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Conway continues to care for elderly as ADRC director

Heather Conway has succeeded the retiring Kathy Hass as director of Pierce County's Aging and Disability Resource Center. Conway moved to the position after being manager of the county's child support and economic support programs, the latter of which she'll continue to handle until the end of this year. -- Photo by Bill Kirk

The elderly have been a constant in Heather Conway's often-changing career.

The frequent subjects of her caring are again part of Conway's responsibilities as she succeeded the retiring Kathy Hass in the directorship of Pierce County's Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) earlier this month. Hass established the center approximately five years ago, having previously headed the former county Office on Aging.

"People tell me I've got big shoes to fill," Conway said Wednesday in recognition of her predecessor.

The new ADRC director said she explains the center as having two sides. One stems from the old Office on Aging, incorporating efforts like delivery of meals by both volunteer and paid drivers, plus transporting clients to ProACT in Red Wing and elsewhere. The other involves information and assistance and options counseling, addressing areas such as long-term care, as well as guidance in elderly and disability benefits.

"We're a one-stop place for the elderly to come," she said, noting the center's location on the lowest level of the Pierce County Office Building in Ellsworth--just off the parking lot--is ideal for access by its clientele.

Conway works with a six-member staff, supporting managers of the congregate sites, for instance, and dealing with issues ranging from Social Security to Medicare (open enrollment happens from now until Wednesday, Dec. 7). Interests for the elderly seem to have become "her niche," she said.

The Wittenberg native originally didn't know what kind of work she wanted to pursue. The daughter of Steve (now deceased) and Carol Rewey with two siblings, Heidi and Marne, enjoyed playing guard on her hometown high school's basketball team, playing softball and being in musicals, including "Brigadoon" in her senior year.

At Luther College in Decorah, Ia., she majored in public communication and minored in English, she said. She graduated in 1990, but later returned to graduate school for a Master's degree in social work. Her mother's a social worker.

"I decided I wanted to help people and give back to the community," she said.

Conway said she took classes in counseling, psychology and sociology. She wrote a research paper on barriers to teens using clinical settings when pregnant or in other times of need. She finished her grad school degree at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., in 1995.

The move west was to accompany her husband, Tim, she said. A college roommate of hers had introduced them and they'd been married in 1994. He was embarking on a teaching career at the time.

While still in grad school, she interned at an independent self-standing hospice, she said. Challenging, it was nonetheless the type of work she liked. The couple also "loved" Colorado, with its many recreational opportunities, but because it was far from their families, they returned to the Midwest.

The new ADRC director spent a couple of years at a hospice in the Twin Cities, she said. The work there was similar to what she'd done as an intern, yet the fact several such facilities operated in the Cities was different. Next came a stint as adult respite coordinator for Family Service St. Croix in Stillwater, Minn., involving arranging assistance for bereavement groups, for example.

"I ran a program where volunteers go into homes," she said.

In 1998, Conway arrived at the Pierce County Human Services Department, hired after responding to an advertisement, she said. Her spouse was already teaching in Ellsworth (he's an EMS special education teacher today), so the switch was a natural one. They have two sons, Jonah, an EHS freshman, and Caleb, an EMS seventh grader.

She began here as a social worker in long-term support, serving the elderly, besides adults and children with disabilities, she said. The idea was to help them remain in their homes. In 2008, that program was ending, as the statewide trend was toward private managed-care organizations.

The child support supervisor opening then came along for her, she said. She and a staff of five were occupied with collections as well as state-mandated policies and procedures. Last year, she added the economic support supervisor duties, responsible for many programs, including Food Share, Badger Care and Medicare. That job overlaps with her ADRC one until the end of this year.

Conway said she likes to read and travel to destinations such as Mexico, Florida and California in her free time.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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