested by the logging industry in Canada and New Zealand.
Debby currently is leading the Federated Women’s expansion project, which seeks to recruit and organize more local chapters. She is also working with a Web site designer to develop a Web site for both the national and local Women in Timber organizations.
Another area in which Debby has served the forest products industry is in the Log-A-Load for Kids campaign, the charitable drive sponsored by the Forest Resources Association that benefits Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. In 1995 she was asked to start Log-A-Load for Kids campaigns in the Lake States. She served as chair for two years, during which time she spoke to the press often, wrote articles and brochures and talked up the campaign at industry functions and other events. In 1998 the Lake States campaign was turned over to Michigan-Wisconsin Timber Producers, but Debby has remained actively involved. She has been a member of the national advisory group over four years and has recently been chair of the group.
“My ties to Log-A-Load for Kids are intensely personal,” Debby said. “The same day that I agreed to establish a campaign in the Lake States, my daughter and her husband were in the hospital with my infant grandson, Luke, learning that he had been born with a 9 millimeter hole between the ventricles of his heart. We learned very early how important the Children’s Miracle Network is to a family going through the nightmare of having a sick child. Luke’s first year was one crisis after another, but by the grace of God and the skill of his cardiologists, he is a healthy nine year old.”
Much of Debby’s activism is directed toward those who have environmental concerns but may have misconceptions about the forest products industry. She was appointed to the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board in 1998 and served for three years. The board is established by the state legislature to award grants to qualifying groups (mostly schools) to further environmental education in Wisconsin. About $400,000 in grants is awarded each year, half to forestry education projects. Most of the board’s members are environmental educators from different areas of traditional education.
“I found them to be well meaning but often ill informed about the forest community,” Debby said. “I felt my time on the board was well spent as I used every opportunity to further their forestry education.” She continues to work with the board as a grant reviewer.
Debby has been affiliated with a number of organizations and committees. All of her activism efforts might give the impression that she is simply a high-powered organizational leader, which she is. But much of her volunteer service is done on a more personal level. She speaks to a range of diverse groups, from a local ladies’ monthly coffee group to forestry students, to grade school and high school students and a wide range of civic groups. Many of her efforts are as simple as writing a letter to a publication or contacting a grocery chain about misleading environmental information. Her individual efforts and service as a leader in various capacities have galvanized changes for the better for the forest products industry.
Debby had a good upbringing for a future in activism. “I grew up on a farm near Prentice,” she recalled. “My parents always encouraged my brothers and sister and me to stand up for what we believed in, to get involved and try to make a difference. I was involved in a lot of things throughout my growing up — 4-H, church youth group — and at school it was debate team, forensics, the school yearbook, plays, music, and lots of other things.”
She met Randy at a church youth group in high school, and they married right after high school and started a family soon after. Though Debby was a stay-at-home mother for many years, she nevertheless was very active in her local community. Over the years she was a Sunday school teacher and drama and youth leader at her church. She also served on the church’s education board and sang in the choir. While her daughters were in high school, Debby served on the local school board for more than four year years. She was involved with her daughters’ school programs and one summer coached little league.
For about four years Blomberg arranged with Consolidated Papers to donate seedlings to the fifth grade classes at two local schools for Arbor Day. “I also took that opportunity, with a few other mothers, to talk to the children about forestry and logging and why we needed to continue to cut trees for the products that they used every day.”
“When Randy happened to bring home that brochure about a new group called Lake States Women in Timber, the seed had already been planted.”
In her acceptance remarks at the Forest Resources Association 2004 awards dinner earlier this year, Debby said, “Activism is not a thing I have to do. It’s what I want to do.”
She also spoke of the example set by her parents. “If you see a job to get done, you stand up and roll up your sleeves. And I realized a long time ago that it’s important for me to speak out for what I believe in.”