Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar is a former Dane County Board of Supervisors member and retired U.S. Navy Captain. She replaces former Gov. Scott Walker appointee Dan Zimmerman.
60 years old, born in Wilton, Wis.
Served on active duty in the U.S. Navy for 28 years. Moved to Madison after retiring from the military and worked as the director of public operations at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Also served as president of the Metropolitan Place Condominium Association for five and a half years and was elected in 2013 to the Dane County Board of Supervisors.
Started at UW-Stout, transferred to UW-La Crosse and graduated with a degree in marketing. Received a master’s degree in adult education from the University of Rhode Island while on active duty. Also received a degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College.
Grandfather served in World War I, father served in World War II. Four brothers; two served in the Navy, one served in the Air Force, one served in the Marine Corps. Father died in a car accident, mother was a strong female leadership figure.
Favorite non-work interests?
“I love to cook, I think that’s how I can use whatever creativity I have. … At the same time I do like to stay fit, so I enjoy the fact that we can get out and enjoy so much in Dane County. And for us particularly, we have a lab-shepard mix, so at least twice a day we’re getting a really good walk.”
Why the interest in being in the Evers administration?
“My husband Scott and I reached out to Tony Evers before he even officially announced and said, ‘Hey, if you’re running, we’re with you.’ So that was just for Gov. Evers being who he is. And as the campaign progressed, I reached out to members of his team to say, ‘If you need help finding someone for WDVA, I definitely want to help you.’ And that was the first time I was asked, ‘What about you?’ … So once I made that commitment to get my application in, I rallied everybody I knew to reach out to the transition team to say, ‘Hey, will you speak on my behalf, because I really want this.’”
What are your priorities for the agency under your leadership? What should the agency be doing differently?
“Number one is we always focus on the veterans that we serve. … Before any WDVA employee takes any action, they need to ask themselves: How will this positively impact veterans and their families? That has to be our top consideration. … I want to just focus on the future, but I am aware of some personnel issues, some personality issues that got in the way of some previous administrations. I just want us to focus on working together. I truly believe if we concentrate on serving veterans, we can put the personality challenges behind us.”
What’s the best advice you’ve received since getting the job? Worst advice?
“It really is being a part of reaching out to everybody, and just seeing that that is the culture that is being created by Gov. Evers and Lt. Gov. Barnes. It is the collaboration; it is bipartisanship, nonpartisanship, working with everyone. … Even if someone said something I would put in the category of worst advice, I want to look at why did they say that, what can I learn from that, what part of that can be implemented that is beneficial and wouldn’t be categorized as worst.”