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from the editor
Two very powerful words that are accurate descriptors of the incredibly amazing women
featured in this year’s Blue Water Woman of the Year issue.
Each of the five women featured embodies those and other qualities you would expect
to find in leaders within the community. All are also quick to deflect recognition of their
“I guess you just do what you have to do,” said 2017 award recipient Denise Dencklau.
“There are so many women who are deserving of this award.”
The five women featured in this issue are outstanding contributors to the Blue Water
Area. All not only excel in their work environments, but they are caring wives, mothers and
volunteers within the community. They are motivated and they are motivators. They are
inspired and they inspire others.
The Blue Water Woman of the Year awards program exists because I believe it
is important to recognize the
achievements of other women in order
to motivate and inspire one another and
the next generation of up and coming
And it is important that we cultivate
young women as leaders. Women
comprise approximately 50 percent
of the population and, therefore, it is
important that the female perspective
and experience is a part of decision
making in a wide variety of places
ranging from corporate board rooms to
the U.S. government and everything in
And though I do not have daughters
or granddaughters to worry about, I
do worry about the next generation of
young women. I want them to continue
blue water woman editor patti samar
at the women’s march on washington
to enjoy the rights that I was fortunate
enough to see women obtain during
my lifetime. Laws regarding women’s
healthcare and reproductive rights and sexual harassment in the workplace and the right to
marry whomever we choose were all passed in my lifetime. Millennials do not remember a
time when most of these rights were not in place.
I’m so glad young women today enter adulthood not needing to fight so hard. Or don’t
I hope the younger women in our community are inspired when they read about the
women featured in this issue. I hope they recognize the fact that none of us can take
our rights for granted and I hope they are inspired to speak up and change the world in
whatever big or small way they see fit.
In January, I participated in the Women’s March on Washington. Why? Well, I marched
to show unity. I wanted our Congress, our new president and his administration and our
state, regional and local politicians to know that women care about issues that affect
women’s lives. I know, from past political experience, that numbers count. Numbers (votes)
matter to politicians. I wanted to be counted.
Participating in the march wasn’t hard. All I had to do was show up. The hard work
began after the march: coming home and sharing my experiences with others who also want
to make sure women in our country, our state, and our Blue Water Area are counted. And
The five women we honor in this issue have all dug in and done the hard work. They are
heard and they are counted. They care for their families and they volunteer to help make
this a better place.
We all have a responsibility to do so.
So learn lessons from them and jump in, lean in, and get involved.
If not you, then who?
Therese Damman 5
Sallie Smith 6
brenda tenniswood 8
rhonda jones 10
denise dencklau 12
in Blue Water Woman!
just ask our advertisers!
The ad deadline for the next issue
of Blue Water Woman is May 1, 2017.
Prices start at just $125 for a business card sized ad!
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For more information, contact Patti Samar
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volume 7, number 1 Spring 2017
Blue Water Woman is published quarterly by The Write Company,
511 La Salle Blvd., Port Huron, MI 48060. Circulation 5,000.
Editor & Publisher:
Patti Samar, owner, The Write Company
Patti Samar at 810-300-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions, comments or story ideas?
Call Blue Water Woman at 810-300-2176
Blue Water Woman is the premiere publication
for women living, working and playing in the Blue Water Area of Michigan.
Its stories and features are written and designed
to be inspriational, motivational and encouraging.
© Blue Water Woman is the property
of Patti Samar of The Write Company
The Write Company is a writing, graphic design
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View our online portfolio at: www.TheWriteCompany.net
Editor & Publisher
Blue Water Woman
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late last year, Blue Water Woman asked the community to nominate very special women who
are deserving of recognition as we prepared to present the sixth annual blue water woman of the
we then sent the nominations to a far away, cold and snowy place known as the upper
Peninsula, where a very distinguished panel of women sequestered themselves for an evening and
emerged with five very deserving award recipients.
indeed, we are very fortunate in the blue water area to be surrounded by so many thoughtful,
smart and compassionate women.
so in this issue, Blue Water Woman is pleased to honor five of the very best:
blue water woman of the Year
Blue Water Woman NonProfit Manager of the Year
blue water woman Educator of the Year
blue water woman Entrepreneur of the Year
blue water woman Executive Professional of the Year
by Patti Samar
Therese Damman of Marysville is not afraid of a little hard work. She’s
not afraid of a lot of hard work, either.
