Woman of the Year
amy clickner, left,
president of the lake
a recipient of the
of woman of the
year), a cheerleader
for me professionally,
and a great personal
friend. amy serves as
one of three judges
-- all from the Upper
Peninsula -- for the
Blue Water Woman
of the Year Awards.
from the editor
Can’t we all just get along?
I have been fascinated with the hub-bub surrounding the recent publication of Sheryl
Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Sandberg, of course, is the
current chief operating officer at Facebook. For years she has survived and thrived working in
the world of high-tech, which is also famously highly male.
No matter your politics, nor your views on feminism, nor whether or not you believe women
should stay at home with small children or instead believe they should work or be assertive at
work or take time off to have children or whatever, I think the fact that this book generates
mean-spirited controversy makes me sad because that overshadows Sandberg’s positive message
and instead rather pits women and their differing life philosophies against one another instead
of pulling them together.
And if I’ve learned anything in my almost 50 years of walking the planet, it is this: women
are the glue that hold the world together.
I admire Sandberg’s desire to open the discussion regarding women and their place in
the working world and how our personal lives and choices affect career and professional
aspirations. The only way to invoke change is by opening the discussion.
But some of the criticism of Sandberg’s discussion has become vitriolic and mean-spirited.
There is no need for that.
Something I’ve learned in the past couple of years as I’ve interviewed and written about
women in the Blue Water Area is that all have struggled and overcome obstacles. The women
in our community have become successful by learning about themselves and what makes them
tick; moving forward using their strengths; and by learning to compensate for their personal or
Thus is the case with the women whose stories are told in this issue of the magazine. They
are the recipients of the second annual Blue Water Woman of the Year awards. I am so
very honored to share their stories with you. All are more than exceptionally deserving of
All have been motivated and inspired by others in their lives: family members, friends,
I think it is particularly important that all of us – and I mean each and every one of us
– finds a way to mentor, encourage, motivate and inspire other women around us. We are
the glue that holds so very, very much in this life together. And by reaching out and offering
assistance, a pat on the back, a “Way to go!” email or a thoughtful conversation we can and we
will make a positive influence on the lives of other women in our community.
Women are stereotyped as being catty. But let’s just stop that right now. Let’s check our
egos at the door and welcome other women into business meetings, into our circle of friends
and into our hearts and our homes with open arms and open minds. Everyone must find their
own way in the world and it is not up to us to judge others, but instead, it is up to us to be
there, offering an ear or a hand, supporting the decisions made by our mothers, our sisters, our
daughters, our friends and our colleagues.
Be the glue and be supportive of other women. There is no other reward quite like it.
Bonnie Bracken 5
Erin Potts 6
Jackie Hanton 10
Tracy Willard 8
Veronica Heitz 12
volume 3, number 2 summer 2013
Blue Water Woman is published quarterly by The Write Company,
3155 Armour Street, Port Huron, MI 48060. Circulation 7,500.
Editor & Publisher: Patti Samar, owner, The Write Company
Advertising: Patti Samar at 810-987-1256 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscriptions: To receive Blue Water Woman at home, mail $25 to:
Blue Water Woman, 3155 Armour Street, Port Huron, MI 48060
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Call Blue Water Woman at 810-987-1256
Mission: 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.
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Blue Water Woman
2 summer 2013 BlueWaterWoman.com
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Earlier this year, Blue Water Woman asked the community to nominate very special women who are deserving
of recognition as we prepared to present the second 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 from Marquette County sequestered themselves for an evening and
emerged with five very deserving award recipients. “The selection process was very, very difficult as you truly
have so many very distinguished women in your community,” said Chief Judge Amy Clickner, CEO of the
Lake Superior Community Partnership, Marquette County’s joint chamber of commerce and Economic
Indeed, we are very fortunate in the Blue Water Area to be surrounded by so many thoughtful, smart and
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 Educator of the Year
Blue Water Woman Nonprofit Executive of the Year
Blue Water Woman Young Professional of the Year
Blue Water Young Woman of the Year
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woman of the year
bonnie bracken, fort gratiot
by Patti Samar
During Bonnie Bracken’s 30-year career within the Michigan
Department of Human Services, she met with quite a number of
welfare recipients. They would often lament to her: “But you don’t
know what it’s like to be in my shoes.”
But Bracken, who retired from public service in 2009, knows exactly
what it is like to be in their shoes.
