When Barbara Braden started working on local elections in Lake Geneva, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States.
Braden, 91, is retiring as an election inspector after serving in that position for 60 years — through a dozen different presidents and countless local elected leaders.
The Lake Geneva resident worked the polls one last time April 2 during the municipal elections.
City Clerk Lana Kropf said Braden’s dedication has provided the sort of commitment and hard work needed to keep local elections running smoothly.
Braden and other poll workers surely are not there for the $8 an hour they get paid, Kropf said.
“They do it because they enjoy talking to everybody and seeing their neighbors,” the city clerk said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have an election.”
Braden started working local elections in the late 1950s because of an interest in politics that she developed while attending high school. She often debated politics with her fellow students, and she listened as her parents and neighbors discussed politics, too.
She started out as a poll watcher, checking off voter names from a list as they showed up to vote. Those who did not turn out sometimes got a personal visit and a reminder to do their part before the polls closed.
As an election inspector, Braden has been responsible for making sure voters were registered, signed in properly and were familiar with the choices on the ballot. One of the reasons she served for so many years was because she enjoyed interacting with the voters — even the Democrats.
Braden is a lifelong Republican.
“It’s America,” she said. “Everybody has a right to vote.”
Those who have spent many long nights at the Lake Geneva polling places with Braden say she will be missed when future elections are held without her.
Dolleen Brenton, a fellow election inspector, said she has enjoyed working side-by-side with Braden.
“You couldn’t ask for a more enjoyable person to work with,” Brenton said. “We’re going to miss her.”
Another longtime colleague, Carole Sappington, said Braden’s extended tenure made her a valuable resource on election days.
“It’s been great working with her,” Sappington said. “She knows a lot. She knows a lot of people.”
Starting before she even became an election worker, Braden and her former husband, Berwyn Braden, managed the Riviera tourism center on the Lake Geneva lakefront starting around 1952.
Continuing until 1980, Braden had a hand in numerous aspects of the Riviera, from selling tickets to hosting events and managing payroll.
“We had the whole kit and caboodle,” she said.
She recalls seeing such big-name entertainers as Louis Armstrong and Chubby Checker show up to perform at the Riviera.
Braden also worked as a manager at several local resorts and restaurants. She retired from that part of her career in 2004, and has since remained involved with the American Legion, the Republican Party and her church.
“I try to keep busy,” she said. “It just takes me 10 times longer to do everything that I used to do.”
At City Hall, Braden is among about 25 election inspectors who show up each election day and collect $8 an hour to keep the polls moving, help the voters do their part, and return the results smoothly.
She recalls elections when the process ended within minutes and other times when close elections or other issues kept the workers busy until 2 a.m. or later.
Braden said the biggest change she has noticed over the years is the location of the polling places in Lake Geneva. Once held at Lake Geneva High School, polling places have since moved to a former police station, Geneva Lake Family YMCA and currently at City Hall.
“They’ve had elections in so many places,” she said. “I’m probably forgetting a few.”
Braden said now is an appropriate time for her to step down as an election judge, but she hopes others will follow in her footsteps and dedicate themselves to the community.
“It was a pleasure,” she said. “It’s just time for me to let somebody else take over the reins.”