Remembering Karl Pnazek

Karl Pnazek, long-time CEO of CAP Services and a state and national leader in the Community Action movement, died peacefully at home with his wife Bonnie at his side, after a courageous battle with brain cancer and the health challenges that too often come with a cancer diagnosis.  The loss brings deep sorrow for Bonnie, their son Brandon and his wife April and their children, and their extended families.

Karl’s reach was wide and deep and as such the loss is felt by literally thousands of people who had the privilege to work with him and those whose lives were made better by the resources and opportunities created under his leadership.  Others knew him only through his frequent open letters to the local paper but even they came to understand this man’s core was made up of integrity, innovation, insight and initiative. He was often described as the smartest man people ever knew.   He mentored many and inspired more.  He called out unfairness when he saw it and had high expectations of people.  He was tough too and often said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  He didn’t often back down and that may have been what led to his many successes.

Born and raised in Chicago, Karl served as the President and CEO of CAP Services, Inc. based in Stevens Point from 1976 through 2008. He also served as President of WISCAP, the state association of community action agencies, from 1993 to 1998.  He consistently tried to build capacity in the network to do more than help low-income people get by but rather create opportunities for them to be independent.  He also fought hard to create a brand for anti-poverty work that encompasses all of the many factors influencing one’s ability to be “economically and emotionally self-sufficient.”

Doing that successfully also meant community development work resulting in resources like CAP’s Family Crisis Center to serve domestic violence victims, one of the first in the state of Wisconsin.  Another, Ministry Dental Center, created to serve BadgerCare-eligible patients who often went years without access to dental care.  Another of his proud accomplishments was the creation of revolving loan funds for those wishing to start a business or buy a home and not able to secure capital or credit otherwise.  He often said it meant nothing to teach people how to fish if a lake is not nearby.  Karl was known by many as one of the most creative of deal makers and that art of that deal-making led projects from his mind’s eye to fruition.

His highly engaged state and national advocacy and public policy work always focused on how to ensure low-income and rural families had a fair shake at the promise of an American Dream that included a decent job, a safe and decent home, access to health and dental care, opportunities for lifelong learning and the joys found in recreation and leisure.  May he find a new joy and peace now.

Written by