"What were they waiting for?"
"There's nobody more deserving."
Those and other words of praise were uttered off-the-cuff when it was announced at a recent gathering that Denise Lindberg would be recognized as Wauwatosa's 2011 Distinguished Citizen.
What were they waiting for?
Actually, some of those who know her well say that Lindberg didn't want – or even believe she deserved – any recognition before her signature project, Tosa Pool at Hoyt Park, was completed, open and running.
All that happened last spring and summer. The pool had a wildly successful opening season, and now, perhaps, Lindberg can accept her due from a grateful community.
"Denise is one of those amazing people who can see a need in the community and see a creative way to address it," said Mayor-elect Kathy Ehley. "She saw that need to reopen the pool, and she took it on.
"But she really knows how to draw people in who can help make it happen – she knows she can't do it all on her own – and then she'll tell you, 'Oh, it was a group effort.'"
The county's Hoyt Pool, then the largest and most trafficked in the park system, closed in 2003 in a state of disrepair.
Calls for repair and reopening of the pool went unheeded by cash-strapped Milwaukee County for several years, until it became clear that it would never be fixed.
Lindberg would have none of that.
The Tosa Pool project she directed would stand out on anyone's resume, even if it were a professionally staffed public-private venture with full buy-in from powerful partners at the outset: From concept to completion, the group Lindberg formed took just five years to "Bring summer back to Wauwatosa," raising $8 million to make it happen.
But it all started in Lindberg's living room, and by far the lion's share of the work was volunteered.
Ehley, though, knew Lindberg from long before the pool project began, and credits her with something even greater: making Wauwatosa a cohesive community.
Lindberg saw in Wauwatosa a collection of wonderful neighborhoods, many with active citizens who had formed associations with watch groups and social functions, but lacking connections to one another.
She forged the Neighborhood Association Council, bringing residents from all corners of Wauwatosa together to share ideas and see themselves as part of a greater sphere. More groups were formed, and now the map of Wauwatosa is almost solid with active neighborhood associations, each active in its area but also connected to one another.
"It did so much for people, getting to know one another, becoming engaged in taking care of their communities," Ehley said. "It's grown beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
"She's an amazing lady."
The Wauwatosa Distinguished Citizen Award Council's public recognition of Lindberg will be at 5:30 p.m. April 25 at the Blue Mound Golf and Country Club.
The cost is $40 per person. Reservations may be made at the City Clerk's Office, 7725 W. North Ave., or by mail to WDCAC c/o Nancy Schrap, 7024 W. Wells St., Wauwatosa, WI 53213.
The deadline to make reservations is Thursday.