blue water woman of the year
bluE waTEr wOmaN OF ThE yEar issuE
from the editor
I have never been so proud of woman-kind as I am at this point in my adult life.
It feels as if we are, indeed, finally finding our voices.
Over the past two years, stories about women have carried the headlines. Not
all of them are good and, in fact, some of them are sad and downright horrific.
Stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace, the entire
#metoo movement, the Time’s Up movement, the
Dr. Larry Nassar trial at Michigan State University,
and inequality in pay and gender discrimination in
the workplace have all made the headlines on a daily
basis over the past year, with a lot of those stories
coming to light in just the past six months.
It would be easy to sit here at my desk and feel
discouraged. A female friend asked me the other day,
“How far have we come, really, Patti, in the past 40
years since the Women’s Liberation movement began
in the 70s? It doesn’t feel like the needle has moved
The realist in me knows the needle hasn’t moved
far enough over 40-plus years time, but both my
friend and I agreed that it doesn’t do us any good to
look back at what hasn’t happened.
And, in fact, what IS happening right now is
editor patti samar
& Friend Pam Wall
at the 2018
exciting and inspirational as women begin talking
out loud, in public, about things that were either
never shared before or were only shared in quiet
At long last, it seems, women are beginning to
learn that it is time to speak up. It is time to talk about the realities of being
female in the United States in 2018. Some of our stories ARE horrific and sad,
but many, many others are motivating and inspirational.
And not only are our personal stories about our life experiences worth
hearing, but women are intelligent and we have an awful lot to offer in the work
environment, whether that is in a corporate board room or on the floor of a fast
I encourage all women – most especially the young women reading this – to
please, please, please speak up. Use your voice. And if someone interrupts and
speaks over you, do not be afraid to speak up again and take back your time.
Your voice is important and you deserve to be heard.
The women featured in this, the seventh annual Blue Water Woman of the
Year Awards issue, have all found their voices. They have all moved mountains to
accomplish both personal and professional goals.
All of them have carved a path through what can sometimes feel like granite so
that the women who follow them have an easier path.
What I admire about all of them is their tenacity and diligence. All have a “roll
up your sleeves and work” attitude. All believe in teamwork and understand
that “it takes a village” to build a successful company, educational institution,
healthcare organization, city administration and fitness program.
I am honored and humbled to share with you their stories in this issue of the
magazine. I am inspired by the accomplishments of each and every one of them
and I am sure you will be too.
karen harris 5
nancy winzer 6
donna russell-kuhr 8
deborah snyder 10
susan smith 12
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volume 8, number 1 Spring 2018
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
Advertising, questions, comments or story ideas:
Email Patti Samar at email@example.com
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
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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 seventh 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:
blue water woman of the year
blue water woman Civic leader of the year
blue water woman manufacturing Executive of the year
dr. deborah snyder
blue water woman Educator of the year
blue water woman Physical Fitness advocate of the year
by Patti Samar
Karen Harris likes taking care of people.
Her desire to help others eventually led her to nursing school and that
led to a career as a healthcare administrator where, over the years, she has
been responsible for hundreds of staff members and multi-million dollar
Harris, the president and chief executive officer at Visiting Nurse
Association and Blue Water Hospice of Port Huron, said that all of her
career successes can be attributed to the core of what still drives her: her
desire to take care of people.
Harris’s ability to drive organizational and cultural change at VNA/
BWH while increasing patient census, consistently maintaining one of the
highest home health care quality of patient care scores in the community
and working with staff to dramatically improve the overall financial
performance of the nonprofit she oversees all contributed to Harris being
named the Blue Water Woman of the Year. She was nominated by Karen
Dech, the vice president of finance and chief financial officer at VNA/
“I watched as Karen assessed the operational needs of the organization
and she implemented good, common sense practices that addressed both
the needs of the patients and the staff,” Dech said in her nomination.
“Within months, very significant recognition came to the organization
when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rated the VNA/
BWH home health care quality of care among the top three percent in
the nation. At that time, VNA/BWH was one of only 10 home health care
agencies in the state of Michigan to receive a five-star rating for quality of
care. We were the only agency in our county to receive this designation.”
Harris, who married her high school sweetheart at age 19, worked in
a factory until she began having children and became at stay-at-home
mom. At age 28, she decided to attend St. Clair County Community
College and eventually graduated from the nursing program there. She
went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and
a master’s degree from Central Michigan University.
In her nomination, Dech said: “VNA/BWH had been under the
direction of three different CEOs within a five year period. While each
of those individuals brought a skill set of strengths, the VNA/BWH
board received the ‘full package’ when it hired Karen to become the CEO.
