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The millennial council member: 22-year-old prepares for Pine Island City Council

Kelly Leibold started going to City Council meetings when she was a junior at Pine Island High School. At 19, she was hired as the chamber director. At 22, Leibold will be sworn in to serve on the council this January. Photo courtesy of OPG Media1 / 3
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In 2016, Leibold had emergency surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor. Leibold had six months of radiation and chemotherapy afterwards. Shortly after her recovery ended, Leibold decided to run for a seat on the Pine Island City Council. Photo courtesy of Kelly Leibold3 / 3

PINE ISLAND — It was around the end of Kelly Leibold's cancer treatments where she considered running for public office.

Leibold has attended city meetings since she was 16, an unconventional move for a young person, across any generation. Now in a few weeks, at just 22 years old, Leibold will be attending city meetings in a more official nature: as a council member.

Leibold loves Pine Island. From the parks and Douglas Trail, she has served on multiple committees and volunteered. There's no other path she could see for herself.

A lifelong Pine Island resident, Leibold moved to Rochester for only a short time after graduating high school. Leibold attended Rochester Community and Technical College for a semester but didn't feel the experience was for her.

Shortly after, Leibold was approached about applying for the Pine Island Chamber director. Surprised, Leibold still applied and was hired at age 19.

In that new position, continuing to volunteer heavily, Leibold said she felt like she was giving back to the city that has given her so much.

But shortly thereafter, Leibold began to feel nauseous, often becoming light headed.

A life-saving surgery

Leibold made numerous visits the doctor to try and figure out what's going on inside her body. On one visit to Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, after receiving a brain scan. The situation quickly turned into an emergency.

"As soon as they started putting the IV's in, I started shaking a bit. I thought, 'This is not normal protocol in what they normally do, so obviously something is up.'" she recalled. "The ambulance escorted me to Mayo that night. My mind was running wild with what it could be."

 In a span of two days, Kelly Leibold went from a exam to surgery to remove a tumor. Photo courtesy of Kelly LeiboldThe scan showed a tumor in the right cerebellum. The 5-centimeter tumor was pushing on her brain fluid. Leibold said her cancer was a type typically found in children under 7. Doctors were surprised by the diagnosis.

Leibold went in on a Tuesday at OMC and had emergency surgery on Thursday to remove the tumor.

The thought dying didn't set in, she said, with the timetable of surgery being so abrupt.

"I knew that if the tumor had gone like two more weeks unchecked that I could've passed or whatever, but it never really hit home with because I avoided that arrow," Leibold said.

She wasn't sure how long the tumor had been growing, but learned it was somewhere between five months to five years.

Leibold is peppy, choosing to look forward.

"It doesn't make sense to dwell on the negative because it happened and I can't change that it happened," Leibold said. "I'd rather take the experience and learn from it."

Another health scare

Leibold's road to recovery included six months of radiation and chemotherapy. After that finished, Leibold decided that she would run for City Council. However, she started to feel nauseous and light headed again.

"I just had all these wild thoughts of, 'Is something coming back? Am I not taking care of myself?' Because the (chemotherapy) I went through was pretty intense," Leibold said.

In September, Leibold was diagnosed with Graves' disease, not an uncommon condition for women under the age of 40 when the thyroid overproduces hormones.

Leibold said she is monitoring her thyroid with supplements and trying to find the right balance to keep it under control.

The millennial council member

During a benefit for her at the Olde Pine Theater—Leibold lives in the apartment above the venue—Leibold realized she's met a lot of people in town. Incredibly humbled by people's generous donations, Leibold decided to put her foot forward and run for office.

With two council spots up for grabs and running against two incumbents, Leibold received the second most votes with 545. In total, there were 1,916 votes cast in a community of 3,366 residents, an incredible turnout for a small community.

Leibold felt she had a chance, but is still nervous about joining the council in just a few weeks.

Leibold feels like she could be a positive voice in the community for millennials, hopefully inspiring her generation to become more involved.

"To realize that this community is made up of people, that sounds stupid, but this community is made up of people that care, people that want to invest in their community," Leibold said. "We have such a diversity of citizens that live in town now, that's grown in even the past five to 10 years due to a variety of reasons.

"On our current city council, we're not really, in my opinion, reflecting the diversity of those opinions that are in the community," Leibold added. "And volunteering for all these different community organizations and events, I've met so many different people and I really want all of these great ideas that I keep hearing in and around the community to be brought to the attention of the city."

When asked if she sees Pine Island as becoming a bedroom community, Leibold refutes that connotation, saying the community is on the upswing.

"I feel like I'm rooting for the underdog here in that Pine Island deserves to be paid attention to and invested in. There's such an opportunity to grow."

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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