When, at age 30, Bracken found herself a single mother with children
to raise and no child support coming through, she was the recipient of
public assistance for five years.
It was during that time that she began the steps necessary to pursue a
degree and a career in public service that is a compassionate reflection of
her personal commitment to helping others who are in need.
Her combined professional career and personal volunteerism for
numerous worthy causes in the Blue Water Area have earned Bracken
the title 2013 Blue Water Woman of the Year.
“Bonnie has the qualities required of a leader and an innovator,
such as selflessness, initiative, high energy, compassion for others,
creativity and tenacity,” said Kathy Swantek, executive director of Blue
Water Developmental Housing, Inc. (BWDH), where Bracken is a
board member. “Bonnie adheres to the idea that if someone in the
community needs help and she has the means to make a difference,
then she will. For Bonnie, it is not a matter of if, but how, can I help.”
Bracken attributes her desire to help others and “do the right thing”
to her upbringing. “I think we’re all sort of born with a spirit and that,
coupled with a Christian background, was probably the impetus to
wanting to give and share with others,” she said. “Not that I was an
When Bracken, who had been working as a hairdresser part-time,
found herself a single mother and the recipient of welfare, she actively
pursued making her life better. She began taking classes at Macomb
Community College and it was her welfare caseworker who suggested
that she apply for the state civil service exam when there was a job
opening in human services.
Bracken jumped at the opportunity for a job with a steady income.
“My motivation was my children,” she said.
When she interviewed for the job, she told her interviewers: “I don’t
just want this job…I need this job. I need to take care of my kids. So
they hired me.” She added with a chuckle: “How could they not?”
She continued to pursue her education – she went on to earn
associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees – and moved along up the
career ladder. Her first position with the Human Services Department
moved her to Port Huron – she is a native of Utica – and she adopted
the Blue Water Area as her home.
Even in retirement, Bracken continues to serve the community,
stepping up as a board member for several organizations, including
BWDH, and Sanborn Gratiot Memorial Home, one of the facilities
managed by BWDH.
“I’m a worker-bee for a cause,” she said. “I have no interest in being a
board president. I want to sit at the table and say, ‘what do we need to
do?’ I do want to be at the table.”
Though she doesn’t need a title to inspire her volunteerism, she does
recognize that she has a gift for bringing the right people together to get
a job done.
“I’m a born crusader…It’s something that the Lord gave me,” she
said. “I try to rally the troops. The passion for the cause takes over. I can
think outside of the box and what I bring to the table is inspiration.”
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educator of the year
erin potts, marysville
by Shawn Starkey
Ask Erin Potts to describe success and she pauses thoughtfully
before giving her answer.
“Success is only measured by the feeling you get after a day well
done,” she said. “You can’t really measure it by money…
“You have to make a difference in someone else’s life to be
Potts definitely makes a difference in the lives of the students she
teaches and the basketball players she coaches at Marysville High
School, according to her colleagues.
That’s why she’s being honored as the 2013 Blue Water Woman
Educator of the Year.
Potts, 26, of Marysville teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History
for sophomores and World History for juniors and seniors. She’s
head coach for the freshmen girls’ basketball team and assistant coach
for the varsity girls’ track team. She also wears countless volunteer
hats assisting with junior varsity and varsity basketball, summer
youth basketball camps, travel basketball teams and Saturday
morning basketball skills clinics.
Potts played basketball at Utica Ford High School and played on
intramural teams while earning her bachelor’s degree in education
with a double major in history and English at Central Michigan
“I love basketball, so coaching is just a thrill for me,” she said,
noting it helps her to connect with girls who need good role models.
“I like coaching ninth grade because it’s just as much about life skills
as it is about basketball.”
Her goal is to empower her players so they can see what they can
One significant accomplishment, which involved all six of the high
school’s basketball teams, is what led fellow teacher Christine Shigley
to nominate Potts for the award.
The event, a “Pink Out” fundraising night of basketball games in
January, raised awareness and money for cancer research. The charity
had particular significance for Potts, whose father lost his battle with
cancer just months before she began her teaching career.
Potts was amazed by the support and enthusiasm from the
community for the fundraiser. “We wanted to sell a few pink T-
shirts and raise maybe $1,500,” she said. But, as Shigley described
in her nomination letter, that was before local corporate sponsors
jumped on board and other donations poured in.
