ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Profile: He found himself in time to make things happen

Someone once said that there's a difference between public relations and public relationships. Put another way, a smart person knows everything, a wise person knows everybody.

Someone once said that there's a difference between public relations and public relationships. Put another way, a smart person knows everything, a wise person knows everybody.
The latter fits the mold of our good neighbor this week, but it wasn't always that way. It took more than a pat on the back to get this fella moving. It was something inside him that created the "immaculate transformation."
John Bray was born on Oct. 16, 1946, in Milwaukee, Wis. His father, Archie, with heart complications, died at the age of 63.
His mom, Bessie, resides in Wauwatosa, Wis. She will be 85 this month. She remains active in church and community, and, as John reports, "is an energy bunny." A younger brother and sister complete the family tree.
The family grew up in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb. Dad worked for the Veteran's Administration and held two part-time jobs to support the family. Mom stayed home, but was a beautician on weekends. John describes his early days as nothing special really. Hanging around with the neighborhood kids was the norm.
In Wauwatosa, he attended kindergarten through the 12th grade. School was of little interest to him, as he describes it. When he graduated from East High School in Wauwatosa, he was probably as close to the bottom of the class academically as he could get. One school guidance counselor told John he should seek a factory job when, and if, he graduated.
Goals for the future were not part of his interest at the time. He did have a sizable newspaper route for the Milwaukee Journal, built model airplanes, and did a lot of bike riding.
He also had a collection of butterflies, but cars became his passion. After school and weekends, he clerked part time at Genke's Pharmacy for obvious reasons, cars cost money to operate. LeRoy Genke liked and trusted John, and that relationship kindled John's future interest in business.
John did graduate in 1965 at the time the Vietnam War was heating up. He thought he would try college, but his academic record stopped him cold. So, he got a job at the American Industrial Service Co. working in the office doing billing, payroll and writing customer orders. He didn't give up on the possibility of someday getting into college. It seems he was beginning to take another look at the opportunities that were associated with getting a higher education.
In 1966, he was drafted and sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for basic training. Then after one year of advanced training in jungle warfare, infantry tactics and combat engineering, he was off to Vietnam.
This is a phase in his life he doesn't like to talk much about. He was involved in forward area helicopter pad landing zone preparation, land mine deployments, minefield clearing and various other combat duties. He received the Army Commendation Medal for combat military action. He was ultimately discharged after what he says was a two-year black hole in his life.
In 1968, he returned home, packed a non-military bag and headed for Superior, Wis., thanks to a gentleman by the name of Joe Moline, then dean of students.
John had heard about Wisconsin State University (now UWS) while in Vietnam, and by letter asked Mr. Moline to give him a chance, even though his school records were pretty damaging. He said he wanted to get into business management.
Joe wrote him back and said something like "we understand and will enroll you on a probationary basis." John jumped at the chance and hotfooted it to Superior. The G.I. Bill paid for some of the anticipated expenses, but not enough, John needed a job as well. Joe Moline hired him as an assistant at the Ross Hall men's dormitory, allowing him free room and board. Moline also arranged a student loan at a local bank just on John's signature.
Now get this: John Bray graduated first in his class in 1972, earning a B.S. degree in business management. Much of this accomplishment, says John, is given to Moline and others like Dr. O. Gayle Manion, dean of the College of Fine Arts, and Professor Paul Kending, who continued to open doors for John.
In 1972, John entered graduate school at UWS and earned a master's degree in media communications. He worked for about a year at the KDAL Broadcast Center.
He then investigated a job opportunity in Douglas County as an Extension agent in the 4-H program, and for the next four years helped develop the county 4-H program, with an emphasis in cultural arts, drama, public speaking and camping. It was a great opportunity.
Joe Davidowski, a legendary northwestern Wisconsin game warden, became John's friend. Davidowski's profession intrigued John, a product of the blacktop environment of Milwaukee, and he opted to become a game warden just like Joe. So he applied for the job, graduated third in his class at the Wisconsin State Patrol Academy Law Enforcement Training Program and became a game warden in 1979.
After a year, he decided it wasn't for him. The following three years he worked as a Douglas County sheriff's deputy under former sheriff Fred Johnson. He enjoyed the job and the relationships he developed within the community. But again, there were bigger and better things ahead for a young man who, by his own volition, was moving along in life nicely.
He ran for and was elected to the Douglas County Board in 1984 and was re-elected four times until moving to Duluth.
For a spell he worked for the United Way of Greater Duluth as its public relations director, under the guidance of former executive director Jay Hess. Then in 1984, his roaming spirit finally found its match. He was hired by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) as the local district public affairs director. For the next 17 years, he was heavily involved in publicizing and communicating Mn/DOT operations in the Arrowhead Region.
Recently, he was promoted to the position of special assistant to the district engineer, and for good reason. He credits the current District Engineer Mike Robinson and former district engineers John Sandahl and Dave Ekern for their contributions to his career growth. These people are true role models giving their best to public service, he said.
On Oct. 20, 1990, John married Karen Ouse, who operates the Allete (Minnesota Power) cafeteria. She and her team also serve as the company's special food service catering team. They have no children, but have a border collie named "Pepper."
John is one of those people who doesn't just provide the local media with press releases. He extends his interests well beyond the local newsrooms. He attends community meetings and attempts to answer myriad questions on many different aspects of highway construction. He never leaves a stone unturned until he can provide the latest information and forward requests for possible change to the proper departments.
He had his hands in many sticky MnDOT issues that were resolved through proper information, a willingness to share public concerns with the proper officials and a constant enthusiasm for transportation accomplishments in this area that have received national interest.
The Duluth I-35 Extension Project is a classic example, and John was the cheerleader all the way.
Also, he was involved with the highway tunnels north of Two Harbors, the John A. Blatnik Bridge renovation, plus many, many others.
John went above and beyond to keep everyone informed and help the department make adjustments that assisted individuals and communities to accept needed changes.
His numerous professional awards reflect his achievements.
John Bray is a special person, considering he barely graduated from high school, then earned a master's degree and dedicated his life to a phase of public service that is constantly in need and is always in the spotlight.

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.