Decorah’s new mayor, Lorraine (Carter) Borowski ’70, got the training she’ll need for the post through her 27-year career with the Decorah Public Library. She advanced through the ranks from library assistant to director, a post she held for 16 years, retiring last June. Through her library work, she became skilled at governance, learning how to put the right people together to make things happen in the community. By the time she retired, Decorah residents had already started suggesting she run for mayor.
Borowski thought the library should be a center of services for Decorah. The library’s mission and services provide positive partnerships for meeting community needs, the former Luther sociology major says. Service groups found space there to meet, talk, and share, thus developing key partnerships. Borowski met with them, helping to shepherd their good ideas into reality. During her tenure, the library began sponsoring the Northeast Iowa Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, and a U.S. Department of Education grant provided the technological base for bridging the digital divide in the rural community.
“The library equalizes everything,” Borowski says. “When people walk in that door, they need to know that, whatever their walk of life, philosophy, political background, it’s acceptable.” As library director, Borowski fostered services that included children’s after-school programming and book delivery for elderly and disable readers. Accomplishments that she holds especially dear include establishing a large-print book distribution collection of more than 10,000 volumes of large-print books that are distributed to more than 160 libraries throught the state, and helping create the Friends of Decorah Public Library Endowment Fund.
Making things happen for her community seemed second nature for Borowski, but through the years she also realized that she actually enjoyed the inner workings of government. While she served on the board of the Iowa Library Association, the group developed a plan to reorganize the regional library system. Borowski was hooked by the process. “I liked working with a bill from scratch and then having to promote that bill, going through all the various committees and the legislature,” she says. “It was fascinating.” Borowski served as president of the association’s board for a time and was named 2016 Member of the Year.
Over the past 20 years, Borowski presented the library board budget to the Decorah City Council, becoming experienced in the fiscal intricacies of the city budget. For 14 years she filmed the council meetings for the public access channel run by the library. She developed a consuming interest in and understanding of that body. “I’d be getting into one of the discussions and forget to move the camera when different people were talking!” she says.
So when Decorah friends and acquaintances suggested Borowski run for mayor, she realized this was something she could do. The Decorah mayor is a moderator position and has no vote, she points out. It would be Borowski’s job to bring people of different points of view together to figure out issues—a perfect position for her, she thought. Most Decorah voters thought so too, electing Borowski the city’s first female mayor with nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Borowski is the mother of Sarah Borowski and Beth Borowski ’05. She joins several other Luther graduates currently in Decorah government: Kirk Johnson ’82, Dan Bellrichard ’01, Ross Hadley ’95, and Johanna Bergan ’09 are all on the city council.