Prologue: For nearly 50 years, the Midland Area Community Foundation has been partnering on projects that facilitate long-term transformation in the Midland area. From recent grantmaking efforts, such as gifts to the Miracle Field, to one of our first projects done in collaboration with the City of Midland and our fellow foundations – the Tridge, the Community Foundation is proud to uplift and support placemaking efforts that enrich our community.
Karen Murphy, the Director of Public Services for the City of Midland, has come a long way from being a youngster who participated in the Tridge dedication in 1981. She has partnered with the Community Foundation on numerous projects and looks forward to continuing to provide “Access to Community” through her personal and professional efforts.
“Love is in the details” – a coffee chat with Karen Murphy, by Renee’ Deckrow
They say ‘love is in the details…. and when I think of all of the people who tend to the details of our City every single day. . . the unsung heroes, the behind-the-scenes warriors who diligently care for the less exciting but vital aspects of community living, I am in awe and see so much love. So with profound admiration, I got to sit down with Karen Murphy, Director of Public Services for the City of Midland, and learn a little about her story, who inspires her, and what she is passionate about.
Karen Murphy’s impressive list of credentials includes a BS/MS in Biology from CMU, a BS in Computer Information Systems from SVSU, and a Master’s in Public Administration from CMU. Still, she beamed brightest when discussing her role as mother of her two sons.
“I’m a divorced mom raising two boys – a sixth grader at Northeast who’s into all things sports, [and] a sophomore at Midland High who’s a music and drama student. In addition, this year, we have a German exchange student who is a senior at Midland High – he’s trying every extracurricular activity he can, so we are BUSY!! We enjoy camping with friends, fishing, trips to visit our cousins, and Friday night football games.”
“I get a lot of inspiration from my kids and watching their interactions throughout Midland. I see the world through a different lens when I understand their perspective. I’ll take my boys to my project sites after hours and wander around with them, asking them what they think of a space and how it could be used. I watch my boys interact with people – the level of acceptance of their generation is inspirational. I asked them how we could make others feel more included. I never knew being a parent would enrich my professional view like this, and it’s pretty amazing!”
“I am also inspired by my family, who has ties back to the earliest immigrant families that made Midland their home in the late 1800s. To me, that speaks volumes, as so many of my family chose to stay here in Midland. The reason for this is that we are resilient through every challenge. Whether coming together as a community to support others through the various changes and mergers in our business and industrial sector over the years that have impacted families and livelihoods, to facing life-changing flooding events: we are resilient. We help each other and figure out how to persevere when faced with tough situations. We come out strong because we band together – our community leaders know how and who to reach out to for the support our people need to weather the storms.”
Motherhood & her resilient family heritage have both prepared her well for her responsibilities in caring for our city. It is a role that requires her to wear many hats; Karen enjoys the various touch points her 20-year career allows her to have weekly and loves being in a public service role. Overseeing everything from refuse collection, Dial-a-Ride, the City’s fleet of service vehicles, city parks, and much more, Karen loves the purpose her days offer and values her team’s hard work in caring for the practical, everyday needs within our City.
“I like that we are a public service organization. I like the impact that we have on people every day. And the impacts can be minimal, and you may not realize how important it is. When you set your trash out at 7:30 in the morning on your way to work, to come home and have it taken care of. There’s no mess on the curb; you just take your trash can inside.”
“We have a simple touch point every week with our residents because we pick up the refuse. We also have huge impacts like the Miracle Field, where you have a parent come up to you and say you have no idea how much this means to them that you put an adult changing table in the restroom because now they don’t have to lay their child on the floor of a public restroom.”
From the mundane to the significant impact projects like Miracle Field & the Changing Places Restroom going into Grove Park, Karen believes we all have a part to play in creating engaged communities.
“This is becoming my passion – partnering with others across our community to increase inclusion through accessibility. Accessibility that spans generations and abilities so everyone can feel a part of the community and participate alongside each other.”
“The partnerships between philanthropic efforts of community members made possible by Midland Area Community Foundation and public services like Parks and Recreation are significant and vital to understand. Everyone is invited to participate and can engage in very simple ways. As the director of Public Services for the City of Midland, I have worked with the Community Foundation to seek grant support to build community assets – to create places where people can engage in creating or expanding their community experience. Smaller grants to put signage at City Forest, larger grants for Chippewassee Trail expansion, and the Grove promenade. Grants to support larger community initiatives like Miracle Field and Poseyville Riverfront restoration. I’ve partnered with the Foundation on the Fun Zone renovation – funding component plus volunteer engagement. And I’m an active member of the Access to Community Committee at the Foundation.”
As we continued to talk, I asked what she is passionate about going forward. “Hands down, I want to continue to improve accessibility and inclusion in the community. I want spaces and places for everyone! I can play my part in this by ensuring that every improvement we make in our parks system is made through a lens of Universal Design and by looking at how we can best serve the most complex needs through the facilities we build and the programs we offer. And through the partnerships and connections that we make along the way. I have met a wonderful mentor and friend, Iris Mehler. She has opened my eyes to a void that I didn’t see in our community – we are missing out on a wonderful sector of our population because of the physical barriers that exist throughout Midland. I am ready to work alongside people like Iris to help bring those barriers down to become a welcoming community where everyone can join in.”
My coffee chat concluded with Karen Murphy encouraging community members, “Get off the bench! You are the only one who can move yourself forward – engage, don’t stay on the sidelines. You are essential and can make a difference, but you have to get off the bench and onto the field! Community is a feeling of acceptance that connects you to where you live. Still, you must choose community by engaging – it’s an active relationship that takes participation!”
“A city can “create” places and events, but people must engage in creating the community. Unfortunately, growing up in Midland, my parents were not of the ‘let’s connect to the community” mindset, so I was ready to leave Midland. However, once my career allowed me to come back and start my own life here, I realized that the community was always there waiting for me – I just hadn’t realized my role in connecting to it.”
From garbage collections to universal design to Miracles on a Field…. We are all grateful for the Public Service Department, which cares for details, big and small, with great love. Thank you for the encouragement to jump in the game and participate in making Midland even better.
Together, Forward, Bold we go…