MEDFORD - Small communities across the Northwoods often talk about the same issue again and again. They face "brain drain," as their brightest young people move away and don't come back.
Those towns would love to have those people get an education, then come back and involve themselves in the community.
In short, they'd love to have more people like a young lawyer in Medford named Courtney Graff.
Graff stands out as a successful young professional in a small rural community.
At a glance, she could also stand out at a Taylor County Board meeting.
The board is made up of a lot of men. It's made up of a lot of men of retirement age. Then, there's the 30-year-old Graff. She's not an elected board supervisor, but she is positioned right with the board as Taylor County Corporation Counsel, the county's lawyer.
"I'm proud of Taylor County in that sense that I feel, if I'm the attorney, I want to do the best job because I want to protect them," Graff said. "I'm ready to prove myself. I want to give advice that, when somebody else does their own research and they check on it, they think, 'Oh yeah. Courtney was right on point.'"
In her third year serving at Corporation Counsel, she loves what she does.
"Law is like speaking a different language," Graff said. "It's like learning the rules to a game that everyone else in your profession has to know."
Graff partners with Ken Schmiege in their Medford law office.
"She was from this area, and that makes a big difference," Schmiege said, remembering back to when he hired her.
Graff grew up in nearby Phillips. After going to college in Minnesota and law school in Florida, she came back to the Northwoods, reversing the trend of many local young people.
"I never needed to work in the ivory tower or a big law firm," Graff said. " I can do it. I could have done it."
Instead, she's living in a town of 4,000 people and working in a small law firm.
"This being a smaller community, she has the ability to become involved with a lot of the organizations here," Schmiege said.
Graff volunteers and serves on boards of directors in the Medford area.
But she's regularly back in her hometown. With everything else keeping her busy, she's also the varsity girls soccer coach at Phillips High School.
"I get to help lead and influence a team culture," Graff said. "That's phenomenally rewarding."
This spring, In her third year as coach, Graff led Phillips to a 13-3-0 record and a conference championship.
That success on the soccer field mirrors her success in her law practice and as a member of the Northwoods community.
Graff isn't blind to the challenge of "brain drain." But, she thinks, more and more people like her might be trying to reverse it.
"I think it's a challenge to get people to stay," Graff said. "I think most people, you'd be surprised, are willing to give it a shot."