Making one of the most difficult decisions of his life, longtime Port Washington resident Tom Mlada, 37, recently resigned from his full-time position as director of development and stewardship at St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay.
After much prayer and reflection, he and his wife of nearly 14 years, Kathy, 36, slowed down their hectic lifestyle to enable Tom to be a more hands-on dad to their three daughters, Olivia, 11, Evelyn, 6, and Aubrey, who will turn 2 later this month, and focus on his service as part-time mayor of Port Washington.
During his nearly 11-year stint at St. Monica, Tom experienced tremendous job satisfaction, however, he began contemplating career growth.
“I was starting to think, ‘What’s next for me?’” he said.
A 1998 St. Norbert College graduate, he considered several options, but none seemed a good fit.
In November 2011, as Tom served on Port Washington’s planning commission, he learned the incumbent mayor would not seek re-election. Tom told an alderman he hoped he would run for mayor.
To Tom’s disappointment, the alderman announced he would not seek the mayoral office. “I told him, ‘I think you would have been phenomenal.’
Parish: St. Peter of Alcantara in Port Washington and St. Joseph in Grafton
Occupation: Part-time mayor and full-time dad
Favorite hobby: Exercising and landscaping
Favorite church hymn: “ “Nearer My God to Thee,” a 19th century Christian hymn by Sarah Flower Adams
Favorite song: “The River” by Garth Brooks
Favorite quotation: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
He said, ‘I think you would be phenomenal,’” Tom said.
He was astounded at the man’s words. After all, Tom had limited political experience.
On the short drive home from city hall, his thoughts were absorbed with the idea.
“I started getting the sense of ‘why not?’” he said.
After he helped Kathy put the girls to bed, he said to her, “I’m thinking about running for mayor.” His wife laughed and asked, “‘Really?’” Tom said.
“I cannot tell you (from) where this is coming,’ he told her, “But in the four or five minutes from city hall home, I have felt this sense of clarity that I’ve not felt … I really feel this is the next step in where I can give back.’”
For a brief moment Kathy was quiet. “Then she said, ‘If that’s what you think you need to do, then let’s do it,’” Tom said.
Kathy, a senior manager of global compensation for a Milwaukee-area corporation, said of Tom’s plans, “I was a little shocked. I never thought he’d actually do it.”
But after several days of continued discussion, she understood how serious he was.
In fact, she had every assurance he would be perfect for the role.
“He’s always been a great people person,” she said.
Tom credits his parents for preparing him for the role. “As much as I call my dad my ‘personal hero’ – I can go to him – I needed my mom’s take” on many life issues, Tom said.
His close relationship with his mother was cultivated as a young boy.
“I was the last of six and I was very much an ‘oopsie,’” Tom said. In fact, when he got into trouble his mom would remind him of the latter, he said with a hearty laugh. “I had the pleasure of really having my mom a lot to myself growing up.”
She would often say, “Just remember, preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
That phrase taught him to “live Gospel values by being good to all people,” he said. An example of her own advice, Tom said, his mom always put others’ needs before her own.
“Even now I get chills … I can hear her saying that,” he said, his eyes tearing with emotion.
His mother, Madelyn Mlada, died Nov. 29, 2012 at age 71 after a yearlong illness.
The most compelling guidance she offered affected not only Tom, but also a significant person in their lives.
“I have a son, A.J., who is 19,” Tom said. “I’m 37 … obviously – do the math – I was very young.” Tom and his son’s mother were together for nearly five years before they separated, though Tom had expected the relationship would endure.
When A.J., now a student at UW-Platteville, was a baby, Tom had second thoughts about interviewing to attend St. Norbert, about an hour drive from his home. But his mom gently encouraged him to go.
“She said, ‘Don’t close that door without taking at least a couple steps down the path to see what it might be like,’” Tom said.
He nailed the interview and fell in love with the campus. His decision to attend the college “set me up to not only be successful … but also to be really hands on with A.J.,” since the school’s proximity allowed him weekends with his son, Tom said.
“The personal accomplishment I hold most dear is the father I was to him” and the close relationship they have now, he said. “The timing on (his son’s birth) was not what I would have chosen in retrospect but the flip is, he’s my only son and I love him dearly.”
He is grateful to his mom for her encouragement and especially to God.
“I truly believe in the way God’s hand works into things,” he said.
Tom’s reflections on “how blessed am I in terms of God taking care of me,” led him to ponder how he could better serve God.
Tom was elected mayor in April 2012 but continued at St. Monica until January 2013.
“Those nine months were … very chaotic. Beyond not being able to do either job to the level I wanted … it also limited us from a family perspective,” Tom said.
Decreasing the family income was frightening, “but he wanted to be mayor and the family needed him home,” Kathy said.
Shortly before his mother died, Tom asked her for advice one more time.
“You are always, in life, going to have financial concerns. You can’t take any of it with you. If you and Kathy feel like this is what’s best, then follow your heart and go that path,” Tom said she told him.
Tom embraces his new roles of part-time mayor and full-time father.
“I’m so grateful. It has meant more stability from the perspective of family. And … I’ve been able to pour myself into functioning as mayor,” he said. “I want to give all of myself that I can to it … faith and family first, of course.”