Staff and Board of Directors


Executive Director: Karen Blackburn, B.S. Economics, Yale University.  Blandin Leadership Graduate, Treasurer of Great Expectations Foundation and Booster Club Board member.  Past boards in Cook County: Grand Marais Playhouse, Grand Marais Art Colony, Cook County Soccer, Cook County Local Energy Project, North Shore Hospital, Cook County Higher Education, and Cooperation Station Daycare.  Completed accounting coursework at Upper Iowa University through distance learning and used that education during the last 15 years of her career: Controller at Lutsen Mountains for 10 years, three years as Financial Coordinator at Cook County and 15 years of private bookkeeping for local non-profits and businesses. Ms. Blackburn has worked for CCHE since 2017. 

Program Coordinator: Kelsey Rogers Kennedy, CCHS Graduate, B.A. Social Marketing, Northern Michigan University; M.S. Organizational Leadership, St. Mary’s University. Two years of K-12 subsitute teaching  and seven years of experience working in a college environment; former administration assistant/registrar, career services advisor, and career development instructor at Rasmussen College. She is also a Blandin Leadership Graduate. She has coordinated Empty Bowls in 2013, 2014, and 2015. She is passionate about quality education being accessible to all regardless of location. Ms. Rogers Kennedy has worked for CCHE since 2012.

Student Services Coordinator: Sarah Stover, B.Sc. Earth Science, Northern Michigan University, has 4+ years of work and volunteer experience in K-12 education. She has served as the director of the Explorers’ Club Family Child Care in Grand Marais. She volunteers with Empty Bowls, WTIP Community Radio, Girl Scouts, and as a trained Severe Weather Spotter with the National Weather Service in her free time. Ms. Stover possesses a passion for education and first-hand experience that makes her a positive addition to CCHE. Ms. Stover has worked for CCHE since 2015.

Office Assistant: Jade Wolke, the newest addition to Cook County Education is a 7th generation Cook County resident, has a Medical Assistant degree and Phlebotomist Degree from Lake Superior College,  she has served as an Election Judge, and volunteered many years for the local Chamber of Commerce.  Ms. Wolke enjoys learning new things and loves to help people when she isn’t out enjoying the outdoors. Ms. Wolke has worked for CCHE since August 2017. 

Board President: Dr. Karen Halbersleben, B.A., M.A.., and Ph.D. in European History, U. of NY, Buffalo; 2002- 2009 President of Northland College in Ashland, WI; held academic positions at SUNY-Oswego, the U. of Richmond, and Buena Vista U.; currently serves on the Board of the Cook County Community Foundation; she and her husband Jack Miller volunteer with Meals on Wheels deliveries.

Treasurer: Roger Opp, B.S. Agricultural Economics, University of Minnesota. He retired in 2011 from CoBank ACB where he managed a $350 million portfolio of loans to rural telecommunications cooperatives and companies. Currently chairman of Hamm Clinic, Community Learning International, and serves on the board and executive committee of Art Space Projects, Inc.

Secretary: Clair Nalezny, BES from St. Cloud State University, Management and Human Resources; Senior Professional of Human Resources (SPHR) certificate from HR Certification Institute; Currently Human Resource Director for Lutsen Resort since 2004. First General Manager of Papa Charlie's, Lutsen Mountains.

Co-Vice Chair: Donna Paine received her B.S. in Business Administration from University of Wisconsin Platteville via distance education.  Donna also has an Accounting Clerk diploma from Lake Superior College and is currently employed at the Grand Marais State Bank as Assistant Vice-President.  Donna is also Treasurer of the Cook County Salvation Army Service Unit.

Co-Vice Chair: Janice Latz, B.Ch.E. from Georgia Institute of Technology.  Retired in 2014 from Huntsman Corporation, The Woodlands, Texas. She held positions in engineering, technical service, business management, and most recently as a senior executive responsible for Operations in the Performance Products division. She has served on the Board of Directors for the American Cleaning Institute.

Board Member: Bob Morrison, B.A. History, St. Olaf College. He recently completed a thirty-five year career in human resources management most recently working at Wolseley plc, where he was the Chief Human Resources Officer from 2006 and based in London, England. He and his wife Susan have had a cabin on the Gunflint Trail since 1989 and they now reside in St. Paul

Board Member: Dr. Robert Pranis, B.S. Chemistry, Clarkson U; PhD. Chemistry, Northwestern U; Post-Doc U of MN; recently
retired (2005) from 3M as Analytical Chemist/Manager. Currently teleworks as research consultant. Board member of Cook County Broadband Commission; President of Norpine Trail Assoc., Volunteer at ISD166 with his 3D printer.

