Balzer reflects on 25 years of service to county
Chuck Balzer is proud to say he started Pierce County's Long-Term Support 25 years ago when he was first hired.
Now, as the calendar turned to 2009, Balzer said he has seen the program change drastically. And based on that, and other factors, he announced his retirement, effective Friday.
"I'm going to miss the people -- both the consumers and the clients," he said. "Working for the county and human services has been like a second family. I have nothing but great thoughts about the folks that I work with."
Balzer grew up in Red Wing and graduated from UW-River Falls. He then moved to Barron County and accepted a position with their Children's Service Department in 1974.
Seeking a position closer to home, Balzer came to Pierce County in 1984, coming in "at ground zero" for the long-term support program.
"There was no long-term support position when I started," he said. "My first challenge was trying to put a unit together."
One of the objectives throughout his time, he said, has been to get people either with developmental or physical disabilities out of institutions and living in their home or at a home-based facility.
"The goal has been to get the care toward the person's needs and desires," he explained. "We've experienced a tremendous amount of growth of people staying out of institutions."
He mentioned proudly they were able to release 12 individuals throughout his history from the Northern Center, a state institution in Chippewa Falls. Some of those individuals, he added, were placed in that facility as children and were there for nearly 40 years.
"The challenge was trying to figure out how to do it, and a meaningful and a safe way," he said.
However, due to rapid growth and lack of funding, that challenge became more difficult. With that in mind, about three years ago, Pierce County, along with St. Croix, Dunn, Chippewa and Eau Claire, entered into an agreement in which the private sector will provide long-term support.
The group is called Community Health Partnership, a private non-profit organization. The Pierce/St. Croix location is north of River Falls in the bottom portion of the former AgStar building. Offices are also located in Eau Claire, Menomonie and Chippewa Falls.
Balzer explained an objective of the Partnership, with assistance from the State of Wisconsin, is the wait lists from each county can be dissolved, so more people can be served.
He added it's absolutely been an adjustment period, but he hopes everything works out.
Balzer now calls Red Wing home again with wife Brenda, who is principal at St. Joe's Elementary in Red Wing. The couple has three children and five grandchildren.
His future plans include taking some time off and doing some consulting in the area. Retirement will also lead to more time for his hobbies, he said, which include bicycling and cross-country skiing.