blue water woman--summer 2013

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Woman<br />

<strong>blue</strong> <strong>water</strong><br />

Blue Water<br />

Woman of the Year<br />

bonnie bracken<br />


amy clickner, left,<br />

president of the lake<br />

superior community<br />

partnership of<br />

marquette county,<br />

a recipient of the<br />

evergreen award<br />

(marquette’s version<br />

of <strong>woman</strong> of the<br />

year), a cheerleader<br />

for me professionally,<br />

and a great personal<br />

friend. amy serves as<br />

one of three judges<br />

-- all from the Upper<br />

Peninsula -- for the<br />

Blue Water Woman<br />

of the Year Awards.<br />

from the editor<br />

Can’t we all just get along?<br />

I have been fascinated with the hub-bub surrounding the recent publication of Sheryl<br />

Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Sandberg, of course, is the<br />

current chief operating officer at Facebook. For years she has survived and thrived working in<br />

the world of high-tech, which is also famously highly male.<br />

No matter your politics, nor your views on feminism, nor whether or not you believe women<br />

should stay at home with small children or instead believe they should work or be assertive at<br />

work or take time off to have children or whatever, I think the fact that this book generates<br />

mean-spirited controversy makes me sad because that overshadows Sandberg’s positive message<br />

and instead rather pits women and their differing life philosophies against one another instead<br />

of pulling them together.<br />

And if I’ve learned anything in my almost 50 years of walking the planet, it is this: women<br />

are the glue that hold the world together.<br />

I admire Sandberg’s desire to open the discussion regarding women and their place in<br />

the working world and how our personal lives and choices affect career and professional<br />

aspirations. The only way to invoke change is by opening the discussion.<br />

But some of the criticism of Sandberg’s discussion has become vitriolic and mean-spirited.<br />

There is no need for that.<br />

Something I’ve learned in the past couple of years as I’ve interviewed and written about<br />

women in the Blue Water Area is that all have struggled and overcome obstacles. The women<br />

in our community have become successful by learning about themselves and what makes them<br />

tick; moving forward using their strengths; and by learning to compensate for their personal or<br />

professional weaknesses.<br />

Thus is the case with the women whose stories are told in this issue of the magazine. They<br />

are the recipients of the second annual Blue Water Woman of the Year awards. I am so<br />

very honored to share their stories with you. All are more than exceptionally deserving of<br />

recognition.<br />

All have been motivated and inspired by others in their lives: family members, friends,<br />

mentors.<br />

I think it is particularly important that all of us – and I mean each and every one of us<br />

– finds a way to mentor, encourage, motivate and inspire other women around us. We are<br />

the glue that holds so very, very much in this life together. And by reaching out and offering<br />

assistance, a pat on the back, a “Way to go!” email or a thoughtful conversation we can and we<br />

will make a positive influence on the lives of other women in our community.<br />

Women are stereotyped as being catty. But let’s just stop that right now. Let’s check our<br />

egos at the door and welcome other women into business meetings, into our circle of friends<br />

and into our hearts and our homes with open arms and open minds. Everyone must find their<br />

own way in the world and it is not up to us to judge others, but instead, it is up to us to be<br />

there, offering an ear or a hand, supporting the decisions made by our mothers, our sisters, our<br />

daughters, our friends and our colleagues.<br />

Be the glue and be supportive of other women. There is no other reward quite like it.<br />

content<br />

people<br />

Bonnie Bracken 5<br />

professions<br />

Erin Potts 6<br />

Jackie Hanton 10<br />

passions<br />

Tracy Willard 8<br />

places<br />

Veronica Heitz 12<br />

volume 3, number 2 <strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong><br />

Blue Water Woman is published quarterly by The Write Company,<br />

3155 Armour Street, Port Huron, MI 48060. Circulation 7,500.<br />

Editor & Publisher: Patti Samar, owner, The Write Company<br />

Advertising: Patti Samar at 810-987-1256 or pjsamar@aol.com<br />

Subscriptions: To receive Blue Water Woman at home, mail $25 to:<br />

Blue Water Woman, 3155 Armour Street, Port Huron, MI 48060<br />

News releases can be emailed to pjsamar@aol.com<br />

Questions or comments?<br />

Call Blue Water Woman at 810-987-1256<br />

Mission: Blue Water Woman is the premiere publication<br />

for women living, working and playing<br />

in the Blue Water Area of Michigan.<br />

Its stories and features are written and designed<br />

to be inspriational, motivational and encouraging.<br />

www.BlueWaterWoman.com<br />

© Blue Water Woman is the property<br />

of Patti Samar of The Write Company<br />

The Write Company is a writing, graphic design and marketing<br />

consultation firm. View our online portfolio at:<br />

www.TheWriteCompany.net<br />

Patti Samar<br />

Editor & Publisher<br />

Blue Water Woman<br />

2 <strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com

<strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com 3

Woman<br />

Earlier this year, Blue Water Woman asked the community to nominate very special women who are deserving<br />

of recognition as we prepared to present the second annual Blue Water Woman of the Year awards.<br />

