Recognized community member dies at 86

 

Whitewater’s “tough-love grandma” Marilyn Kienbaum died on Nov. 17 at 86 years old.

Kienbaum volunteered at the Whitewater Food Pantry, which was renamed in August in her honor, for more than 20 years and eventually became director.

Kienbaum was characterized as the “tough-love grandma” because of the work she did with the many student volunteers at the food pantry, some for their degree program and some for disciplinary community service.

Kienbaum always appreciated the student help and support, no matter their reason for volunteering.

Bilgen

“Marilyn never saw them as bad college kids,” said Jan Bilgen, associate director of Career and Leadership Development. “She saw someone who made a bad choice and valued them as people. I think that’s a lovely sentiment that many people in our community have, but she was very verbal about it.”

Kienbaum also served 15 years on the Whitewater Common Council working alongside Bilgen and senior Senior Stephanie Abbott.

Abbott said there have been many improvements to the food pantry since Kienbaum took over, some of which included getting local farmers to donate produce and accepting pet food donations.

Bilgen worked with Kienbaum on the Whitewater Common Council for four years. She called Kienbaum “one of the pillars of the Whitewater community,” because of her heavy involvement with the council and other city events and programs. Kienbaum served 15 years on the council and served two terms as president.

Kienbaum was from the town of Whitewater and moved to the city when her husband retired, so she had many experiences to share. Bilgen and Abbott both said they remember Kienbaum’s anecdotes for many

Abbott

topics discussed at council meetings.

“She always had a story for everything,” Abbott said. “She knew everything about Whitewater and could remember Whitewater from eight decades ago … No one else is ever going to be able to bring that to the table.”

Abbott said one of the most important things she remembers about Kienbaum was her compassion toward students.

“Relationships between people in the city and students are not always the best and sometimes it’s difficult for both of those groups to bridge that gap,” Abbott said. “Marilyn worked hard to not let those two groups be separate things.”

Part of Kienbaum’s attempt to connect students with the community was shown at common council meetings. Abbott recalled a meeting about zoning: when the discussion shifted toward students being disruptive neighbors, Kienbaum spoke up and suggested that if everyone got to know the students better, as she did with her volunteers, there would not be as much conflict between residents and students.

“Not a lot of people in the community are willing to stand up and defend students,” Abbott said, “and Marilyn always would. Always.”

Kienbaum is survived by her four children and their families, who she had a close relationship with.

“She always had time for everyone,” Bilgen said. “She was a public servant, and not all elected officials can say that. She was there to represent other people.”

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