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Shy in the spotlight, busy all over: Paukert wins leadership award, rich praise from colleagues

Judi Paukert says she is not one to seek the spotlight, but sometimes it is hard to escape it. "I prefer to be behind the scenes. It doesn't always work out that way," she said. Her failure to avoid attention was particularly evident in January d...

Judi Paukert
Judi Paukert, community relations manager for Xcel Energy in Grand Forks, N.D., is this year's winner of the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce's annual Henry Havig award. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Judi Paukert says she is not one to seek the spotlight, but sometimes it is hard to escape it.

"I prefer to be behind the scenes. It doesn't always work out that way," she said.

Her failure to avoid attention was particularly evident in January during the Grand Forks area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting, when she was honored with the Henry Havig award, given each year to recognize the organization's most accomplished members.

Surrounded by colleagues and a few hundred of the area's prime movers, business bigwigs and various captains of local institutions, the praise was heavy on her experience leading local organizations and her career as a community relations manager for Xcel Energy.

"I never thought I'd be up there receiving that award," said Paukert, who used the words "shocked," "moved" and "overwhelmed" when talking about her reaction that night.

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Few probably shared her surprise. Over a long career, she has been a regular presence on local boards and committees, contributing to areas ranging from health care, nonprofit organizations, economic development, athletics, education and flood response.

"That's more of Judi's manner," said Pat Berger, president of Grand Forks' United Way, where Paukert has led fundraising. "She's actually a modest and shy individual."

Berger's appraisal is supported by Paukert's reactions when talking about her accolades. When talk turns to her, she is apt to hide her face behind her hands.

In the lead

Paukert's dislike of the spotlight is at odds with her embrace of leadership roles.

Among other things, she has been chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. and Altru Health System. She held an important public role in the recovery from the 1997 flood, directed protocol for the 2005 World Junior Hockey Tournament and worked on a UND presidential search committee and UND's Division I transition commission. She has advised the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals and the Knight Foundation.

She is one of a small number of people in town who are ubiquitous among its business, government and other civic leaders.

"She's gotten involved in scores and scores of things," said Altru Health System CEO Dave Molmen, whose work with Paukert includes her time on Altru's board and their time together on the Chamber's board.

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"She does what she does because she wants to make a difference," Molmen said. "She's not what you'd call an attention seeker."

Though she says she avoids the spotlight, "She puts herself in the spotlight to be identified as a good leader," said Karl Bollingberg, an Alerus Financial executive who served on the EDC board with Paukert.

Long career

Paukert has worked for Xcel Energy for 30 years, rising to the position of community relations manager, a role that encourages her community involvement and raises Xcel's public profile.

"My job is to be the bridge between customers, the community and the company," she said. "Our company has always had a focus on having employees involved in the community."

Paukert's community role was cemented when she led Xcel's part of the flood recovery.

"During the flood was when I really came into my role," she said.

Paukert cited an early experience with a Chamber military affairs committee as something that fed a natural interest in learning new things and meeting new people.

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"It was an awesome experience," she said. "It makes you feel good, makes you feel you can contribute and help."

Paukert's job fits her well, she said, because it lets her learn things and meet people -- "Every day is different."

"I love learning new things, meeting new people and, I guess, being involved and making a difference," she said. "I don't feel I know a lot about many things" but she knows how to connect people to opportunities to do good things.

Attentive presence

Colleagues also said she has approached her work as someone curious about things rather than someone who wants attention.

"Instead of trying to be interesting, (people) should try to be interested," Bollingberg said. "That's Judi -- she's interested."

Molmen said her interest extends to listening to others.

"She's an extremely open person and has a way of engaging everyone," he said. "She's a very inclusive leader. She doesn't bring a lot of her own biases."

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Another, obvious reason for Paukert's participation in the community is that people say she is good at what she does. She typically embraces her work with a commitment that frequently makes her the leader of an effort.

"Some board members fill a chair," Bollingberg said. "If she wasn't chairman, she was going to become that."

When Paukert took over United Way's annual fundraising campaign, she was in touch with the organization almost daily, Berger said.

"She's the campaign chair that put us over a $1 million," she said. "And boy, did she take that job seriously."

Though she has a reputation of spreading her time among several causes, Paukert does not jump into things carelessly, according to Berger.

"When we asked her to become campaign chair, it wasn't an automatic 'yes,'" she said.

Simple attitude

Paukert has a few simple explanations for her recognition as a serial contributor in the city -- "I'm pretty organized," "a positive attitude," "try to keep my priorities in order," "I hope I make a difference, I guess."

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Mostly she said she was thankful to have been able to live in the place where she has spent most of her life, with her husband of 31 years, Terry, and their adult daughter and son.

"There are many, many, many leaders in our community," she said, shifting the spotlight yet again. "I do (dislike the spotlight), and yet I have to be there sometimes."

Call Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1117; or send e-mail to cbjorke@gfherald.com .

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