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Denzer's road to county director started in journalism

Ellen Denzer was recently named county planning and zoning director for St. Croix County. Photo by Jon Echternacht

Ellen Denzer, St. Croix County's Planning and Zoning director, started out on a different career path.

The Ellsworth native earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from UW-River Falls after graduating from Ellsworth High School in 1980. She put in time as an intern at the Ellsworth and River Falls newspapers and worked a couple of summer jobs with Pierce County.

It was while toiling as a full-time reporter for the Hudson Star-Observer covering the county board that a job in the planning and zoning department opened up.

"I covered the county beat for the Star-Observer in 1986-1988," Denzer said in a recent conversation at her office in the government center.

She said several board members encouraged her to take the job, "So in April 1988 I went to work for the county as assistant planner and recycler, at that time both jobs were together, for a substantial pay raise."

Denzer, 49, gives her experience in the newspaper business credit for developing a lot of skills. "The background is great for a lot of different jobs. It teaches you how to do research, work fast and write clearly," she said.

"I never expect to go back (to newspapers) but I always use the tools I learned there," Denzer said.

Making the transition from journalist to county government employee has served her well, but hasn't been without some challenges.

She found herself working a year on her own before Dave Fodroczi was hired in January 1990. Fodroczi retired late last year.

Her first big project was building the current government center. When the building was finished in 1993 she had to move her office into the new structure and at the same time make a household move from River Falls to Hudson while she was extremely pregnant.

"We made the move into the new government center on June 26, 1993; my son was born on July 12. He was due in August and came six weeks early," she said suspecting the stress of all that moving had something to do with the early arrival.

Now 24 years after she started, Denzer sees the department continue to expand. Soon she will have the title of Community Development Director. Planning and zoning, land, water, parks and recycling will all be under her direction with a restructuring of the department.

"There will be a lot of activity," Denzer said, "There are state mandates to comply with and ordinances have to be rewritten to make them current. I don't expect things to dwindle."

In the meantime, she wants to improve the ability for residents to use the Internet and social media to access information from the department. "We want to make it more user friendly," she said.

Denzer and her husband, Jim MacSwain, have four children; Walker MacSwain, 19, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, Chandler MacSwain 17, a senior at Hudson High School, Sloane MacSwain, 14, a freshman at Hudson High School and Adaire MacSwain, 9, in fourth grade at Willow River Elementary School.