By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Moments In Time: Beth Zurbuchen
Beth Zurbuchen (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
NEW GLARUS - Beth Zurbuchen received a warm response from social media when she posted from the Swiss Center of North America's page and asked: "When was the last time you thought about your Swiss heritage?"

Zurbuchen, the president and CEO of the Center, finds it hard not to think about her own - each day she's surrounded by all things Switzerland. The longtime broadcast journalist said her desire to know has never left, but the woman who once brought news stories to light in front of a camera now brings forth the tales of her ancestors to share with so many who are still interested in the days gone by.

She grew up in Verona, a place Zurbuchen now refers to as "old Verona," when times weren't quite as bustling as they are today. She was often surrounded by family - she had grandparents and cousins who lived nearby and spending time with them was a regular event.

Her father was the gas man for the village, and Zurbuchen often rode with him; the farm fill-ups were her favorite. She would listen in on her father's conversations or enjoy the farm when Fitchburg was mostly countryside, she said, and her father seemingly knew everyone.

"It was a time when everyone knew everyone, and you also knew their connections," Zurbuchen said.

She was the second in a family with three brothers and said they focused on fun in the summertime, mostly packing up by bicycle to enjoy the Verona beach. Her aunt and uncle managed it, and she felt right at home.

"Life was good," Zurbuchen said. "We enjoyed the sun and the water."

She attended Verona High School where she was an active A-student. She played the French horn, was in the marching band, on the poms and worked for the student newspaper and yearbook. It was all shortly after Title 9 was enacted, and Zurbuchen was part of the Girls Athletic Association, participating in track and volleyball. It was an experience that taught her the importance of proper coaching and fundamentals - things that weren't yet implemented.

She said while growing up her Swiss family and roots were full-fledged and she was most certainly expected to work and earn her keep. She helped out regularly at home as well as held a job in high school at the old A&W drive-through.

"Nothing was given to us," she said. "We worked hard, but we played a lot too."

She was the first from both sides of her family to go to college, attending the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She said she was inspired by her Sunday school teacher from the Salem United Church of Christ, who earned a journalism degree. They eventually watched him on television.

"I thought to myself, 'If Rick can do that, I could too,'" she said.

She earned her bachelor's degree in mass communications and landed her first job in La Crosse working as a reporter for WXOW TV, an ABC affiliate. She recalls covering the 100-year flood with few resources and, albeit frustrating at times, she said she never disliked the work.

"I learned many valuable lessons there," she said. "Each year teaches you lessons if you're open to it."

After six years on the job, she was transferred to WAOW in Wausau, a small newsroom in the Northwoods where she spent another six years producing, anchoring and reporting before she was promoted to news director.

She became one of the youngest and very few female news directors in the ABC family in the country at that time, she said. It was likely her youth and driven nature that took her there. She said she never let being young or female stop her from trying new things or doing things that might not have been as acceptable at the time.

"I admire the youth movements going on right now," she said. "On my own small level, I had some of those opportunities in my career."

Six years later, in 1986, she took another job, this time in Madison at Channel 3 WISC. She knew the news director there who offered her the position, and she anchored "Live at Five" as well as news at 6 and 10 p.m. Although she was offered different jobs through the years, she never took them - always feeling like she had more work to do there.

"I had 13 wonderful years at Channel 3," she said. "My path brought me home."

One of her fondest memories is while she covered the Rose Bowl the first time UW-Madison went. It was the station's first time out with their satellite truck and although several technical difficulties went wrong, they acted professional, figured it out and moved on.

She said it was likely her personality that kept fans on her side - she's been told she would talk to anyone. She loved taking the time to visit with faithful viewers and people who recognized the TV personalities.

"There are two types of people - the open armed and welcoming - that's me," she said. "Then there are those who can be more arrogant. It was important for me to give back to the people who spent time watching me and my channel."

It might have been innate or maybe it was those years spent alongside her father and his customers, but Zurbuchen said she has always been a people person who was never really camera shy. As the newsroom changed through the years, Zurbuchen took control of her own future and decided to leave, moving on to other positions in public relations and marketing while she raised her two daughters, Molly and Emma. She became active in the school system and took part in meetings and issues that were important to her.

"Time marches on and life is a journey - and it all brought me here," Zurbuchen said.

She saw an ad in the newspaper nearly 10 years ago to fill the position she now holds as the president and CEO of the Swiss Center of North America in New Glarus. She admittedly applied without really knowing what the job was, but her broad general experiences likely landed her the post - and her prominent Swiss last name certainly didn't hurt.

Now leading the Center, Zurbuchen said she somewhat lives through her ancestors, hearing stories of so many, including her own family's plight. They're stories she most likely would have never otherwise known.

"It's such a warmth," she said. "The stronger you're rooted in your past, the more you can branch out. Here, I've learned what I am - not just who I am."

When she started at the Center, it was mostly a blank slate - and over time Zurbuchen has molded and transformed the building that was once empty into a place that now overflows with Swiss things, a Swiss library and items that showcase the culture, heritage and roots that so many in the area still deeply care about.

Although as a nonprofit she has to focus on funding, Zurbuchen is still working to build the Center that is now doing well. She hopes to grow an endowment and work on more outreach in the near future plans.

"I never want to step out of my Swiss world that I've grown to love and cherish here," she said.

She admits it's likely the job that has brought on a strong feeling of "Swissness" in her that she loves and has given her a sense of belonging. One of her current focuses is being in the final step of obtaining her Swiss citizenship. She said getting it would make things feel as if her entire family has come full circle. Her information is currently in Bern for review.

"It doesn't diminish me being an American - it enhances it - because we're all a melting pot and we all came from somewhere else," she said.

Zurbuchen still lives in Madison and enjoys spending time with her husband, Peter, and her two daughters. She enjoys traveling, connecting with friends and reading when she's able. She finds solace in gardening and yard work. She used to compete in triathlons and bicycle road races and still enjoys being active.

She also still enjoys activism work and uses her voice to speak up for things she feels strongly about as often as she can.

Zurbuchen said her rich life has made her as happy today as she was in the days when she interviewed people like Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and David Letterman, to name a few.

"Our life is a journey. Sometimes we feel lost, but just because you're wandering or looking - you're not lost - you're just on your journey," she said.

Her favorite quote is one she keeps displayed in her home and has stuck with her since she stumbled upon it.

"Sometimes, on the way to your dream, you get lost and find a better one."