Her previous experience working her way up from a registered nurse to
becoming the vice president of nursing and chief nursing officer at St.
Joseph Mercy Hospital provided Karen with the experience and depth of
knowledge of the administration of a healthcare organization to do the
job in an above and beyond capacity.”
One of Harris’s strengths as a CEO is her ability to see the “big picture,”
according to Dech, and Harris concurs that she enjoys that part of her
“I do ‘get’ how it all connects,” Harris said of organizational structure.
“The planning, the strategy and the people and how it all comes together.
I believe a strategic plan is a living document. We review it and we live it.
“You have to give equal attention to all aspects of the business,” she said.
“The finances, the patients, the quality of care, the patient satisfaction and
the staffing. I think I have a knack for building a great team.”
In her nomination, Dech made special note of one of the organization’s
biggest achievements under Harris’s leadership: paying off a multi-million
dollar debt years ahead of schedule.
“She inherited a multi-million dollar debt of mortgage on the Blue
Water Hospice Home and, by working closely with staff, put together an
action plan to completely retire the debt on the building within two years.
That goal will be achieved in 2018.”
Harris said she still sees her day-to-day work as a form of caring for
others. “I get personal gratification from it, so I’m really feeding myself
when I’m caring for others. With staff, I think I’m good at rallying around
people and letting them find their strengths and letting them focus on
them,” she said. “It’s about finding a way to make our workplace work for
the staff. When you allow them to blossom, the morale is really good then.
“People go above and beyond if you trust them and believe in them.”
SPRING 2018 BlueWaterWoman.com 5
a winning team
by dale hemmila
6 SPRING 2018 BlueWaterWoman.com
Nancy Winzer believes in team work.
If every winning team has an exceptional coach, Winzer could very
well earn the title “Coach of the Year.” The director of parks and
recreation for the City of Port Huron, Winzer is passionate about
the city and those who recreate there. Her creativity, dedication,
commitment, hard work and ability to rally the troops and pull off
numerous community-wide events have led to innovative and creative
recreation and entertainment opportunities for people of all ages in St.
Recognizing her diligence and success, Winzer has been named Blue
Water Woman Civic Leader of the Year. She was nominated by Port
Huron Mayor Pauline Repp.
Winzer began working for the city in 1993 and became director of her
department five years ago. She currently oversees 26 parks, 15 other
facilities and a workforce of 30 employees. In addition to supervising
venues and people, Winzer has also directed a process that has landed
more than $1.3 million in grant funds to improve city facilities to better
serve community members who use them every day.
“I just want to make Port Huron the best that it can be,” she said.
“I want people to live, work and play where there are good recreational
And her passion for the job and the city is apparent to those who she
encounters in her position.
“The word ‘NO’ is rarely, if ever, in Nancy’s vocabulary,” Repp wrote
in her nomination. “If there is a way to improve something or add
greater benefit to someone’s experience, she will find a way.”
While Winzer is passionate about her job -- “I love what I do, I love
coming to work every day” -- she is also passionate about those she
“I wouldn’t be where I am without the people who work for me,” she
said. “They are very talented and work a lot of hours. We have a good
city council and a good city manager. Everyone is trying to make Port
Huron a better place to live.”
In her role as department head, Winzer oversees both the parks
and recreation department in addition to the cemeteries and forestry
departments. In 2016, Winzer was handed the management of
McMorran Place after the city ended a contract with an outside
Mayor Repp noted in her nomination that energy has returned to
McMorran Place under Winzer’s leadership. “McMorran has received
multiple cosmetic upgrades including new carpeting, epoxy flooring,
drywall paint and a new bar for spectators to enjoy during Port Huron
Prowler games,” she said. “Nancy and her team have worked tirelessly to
bring more concerts, shows and family-friendly activities to the facility.”
While initially a little nervous at taking on the McMorran
management, Winzer said it has become a good fit for her department.
“It’s an amazing recreational facility,” she said, “and we are blessed to
have it. It’s where it should be in the parks and recreation department
and the talented staff at McMorran is amazing and a nice addition to
parks and recreation. When I go downtown and see people coming
to McMorran, it gives me goosebumps. There are always people at
McMorran and it’s going to keep getting better as the downtown keeps
Watching Port Huron get “better and better” is all part of the payoff
“The next five years is about making unique recreational
opportunities to get people and kids and families outside to recreate,”
she said. “The pay for me is to go to an event and see people having a
good time, or go to a park and see kids enjoying themselves—that’s the
pay for me.”
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by dale hemmila
8 SPRING 2018 BlueWaterWoman.com
Enthusiasm. Excitement. Exuberance. Energy.
Donna Russell-Kuhr has them all.
