Blue Water Woman--spring 2017


ThErEsE DammaN

blue water woman of the year

bluE waTEr wOmaN OF ThE YEar issuE


sPriNg 2017

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from the editor


Motivated. Inspired.

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

female leaders.

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!

it works!

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!

Our most popular ad size is a quarter page at just $250;

sign a one-year contract and it becomes just $225 a quarter!

What a deal!

For more information, contact Patti Samar

at 810-300-2176 or email her at

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

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

and marketing consultation firm.

View our online portfolio at:

Patti Samar

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

Year awards.

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:

Therese Damman

blue water woman of the Year

sallie smith

Blue Water Woman NonProfit Manager of the Year

brenda Tenniswood

blue water woman Educator of the Year

rhonda jones

blue water woman Entrepreneur of the Year

Denise Dencklau

blue water woman Executive Professional of the Year



by Patti Samar

therese damman

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 5



by dale hemmila

sallie smith

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

what didn’t.”

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

peoples’ lives—employment.

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 7



by dale hemmila

vivian cruz Brenda tenniswood

8 SPRING 2017

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

same time.”

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

School District.

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

for 2017.

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

and learning.”

SPRING 2017 9



by dale hemmila

rhonda jones

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

Rhonda’s success.”

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

SPRING 2017 11



12 SPRING 2017

denise dencklau

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

highest integrity.”

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sPriNg 2017 bluEwaTErwOmaN.COm 13

The Area’s

Only Designated

Trauma Center


Trauma care is one of the most complex and fastpaced

areas of care requiring the skill of expert

physicians, highly trained staff and a specialized

environment to treat patients with some of the

most severe injuries.

McLaren is the area’s only designated

trauma center

Earlier this year, McLaren Port Huron earned Level

III Trauma Center Designation from the State of

Michigan. This means we are able to care for the

most serious trauma emergencies. Our staff and

surgeons have gone through special training, and

we have developed protocols and quality controls

so we can provide the right care, right away.

Learn more at

Excellence in care for trips, slips, falls

Here in the Blue Water Area, the number one

reason people need trauma care is for a hip or knee

fracture. Fortunately, if you break a bone and need

immediate emergency care, the trauma center at

McLaren Port Huron is here for you.

When a trauma involves an orthopedic injury, our

surgeons and orthopedic team carries additional

skills. We are designated as a Blue Distinction

Center for Knee and Hip Replacement by Blue

Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

1221 Pine Grove Avenue, Port Huron, MI 48060 | (810) 987-5000 |

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