We then sent the nominations to a far away, cold and snowy place known as the Upper Peninsula, where<br />

a very distinguished panel of women from Marquette County sequestered themselves for an evening and<br />

emerged with five very deserving award recipients. “The selection process was very, very difficult as you truly<br />

have so many very distinguished women in your community,” said Chief Judge Amy Clickner, CEO of the<br />

Lake Superior Community Partnership, Marquette County’s joint chamber of commerce and Economic<br />

Development Corporation.<br />

Indeed, we are very fortunate in the Blue Water Area to be surrounded by so many thoughtful, smart and<br />

compassionate women.<br />

So in this issue, Blue Water Woman is pleased to honor five of the very best:<br />

Bonnie Bracken<br />

Blue Water Woman of the Year<br />

Erin Potts<br />

Blue Water Woman Educator of the Year<br />

Tracy Willard<br />

Blue Water Woman Nonprofit Executive of the Year<br />

Jackie Hanton<br />

Blue Water Woman Young Professional of the Year<br />

Veronica Heitz<br />

Blue Water Young Woman of the Year<br />

4 <strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com

lue <strong>water</strong><br />

<strong>woman</strong> of the year<br />

bonnie bracken, fort gratiot<br />

A Born<br />

crusader<br />

by Patti Samar<br />

D<br />

During Bonnie Bracken’s 30-year career within the Michigan<br />

Department of Human Services, she met with quite a number of<br />

welfare recipients. They would often lament to her: “But you don’t<br />

know what it’s like to be in my shoes.”<br />

But Bracken, who retired from public service in 2009, knows exactly<br />

what it is like to be in their shoes.<br />

When, at age 30, Bracken found herself a single mother with children<br />

to raise and no child support coming through, she was the recipient of<br />

public assistance for five years.<br />

It was during that time that she began the steps necessary to pursue a<br />

degree and a career in public service that is a compassionate reflection of<br />

her personal commitment to helping others who are in need.<br />

Her combined professional career and personal volunteerism for<br />

numerous worthy causes in the Blue Water Area have earned Bracken<br />

the title <strong>2013</strong> Blue Water Woman of the Year.<br />

“Bonnie has the qualities required of a leader and an innovator,<br />

such as selflessness, initiative, high energy, compassion for others,<br />

creativity and tenacity,” said Kathy Swantek, executive director of Blue<br />

Water Developmental Housing, Inc. (BWDH), where Bracken is a<br />

board member. “Bonnie adheres to the idea that if someone in the<br />

community needs help and she has the means to make a difference,<br />

then she will. For Bonnie, it is not a matter of if, but how, can I help.”<br />

Bracken attributes her desire to help others and “do the right thing”<br />

to her upbringing. “I think we’re all sort of born with a spirit and that,<br />

coupled with a Christian background, was probably the impetus to<br />

wanting to give and share with others,” she said. “Not that I was an<br />

angel.”<br />

When Bracken, who had been working as a hairdresser part-time,<br />

found herself a single mother and the recipient of welfare, she actively<br />

pursued making her life better. She began taking classes at Macomb<br />

Community College and it was her welfare caseworker who suggested<br />

that she apply for the state civil service exam when there was a job<br />

opening in human services.<br />

Bracken jumped at the opportunity for a job with a steady income.<br />

“My motivation was my children,” she said.<br />

When she interviewed for the job, she told her interviewers: “I don’t<br />

just want this job…I need this job. I need to take care of my kids. So<br />

they hired me.” She added with a chuckle: “How could they not?”<br />

She continued to pursue her education – she went on to earn<br />

associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees – and moved along up the<br />

career ladder. Her first position with the Human Services Department<br />

moved her to Port Huron – she is a native of Utica – and she adopted<br />

the Blue Water Area as her home.<br />

Even in retirement, Bracken continues to serve the community,<br />

stepping up as a board member for several organizations, including<br />

BWDH, and Sanborn Gratiot Memorial Home, one of the facilities<br />

managed by BWDH.<br />

“I’m a worker-bee for a cause,” she said. “I have no interest in being a<br />

board president. I want to sit at the table and say, ‘what do we need to<br />

do?’ I do want to be at the table.”<br />

Though she doesn’t need a title to inspire her volunteerism, she does<br />

recognize that she has a gift for bringing the right people together to get<br />

