The Clarion

Constructing her own path

Sandy Thistle is the co-program director of the Madison College Construction and Remodeling program.

Sandy Thistle is the co-program director of the Madison College Construction and Remodeling program.



Sandy Thistle is the co-program director of the Madison College Construction and Remodeling program.

Jessica Deegan, News Editor

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Due to her fathers military assignments, Sandy Thistle, Co-Program Director of the Madison College Construction and Remolding program, was born in Japan, and lived in Scotland, England, New Jersey and Maryland all before the age of 15.

“All of those experiences of being in other cultures, being around other people and sometimes being an outsider…those were all great,” said Thistle. When they moved to Wisconsin, however, Thistle began exploring her own path.

After two years of high school at Sauk-Prairie, Thistle attended UW Madison for nursing. Two years later, Thistle dropped out, took several dance lessons, and began exploring life and finding herself.

“Up until that point, I was sort of shaped into my familial experience, and then when I started taking dance lessons…it was sort of the gateway to me figuring out who I was, separate to who people expected me to be,” said Thistle.

As if she was looking into the past, Thistle smiled and said, “They had this dance downtown, that was every Friday night, smoke and alcohol free, in a tiny corner room up on the second or third floor…and it had the best music and I went every Friday night and I danced my butt off! …It was so much fun…”

After Thistle found herself happily absorbed in dance, she then found herself interested in construction after seeing the success and passion from some of her female friends that were carpenters.

Thistle later decided to expand her life even more and try her own construction apprenticeship. Her first project was building a bridge over the Wisconsin River, near Portage.

Later, Thistle was able to work alongside her good friend, Carol, building a series of bridges, “which was a blast! As a women, you really have to want it to break in and most of the women who go into the skill trades really want to be there and we are driven and motivated and had to work hard to get there,” she explained.

“I have a lot of women friends who are carpenters, being successful and really happy and I know that for some of them, I made a difference,” smiled Thistle.

Thistle had applied for jobs at Madison College several times before, and unfortunately, wasn’t chosen for the position. “But, I kept applying!” and after being hired, Thistle began making her mark on Madison College.

“Until I started this job (Madison College), I’ve always been heavily involved in dance. After a year of being here, I retired from my dance group that I had been with for twenty years… Dancing for me was a pretty profound creative outlet in every way imaginable and teaching fills that,” grinned Thistle.

Thistle spreads her kindness and expertise not only in the classroom, but also by volunteering.
Over the 2017 winter break, Thistle traveled with her husband and two daughters to Guatemala to serve in Habitat for Humanity.

Thistle explained that the conditions, in which the Guatemalan people cooked in, were poorly ventilated and caused tremendous respiratory issues. Amazingly, Thistle and the volunteer group were able to build 15 stoves that worked more efficiently and ventilated properly.

“We went to build the stove, and the husband was around, and he’s a farmer and grows beans and corn. He had a big sack of black beans that he had grown…and he gave us a sack of beans as a present for building the stove…and that felt really meaningful,” said Thistle.

“For me, I have always loved the work. I like climbin’ around, I like heights, I like bangin’ on things, I like the fine detail work. It’s a really good fit for me, and I’m incredibly grateful that I found it. I have zero regrets, I love this work, and I am forever grateful for it.”

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Constructing her own path