Questioning the Locals: Lieske Giese
Free-wheelin’ discussion with local folks
Lieske Giese enjoys being challenged, whether it’s through her four children – who challenge her to grow, change, and be a better person – or through her job as the Eau Claire City-County Health Department director. A woman with a strong faith tradition and close family ties, she has become the public face of the local pandemic response. Outside of work, you can find Giese kayaking, working in her very weedy garden, biking local trails, and enjoying local art and music.
Name: Lieske Giese. Officially Elizabeth. “Lieske” is the shortened version of “Elizabeth” in Dutch. My mother is from the Netherlands and immigrated here as a young adult.
Neighborhood you live in, city: I am a proud resident of Historic Randall Park Neighborhood! I love it here.
How long have you lived here: I was born in Eau Claire and lived here through high school graduation. I came back when I was 30 and have lived here ever since, adding four kids and lots of animals along the way!
What place in town considers you a “regular”? My local bike trail! I walk it every morning with the dog at 6am and every evening after work.
What’s the most positive local development since you moved here? When I left Eau Claire at 18 I had no idea that this community would transform the way it has. I walk the downtown trails every day and I am amazed by the people out, being physically active, and enjoying the downtown. I love that we now clear the downtown trail loop all winter so people can continue to enjoy this all year round.
What frustrates you about the Chippewa Valley? We need to work on raising up the voices of women and people of color and others who are marginalized. I continue to be surprised that this is an issue in this community. This community has work to do on valuing and honoring the strength that we gain by including a broad perspective at tables where decisions are made.
What is one of the best cultural experiences you’ve ever had in the Valley? A few months ago, a Hmong colleague that I work with was talking with me about the masks she has been making for people at the department and in the community for COVID-19. She shared some that she had recently made using beautiful cloth from her home country. While talking she shared with me that the symbol on one of the masks was an “elephant track” and that this was a symbol for the Hmong people. In all these years I had never heard that there was this type of symbol. She shared one of these masks with me and encouraged me to wear it in public spaces so that the Hmong people in Eau Claire would know that the health department cared about them and their health. I do that now gratefully.
If you had an unlimited budget, what’s one piece of public art you would create locally? More murals! My daughter painted a mural on my garage and it makes me smile. We need more very visible art that makes us think and smile and we need to financially support the artists that do this work.
If COVID-19 suddenly vanished, where is the first local place you would go? The Pablo for a show.
Death bed, one meal from a local restaurant, what would it be? Steak or fish from Houligans with a great glass of wine and a walk home after! And a whole bunch of potato ole’s if I could.
If you would play kubb with any Chippewa Vallian, past or present, who would it be? Actually, my Dad who has died. He was a history professor specializing in Nazi Germany, and also very competitive with any game. I would pick his brain about our current political environment, and I would work hard to beat him as I learned my competitiveness from him.
Water Street or Downtown? Water Street – my neighborhood!
Ramone’s or Olson’s? Not fair! I love ice cream.
What book, TV show, or movie would you recommend to the members of the City Council? Evicted. Release awhile ago but still an important message. A simple read that raises questions about the basic need for housing.
If you could rename Eau Claire with a different French name, what would it be? It is perfect the way it is I think.
I have worked in community health roles in St. Paul, Milwaukee, North Carolina, and Eau Claire. I love that my work aligns with my values, even if it is challenging and I always am learning.