a job done.<br />

“I’m a born crusader…It’s something that the Lord gave me,” she<br />

said. “I try to rally the troops. The passion for the cause takes over. I can<br />

think outside of the box and what I bring to the table is inspiration.”<br />

<strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com 5

educator of the year<br />

erin potts, marysville<br />

A<br />

Teaching<br />

life lessons<br />

by Shawn Starkey<br />

Ask Erin Potts to describe success and she pauses thoughtfully<br />

before giving her answer.<br />

“Success is only measured by the feeling you get after a day well<br />

done,” she said. “You can’t really measure it by money…<br />

“You have to make a difference in someone else’s life to be<br />

successful.”<br />

Potts definitely makes a difference in the lives of the students she<br />

teaches and the basketball players she coaches at Marysville High<br />

School, according to her colleagues.<br />

That’s why she’s being honored as the <strong>2013</strong> Blue Water Woman<br />

Educator of the Year.<br />

Potts, 26, of Marysville teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History<br />

for sophomores and World History for juniors and seniors. She’s<br />

head coach for the freshmen girls’ basketball team and assistant coach<br />

for the varsity girls’ track team. She also wears countless volunteer<br />

hats assisting with junior varsity and varsity basketball, <strong>summer</strong><br />

youth basketball camps, travel basketball teams and Saturday<br />

morning basketball skills clinics.<br />

Potts played basketball at Utica Ford High School and played on<br />

intramural teams while earning her bachelor’s degree in education<br />

with a double major in history and English at Central Michigan<br />

University.<br />

“I love basketball, so coaching is just a thrill for me,” she said,<br />

noting it helps her to connect with girls who need good role models.<br />

“I like coaching ninth grade because it’s just as much about life skills<br />

as it is about basketball.”<br />

Her goal is to empower her players so they can see what they can<br />

accomplish.<br />

One significant accomplishment, which involved all six of the high<br />

school’s basketball teams, is what led fellow teacher Christine Shigley<br />

to nominate Potts for the award.<br />

The event, a “Pink Out” fundraising night of basketball games in<br />

January, raised awareness and money for cancer research. The charity<br />

had particular significance for Potts, whose father lost his battle with<br />

cancer just months before she began her teaching career.<br />

Potts was amazed by the support and enthusiasm from the<br />

community for the fundraiser. “We wanted to sell a few pink T-<br />

shirts and raise maybe $1,500,” she said. But, as Shigley described<br />

in her nomination letter, that was before local corporate sponsors<br />

jumped on board and other donations poured in.<br />

“When all was said and done, we had raised almost $6,000,” Potts<br />

said. “I thought we would sell maybe 100 shirts, and we sold 400<br />

shirts.”<br />

That taught her students and players numerous invaluable life<br />

lessons.<br />

“When you’re passionate about something, it makes every minute<br />

of it rewarding,” she said.<br />

For Potts and her students, that education is a two-way street. She<br />

completed her master’s degree in educational leadership at Saginaw<br />

Valley State University in December but has trouble picturing herself<br />

eventually leaving the classroom.<br />

“I just love the daily interactions that are so spontaneous,” she said<br />

of her students. “Every day I learn something from them. That’s<br />

what I hope to still be doing in 20 years. I hope to still be learning<br />

how to reach people.”<br />

6 <strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com

<strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com 7

nonprofit executive<br />

of the year<br />

tracy willard, fort gratiot<br />

S<br />

A Calming<br />

influence<br />

by Shawn Starkey<br />

Spend time with Tracy Willard – and her infectious, colorful giggle<br />

– and you might find it odd that her favorite color is gray.<br />

“It’s calming,” she said. “It’s what I’m all about, wanting to be calm<br />

and peaceful and provide that for others.”<br />

She co-founded Hunter Hospitality House to offer that kind of<br />

respite to families of seriously ill patients at nearby Port Huron<br />

Hospital.<br />

Those efforts are among the reasons Willard is being honored as<br />

<strong>2013</strong> Blue Water Woman Nonprofit Executive of the Year.<br />

“Tracy works tirelessly in getting the word out about Hunter<br />

Hospitality House and to attain volunteers and donations,” wrote<br />

volunteer Pamela Leslie in her nomination of Willard. “It has only<br />

been opened over a year and it is so impressive.”<br />