The Avoca Elementary School principal has spent her entire adult life
working hard to attain both personal and professional goals while juggling
obligations to family, work, community volunteerism and self.
Her creativity, strong leadership skills and let’s-get-this-done attitude
led to Avoca Elementary School becoming the first school in the nation to
have a dedicated Green Read and Ride Program that offers students the
opportunity to read books while riding stationary bicycles that generate
electricity for the school; turning a previously unused courtyard into a
vibrant outdoor classroom for students; and significantly turning around
student academic achievement performance at the school.
As a result of those accomplishments, along with the achievement of
many other personal and professional goals obtained while also battling
a debilitating health condition, Damman has been named Blue Water
Woman of the Year. She was nominated by her husband, Dan Damman,
with strong support from Yale Public Schools Assistant Superintendent
Joseph Haynes and Yale Public Schools District Social Worker Julie
“Mrs. Damman’s leadership of Avoca Elementary has not only directly
impacted the academic success of the school but has also significantly
changed the way that students and parents feel about the school,” said
Damman learned the value of hard work at a young age. Her parents
wed young and had three children in quick succession. She watched both
her mother and her father work hard to support their family while also
attending nursing school at St. Clair County Community College.
“Both of them became registered nurses at SC4 and while I was in high
school, they both got their bachelor’s degrees,” said Damman. “Watching
them work so hard shaped the way I am.”
Damman repeated their pattern by working full time while going to
school for two graduate degrees while parenting her two children, being a
dedicated wife, and running marathons.
“I don’t know how I did it,” she said with a laugh. “I would get up and
run, go to work, come home and be with the kids and put them to bed and
then do homework.
“I was able to do it because I have an amazing husband and amazing
parents who were able to help with childcare. I couldn’t have done it
without that support system.”
In 2012 she was promoted to principal of Avoca Elementary School.
Over the course of the past five years, she has made an impact on many
facets of school life.
“In her brief time as principal, she has guided her school from being
identified as a ‘FOCUS’ school (schools that have the widest gap in student
achievement) by the Michigan Department of Education to one of the
highest performing schools in St. Clair (and surrounding) County and was
recognized by MDE as a candidate for the United States Distinguished
Title I School of the Year,” said Haynes.
Earlier this year, Avoca Elementary was named a Reward School by the
In addition to significantly improving the academic achievements of
her students, Damman exerted her creativity when partnering with the
Community Foundation of St. Clair County to establish both the Green
Read and Ride program and the outdoor classroom.
“The bikes are used on a daily basis,” Damman said of the electricitygenerating
classroom. “I encourage the teachers to use it three times a
week. For the kids, it’s about the lesson of it and them understanding
that any little thing they can do to help the environment – by using an
alternative fuel source as they are doing by biking to generate electricity
– is a positive thing. That makes a great impact.”
Key to her success, said Damman, has been working with the cohesive
school staff. “This staff is very much like a family and our students are
like family,” she said. “I just feel so blessed to be a part of this school
SPRING 2017 BlueWaterWoman.com 5
by dale hemmila
Sallie Smith’s computer screen saver says a lot about her and her job
as vocational coordinator for nonprofit Touchstone Services Inc. in Port
Huron. The white script on a black screen states: “It’s a beautiful thing
when a career and a passion comes together.”
That statement could apply to Smith’s commitment to finding
job opportunities for those in St. Clair County with barriers to
employment, but it also speaks to the success of clients she has placed
in new positions.
