— When Julie Hautala retires this year, she will leave a legacy of more than three decades at the Community Mental Health Authority in Wakefield. In 1987, she was one of fewer than 50 employees when she was hired. Now, CMH has nearly 100 employees. “I was the first accountant that CMH had ever had,” she said in a Tuesday phone interview. One advantage of her inaugural status was that she was free to set up her own accounting system. There were also creative responsibilities, such as setting up new computers, which were just beginning to enter the workforce then. “That was a challenge,” said Hautala. Over time, she was promoted to office manager, finance director, and deputy director before becoming CEO on Jan. 1 of 2012. Hautala’s facility with numbers was apparent already back in high school when she took several classes in business and then studied more business in college and, as she put it, “really felt like numbers was where I belong.” Hence, she received a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Northern Michigan University and now believes that this direction “really helped to form the person I am.” Prior to CMH, she worked as a teller and an accountant at the former Range Savings and Loan Associated Inc. in Hurley.
Although Hautala retired from CMH in October 2014 to tend to family, she returned a year later in October 2015. “Of course, I never expected to come back,” said Hautala. “It felt wonderful. I felt very privileged to come back and work for CMH for another five and one-half years.” Throughout her employment, she said she has really valued being a part of the ongoing “evolution.” That includes financial growth, as well as increased services. According to Hautala, CMH’s general budget has grown from $1.5 million in 1987 to more than $9 million today — “all going into the community.” She emphasized the circular impact by pointing out that CMH has provided jobs to the city of Wakefield while it, in return, has issued ongoing support.
On its website, CMH claims to provide “a complete range of services for all children and adults of Gogebic County who have a serious emotional disturbance, serious mental illness, or developmental disability.” Hautala is proud of how her employer has increased its programming, particularly for minors. “Our children’s services here really have grown,” she said. “Through the years, we have developed a Child and Family Services Department.” She said that CMH, in recent years, also developed a new autism program. “Children are certainly my passion,” said Hautala, and it shows in her community service as well. She spent more than seven years on the Wakefield-Marenisco Board of Education and was serving as president when Wakefield and Marenisco consolidated schools in the 2004-2005 school year. She still considers the Wakefield-Marenisco K-12 School “a great school” and now is a member of its Booster Club. She also is part of the Wakefield-Bessemer Rotary Club. In addition, she is an executive committee member of Forward Wakefield, which seeks a developer for the Sunday Lake property that once housed the former Memorial Building. “I think Wakefield is a great, small community to reside in,” said Hautala. “Bigger isn’t always better.”
The departing CEO will have that much more time to enjoy the town and the region now that she is retiring for good. “Thirty-three years is a long time,” she said of her overall tenure at CMH. In reflecting on her role, she speculated that the toughest part involved recruiting and retaining quality staff. “I’ve always felt that’s my primary role as a CEO,” she said, adding that she strives to provide competitive wages and benefits. She also mentioned employees when asked what she will miss the most. “I think I’m going to miss the amazing staff here at CMH,” she said, adding that, from the onset of her employment, she has seen about 800 staff members join the force — most of whom have moved on or retired. “Each one has brought a unique talent,” she said, adding that the responsibilities can result in “a hard job.”
Hautala voiced a special thank you to CMH’s Board of Directors. “I’ve really appreciated their leadership over the years,” she said. “When I needed their support and direction, they were always there for me.” As for CMH’s future, she said she imagines the need for community health services not only will continue, but also will continue to grow. She hopes to see ongoing partnering with other local entities to facilitate needed services and noted that the COVID-19 pandemic certainly has enhanced that need. “It’s amazing what we can do when we cooperate with each other,” said Hautala, who heralded the beauty in “helping people.”
As someone raised on the Golden Rule, she summed up, “Kindness really matters.” The deadline for applicants for the new CEO ended Sunday, and Hautala said that members of CMH’s recruitment committee next will begin interviewing candidates. Once a decision is made, she said she is “absolutely willing to help” train a new person and thereby contribute to his or her success. Her contract runs through June, so she said time will allow for that, if desired.
Meanwhile, she concluded that her life will be full with her husband, Jock, and her four children and four grandchildren. Her oldest children, RaeAnn and Jason, are both married and parents, and her daughter, Hailey, is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The only child left at home is Sam, who is in high school. “I’m really looking forward to time with my kids, time with my grandkids,” said Hautala, who added that she also will enjoy more outdoor leisure. “I love to walk Sunday Lake,” she said, referring to it as “one of the town’s greatest assets,” and said she also plans to garden in summer and snowshoe in winter. One more creature holds a special place in Hautala’s life, and that’s the family dog, Paislee, who also definitely will be in store for that much more attention.