Willard, 45, of Fort Gratiot is executive director and vice president<br />

of the board of directors for the organization she co-founded with her<br />

husband, Jeff. The bed-and-breakfast-style home is named in memory<br />

of their son, Hunter Eldon Willard, who was born two months<br />

prematurely Dec. 7, 1991, and died 16 days later after spending time<br />

in and out of the hospital. The idea for the hospitality house grew<br />

from the Willards’ experience. It opened in 2011, on what would<br />

have been Hunter’s 20th birthday.<br />

Since then, 140 people have stayed at the home. But Willard<br />

considers the community’s involvement her biggest accomplishment.<br />

“So many people were willing to help us, even before we opened,<br />

when it was just a plan,” she said. “The whole premise captured so<br />

many people’s hearts.”<br />

Willard’s community involvement goes beyond the hospitality<br />

house. She is completing her third year on the board for the Port<br />

Huron Town Hall Lecture Series; is founder and past president<br />

of Woman’s Life Insurance Society Chapter 807 in Port Huron;<br />

serves on the planning committee for the Community Services<br />

Coordinating Body’s Community Resource Fair; is a member of the<br />

Community Baby Shower Committee; and is active at Cornerstone<br />

Church in Clyde Township.<br />

“Your community is where it’s at,” said Willard, who graduated<br />

from Port Huron High School and St. Clair County Community<br />

College before attending Wayne State University.<br />

When she takes time for herself, Willard enjoys going out for<br />

sushi; playing Scrabble; watching “way too much TV,” especially<br />

competition shows such as Shark Tank and Chopped; and spending<br />

vacations with sons Garrett, 22; Cullen, 20; and Parker, 18.<br />

Back at work, Willard hopes to continue growing Hunter<br />

Hospitality House so she can spend more time with its guests.<br />

“My favorite part is just being here sharing cookies and coffee with<br />

a guest and listening as they tell their story,” she said.<br />

Among those stories is that of an Ohio <strong>woman</strong> named Sharon,<br />

who found herself at the hospitality house after her husband, a truck<br />

driver, suffered a heart attack while driving through Port Huron.<br />

“We were able to give her a place to stay, so she could be right at her<br />

husband’s side,” Willard said.<br />

Stories like those are the legacy for which Willard said she wants<br />

Hunter to be remembered. “Every life is important, no matter how<br />

long it lasts.”<br />

8 <strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com

<strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com 9

young professional<br />

of the year<br />

jackie hanton, kimball<br />

Giving<br />

back<br />

by Shawn Starkey<br />

People may know about Jackie Hanton’s volunteer work with<br />

any of a half-dozen organizations. Or they may know about her job<br />

with Talmer Bank. They may even know about her weekends spent<br />

pursuing a law degree. So what don’t they know about Hanton?<br />

“Not a lot of people know I grew up country,” Hanton said with a<br />

laugh. But, she explained, growing up as an equestrian and showing<br />

cattle, serving in leadership positions with 4-H and Future Farmers<br />

of America, and her first job – working on a farm caring for 18<br />

horses -- all provided the groundwork for the volunteer roles she has<br />

today.<br />

“That really gave me the foundation to want to be involved<br />

throughout my life,” she said, “because I met so many great people<br />

and learned.”<br />

Her community involvement is a key reason Hanton is being<br />

honored as <strong>2013</strong> Blue Water Woman Young Professional of the<br />

Year.<br />

For Hanton, 30, of Kimball Township, involvement includes<br />

being co-founder and vice president of Blue Water Young<br />

Professionals; serving as board chair for Blue Water Safe Horizons;<br />

serving as vice president of the Rotary Club of Port Huron; serving<br />

on the board of trustees for the Community Foundation of St. Clair<br />

County; and on serving on the board of directors for the newly<br />

organized MainStreet Port Huron.<br />

A typical weekday for Hanton begins at 5:30 a.m. Her first stop<br />

is usually the gym. She’ll squeeze in a coffee appointment at 7:30<br />

or 8 a.m. for one of her volunteer commitments and likely reserve<br />

lunchtime for another volunteer-related meeting. Her workday at<br />

Talmer Bank, where she is the associate managing director and trust<br />

officer, ends by 6 p.m. Then, it’s off to a meeting or the gym. She<br />

spends the rest of her evening, until about 11:30 p.m., studying for<br />

her classes at Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Hanton, who spends<br />

weekends at Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus, earned a bachelor’s<br />

