Women in Construction Week 2022: Margaret Kraege
A big yellow front loader picks up dirt at a City of Madison Parks Division playground—dust flies, the massive bucket lifts and drops a load in the back of another truck, then beeps as it backs up to park.
Once the dust settles, engine turns off and the air clears, the door pops open and out steps Parks Division Equipment Operator Margaret Kraege – beaming from ear to ear—it’s a great day to work in Parks.
“I grew up in a family of 11 kids,” Kraege said. “We would go to the parks all the time because it was an inexpensive thing to do for a whole day.”
Kraege learned fundamental life skills spending time with her family, whether she was in a park or at home.
“My mom taught us girls, ‘hey you need to know how to learn how to change a tire and mow the grass,’ and the boys needed to know how to sew and bake a cake,” Kraege said.
But it wasn’t a cake walk for Kraege when she started her would be 30-year career at the City of Madison in 1987. She was hired as the first woman equipment operator for the Parks Division, and possibly the entire City of Madison workforce, complete with challenges.
“When I started, things were really difficult being a woman because there were a lot of men who did not want to accept a woman in a traditional men’s job,” Kraege said.
But Kraege could do the job, and well, not to mention, something her support system knew and was proud of, no matter how tough the comments were.
“I got through it because my husband was very very supportive,” Kraege said. “He thought it was so neat—that I was willing to give it [run heavy machinery] a try and try my best at it. My parents instilled a good work ethic in my siblings and myself.”
A good work ethic Kraege passes onto the other part of her support system: her son.
“One time he told his teacher that he wanted to grow up and be like his mom because she ran big equipment,” Kraege said. “That was really cool.”
Now, Kraege can run just about any machine you need her to, thanks to her hard work and learning from other operators wiling to teach her—something she says other women should do if they’re in a situation like she was.
“Allow people to help you. If there are operators, you can learn a little bit from every different operator,” Kraege said. “Everyone does things similarly, but everybody does things a little bit different. And if you can learn one trick from each operator – that you deal with, then you’ll be successful.”
A day’s work is successful when you love what you do.
“Honestly, I’m eligible to retire at any time,” Kraege said. “I have the years of service and my age, but I’m choosing to continue to stay here because when I wake up and I’m going to do a job, I look at what the finished project would be and I take a lot pride in that. I know that will make a lasting effect on my kids, my grandkids, other peoples kids. We are public servants.”
Spending time in parks, it’s something Kraege has enjoyed for so long, and no matter what challenge gets in her way, you bet Kreage isn’t going to let it ruin her day.
“Go home at the end of the day and be proud of yourself that you did the best that you could do,” Kraege said. “As long as can go home with that, you’ll have a lot of good days.”
A lot of good days, for a strong woman who broke ground in the places she loves most, now for other women looking to have good days of their own.
- Ann Shea , firstname.lastname@example.org