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Blugold alumnus brings history of leadership to local museum

| Denise Olson

A central mission of UW-Eau Claire is to develop the growth of engaged young adults, eager to not only participate in their communities, but become leaders in them as well. One Blugold alumnus has surpassed all expectations in this regard. After a decade of founding, organizing, championing and fundraising for a wide range of civic causes and organizations, history graduate Jeremy Gragert now takes on a key role at a treasured community organization.

This past September Gragert began a full-time position as a communications specialist for the Chippewa Valley Museum, focused on outreach and marketing the museum's programs, education, resources and exhibits. After spending the last dozen or so years highly active in campus, community, recreational, safety and educational efforts, Gragert is very pleased to now have the opportunity to serve  the museum in this role.

"The museum is a great place to become even more connected to the Eau Claire area. We have a long history of collaboration with UW-Eau Claire, and this position is a great way for me to stay connected to my alma mater. This year, the university's centennial and the museum's 50th anniversary, is an important time for reflection. It is also time to look forward for these two organizations, which I consider pillars of the community. It's an exciting moment for me to join the museum staff, and for anyone to join the museum as a member," Gragert said.

So what exactly prepared Gragert for the position with the Chippewa Valley Museum? A passion for history, a dedication to community and a résumé almost too extensive to summarize, but a few highlights can be seen as pivotal in his path.

As a history and print journalism student in 2003, Gragert co-founded The Flip Side, an alternative press newspaper, which still prints to this day, and is the longest-running alternative newspaper in campus history. Gragert served on Student Senate in his senior year and helped to start and lead several student organizations, including the College Independents and the College Freethought Society. He was a leader in the Progressive Student Association, which led efforts to oppose the war in Iraq, and helped to push the city to pass a minimum wage increase in 2005.

The Progressive Student Association existed on campus for almost 10 years and was reborn in 2014 as Progressive Students & Alumni. The organization acts as a hub for progressive thought and action on and off campus, a way for students and alumni to work together and create campus-community connections for civic engagement.

In concert with civic engagement, UW-Eau Claire seeks to help build global citizens. Gragert took advantage of two international experiences offered to students, both in Central Europe. In the summer of 2004 he took part in the Central European Travel Seminar through the history department and spent the fall semester of that year studying in Riga at the University of Latvia.

"The study abroad program was an amazing way to see a part of the world where most people would never think of visiting, let alone living. I found Latvia to be a very enchanted place, and one of the first things I did to get to know the country was to start writing for the Baltic Times newspaper, an English language weekly covering the three Baltic States," he said.

After graduating in 2005, Gragert started early in 2006 as a full-time AmeriCorps VISTA in the Center for Service-Learning at UW-Eau Claire, connecting students to the community and getting them involved in civic life. He provided a perfect role model of service, as someone who had been a highly engaged student. All told, Gragert has since offered his time and talents to more than 20 different publications, organizations and committees since his days as a Blugold. He quotes Chancellor James Schmidt's philosophy about community involvement as one he holds dear and strives to embody.

"In the Leader-Telegram in 2014, Chancellor Schmidt said something I agree with and I try to be a part of, partly as someone who lives just a few blocks away from campus in the Third Ward. I too believe in the university as being 'a very porous institution, with community members coming onto campus and being involved and participating in nearly everything the university has to offer, and our students, faculty and staff being a very visible and integrated part of our community,'" Gragert quoted.

In addition to his Blugold history degree, Gragert holds a master's degree in student affairs from UW-La Crosse and certificates in both nonprofit leadership and grant writing obtained through Continuing Education at UW-Eau Claire. In 2010 he served UW-Stout as the coordinator of community outreach, civic engagement and service-learning. He co-founded the Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance in 2011, which provides a united voice for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders. Among a long list of accomplishments, including the Governor's Service Award (2007) from Gov. Jim Doyle, the Earth Green Award (2008) from the Chippewa Valley Sierra Club, and the Volunteer of the Year Award (2013) from the Wisconsin Bike Federation, Gragert does have one recent accomplishment he says makes him particularly proud.

"One of the things that I’m most proud of accomplishing since moving back to Eau Claire from Menomonie in 2012 is the creation of the Chippewa Valley Bike Map, a project I led through my involvement with Clear Vision Eau Claire and completed in summer 2015," he said.

Published in 2015 and free to the public, the map shows bike-friendly street routes and trails across this part of the state. It is available at local bike shops, public libraries, YMCAs, visitor centers, government buildings, UW-Eau Claire, high schools, The Local Store and the Chippewa Valley Museum.

Gragert, who doesn't own a car, has served as the northwest ambassador of the Wisconsin Bike Federation since early 2015. He addressed the need to designate safe biking routes in a 2015 Leader-Telegram story about the map, stating, "There are good ways to get almost anywhere in Eau Claire or Chippewa Falls as long as you know what streets are safer or more comfortable to ride on." The map routes connect Eau Claire, Altoona, Lake Hallie and Chippewa Falls, making cycling the entire urban area more accessible.

Gragert's tenure as ambassador with the Wisconsin Bike Federation has been rewarding in personal and professional ways, and he will miss it.

"I will be staying active in transportation issues locally through the Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance and will remain an active member and volunteer with the Bike Fed. Biking to Carson Park every day, I have one of the best commutes in the city, and park my bike just down the hall from an 1892 Jeffrey & Gormully Rambler bicycle featured in our 'Picture of Health' exhibit," he said.

As he embarks on this new path of leadership at the Chippewa Valley Museum, one thing is clear: If Jeremy Gragert brings even half of the passion, commitment and innovative thinking to the museum that he has brought to countless organizations and causes across the valley, one of the gems of Carson Park can expect big things to come.  

Photo caption: Jeremy Gragert is a fan of the 1892 Jeffrey & Gormully Rambler featured in the Chippewa Valley Museum's "Picture of Health" exhibit.