Whether she is talking about her role as president and CEO of PTM
Corporation in Ira Township, or she is extolling the value of living in St.
Clair County and her plans to improve employment opportunities in
the region as the new president of the Economic Development Alliance
(EDA) of St. Clair County, Russell-Kuhr’s cup runneth over when talking
about all of the positive possibilities she sees in the future in the Blue
It is due to her business success and vision that she has been named
Blue Water Woman Manufacturing Executive of the Year. Russell-Kuhr
was nominated by Marysville City Manager Randy Fernandez.
PTM Corporation, which is owned by Russell-Kuhr and her three
sisters, bills itself as an engineering, prototype, production and assembly
facility in Ira Township. Their slogan—Making Magic with Metal since
1972—is an indication of what they do and how long they have been
doing it. The company, founded by Russell-Kuhr’s father in his garage,
has gone from manufacturing fasteners, metal clips and stampings to
design, prototype and development for companies with household names.
A tour of the PTM facilities will find work in progress for customers as
diverse as Electrolux and NASCAR to nearly every automaker in the
Now, from that simple garage beginning, Russell-Kuhr oversees an
operation with a 74-acre footprint encompassing 300,000 square feet of
production facilities that employs 300 people. While she happens to be
where the buck stops, Russell-Kuhr is quick to spread the credit for their
“It’s not about me,” she said in reviewing PTM’s accomplishments. “I
have a knack for identifying talent and the talent in this organization has
made this company grow. We have a really good team right now and they
make me look good, the people in the plant are doing their job above and
She ought to know what makes a plant run. Russell-Kuhr grew up in
the business. From being the first floor sweeper at age 10, and making
deliveries by age 15, she learned the business from her father Charlie.
“I worked by my dad’s side every day for 30 some-odd years,” she said.
“I loved coming to work with my daddy. It’s an addiction. I’m a metal
manufacturer, it’s in my blood.”
Russell-Kuhr transitioned into her father’s role in 2015, when he semiretired.
Though he passed away in 2016, it is clear that the Russell family
heart beats strong in PTM. Many family members are also employed
Says Russell-Kuhr: “It’s very important to provide opportunity, but
they have to do the job.”
And providing opportunity is what she is looking to do as she begins
her term as president of the EDA. She has set two main goals for her
tenure: One, grow the EDA membership, and two, provide education
opportunities in the skilled trades.
While goal number two is an obvious fit for her business, Russell Kuhr’s
vision goes beyond the parochial.
“I want to provide some sort of solution for St. Clair County businesses
and people,” she said.
Providing skilled trade employment opportunities by increasing
education in the trades is “good for a variety of businesses and can provide
good paying jobs for people who are unemployed or underemployed.”
In addition to her success at work, Russell-Kuhr also believes in giving
back to the community. She is involved in numerous philanthropic
endeavors and has served on boards and committees throughout the
So while continuing to add value at her own business, Russell-Kuhr
also looks to find ways to benefit others outside of metal manufacturing.
Success in those areas will provide value to all of St. Clair County and
those undertakings are certain to receive a good dose of Russel-Kuhr’s
enthusiasm, excitement, exuberance and energy.
SPRING 2018 BlueWaterWoman.com 9
dr. deborah snyder
10 SPRING 2018 BlueWaterWoman.com
by patti samar
When Dr. Deborah Snyder was just six years old, she stood in front of
childhood friends and used a miniature chalkboard to teach lessons.
As an adult, she finally fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming an
educator by following a less-than-linear path that eventually led to her first
official classrooms as a collegiate adjunct instructor on weekends while
holding down a “day job” in another industry during the week.
Now the president of St. Clair County Community College, Snyder – a
native of St. Clair County – leads the institution where she first attended
college. During her two years in the president’s office at SC4, she has been
very efficient, having tackled a number of difficult projects that would
have been a challenge for even a much more tenured administrator at any
It is because of her strong leadership skills and her dedication to helping
students achieve their educational goals that Snyder has been named Blue
Water Woman Educator of the Year. She was nominated by Pete Lacey,
vice president of student services and communications at SC4.
“Under her direction, the college has implemented a variety of successful
initiatives and has completed several significant projects,” said Lacey in his
nomination. “Her visionary leadership has helped transform our campus
and it has improved our community.”
Snyder understands the importance and impact a community college
makes on a student’s life because she once was that student at SC4. “I was
just trying to hold down a full time job at the telephone company and
go to school at night,” she said. “I came here and I had some of the best
teachers. Janet Kelly, who was a sociology teacher here, was the first person
who said to me, ‘Have you thought about getting a Ph.d?’