Working with clients and community business partners, she has a
more than 70 percent success rate in finding work for residents who
have a barrier to employment—mental, physical or other issue—that
might have kept them out of the workforce on their own.
That success and commitment to others with employment challenges
is why she’s been named Blue Water Woman Nonprofit Manager of the
In nominating Smith, Lynn Vinson, executive director of Touchstone
said: “She exemplifies the heart of public service, working to improve
the lives of St. Clair County residents and, in turn, enriching our
community. Helping someone to find and master a job that is a good
fit for their skills…can be the first step to independence and selfsufficiency.”
While Smith may be modest about what she does, she is passionate
about her motivation to do it.
“A job for someone with an employment barrier is so important,”
she said. “It gives them a reason to get up in the morning, to leave the
house, to get better. I love what I do, I work for a great company and I
want to see that (client) succeed and be successful.”
While Smith says she “fell into” her current position it is obvious her
supervisors saw she had the skill and passion to move up. Originally she
was hired as a part-time summer job coach for Touchstone’s concession
operations at Lakeside Beach in Port Huron.
“I was a single mom and needed a second job,” Smith said.
It wasn’t long before Vinson noticed she had “…proved herself to be
a natural at assessing strengths and needs and coaching people to meet
their employment goals…”
She ultimately left her secretary position at the St. Clair County
Regional Education Service Agency to take on a full-time position at
Touchstone, one that offered new challenges and responsibility.
For example: When Touchstone management decided to open a
resale/gift shop to provide a revenue stream for the company, they
turned to Smith to manage it.
With no retail experience, she made some key decisions that proved
“I walked into an empty building with all this donated stuff for resale
and it really didn’t do well,” Smith recalled. “So we decided to make
some changes and through trial and error we found what worked and
Eliminating the resale part of the business and focusing on new
market opportunities, the non-profit gift and candy store—A Little
Something—has become a bright part of the downtown business
community while providing revenue for Touchstone and employment
opportunities for clients.
Its success has allowed Smith to spend her time on her passion, which
is the employment part of her job.
Working with 37 hiring partners in the county, businesses such as
early collaborator Fuel Woodfire Grill to new partner Lowes Home
Improvement, Smith has been able to make an important difference in
My job isn’t about me,” she said. “The biggest thing is to watch
people I work with grow in their dreams.”
If part of that dream was employment they couldn’t achieve on their
own, then Sallie Smith has certainly been the right person to help them
believe in it.
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SPRING 2017 BlueWaterWoman.com 7
by dale hemmila
vivian cruz Brenda tenniswood
8 SPRING 2017 BlueWaterWoman.com
Innovation. Education. Students. Learning.
When you talk to Brenda Tenniswood you hear those words a lot.
She is passionate about supporting the teachers and pupils in St. Clair
County through her position as director of education services for the
county’s Regional Education Services Agency (RESA).
Tenniswood’s passion and commitment to supporting the seven school
districts, their teachers and the 22,000 K-12 students served by RESA
in St. Clair County is why she has been named Blue Water Woman
Educator of the Year.
Tenniswood was nominated for the award by Rachel Verschaeve,
RESA’s education technology consultant.
“Brenda has earned the respect of students, teachers and school
administrators,” Verschaeve said. “In particular she is a role model for
female educators, demonstrating for them how females can be strong
leaders, effective communicators and compassionate women all at the
While in her current position for just two years, she brings a wealth of
education experience to her job following a career that includes service
as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent in the East China
Now, Tenniswood fills a leadership role in providing innovative
curriculum opportunities for the RESA-connected school districts and
meets monthly with school district superintendents, principals and
curriculum directors. Her motivation? She wants to make a difference
in the classroom and therefore in students’ lives.
“I want teachers and students to be part of a very vibrant learning
environment,” she said. “I want learning to be fun. I went in to this to
make a difference.”
