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Archive for Monday, February 2, 1998

EXPERIENCE, LOVE OF ANIMALS MAKES FOR GREAT DIRECTOR

February 2, 1998

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The dream of a lifetime was fulfilled when Midge Grinstead became director of the Lawrence Humane Society.

It was the chance of a lifetime, but she knew it was a long shot.

If it worked out, she would have her dream job -- working with animals. If it didn't, she'd lost nothing.

With time quickly running out, Midge Grinstead decided to apply for a new job -- executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society.

"My expertise are people and fund raising and being able to work with anybody," she said. "I just did not think I had a prayer."

On the last application day, she walked into the Humane Society shelter on 19th Street where she volunteered and handed her resume to a member of the board of directors.

"It did surprise us," said Linda Watrak, society treasurer and member of the board of directors. "But it was certainly a godsend."

Watrak said the board of directors unanimously chose Grinstead to become the shelter's executive director because of her management past and talent with people.

"She has an ability to work through change in management," Watrak said. "Also she has an ability to deal with all types of situations and a willingness to learn."

During her first months on the job, Grinstead proved her intentions and dedication to the shelter. She worked 56 days straight without a day off -- cleaning, arranging, reading, learning, meeting and directing.

"If there was a question about her it was that (she had no college degree)," Watrak said. "She had a lot of experience, and we were right when we thought she was a quick study. You could go to school for life and not get her abilities."

Reclaiming heaven

Grinstead grew up on a farm outside of Topeka where her military family had settled.

"It was just heaven," she said. "I had pet rabbits and pet ducks that I could paper train."

She married after high school and started a family, a route that "squashed my goals for college." She worked at various retail jobs, then moved to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment where she helped record disease statistics.

In 1984, she came to Lawrence to become office manager for Sunflower Associates, a property management and development firm. From there, she moved to manager of Natural Way, a local clothing store, then to the Brook Creek Learning Center where she worked when she applied to Humane Society.

In her off time, Grinstead volunteered at the Humane Society shelter to partially fill a dream.

"This is my dream," she said, adding that she often thought of being a veterinarian or somehow getting into an animal-related career. "Working with animals makes me happy."

Finding a turning point

With that college degree still looming as a goal, Grinstead recently signed up for an animal biology class through the Missouri Animal School of Science.

"If I don't know something I have to go look it up," she said. "I just have this thirst for knowledge."

In her search for knowledge and practical experience, she's learned one thing that she thinks has helped turn the shelter around.

"We all have to work together to make a change," she said.

When she took over as director Oct. 6, the shelter was facing a financial and administrative crisis. Funds and supplies were running low, but animals kept coming in. The stress of seeing abused and abandoned animals dropped off and others euthanized was beginning to take an ugly toll on staff members.

"Everyday they (staff) are subject to animals that are dropped off," Grinstead said. "It's this whole vicious cycle of how we as a human race don't take care of our environment.

"Employees who work here have to want to work here," she said. "They all have to give 110 percent."

Facing the challenge, Grinstead added more administrative oversight to all the shelter's employees, started aggressive fund-raising campaigns and began to create education programs.

Her financial efforts allowed the shelter to make it past the beginning of the year without borrowing operating money as it has done at the end of past years.

"She has really controlled the expenses," Watrak said. "Her ability to manage is the reason we came through."

Grinstead's goals for the shelter this year are continuing to raise money "to find a way to maintain the animals and avoid having to euthanize," she said.

But the key to all that is education. More people need to understand that the shelter's job is to find homes for animals and that their job is to care for their own pets.

"Our big goal for this year is to go to all the schools," she said.

Recruiting help in the form of supplies and volunteers is next on the "to do" list.

"If everybody volunteered just one hour a week, think of how much better our neighborhoods would be," Grinstead said.

A series of classes for pet owners recently started at the shelter, thanks to volunteers. Bags of cat litter, rolls of paper towels, money and time are volunteered often, but more is needed, Grinstead said.

"We've had so many people come forward, and we're grateful," she said. "We have a lot of people out there who care."

-- Selena Stevens' phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is selena@ljworld.com.

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