From the time she was a child, Pam Kramer has been sensitive to injustice. Her father was the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Lima, Ohio. She lived by the church on the poor side of town, where a majority of her neighbors were African-American. Her mother tutored kids caught in the “Opportunity Gap” and her father helped form a housing rehabilitation program. In middle school, she noticed how poverty affected kids in her school and community. As a teen in the late 1960s, she took note of the associated troubles tied to poverty: housing, health, transportation, employment and education. Her many questions led to family discussions about justice, inequity and opportunity.
Pam’s concern with the costs of inequity led her to study at American University in Washington DC. That study led to a year with VISTA, where she served communities suffering from poverty. This service brought her to Lake Benton, Minnesota, where she helped build a Housing Authority, which is still serving the public’s need for housing there. She earned a Masters in Community and Regional Planning from NDSU. Clearly, her early interest in injustice grew into a core passion in her life.
Pam is currently Director of Duluth’s Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Through her work with LISC, she has learned how to collaborate with a wide variety of non-profits and community leaders. Her efforts have helped guide the investment of over 89 million dollars in our community. Much of that has been directed toward improving community systems and providing more equitable opportunities. Pam has enjoyed building teamwork and extending their shared vision for 19 years. She believes that Duluth is a city with a positive attitude. Citizens are eager to work together in ways that add value to our neighborhoods and social system. Her skills and team building have added to the sense that Duluth is a Port of Possibilities, where people share responsibilities and take initiatives to improve their community.
Working with a wide variety of community and local leaders can be stressful. Over the years, she has developed antidotes to the effects of stress. One is exercise. Pam enjoys being active. Each weekday she exercises at the YMCA before going to work. After working up a sweat, she enjoys settling down to work at LISC.
Pam strongly values collaboration and working with others. She works with many small groups of Duluth citizens. She has grown to appreciate the insight of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
In reflecting on the value of faith in action, Pam explained that Peace Church adds renewal to her being. “There is something unique going on though the music, ritual and worship.” Both she and daughter Mari have noted that sharing in the presence at Peace renews hope. Throughout family and work stresses, this access to renewable hope is a vital element in her life, which can be “crazy busy.” Her ready smile and positive attitude reflect her connection with a deeper power. Pam’s early and ongoing concern with justice has added hope and courage to our community.
Interviewed by Bill Mittlefehldt