degree in organizational communications from Michigan State<br />

University and expects to complete a law degree in August.<br />

“I know that I am biased, but there are times when I don’t know<br />

how she does it,” her husband, Mark Hanton, wrote in his award<br />

nomination. “She rarely complains about a lack of sleep or personal<br />

time but gets so energized when talking about the possibilities that<br />

are coming alive in Port Huron that it seems to give her more and<br />

more energy to give back.”<br />

Hanton said she learned from her paternal grandmother, Betty<br />

Davenport, who is actively involved in her Florida community and<br />

politically. Hanton credits Donna Niester of the James C. Acheson<br />

Foundation with being “an amazing professional mentor.” Hanton’s<br />

mom, Jeannine Qualman, who has fought multiple sclerosis for<br />

years while working and raising a family, has left the most indelible<br />

impression. “If my mom can battle this and can still get up and go<br />

to work every day, then what do I have to complain about?” Hanton<br />

said.<br />

Hanton reminisces about the associate degree she earned in<br />

equine studies at the University of Findlay in Ohio when she was<br />

considering a career as a veterinarian or horse trainer. She still loves<br />

to throw on her jeans and go riding.<br />

“Hopefully one day I’ll get horses back in my back yard.”<br />

10 <strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com

<strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com 11

young <strong>woman</strong> of the year<br />

veronica heitz<br />

Well-balanced<br />

by Patti Samar<br />

Veronica Heitz is one extremely well-balanced young <strong>woman</strong>.<br />

She is completely at ease wearing her <strong>blue</strong> jeans and getting down<br />

and dirty in the barn with the pigs, lambs and chickens she raises for<br />

4-H, but she is equally at ease lacing up her figure skates and hitting<br />

the ice as a member of the Port Huron Figure Skating Club.<br />

With a laugh, she acknowledges that her two worlds – country<br />

farm girl and ice skating girly-girl – could not be farther apart:<br />

“There’s not much overlap.”<br />

It is Heitz’s ability to move comfortably in and out of a wide<br />

variety of settings, in addition to being an academic standout and<br />

a community volunteer that have earned her the title of <strong>2013</strong> Blue<br />

Water Young Woman of the Year.<br />

“Veronica is a fine example of how a young <strong>woman</strong> can impact<br />

others,” said Mary Patrick, campus minister at Cardinal Mooney<br />

Catholic High School, where Heitz is a senior. “She uses her free<br />

time to assist others, volunteering for a number of organizations<br />

around the area. She recently spearheaded a successful community<br />

wide blood drive.”<br />

To Heitz, pitching in and helping others comes naturally. She<br />

noted that her mother, a home health care nurse, is her role model<br />

and inspiration.<br />

“Both of my parents donate blood and as soon as I learned there<br />

was such a need for it, I wanted to motivate other people to do it,”<br />

she said. She used good organizational skills to publicize the event<br />

and obtain donations as door prizes.<br />

Heitz obtained a sense of responsibility at a young age when she<br />

joined 4-H at age 8 and began participating in events and raising<br />

farm animals for show.<br />

“I’ve always like being a part of 4-H,” she said. “It’s a really good<br />

community of people. Everybody is really responsible and helps<br />

everyone else learn. It’s like a big family.”<br />

Heitz noted that Theresa Whitenight, one of her 4-H leaders, has<br />

also been a good role model, as well. And Whitenight is impressed<br />

with Heitz.<br />

“Veronica is a terrific role model and is viewed with respect by all<br />

of the members of our club,” said Whitenight in a letter of support<br />

for Heitz’s nomination. “Many of our activities are physically<br />

and mentally stressful, but Veronica always maintains her calm<br />

composure and positive attitude.”<br />

Heitz’s plans for the future include a desire to continue on a career<br />

path that will help her help others. “I want to be a speech therapist,”<br />

she said. “I really enjoy working with kids and I’d like to work in a<br />

school district.”<br />

She has earned a full-ride scholarship to Oakland University in<br />

Rochester and she was recently admitted to the honors college there.<br />

Following graduation, she envisions herself living in a more rural<br />

setting and has even contemplated moving to the Upper Peninsula.<br />

“I’m open to anything besides the city,” she said.<br />

Quiet and soft-spoken, Heitz turns to her figure skating when she<br />

needs to express herself.<br />

“It’s been my sport and I like it,” she said. “With the music, it’s a<br />

good way to express myself.”<br />

12 <strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com

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<strong>summer</strong> <strong>2013</strong> BlueWaterWoman.com 13

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