“She was the most important person in my SC4 life. She inspired me. It
was a time when girls were secretaries, telephone operators and cashiers.
Most women did not go on to get their doctorate.”
Before all was said and done, Snyder had gone on to earn a bachelor’s
degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate.
Prior to becoming president at SC4, Snyder served in a variety of
administrative capacities on several different college campuses. She last
served as president and chief academic officer at Cogswell College in
A pioneer in producing online classes for colleges – she taught herself
HTML and put together the very first online class taught by Walsh
College – she went on to do consulting work for colleges across the country,
teaching them how to build successful online courses.
An author of two published books – one that came about as a result of
her early comfort level with the internet, e-Marketing Basics – she is about
to publish her third book, Old School, New School, No School, about the
value of higher education.
Snyder is proud of the work she has done during her short time at SC4.
“When I arrived, getting the faculty contract settled and getting everyone
back to work and doing what they do best was in the best interest of
everyone,” she said. “The faculty deliver our service. I value the job the
faculty does on our campus.”
Under Snyder’s leadership, the college has also received a 10-year
accreditation – the highest possible recognition – from the Higher Learning
Commission. A number of major construction and renovation projects
have also been undertaken during Snyder’s tenure:
--The renovation and transformation of the old McMorran Pavilion into
the new SC4 Fieldhouse.
--The college recently received approval of funding to move forward
with the renovation of the A.J. Theisen building. Once the renovation is
complete, the building will be home to expanded health science programs.
--Through collaboration with the Community Foundation of St. Clair
County, SC4 is constructing new student housing.
Snyder notes that she has not done her job alone.
“People here are open to good ideas,” she said. “The community is open
to partnerships. People are cheerleaders here because they want what is
best for the community.”
SPRING 2018 BlueWaterWoman.com 11
by dale hemmila
12 SPRING 2018 BlueWaterWoman.com
To say Susan Smith of Port Huron is active would probably do a
disservice to the word active. Smith plays tennis. She golfs. She paints.
She is a birder and member of the Blue Water Audubon Society. She
belongs to the Alter Guild at Grace Episcopal Church where she is a
member of the Vestry. She is president of the Port Huron Garden Club,
and, to top it all off, she enjoys her family of three children and six
grandchildren and still finds time to go dancing with her husband Art.
But Smith’s passion and a focal point of her life is the work she does
as an exercise instructor for two classes of senior citizens three days
a week at the YMCA of the Blue Water Area. Her dedication and
commitment to endorsing and serving as a living example of a healthy,
active lifestyle has earned her the title of Blue Water Woman Physical
Fitness Advocate of the Year.
Smith, who was nominated for this award by her husband, would
have qualified for such an award at any time over the past 30-plus
years. She began leading senior exercise classes in the Blue Water Area
in 1986 after she became a certified instructor for a program called
Body Recall. She has been helping seniors remain active ever since.
“You realize the benefit for other people,” she said while explaining
the program, “especially for those who haven’t exercised for a while and
all of a sudden they are feeling better.”
Smith teaches a total of 85 students at the YMCA on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays. The 45-minute workouts cover a variety of
physical activity, including range of motion, balance coordination,
aerobics and weights.
“We try to do a full body workup,” she said.
But it’s not just the body she tries to keep active. Cognitive activities
and other elements of the class are designed to help keep participants
mentally sharp. The classes are also an opportunity for the senior class
participants to engage socially, as well. The combination of knowing
she is helping seniors feel better physically, mentally and emotionally
provides a great deal of satisfaction for Smith at the end of the day.
“When students leave, they are usually happy and feel so much
better being active rather than just keeping to their homes,” Smith
said. “It’s good to be out doing things and staying independent for as
long as possible.”
While most of the classes are focused on senior citizens, occasionally
she has younger folks who may need to begin an exercise program
or are going through a rehab regimen. But most of her students are
seniors and many have been with her for years.
“I have people that have been in the program for 25 years,” she
said. “I usually say this is one of your doctor’s appointments and you
wouldn’t want to miss your doctor’s appointment.”
Meanwhile Smith has led and promoted a healthy, active lifestyle
throughout her life. She was physically active in high school and
later began running competitively. She completed marathons in New
York and Hawaii. In 2017, the entire Smith family—all 14 of them,
including Susan, who had pulled some ligaments in her foot—played
in the Francis J. Robinson Memorial International Tennis Tournament
to honor her husband Art’s 60th year of competing in it.
At 75 years young, Smith said she plans to remain active as a physical
fitness instructor for as long as possible, acknowledging that it is just as
good for her as for those she leads.
“I probably need it more now than when I started,” she laughed.
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sPriNg 2018 bluEwaTErwOmaN.COm 13
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