Betty Konarski was the first born in a family of five children; her younger siblings were all males. Big males. The brothers currently weigh in-between 240 and 250 pounds and stand tall between 6’4 and 6’5. Konarski learned early on how to be strong and how to be a direct communicator. “I learned to protect myself but come out ready,” said Konarski. And ready she’s been. Always ready to tackle a new project, learn something new, or dig into her community, Konarski has traveled her journey with integrity, insight, passion, and selfless determination.
Born in her grandfather’s log home on the Oneida Indian Reservation in Wisconsin, Konarski’s roots are as diverse and intriguing as her path. The Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed her father to the Oneida Reservation – the Oneida Indians were originally part of the Iroquois Tribe, and Konarski soon accepted that her minority status went beyond her family. Konarski’s experience on the reservation allowed her to visualize the bigger picture and understand the value in giving back. That value was passed on by her mother, and her father and grandfather, who both served on county boards.
Upon high school graduation, Konarski enrolled in the University of Wisconsin campus extension in Green Bay. With a scholarship in tow, Konarski completed a bachelor’s degree in education at the university’s main campus in Madison, Wis., where she met her future husband. The newly married couple moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to start his career, and Konarski starting teaching at the elementary level. Eventually, she followed her husband to Seattle, where she achieved a master’s in curriculum and instruction at the University of Washington. Konarski then taught secondary education, specializing in gifted students, until her son and daughter came along in 1966 and 1968.
In the late sixties, Boeing laid off 17,000 employees, and Konarski seized an opportunity to brighten the gray Seattle skies and stave off starvation for many lost workers. She and a friend opened a consignment shop in Issaquah, Wash., The Country Mouse, and sold arts and crafts for a 25 percent consignment fee.
A grocery store ultimately bought the land where The Country Mouse stood. Konarski owned The Country Mouse house (she bought it for $25) and needed to find a new home for her shop. An idea about a shopping district that featured historic, old and unwanted buildings came to Konarski, and she convinced developers that her dream could be a profitable reality. Long story short, Gilman Village, a historic business district in Issaquah, was spawned. The Country Mouse was the first of many old buildings to be relocated to the village. Gilman Village now boasts 51 commercial sites on seven acres, and The Country Mouse still stands as the Northwest’s oldest consignment-based gift shop.
As an accomplished entrepreneur with teaching credentials, Konarski taught a course at the community college on how to get started in your own business. It wasn’t long before her fervor for involvement and her business know-how led to numerous leadership positions. Konarski was one of the first women to sit on the board of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. She also held board positions on the Greater Seattle Economic Development Committee, United Way, Women + Business (a founding board member), Leadership Tomorrow (a founding board member), and the Private Industry Council.
On the day she turned 50, Konarski started classes toward a doctorate degree, and in 1986 was granted a doctor of education leadership from Seattle University. Under the auspices of Seattle University, Konarski designed a leadership development program specifically for non-military personnel of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She competed with many others to win the contract with the Corps, and Konarski continues to manage the Corps’ leadership programs in Seattle and Walla Walla.
In 1991, Konarski left the lush Northwest for the blue skies and snowy peaks of Colorado. Regis University engaged this entrepreneur-professor to manage the Colorado Springs campuses. She was then appointed to associate dean of the school for professional studies; and, along with a multitude of academic responsibilities, she managed all of the Regis distance sites, from the Springs to Cheyenne.
What motivates Betty Konarski? A question not to be ignored when one interviews a true pioneer. “I like analyzing, coming up with solutions, and bringing groups together to create those solutions,” said Konarski. As mayor of Monument, she is a champion in bringing a somewhat disparate community and city council together. She is a direct and strong leader. Born and bred to lead, Konarski was twice selected to represent the state of Washington as a small business delegate in Washington D.C. “You cannot be a leader if there is no one behind you,” said Konarski. She adds, “The followers control the process; as a leader, you must articulate where they are going.”
Are leaders born or harvested? “It’s a little of both,” said Konarski. “Someone has to first be willing to stick his or her neck out, and that someone can enhance his or her skills to become a better leader. If you are choosing to be a leader, develop scar tissue.” There isn’t much that this daughter, lone sister, mother, professor, and savvy businesswoman hasn’t done throughout her journey. Her journey also includes a love of the outdoors and the arts, and Konarski is currently working on a giant project to bring more visibility to the arts in the Tri-Lakes area.