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Mary Germain. Photo by Vince Bushell.

Mary Germain

If you’ve been to the Riverwest Co-op, you’ve seen Mary Germain. She’s the young lady with the dark-brown-andpink-and-blue hair.  Mary was hired as Inventory Manager in July 2006, and is one of a handful of full-time Co-op employees. She started working there as a volunteer in January of 2002, only three months after the Co-op opened in November 2001. Mary grew up in Green Bay and came to Milwaukee to study science at UWM. She moved to Riverwest from the East Side in 2001, “…when I realized that most of the people I liked lived here. And it was lots cheaper! Then I discovered the Co-op, and that was it. I’ll never leave now.” What are her passions? Numero uno seems to be the Riverwest Food Coop. “It’s a really special place. It’s a real business not run by business values. Our main objective is not to make money. We don’t measure success by growth. Our goal is sustainability, not expansion. We don’t want to grow beyond this building. Someday we’d like to help with outreach and education – help others with similar ideals and ideas.” The Co-op seems to be more than a job for Mary. It fills up a lot of her free time as well. “I don’t have a lot of free time outside of the Co-op. I go to Workers Collective meetings once a week and finance committee meetings every other week. Board meetings are one a month. Right now I’m on the hiring committee, and there are always subcommittees popping up for one thing and another.” But what if there’s no meeting? Then what? “I did league bowling at the Falcon Bowl last year. I like air hockey and riding my bike. I’m not a real “bike kid,” though – I don’t have the street cred for that. I just have a used bike that I got from the Bike Collective. I joined the silk screening collective over at the Cream City Collectives, but I haven’t managed to do much with it yet. So what’s the story on the hair color? “What?” she says, a bit defensive. “It’s not like I change it all the time. This part has been pink for more than a year. This blue on top has been here for at least a month. I used to change it several times a month. Then I shaved my head and had to slow down a little…” Mary’s hair is her fashion statement. Some people like to wear flashy jewelry or trendy clothes, but that’s just not her style. “I don’t buy clothes. I was wearing shoes from ten years ago, and there were holes in them. I looked for just the right pair of shoes for two years. I resolved not to buy any shoes that were made of leather or had been made in third world countries. I had to go to New York to find these. And they’re going to last me at least five years.” She points to her lace-up boots that extend to mid-calf, and have a label on the back that says, “Vegetarian.” There was a time that Mary didn’t find as much personal fulfillment in her work. She did a lot of light industrial work when she lived in Green Bay – she got to be something of a specialist in archiving documents to microfiche. “Getting jobs was easy for me. I worked at one place, and they told me I’d have to take my facial piercings out. I said, ‘No,’ and walked across the street and got a different job.” At that time, Mary enriched her life with volunteer work for various causes. At one period she volunteered at a nokill animal shelter in Edgar, Wisconsin on weekends. When that shelter closed down, she took in Betty, one of the dogs deemed “unadoptable” by other shelters. That experience has led Mary to form some strong opinions about animals – human and otherwise. “I wish it were harder for people to acquire animals or to have kids. I wish having a baby or a special relationship with an animal were really rare, so both of those things would be considered to be more precious.” Mary has a buoyant personality. She dances a lot while she’s working in the co-op. People might be surprised to know that she considers herself a cynic. “I don’t think cynicism is a bad thing. Depression is a bad thing – I’m not depressed. I’ve always been cynical, though. I think it’s just being realistic – not expecting that things will work out for the best or that people will do good things. It’s just not in their nature. “Being cynical keeps you on your toes. Because people are not inherently good, we have to strive to do good things. Otherwise we just get complacent. It’s our duty to try to make peoples’ lives better – it’s the least we can do.” Another trait that may surprise people: skepticism. “I’m skeptical about things. I don’t decide to do something until I’ve thought about it for a long time. I was a vegetarian since I was 15, and was a vegan for quite a while before I ‘declared’ as one in 2002. But now I’m vegan, and that’s it. I’m not about to change. “Being skeptical helps you find out things. It helps you decide what’s really important, and figure out which things can change, and which things can’t. That helps you be more productive.” “I have a strong idealism, too. I guess that balances the cynicism.” That’s the many sides of Mary Germain. Dancing and singing. Cynicism. Skepticism. Idealism. And the firm belief that it’s the responsibility of each individual to make good things happen here and now. Let’s let her have the last word: “What good is having principles if you don’t practice them?”