In the last six months Boone County has seen two exemplary public servants step down. In January Karen Miller left the Southern District County Commission seat she had held for 24 years. Last week Wendy Noren resigned from her position as Boone County Clerk after 35 years.
Karen and Wendy had at least three things in common. Both worked very hard. Both were Democrats whose partisanship was one of the least important parts of their political personas. And third, that was because they just wanted to do what they could to make the lives of Boone County residents better.
I first got to know Wendy indirectly when I started doing election night coverage for KBIA. Boone County returns were frustrating to report because they came in big chunks and the last returns, which often determined the outcomes of close, high-profile races – I’m recalling especially the state senate races in 2008 and 2016 – seemed to take forever for Wendy to release. Wendy took her time to get it right because her job was to get it right. She knew elections are a sacred trust.
I got to know her better when I invited her to speak to my political parties class at Columbia College. This class is always scheduled in even fall semesters, during the campaign, and I asked her to come in and talk about the logistics of the election.
In her inimitable high-energy, plain-spoken, passionate way she gave my students deep insights into how Boone County elections are run. It was obvious to my students why people come from all over to observe them. I had to tell the class that she was an international expert on running clean and efficient elections – she never tooted her own horn.
I told her to feel free to recruit poll workers in my classes. She always recruited at least one, making the training and the twenty-hour workday on Election Day sound like not only the most fun in the world but also the most important thing they could ever do.
I admire Wendy deeply. She will be succeeded but not replaced. Boone County, the state of Missouri – people from all over the world who learned from her how to get democracy done – owe her a debt of gratitude. Thank you, Wendy.
Terry Smith is a political science professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.