While student education is the outcome, she wholeheartedly helps
drive the process by providing innovative ideas and support for the
“RESA has very dedicated people and I am blessed to work with a
phenomenal team,” she said. “We are really passionate about teaching
and learning and we are committed to ongoing teacher professional
One project she was tasked with at RESA combined a unique student
learning experience with professional development opportunities for
teachers. Called the “Challenge 4 the Future,” the project placed high
school students and teachers in teams partnered with local businesses,
who presented them with a real-world business problem to solve within
two weeks. The first year of the program in 2016 was deemed a success.
“Last year helped build partnerships with businesses in the
community,” Tenniswood said. “Teachers and students learned 21st
century proficiency skills. It was a win-win all the way around.”
The program is now in the process of recruiting teachers and students
An additional innovative program Tenniswood is moving forward
is called “Classroom of the Future” where she will help distribute
$200,000 in grant funds to the seven districts to allow a group of 13
teachers to re-invent their classrooms and teaching environments with
new and unique furniture designs to enhance and encourage learning
with the intent to keep students engaged.
Shepherding these two programs plus working with her colleagues
to develop and support ever-changing curriculum possibilities keep
Tenniswood engaged as well.
“I’m an avid learner and I love to read,” she said. “I probably have
seven professional books going at the same time. It’s critical that I keep
up with the latest in curriculum education if I’m going to lead others.”
All the while she keeps a constant focus on the words that are
peppered through her conversations. Innovation. Education. Students.
“I like to interact with so many dedicated professionals,” she said. “I
like helping people stay focused on what’s truly important—teaching
SPRING 2017 BlueWaterWoman.com 9
by dale hemmila
Rhonda Jones may not be in perpetual motion, but if you blink you
might miss her as she whizzes by.
She works full-time in Corporate America, is the owner of a second
business, and is the new owner of two St. Clair County yoga studios.
Top that all off with a husband and family and you have one very busy
About her busy life she said: “I always have to be doing something.”
It’s because of that drive, her business success and her commitment
to giving back to her community that she has been named Blue Water
Woman Entrepreneur of the Year.
Her professional career includes more than 20 years as a sales team
leader for Detroit Chemical and Paper Supply Company, which
provides sanitation and cleaning supplies to various industries. In 2010
she opened her own business called Wellness by Prevention, which
provides infection control equipment to long-term care facilities. Then
in 2015 she opened Happy Dog Yoga Studio in Port Huron and a few
months later a companion facility in St. Clair.
“Rhonda is a fiercely hard worker and entrepreneur,” said her
nominator Suzi Straffon. “We all say ‘If you want something done,
get Rhonda to do it.’ Sheer grit and determination are the reasons for
It was determination that led her to open Happy Dog Yoga Studio,
the first dedicated facility of its kind in St. Clair County.
“That yoga studio came about because we hadn’t had a yoga studio
here and I got tired of travelling to other studios,” Jones said. “I came
home one day and said if someone doesn’t open a studio, I am and
shortly after that we signed the lease for the space.”
Located on Krafft Road in Port Huron, the original Happy Dog
Studio has been successful from the beginning.
“The response has been incredible,” she said. “We opened with
one teacher and now we have 14 teachers and the client base keeps
Not only is the studio itself unique but so is the way she manages its
cash flow. Jones said she didn’t open the studio to make money but
instead to have a place for her and other Yoga enthusiasts to go. So any
funds the studio makes are recycled back into the community.
She has made donations to the Angels of Hope Foundation, which
provides financial assistance and programs to children and parents
with minor children battling cancer, anywhere in Michigan.
She also supports Stiggys Dogs, which rescues and trains shelter dogs
to be service dogs for military veterans living with Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury.
In addition, Special Dreams Farm in St. Clair, a working farm for
adults with developmental disabilities and Mid-City Nutrition soup
kitchen in Port Huron are among other non-profits supported.
