Nature 35

Karen Ann (Vollbrecht) West

1945 ~ 2020 (age 74)


Madison - Karen Ann West, age 74, passed away on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. Karen was born in 1945 to Dorothy (Jorgensen), a trailblazing mother who was one of the first female school principals in a regional school system in Illinois and Howard Vollbrecht, a forever curious soil scientist father. She attended UW LaCrosse where she was in the chorus of “The Birds” and was swept away by the lead, Bob West, who would become the love of her life. They married and moved to Mauston where she was an elementary school teacher for three years. In 1971, they settled in Rice Lake and a few years later she had her first child, Erik. 

Karen was a hardworking leader in the community as president of both the Rice Lake Police and Fire Commission, the Rice Lake Area League of Women Voters and Chairperson for the Barron County Democratic Party. She also broke new ground for women as the first female co-host of a women centric radio show on WJMC and the first woman ever elected to the Barron County Board of Supervisors, a position she held for eight years. Her passion extended beyond regional politics. While pregnant with her second child, Samantha in 1976, she was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. On top of all of that, she commuted several hours a week to get a master’s degree in teaching reading from UW Eau Claire.

In 1985, the family moved to Madison and a few years later she became the Chief of Staff for Senator Barbara Ulichney where she drafted the legislation that encouraged slower drivers to stay in the right lane. This queen of speed was not satisfied with the status quo and always aimed to make things better. She even ran for a position on the Dane County Board in 1996 but lost by a very thin margin to an incumbent who said she was the most accomplished opponent he ever faced. She was passionate about the fair treatment of teachers and was a Uniserv Director for the South Central United Educators for nearly ten years and then another four years advocating for retired teachers through the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) until she retired in 2009.

Karen was an enthusiastic and loyal supporter of those she believed in, including unwavering support of her husband and his powerful presence as well as her close friends, her children and notably, the Badgers. 

Karen’s support also extended to those she never met with financial support that led to multiple lives touched and over 125,000 pounds of food being given to those who needed it. In her last years after losing her mother, she began driving seniors to medical appointments through RSVP of Dane County.

She and Bob enjoyed touring around in their RVs - beginning with an epic trip to Alaska in 2010, attending multiple golf tournaments and to Los Angeles to visit their only grandchild, Addi. All the while retreating to Orlando, Florida every winter to one of Karen’s happiest places on earth, Walt Disney World.

Karen was a vivacious, bright light—intelligent and committed—rarely letting anything stop her. When her husband of 54 years passed just six months before she got sick, she was heartbroken. Her heart had already seen a lot over the years but this was too much to bear and her invincible spirit decided it was time to leave.

Karen is survived by her son, Erik (Nyssa Greatorex) West; daughter, Samantha (Aaron Wahle) West; and 7 year old granddaughter, Adelaide. She was preceded in death by her parents, Dorothy and Howard Vollbrecht.

A Celebration of Life online memorial will be held in the upcoming weeks. Please contact Ryan Funeral Home at 608-249-8257 or for details. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to RSVP of Dane County ( or Second Harvest Food Bank ( To view and sign this guestbook, please visit:

Ryan Funeral Home & Cremation Services

2418 N Sherman Ave


To send flowers to Karen's family, please visit our floral store.


Celebration of Life will be held at a later date

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