By Patti Samar
When Pauline Repp retired as the Port Huron City Clerk, she expected to turn in her keys, walk out the door and never look back.
Boy, did she get that wrong.
“When I retired, I expected to retire,” said Repp, who, at 10 years, is the longest serving mayor in the city of Port Huron. “This was not on my radar.”
But she wasn’t long into retirement before she put her institutional knowledge of city government to work as a member of the Port Huron City Charter Commission. That led to her first run for city council, where she won as the top vote getter.
Repp’s 25 years of employment with the city of Port Huron, combined with more than a decade of service to the city via the charter commission and her city council seat, have earned her the title Blue Water Woman Civic Leader of the Year. Repp was nominated by Port Huron Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Archibald.
Repp’s road to leading one of Michigan’s best “come back” success-story-cities is not the road well-travelled. And though Port Huron has made great strides in terms of economic development during her tenure as mayor, many residents in the city still face socio-economic difficulties associated with poverty.
And Repp understands their plight better than most realize, having grown up in and out of the home with her biological mother, and foster care, in the Toronto area.
“I was born in England, and came across the ocean on an airplane alone, at age four, to be met by foster parents I had never laid eyes on,” she said. “My mother was a single mother and she didn’t have the means to take care of me.”
Repp spent the next four years living in a stable home provided by loving foster parents.
“They cared about me and I cared about them,” she said. “I credit them with most of my moral being. They were church-going people and a very loving family.”
When Repp was nine, her biological mother, who had also immigrated to Canada, had remarried and Repp was sent to live with her again. The family, which expanded to include three half siblings, eventually moved to St. Clair. There, Repp studied hard and skipped a couple of grades in order to graduate from St. Clair High School at just 16, in order to remove herself from an unstable home life with her mother and stepfather.
“I had no money to go to college, so I went to work at the Times Herald in advertising,” she said. She worked there for 10 years, during which time she got married, started her own family, and pecked away at taking classes at St. Clair County Community College.
She spent four or five years as a stay-at-home mom, and when she returned to the work force in 1983, she began her career at the Port Huron city hall.
“I wasn’t sure it would be a good fit,” she said with a laugh, “but I stayed for 25 years.”
It was Repp’s work in the office of then-city manager Gerald Bouchard that inspired both her desire to become a U.S. citizen, and her interest in all-things having to do with city politics.
“I became a citizen in 1987,” she said. “Initially, I didn’t really have that drive with anything to do with politics, but when I started working for the city, I started seeing how city government affected how you live, and I couldn’t vote, so I became a citizen.”
Repp’s work at city hall also provided both a personal and professional mentor in Bouchard.
“Probably the biggest influence in my life was Gerry Bouchard,” she said. “He encouraged me more than anyone ever had. I was a little intimidated by him – like everyone else was – but he was the one who encouraged me to finish my associates degree. It was so important, having someone have faith in me.
“Most people have a parent who does that, but I did not. And he did that with a lot of people, not just me.”
Though serving on city council was not in Repp’s initial retirement plans, it certainly is a role that suits her – and the city.
“It gives me a purpose,” she said. “I feel it gives me a way to give back. I bring a calming effect to the table. I think it helps when you have someone at the helm who is keeping it under control and speaking up for the city. Everyone does not have to agree, but you have to provide a unified message.
“I do my best to make sure everyone is treated fairly, and we have a progressive city that is financially stable. I feel like I bring stability, and I feel like I’m making a difference.”