The LCSTARs page was established to recognize the achievements of team members who have gone above and beyond the necessary requirements to be a professional search and rescue person. They are truly an inspiration to other team members. It is also about getting to know our fellow team members and getting a peek at what makes them tick and some insight into the diverse kinds of people that join the SAR community and what they find so captivating about their experience.

Karen Mianecki

LCSAR's choreographer brings her diverse background LCSTAR

by Mike Fink, Public Information Officer

What's Polish, Italian, German, Norwegian and English? (That explains a few things!) Although Karen Mianecki waited until 1995 to move to Colorado she did not waste any time getting involved and making a difference, but more about that later…

Karen was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. She has a degree in cultural and intellectual history with an emphasis on Native American study. She did research on hunting and fishing rights for the Chippewa Tribe. She has a minor in dance, mainly focused on modern ballet and modern dance. Because of two jobs and going to school full-time, Karen declined an offer to join a dance company. (Be forewarned folks, I see a Team Dance in our future to go along with our Team Song! And our climbing shoes can double as ballet slippers, I'm told!) While working at the Native American Academic Component at the University, Karen helped put together books on the Anthology of Western Great Lakes Indians and a Directory of Native American Professionals.

In high school Karen was very active on the cross-country and track teams as a distance runner. She competed at the state level on a few occasions and was offered a scholarship to Ball State College in Indiana for her running skills. The thought of moving to Indiana was not very appealing and she decided instead to attend the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Car camping and hiking in northern Wisconsin was a favorite past time for Karen, when she had the time. She has always loved the outdoors and except for the numerous large mosquitoes (Wisconsin State Bird) she always looked forward to the next opportunity for a trip.

She likes to cook, and Thai food is her favorite both to cook and eat. As far as restaurants, Ft. Collins does not have a great selection for Thai but she says there is one at the corner of Elizabeth and Taft Hill that isn't too bad. She claims she can go into a restaurant and taste foods and then fairly accurately reproduce it in her kitchen. (I have challenged her with El Burrito's Green Chili).

Another favorite hobby that has been neglected due to her lack of space is the building and interior design of log cabin doll houses. Karen learned woodworking skills in the shop with her dad. Dad was a pattern maker and would make wood molds that would be the forms for pouring the metal into for the larger components, mainly for tractors. She remembers easily getting lost in her woodworking projects with Dad and looks forward to the day when she has enough room to design, fabricate logs for, and build a cabin from scratch.

Native American Anthologies and Short Stories are her favorite reading. Their spiritual and nonlinear style, close-knit relationships, and the interweaving of past and future events that eventually all get tied together intrigue her. Currently, Karen is working for the City of Fort Collins Streets Facility coordinating a program that provides high school drop outs an opportunity to work on and achieve their GED.

Before moving on to SAR stuff, I had to mention Karen's red-eared turtle. His name is Mackinaw, which means turtle in Chippewa. Her Chippewa friends thought it was odd that she named her turtle Turtle but her SAR friends think it makes perfect sense. She keeps him in an aquarium in her room and he will most likely live to be 75 years old.

Karen felt the pull of emergency work early in her life. She recalls that even before starting school she would watch Adam-12 and Emergency on television. While other girls would watch for the cute guys Karen would be taking notes on protocols and rescue techniques. Then on a trip to Utah with her sister Cathy, two mountain bikers got rim-rocked and eventually died. They watched while the rescuers rappelling from helicopters to retrieve the bodies and how easily the victims could have avoided problems. Two things were obvious; the need for backcountry SAR and the need for PSAR.

About a month after moving to Colorado, Karen was hired by the Larimer County Sheriff's Office to handle personnel and training duties. It was then that she met Bill Nelson, Jim Lynxwiler, and Drew Davis. They became good friends and, of course, their conversations naturally drifted to Emergency Services. Karen immediately became very attracted to that business.

Karen is actively pursuing a career in Law Enforcement and she is on the eligibility list with the Ft. Collins PD. She has and is taking classes and training to prepare her for what she eventually hopes will be a permanent, full-time job. She was not able to do any police work in Wisconsin due to their very strict height and weight requirements. She currently has over 150 hours of ride-along time with state and local agencies.

When asked to comment on memorable SAR experiences, Karen immediately smiles and begins a long dissertation on the value of our public education efforts. "Lost But Found, Safe and Sound" is one of the best programs she has come across for teaching safety to the kids and allowing for a lot of good interaction. Kudos to Cheryl Kennedy for finding this replacement for the Hug-A-Tree program during a NASAR trip.

Karen's memorable missions, and she has many to sort through, starts with her first mission, the Spring Creek Flood. She was with one of the two dog teams that found the human flesh in the debris. It helped put a perspective on the flood for Karen because she had lost some personal belongings that were in a storage shed, like her class yearbooks. After seeing all of the other major destruction and evidence of the loss of life, her personal losses could more easily be put in their proper place.

Searching for evidence after the Strauss Cabin fire was also a very emotional event. It was rewarding in that we played a major role in identifying some evidence that would eventually lead to a conviction of the persons who were responsible. At the same time there was sadness and anger because the person that built the cabin died protecting it and 100 years later it was burnt to the ground in a few hours.

Last, but no less significant was the search for Jaryd Atadero. With public education you can rarely, if ever, know how many people you've saved. With Jaryd you can see someone you didn't and that is probably the hardest memory to deal with. Doing the Whistle Program has helped to put some closure on the event. Karen has also developed a program to educate the parents and guardians of younger children on how to keep them safe in a wilderness situation. Like many others, Karen is uncertain as to the fate of little Jaryd.

The interview would not be complete without acknowledging Norland for so adeptly taking out two innocent trees in Boulder County last year. Karen has high hopes that Mr. Hall has reviewed the video he was presented at the Christmas Party and that he is prepared to teach us all the fine art of backing up in the wilderness. It may even become a part of our PSAR repertoire!

Besides joining the team to give back to the community another aspect that is appealing to Karen is the variety of activities to get involved with. Learning new skills, tackling administrative and PSAR challenges, and interacting with a variety of diverse people and agencies will keep the work from getting boring for a long time. Karen has always been attracted to the kind of activities that keep the mind working and the body moving. SAR has not been disappointing in either aspect.

Most recently Karen has been involved in putting together a class, with Norma and some other CISM people, for Team members' significant others, spouses and children, that she hopes will serve two purposes. First, to let them know that we couldn't do this without their love and support and to bring the SAR family and the traditional family closer together. Second, they experience a form of critical incident stress because of their concern for us and their knowledge of the fact that what we do is dangerous. It's common for relationships to be strained when emergency services professionals relate better to one another that we do to our loved ones. There's help and Karen wants to see that everyone who can be affected by this problem has an opportunity to find out more.

In closing I'll leave you with some of Karen's sincere comments about LCSAR…

"The team as a whole are wonderful people. They are my extended family. We're all very good at helping to teach each other and support each other. [We] give each other opportunities to excel where we're good at and that's something you don't see in many organizations. The skill level on our team, and our reputation, is excellent. And so to work with that type of a group of people is a privilege."