Recently, Jones and her daughters, Georgia and Hannah, reached
beyond Michigan to volunteer and donate athletic equipment and
clothes to the Barrio Planta Project in Nicaragua, which supports
the children and youth in the city of San Juan del Sur with free
supplementary schooling and activities.
Their volunteer endeavors were all funded by Happy Dog’s summerlong
beach yoga program.
“It was a life changing trip and we plan to do it again,” she said. “To
go down there and step out of our norm and work with those kids—life
So while some people may sit on the sidelines of life, Rhoda Jones has
been motivated to do what she can, where she can, when she can as a
business person, entrepreneur and humanitarian.
“I just want to try everything,” she said. “I tell my girls you have
the opportunity to do anything and you only live once so why not give
everything a try.”
10 SPRING 2017 BlueWaterWoman.com
SPRING 2017 BlueWaterWoman.com 11
12 SPRING 2017 BlueWaterWoman.com
by Patti Samar
Denise Dencklau of Fort Gratiot lives her life by her favorite Biblical
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” she said. “I feel it is only
fair to give back the blessings that I have been given in my life.”
But the fact of the matter is, the Blue Water Area is blessed to have
Dencklau as an active and engaged member of the community, as she has
given freely of her time and energy to numerous causes, all while juggling a
large and busy family and life as a full-time working career woman.
As result of her ability to multi-task her work life and her personal life,
along with her dedication to her community over the past 30-plus years,
Dencklau has been named the Blue Water Woman Executive Professional
of the Year. She was nominated by Don Fletcher and Lynn Griffor.
Dencklau, who has served as the executive assistant to the McLaren Port
Huron chief executive officer since 2007, credits her success to the many
inspiring leaders with whom has had the privilege of working.
“(Former hospital CEO) Don Fletcher and Dr. Kevin Sullivan, those two
were my biggest mentors,” she said of her early working life at then-Port
Huron Hospital where she began as the medical staff coordinator in 1985.
“Dr. Sullivan was the medical director and he always believed that I was
capable of more than I thought I was capable of. He was an inspiration.”
She also noted that she learned much from working for former hospital
CEO Tom DeFauw and current hospital CEO Jennifer Montgomery.
“Tom DeFauw was an amazing role model and now I work for an
amazing woman. We’re always learning and every person we encounter
shapes us. My husband, too. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years.”
Dencklau said other women have been inspirational in her life, as well,
beginning with her mother.
“My mom had five children and she worked as well,” said Dencklau.
“She was always quietly supportive and always positive. She sees the world
as a happy place. She’s always been that cheerleader.”
Dencklau and her husband, Vernon Dencklau, D.O., raised four
daughters and taught them the importance of giving back to the
community by becoming involved themselves.
Over the years, Dencklau has served on the boards of numerous
nonprofit organizations. She was chair of the first American Heart
Association Heart Ball held in the county. She served on the United Way
board for a number of years, as well as the board of the local Girl Scout
Council and the YMCA.
Currently, Dencklau serves as the chair of the Empty Bowl Fundraiser
for Mid-City Nutrition, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding the hungry in the
“Living in this community…it’s such a giving and supportive
community,” said Dencklau. “It’s been easy to get involved in charitable
opportunities. People step up and give their time and their money. It’s
“With the Empty Bowl, well, we see pictures on TV of places in the
world where people are hungry and the Empty Bowl signifies that there
are still hungry people here. One hundred percent of the funds raised go to
the soup kitchen. Every dime.”
Dencklau has chaired the event for four years. Last year, it raised
$37,000. This year’s event will take place on April 20 at St. Stephen
Catholic Church on 32nd Street.
Juggling four growing children while working full time and volunteering
in the community was made easier by making good use of her
organizational skills. “I guess you just do what you have to do,” she said.
“My motto was always do the night before what you don’t have time to do
in the morning.
“You have to be organized and you have to have good kids.
“I cannot express the amount of gratitude that I have for the people I
have had the honor to work with personally and professionally,” she said.
“The people I have worked for over the years have always been of the
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