“When all was said and done, we had raised almost $6,000,” Potts
said. “I thought we would sell maybe 100 shirts, and we sold 400
That taught her students and players numerous invaluable life
“When you’re passionate about something, it makes every minute
of it rewarding,” she said.
For Potts and her students, that education is a two-way street. She
completed her master’s degree in educational leadership at Saginaw
Valley State University in December but has trouble picturing herself
eventually leaving the classroom.
“I just love the daily interactions that are so spontaneous,” she said
of her students. “Every day I learn something from them. That’s
what I hope to still be doing in 20 years. I hope to still be learning
how to reach people.”
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of the year
tracy willard, fort gratiot
by Shawn Starkey
Spend time with Tracy Willard – and her infectious, colorful giggle
– and you might find it odd that her favorite color is gray.
“It’s calming,” she said. “It’s what I’m all about, wanting to be calm
and peaceful and provide that for others.”
She co-founded Hunter Hospitality House to offer that kind of
respite to families of seriously ill patients at nearby Port Huron
Those efforts are among the reasons Willard is being honored as
2013 Blue Water Woman Nonprofit Executive of the Year.
“Tracy works tirelessly in getting the word out about Hunter
Hospitality House and to attain volunteers and donations,” wrote
volunteer Pamela Leslie in her nomination of Willard. “It has only
been opened over a year and it is so impressive.”
Willard, 45, of Fort Gratiot is executive director and vice president
of the board of directors for the organization she co-founded with her
husband, Jeff. The bed-and-breakfast-style home is named in memory
of their son, Hunter Eldon Willard, who was born two months
prematurely Dec. 7, 1991, and died 16 days later after spending time
in and out of the hospital. The idea for the hospitality house grew
from the Willards’ experience. It opened in 2011, on what would
have been Hunter’s 20th birthday.
Since then, 140 people have stayed at the home. But Willard
considers the community’s involvement her biggest accomplishment.
“So many people were willing to help us, even before we opened,
when it was just a plan,” she said. “The whole premise captured so
many people’s hearts.”
Willard’s community involvement goes beyond the hospitality
house. She is completing her third year on the board for the Port
Huron Town Hall Lecture Series; is founder and past president
of Woman’s Life Insurance Society Chapter 807 in Port Huron;
serves on the planning committee for the Community Services
Coordinating Body’s Community Resource Fair; is a member of the
Community Baby Shower Committee; and is active at Cornerstone
Church in Clyde Township.
“Your community is where it’s at,” said Willard, who graduated
from Port Huron High School and St. Clair County Community
College before attending Wayne State University.
When she takes time for herself, Willard enjoys going out for
sushi; playing Scrabble; watching “way too much TV,” especially
competition shows such as Shark Tank and Chopped; and spending
vacations with sons Garrett, 22; Cullen, 20; and Parker, 18.
Back at work, Willard hopes to continue growing Hunter
Hospitality House so she can spend more time with its guests.
“My favorite part is just being here sharing cookies and coffee with
a guest and listening as they tell their story,” she said.
Among those stories is that of an Ohio woman named Sharon,
who found herself at the hospitality house after her husband, a truck
driver, suffered a heart attack while driving through Port Huron.
“We were able to give her a place to stay, so she could be right at her
husband’s side,” Willard said.
Stories like those are the legacy for which Willard said she wants
Hunter to be remembered. “Every life is important, no matter how
long it lasts.”
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of the year
jackie hanton, kimball
by Shawn Starkey
People may know about Jackie Hanton’s volunteer work with
any of a half-dozen organizations. Or they may know about her job
with Talmer Bank. They may even know about her weekends spent
pursuing a law degree. So what don’t they know about Hanton?
“Not a lot of people know I grew up country,” Hanton said with a
laugh. But, she explained, growing up as an equestrian and showing
cattle, serving in leadership positions with 4-H and Future Farmers
of America, and her first job – working on a farm caring for 18
horses -- all provided the groundwork for the volunteer roles she has
“That really gave me the foundation to want to be involved
throughout my life,” she said, “because I met so many great people
Her community involvement is a key reason Hanton is being
honored as 2013 Blue Water Woman Young Professional of the
For Hanton, 30, of Kimball Township, involvement includes
being co-founder and vice president of Blue Water Young
Professionals; serving as board chair for Blue Water Safe Horizons;
serving as vice president of the Rotary Club of Port Huron; serving
on the board of trustees for the Community Foundation of St. Clair
County; and on serving on the board of directors for the newly
organized MainStreet Port Huron.
