The only Jewish member of the current governor’s cabinet, Secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions Kathy Koltin Blumenfeld is honored to have a presence in Gov. Tony Evers’ administration.
Blumenfeld, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, has been involved in the Madison Jewish community for most of her adult life. She is a former president of the Jewish Federation of Madison and served as a board member there for 17 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the University of Wisconsin Hillel Foundation.
One might say her leadership in the Jewish community began in middle school, when her group of friends started their own chapter of BBYO, Shalom BBG. Blumenfeld served as its president in the 8th grade.
Blumenfeld went to Nicolet High School, during which time she was on the leadership board for BBYO in the Milwaukee area.
Blumenfeld’s involvement in the Jewish community is motivated by her belief in tikkun olam, or improving the world. “[Tikkun olam] is part of who I am, it’s part of my DNA, and I think I got that from my parents.”
Her parents, Cy and LaVerne Koltin, live in Glendale. Her father Cy owned the store Jack’s Uptown in Milwaukee, where he was notorious for his kindness; his character is reflected in the kindly grocer from the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Her mother LaVerne worked as a realtor, serving the community until her retirement at the age of 86.
For Blumenfeld, they are both “great role models in terms of hard work and dedication. It was never enough to just be good at what you’re doing, you also had to be helping within the community as well, and helping other people.”
Blumenfeld is grateful for her upbringing. “My background and the leadership opportunities that I’ve been afforded through the Jewish community have helped me be a much better and experienced leader,” Blumenfeld said.
With a major in both political science and accounting, Blumenfeld’s appointment as secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions combines her leadership experience with her life-long interest in finance.
“I feel like all paths have led me to this role, and I feel I can use this to make a difference and help people, and it really is aligned with my Jewish values,” Blumenfeld said.
Blumenfeld oversees the 150-person Department of Financial Institutions, which seeks to “ensure the safety and soundness of state-chartered financial institutions,” according to Blumenfeld.
As the Wisconsin economy is strong, much of the Department of Financial Institutions’ current focus is on strengthening financial education on the front end, in K-12 schools. Blumenfeld cited one example of an effective initiative, a student-run credit union at an elementary school in Eau Claire, where six 4th and 5th graders had various roles – marketing, counting money, inputting deposits, providing receipts.
“I think part of what we have to instill in kids is the habit of saving and the importance of it. And to see this being done in a 4th and 5th grade classroom, and the whole school and the community wrapped around it, was one of the best models I’ve seen,” Blumenfeld said.
“I look at financial literacy and building financial confidence as a life-long journey,” Blumenfeld said. “There’s so many other people in the community doing great things — how can we partner to make the biggest bang and impact in helping people?”