This month, UW-Washington County (UW-WC) will be featuring Kristine Deiss and her daughter, Heather Byron in the campus “Family Tradition” campaign. Later this month, Kris will be receiving the UW-WC Alumna of the Year Award at the Commencement ceremony on May 17th.
As the former Washington County Clerk of Courts and mayor of West Bend, Kris is a familiar face to many. After graduating from West Bend High School, she attended UW-Oshkosh for one semester. Instead of returning the second semester, however, she decided to marry her high school sweetheart. With work and family obligations, it wasn’t until 1978 that Kris was able to enroll in college again. This time, she chose UW-Washington County, taking one or two classes each semester, as work and family demands allowed. Now in her early 30s, Kris notes that she “loved the fact that there were other non-traditional age students on campus at UW-WC. I always felt comfortable at the school.”
In 1981, Kris started working for Washington County (serving Hon. Judges J. Tom Merriam and Richard T. Becker). She quickly realized that if she wanted to advance in her career, she would need a degree. By this time, she was newly divorced, working full-time in the Courts and raising her three daughters. Taking advantage of a new program designed for non-traditional age students, she completed a Bachelor in Liberal Studies degree through UW-Oshkosh. Kris admits “it was tough traveling to Oshkosh for four years, every other weekend” but she was grateful for the opportunity. “UW-WC has opened the door for other non-traditional age students to complete their degree and I think that's wonderful,” she said. After completing her degree, Kris’s career soared. In 1989, she was appointed Register in Probate and Clerk of Juvenile Court. In 1996, she ran for Clerk of Courts and served in that capacity until retiring in 2011.
Active on the political scene as well, Kris was appointed alderperson for District 1 in May, 2005 and elected to that position in April, 2006. In 2007 she was appointed Council President. In June of 2007, she was appointed mayor of West Bend by the Council (after the former mayor left for employment out-of-state). In April, 2008, she was elected West Bend's first woman mayor, a position she held until April, 2011. Today, Kris stays active serving on the Board of the Downtown West Bend Association and helping with the fund drive for the Museum of Wisconsin Art. She also enjoys spending time with her family. In addition to Heather, Kris has two other daughters, Heidi (Sternig) and Jessica, as well as five grandchildren.
Kris’s daughter, Heather began her college career at UW-WC in fall 1995, after graduating from West Bend High School. Unsure of what degree she wanted to pursue, she chose UW-WC because she was able to complete all of her core courses “in an intimate atmosphere where I could focus on doing well.” Heather “found a lot of positives by staying home and going to UW-WC” where she made the dean’s list, was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and utilized a $2,000 Rolfs Education Foundation scholarship. Heather isn’t so sure she would have done so well at a larger campus, right after high school. With a minor in studio art, she also fondly remembers the “great art classes with Thomas Gross (Art Professor Emeritus) and “enjoyed those very much.”
Living at home also provided another unique opportunity for Heather – one that neither she - nor Kris ever anticipated. During her first year of college, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Heather now believes that her choice to stay at home and attend “a great school like UW-WC was meant to be.” “I was able to help care for mom through the long process of fighting the disease.” If I wasn’t home with her during that rough time in our lives, I don’t know what she would have done.”
From this life-changing experience, Heather also was able to choose a degree that she knew “could help make a difference in the fight against cancer.” After completing an Associate degree at UW-WC, Heather transferred to UW-Oshkosh, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. Not long after graduation, she landed a job with the American Cancer Society, where she has now been working for 11 years.
Kris admits that “Heather was a big help to me then as she was living at home and going to UW-WC. Cancer free for 15 years, Kris notes that she is “a survivor!” This dynamic powerhouse was diagnosed with breast cancer, just before taking office as Clerk of Courts. After surgery on December 3rd, she was back at her desk on that first Monday in January.
Seeing the value in a UW campus close to home, Kris admits that “If the campus wasn’t here, I'm not sure I would have ever gone back to finish my education. Taking a few classes here and there while an adult gave me the confidence I needed to take the plunge and go after my four-year degree.”
Washington County is located at 400 University Drive in West Bend. For admission information, visit the campus website at www.washington.uwc.edu or phone Student Affairs at 262-335-5201.