Governor Tony Evers has selected a woman with local ties as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. Secretary-designee Mary M. Kolar grew up in Wilton and graduated from Royall High School.
Kolar, whose appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate, lives in Madison with her husband, Scott.
“I believe I was appointed based on my military and leadership experience as well as my commitment to serving my community and especially fellow veterans,” she said. “I must ensure that the benefits and services available to veterans and their families in Wisconsin are maintained and continue to improve.”
Growing up close to Fort McCoy and the Tomah VA Medical Center had an impact on her desire to serve, Kolar said. Her mother, Geraldine Masters, held numerous jobs at Fort McCoy, including short-order cook. Kolar sometimes went with her mother to work and helped her deliver food to the soldiers. She also sang to the veterans at the VA with her mother and sister.
Following her high school graduation, Kolar attended the University of Wisconsin-Stout for a year before transferring to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she graduated and received a bachelor of science degree in marketing.
Three weeks after graduating from college, Kolar was commissioned as an officer in the Navy, where she served from 1980 to 2008, retiring as a captain.
Kolar said she joined the Navy because she wanted the adventure that it offered.
“Being able to see the world, see different places, experience different cultures and learn from other people — I didn’t want to just sit behind a desk,” she said. “I wanted to do something different and serve my country.”
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During her naval career, Kolar held a variety of positions, including tracking satellites and other objects in space; drug and alcohol program advisor; legal officer in a helicopter squadron; instructor and company officer for newly commissioned staff-corps officers, including doctors, nurses and lawyers; staff member to the War Gaming Department of the Naval War College; commanding officer in Washington, D.C., of the enlisted personnel assigned to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and executive officer of Tecruit Training Command Great Lakes.
While serving, Kolar had the opportunity to earn two master’s degrees, one in adult education and another in national security and strategic studies.
Her family has a history in the military. Her grandfather, father and brothers also served. She has two adult children, Matthew, who serves in the U.S. Navy and is stationed on the U.S.S. Kentucky; and Jamie, a firefighter in Delafield.
After retiring from the Navy, Kolar spent seven years as director of public operations at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
She also served as the president of her condo association in Madison, which had 700 residents, and was a Dane County Board supervisor for six years from 2013-19. During her time on the county board, she helped create the first veterans treatment court in Dane County.
Kolar was also appointed to the Veterans Service Office Commission, serving a term as president, and was vice president of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation’s board of directors.
She said her past qualifies her for the position. She’s been in charge of large organizations before and has handled multi-million dollar budgets.
Originally Kolar didn’t plan to apply for the position; she was going to recommend someone else, but in talking to others they kept asking “why not you?” So she decided to apply.
She is honored that Evers selected her as secretary.
“When I was interviewed by Gov. Evers, I said that I believe everything I’ve done and didn’t get to do led to this opportunity to continue to serve,” she said. “I greatly enjoyed my Navy career and to be able to continue that … with this position I couldn’t be more honored.”
Meghan Flynn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.