Rochester Magazine: I guess you really didn’t want us to have a RochesterFest parade this year?
Judy Braatz: That’s funny, because do you know the history of this parade thing and me?
RM: No. I know this year’s was canceled because of the weather ...
JB: I was asked last year to be the RochesterFest chair and then everything was canceled. So I said to the board, “You guys are not getting rid of me until I’m in that damn parade.” This year rolls around and they’re like, “We are not going to be able to do the parade. The face masks haven’t been lifted.” I wanted to cry. Then we were going to have the parade. Then the rain moved down. I was so bummed. At our appreciation picnic, I got up to welcome everybody and I said, “Oh, just a minute,” and practiced my wave. I said, “I’ve been practicing this for two years.”
RM: What was one thing that surprised about your chairpersonship?
JB: How little was expected of me. And what everybody else in the community thought I had done to put on Rochesterfest.
RM: I held you personally responsible for canceling the parade.
JB: Yes! I know. People were like, “You know, Judy, the traffic on Second Street is really bad,” and I’m like, “Okay, I’ll get right on that.” Now I’m joining the board.
RM: Speaking of joining a board, here’s a random sampling from your Facebook page from 2019. July 29th: “Jeremiah Program groundbreaking.” July 30th: “Mayowood Stone Barn, fun time with the Rochester Area Builders.” July 31st: “Volunteering with Neuro Hospitality House.” August 1st: “With my friends at the Rise Above Seizures Walk.” August 2nd: Well, that’s just a pic of you in a vertically-striped pantsuit. But still, that’s a lot.
JB: I guess I took the 2nd off! But seriously, it’s part of what Think Bank encourages me to do. They treat it like work, which I really respect. I know that was part of the reason that two days after I was fired [from the Chamber in 2017], they called and said, “We want to create a job for you.” And I thank Think every day. I never thought I could be passionate about another career like I was at the Chamber.
RM: You opened the door on the firing, so I’m going to ask, how tough was it to write The Letter [Braatz’s resignation letter that accused Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob Miller of age discrimination, bias against women, and defamation]?
JB: By that time? Not hard at all. I was shocked to be fired for the crazy reasons, which had nothing to do with my performance or my reputation. It still hurts.
RM: And now you’re at Think, doing great stuff there.
JB: Yes. I think I’m being punked every day. I’m like, “What? This can’t be real.” Think Bank gets it. They get what it means to be part of the community.
RM: Tell me about the moment you became a grandmother.
JB: It changed my life. My beautiful little granddaughter was born [last] September, and she was the bright spot in the winter of COVID. So that got me through those winter months.
RM: And her name is Reya Hope. ... OK. I just got it when I said it out loud. Like “ray of hope.”
JB: Ha! Do you know what? I didn’t get it at first, either. After she was born, my daughter said something about Reya Hope. I said, “Kelsey. Oh. That sounds like a ‘ray of hope.’” She was like, “We know, Ma. We know.”
RM: I’m going to give you some names. You tell me your relationship with these people: Debbie Runkle, Nancy DeYoung, Sherry Stein, Lori Paulson, and you.
JB: My high school friends.
RM: It’s your homecoming court from Stewartville High School.
JB: Oh my gosh. You’ve done your research.
RM: I’m going to list some of your past jobs. Give me a quick description of each. Mary Kay director.
JB: I became a director at 23. I was single, and I built a home with that money. I never got the Mary Kay car, though. I was so close!
RM: Secretary to Chuck Hazama at the Rochester Y.
JB: Chuck was like a second dad to me. He taught me more about working with people than probably anybody else.
RM: Radio news broadcaster at KWEB/KRCH.
JB: $5 an hour, but the exposure was amazing. I did the 5 PM Live Drive Home.
RM: OK. Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.
JB: I loved loved loved loved that job because I got to meet new people every day. I got to connect people every day. I worked with amazing people. It still makes me feel warm in my heart when I think about it.
RM: Tell me about your stand-up routine. Though Heather Holmes said most of it won’t be printable.
JB: When Goonies first opened, I was there for open mic night. Well, the joke tellers were reading from a piece of paper. So I said to this host, “I’m not a comedian, but I love to tell dirty jokes.” So they put me up there and I’m telling these jokes and I start off pretty mild. People are roaring. Oh, my gosh. It was a high, Steve.
RM: I know you see John Wade as a mentor. Not for dirty jokes. But in life.
JB: I could not have gotten through the Chamber situation without John Wade. I called him crying many times. We talked every day several times a day. John Wade, he just gets me. We’re still very good friends. We still talk quite a bit. He was there for me in a tough time.
RM: Would you say he was like a ray of hope for you?
JB: Sure. A ray of hope.
RM: I said that because of Reya Hope.
JB: Yes. I caught that.