Secretary of Tourism, Stephanie Klett

Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett's dedication to raising awareness about AIDS 

 

There is no doubt that Tourism is the lifeblood of Wisconsin’s economy and the heart of this entity is Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett. For more than 25  years she has been crisscrossing the state non-stop, delving into the most remote corners, sharing and promoting wonderfully unique characteristics of Wisconsin’s towns and cities.

We had breakfast/lunch this week, to catch up on the last year of her life. I first met her while she was working as a co-host for Discover Wisconsin, presenting the “Restaurant of the Month” award to the Outdoorsman Restaurant in Boulder Junction. Since then I have had several opportunities to learn about what makes this outstanding government leader tick

There is nothing about Klett that is not hands on. She credits her tourism department team of nearly 30 individuals with the accolades and tourism growth in our state. However, her oversight is evident in every project, new and old.

She presents awards for the JEM grants program, the Joint Effort Marketing funding, that affords communities to stage wonderful events to attract tourism.

Advertising efforts to attract and retain tourists to Wisconsin have flourished under Klett’s tutelage.

The highly acclaimed international, regional and national awarded spots such as “This is a Wisconsin Supper Club”, the recently drone-filmed “Wisconsin Colors” T.V. spots, the delightful commercials featuring Jordy Nelson, Robert Hayes, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, U.W. basketball Coach Bo Ryan, Henry Winkler, Tony Shalhoub and many more are among her creative endeavors.

Klett has also garnered dozens of personal accolades including being named as one of the “Top Women in Travel.” Klett was one of four tourism professionals from around the world honored for “Outstanding Women in Destination Management/Marketing” by Women in Travel and Tourism International (WITTI). 

Here is where we see the heart and soul of this incredible woman. Klett sees this award as an opportunity for women to assume more leadership roles, rather than bask in the adulation of receiving an award.

“This is the time for women to move forward to assume leadership in both corporate and governmental arenas,” Klett passionately declared. She further stated that the innate qualities women possess will provide a better world for everyone.

For 26 years Klett’s career has centered around her tireless efforts to promote everything that is the “real fun” to be found only in Wisconsin. She was a Host/Producer/Writer and Manager of what has become the longest-running tourism show, Discover Wisconsin television and radio shows. Founded by the legendary Dick Rose, Rick Rose and Klett co-hosted Discover Wisconsin for 20 years. Klett received the 2009-2010 Emmy for “Outstanding Achievement for Individual Excellence On Camera,” the only Emmy awarded the series.

Our former Miss Wisconsin has served the public since high school when she was class president at Beloit Memorial High School. From there she went on to Beloit College where she received degrees in Philosophy and Theater Arts and Communication.

She was Miss Beloit and then Miss Wisconsin in 1992 and went on to compete in the Miss America Pageant. She won the talent competition becoming the first winner to play the coronet.

In 1993 she became the Founder and, until 2013, was President of Spotlight on Wisconsin, Inc., an organization in which she was extremely active in raising money and awareness for the work of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, Beloit Regional Hospice and the Stateline Boys and Girls Clubs. 

Klett was an integral part of the 28th Aids Walk Wisconsin last weekend. Along with honorary host, actress, singer and comedian Jane Lynch, the 5K walk/run raised $406,000 for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

Somehow, she manages to squeeze in time to be with her ever-so-close family. Klett’s mother, Joanne, as well as one or more of her nine brothers, appear frequently at events, including Miss Wisconsin/Miss America appearances. She attributes her sense of humor to her role as the only daughter under the influence of her brothers. The family just celebrated dad, Fred’s, 87th birthday

She is a lay Methodist minister and has performed a couple of weddings, including one for her niece.

Then there is her hometown, Beloit, for which she has a never-ending love affair. Her affection for the border town has not gone unnoticed. This weekend the Beloit Historical Society will induct her into its Hall of Fame.

When asked about this recognition, she quipped, “Well, at least I am not dead!” What?! “People who are inducted into a Hall of Fame are usually dead!” she panned. That Klett humor never ceases.

Her legacy, undoubtedly, will be the impact the Department of Tourism has had on Wisconsin’s economy. In the last seven years, income from tourism dollars has increased an astonishing 35%, going from $14.5 billion to a record-setting $20 billion dollars in 2016.

According to the recent fiscal report by Travel Wisconsin, “The tourism economy generated $1.5 billion in state and local revenue saving Wisconsin taxpayers $650 per household.”

Before ending this all too brief aperçu, the biggest news from the Klett household (including the ever debonaire pooch, Scruffy) was her engagement earlier this year to her long-time love, Bill Barth, who is the editor of the Beloit Daily News.

Her Facebook activity overflows with affectionate approbations from her thousands of fans all over the state. And I am one of the privileged many who calls her friend.

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