A typical weekday for Hanton begins at 5:30 a.m. Her first stop
is usually the gym. She’ll squeeze in a coffee appointment at 7:30
or 8 a.m. for one of her volunteer commitments and likely reserve
lunchtime for another volunteer-related meeting. Her workday at
Talmer Bank, where she is the associate managing director and trust
officer, ends by 6 p.m. Then, it’s off to a meeting or the gym. She
spends the rest of her evening, until about 11:30 p.m., studying for
her classes at Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Hanton, who spends
weekends at Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus, earned a bachelor’s
degree in organizational communications from Michigan State
University and expects to complete a law degree in August.
“I know that I am biased, but there are times when I don’t know
how she does it,” her husband, Mark Hanton, wrote in his award
nomination. “She rarely complains about a lack of sleep or personal
time but gets so energized when talking about the possibilities that
are coming alive in Port Huron that it seems to give her more and
more energy to give back.”
Hanton said she learned from her paternal grandmother, Betty
Davenport, who is actively involved in her Florida community and
politically. Hanton credits Donna Niester of the James C. Acheson
Foundation with being “an amazing professional mentor.” Hanton’s
mom, Jeannine Qualman, who has fought multiple sclerosis for
years while working and raising a family, has left the most indelible
impression. “If my mom can battle this and can still get up and go
to work every day, then what do I have to complain about?” Hanton
Hanton reminisces about the associate degree she earned in
equine studies at the University of Findlay in Ohio when she was
considering a career as a veterinarian or horse trainer. She still loves
to throw on her jeans and go riding.
“Hopefully one day I’ll get horses back in my back yard.”
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young woman of the year
by Patti Samar
Veronica Heitz is one extremely well-balanced young woman.
She is completely at ease wearing her blue jeans and getting down
and dirty in the barn with the pigs, lambs and chickens she raises for
4-H, but she is equally at ease lacing up her figure skates and hitting
the ice as a member of the Port Huron Figure Skating Club.
With a laugh, she acknowledges that her two worlds – country
farm girl and ice skating girly-girl – could not be farther apart:
“There’s not much overlap.”
It is Heitz’s ability to move comfortably in and out of a wide
variety of settings, in addition to being an academic standout and
a community volunteer that have earned her the title of 2013 Blue
Water Young Woman of the Year.
“Veronica is a fine example of how a young woman can impact
others,” said Mary Patrick, campus minister at Cardinal Mooney
Catholic High School, where Heitz is a senior. “She uses her free
time to assist others, volunteering for a number of organizations
around the area. She recently spearheaded a successful community
wide blood drive.”
To Heitz, pitching in and helping others comes naturally. She
noted that her mother, a home health care nurse, is her role model
“Both of my parents donate blood and as soon as I learned there
was such a need for it, I wanted to motivate other people to do it,”
she said. She used good organizational skills to publicize the event
and obtain donations as door prizes.
Heitz obtained a sense of responsibility at a young age when she
joined 4-H at age 8 and began participating in events and raising
farm animals for show.
“I’ve always like being a part of 4-H,” she said. “It’s a really good
community of people. Everybody is really responsible and helps
everyone else learn. It’s like a big family.”
Heitz noted that Theresa Whitenight, one of her 4-H leaders, has
also been a good role model, as well. And Whitenight is impressed
“Veronica is a terrific role model and is viewed with respect by all
of the members of our club,” said Whitenight in a letter of support
for Heitz’s nomination. “Many of our activities are physically
and mentally stressful, but Veronica always maintains her calm
composure and positive attitude.”
Heitz’s plans for the future include a desire to continue on a career
path that will help her help others. “I want to be a speech therapist,”
she said. “I really enjoy working with kids and I’d like to work in a
She has earned a full-ride scholarship to Oakland University in
Rochester and she was recently admitted to the honors college there.
Following graduation, she envisions herself living in a more rural
setting and has even contemplated moving to the Upper Peninsula.
“I’m open to anything besides the city,” she said.
Quiet and soft-spoken, Heitz turns to her figure skating when she
needs to express herself.
“It’s been my sport and I like it,” she said. “With the music, it’s a
good way to express myself.”
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