Board Member: Douglas Bruce, Retired Continuing Education & Contract Training Program Director, Normandale College; BA. U of MN; MA U of Wisc.; Board experience includes Izaak Walton League; Chairman of the Planning Commission, Bloomington; Minnesota Brain Injury Association; Traumatic Brain Injury MN Dept of Human Services.

Board Member: Mary Louise Fellows, B.B.A. (Accounting) and J.D. (University of Michigan) and Ph.D. in English Literature with a concentration in Anglo-Saxon Studies (University of Minnesota). Holding a position as the Everett Fraser Professor of Law, she taught at the University of Minnesota Law School from 1990 until her retirement in 2009. Her areas of teaching and scholarship were tax, estate planning, law and literature, and feminist legal theory.

Photo (125px wide) Board Member:

Volunteers, Mentors, and Instructors:
Continuously throughout Cook County Higher Education’s history, the program has been supported through the volunteer time and efforts of board members, staff, and community members.  CCHE has seven active mentors (some of whom are paid for their service and others who volunteer their time) plus over forty mentors on record. CCHE pays a stipend to mentors, but many elect to volunteer their time.  CCHE also engages local instructors for college courses and workshops.

Scholarship Committee: Janet Ditmanson, Bob Pratt, Paula Sundet Wolf, Jean Cochrane, and Thelma Hedstrom.

Jean Cochrane, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C., working from Grand Marais, MN; B.S.
Natural Resources, University of Michigan; M.S. Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming; Ph.D. Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota. 

Thelma Hedstrom, attended University of Montana, Missoula; founding donor of the Wes Hedstrom Scholarship Fund, long time resident of Cook County, active volunteer, and avid traveler. Passionate about equitable access to higher education.

Current Non-board Committee Members: Bev Denyes, Barb Heideman, Helen Muth, Carol Miller, Mike Carlson.
Past Committee Members: Deb Skinner, Thelma Hedstrom, David Quick, Virginia Danfelt Martin

Previous Board Memebers: 
Janet Ditmanson
Carol Mork 
Patricia Campanaro (2014 – 2015)
Rena Rogers (2008 – 2015)
Andy Rysdahl (2013 – 2015)
Adam Nelson (2013 – 2015)
Maggie Barnard (2011 – 2013)
Beth Rogers Kennedy (2010 – 2014)
CeCe Olson (H.S. student) (2010 – 2012)
Will Brandenberg (H.S. student) (2010 – 2011)
Carly Puch (H.S. student) (2008 – 2010)
Marie Nordahl (H.S. student) (2008 – 2009)
Bob Pratt (2006 – 2014)
Mike Carlson (1999 – 2006)
Gwen Carman (1998 – 2003) (2006 – 2013)
Julie Brandt (1998 – 2004)
Rita Plourde (1996 – 2006)
Wes Hedstrom (1996 – 2003)
Diane Booth (1996 – 1999) (2003 – 2005)
Carolyn Steel (1996 – 2002)
Mary Junnila (1996 – 2001)
Jay Anderson (1996 – 2000)
Rosie Novitsky (1996 – 1999)
Karen Blackburn (1996 – 2001)

Previous Advisory Council Members: 
Mike Carlson (1999 – 2006)
Gwen Carman (1998 – 2003) (2006 – 2013)
Julie Brandt (1998 – 2004)
Rita Plourde (1996 – 2006)
Wes Hedstrom (1996 – 2003)
Diane Booth (1996 – 1999) (2003 – 2005)
Carolyn Steel (1996 – 2002)
Mary Junnila (1996 – 2001)
Jay Anderson (1996 – 2000)
Rosie Novitsky (1996 – 1999)
Karen Blackburn (1996 – 2001)

Former Staff:
Paula Sundet Wolf (2017) Development Director
Paula Sundet Wolf  (1997-2017) Executive Director 
Kirstin van den Berg (2006-2014) Student Services and Education Director
Jim Boyd (2011-2012) Business Training
Sheryl Hinderman (2005-2005) Student Services
Kelly Rauzi (2004-2004) Student Services
Marce Wood (2000-2003) Student Services
Jean Marie Modl (1996-1999) Director; (2009-2010) Assistant
Linda Lamb (1996-1996) Student Services
Carol Allis (1996-1996) Director

Former Interns & NEOJT:
Amanda Olson (2015 – 2016) HCC Intern - social work
Melody McClure (2016) NEOJT - data entry/events
Tyan (NiKki) Agnew (2010-2010) NEOJT - assistant
Paige Reeves (1998-1998) Grant Writing

Articles about Cook County Higher Education

Website by Katherine Hellner and Sandra Schutte of Two Dogs in the Web, LLC