When asked how many boards and commissions she serves on, Charlotte Zietlow says she doesn't know. "And I don't really want to know," she adds with a laugh.
Short, gray hair frames her lively eyes, which peer kindly from behind small glasses. She offers coffee, leaves and quickly returns with a steaming plastic foam cup and two kinds of Coffee-mate creamer.
Zietlow is the economic development coordinator for Middle Way House, a Bloomington nonprofit that provides housing and support for domestic violence victims. Her newest task is to raise funds for Middle Way's New Wings Community Partnership.
The partnership, introduced in 2005, involves Middle Way buying and renovating the old Coca-Cola bottling plant, 318 S. Washington St. The renovation will create apartments for the shelter's women, offices for Middle Way, a childcare center and a commercial kitchen.
While Zietlow's personal appearance exudes organization, her desk tells a different story. It eschews order altogether. Random stacks of paper and pictures of grandchildren surround her computer, an oasis amid chaos. She apologizes for the mess, but it reflects the active lifestyle of a woman who says she "can't sit still."
Cynthia Brubaker, Middle Way's project development coordinator, says Zietlow's connections in the community help in her position as fundraiser for the New Wings project, which includes applying for grants and appealing to businesses for donations. Brubaker says she often asks Zietlow's opinion on people or businesses who could potentially contribute to Middle Way.
"She's really well-connected in the community. She knows everybody," Brubaker says. "Everywhere she goes, people say, 'Hi, Charlotte.'"
After years of involvement in Bloomington's political, social service and business communities, Zietlow uses her prior experiences with the New Wings project. A unique part of the project is the commercial kitchen, or "kitchen incubator," that will be installed in the new building. Entrepreneurs in the community wanting to start food businesses may rent the kitchen when Middle Way Food Works, a business that provides meals to local non-profit organizations, isn't using it.
Zietlow says social agencies aren't often involved in business.
"It is kind of unusual that a social service agency would be part of it, but we are because I am," she says.
Zietlow has never been one to stick to the status quo. She was elected as the first woman president of the Bloomington City Council in 1971 and played a major role in making local government more interactive with community members.
"It was a huge change, and for me, I was the president of the city council," she says. "I presided over these changes. It was very exciting. It just shifted the direction of my life."
Zietlow went on to become the first woman county commissioner in Bloomington in 1980. After "(taking) care of all the things that hadn't happened in 25 years," like restoring the Courthouse and building the Justice Building, she moved on to run Bloomington's United Way. Before coming to Middle Way 12 years ago, Zietlow also worked as community organizer for Planned Parenthood.
Zietlow attributes her need to stay active and help people to being a Lutheran preacher's daughter.
Parishioners often called and came to their home seeking help. As a young girl in the 1940s in Milwaukee, Zietlow would also accompany her father on visits to hospitals.
"I'm a minister's daughter, and there are two things," she says. "One was, I was brought up definitely to take care of people, to serve. And the other thing was that I've got a stubborn streak that -- I don't know where it came from. It's not Lutheran."
It has taken two years to raise enough money through grants and private contributions to buy and renovate Middle Way's new building. An official ceremony to signal the start on renovations was held in November.
Although the building and kitchen incubator are in the process of being renovated, Zietlow has already created two businesses to employ the shelter's women: Food Works, which is nearly six years old, and Confidential Document Destruction, which has been around for about 11 years.
Zietlow says she may be busy, but she doesn't multitask.
"I do things one thing at a time," she says. "And I do get a lot done."
Katilin Shawgo can be reached at .