The Thrift Shop was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor

Dear Thrift Shop Members,
The Thrift Shop was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor today at their meeting.  It was a surprise that was carried out with the help of Anne Glendon and Nishta Bhatia.  This was the first time this award has been given to an organization and they thought so highly of the Thrift Shop and our mission that we were their first!  “The Distinguished Service Award presented to the women of the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop who have exemplified ‘Service Above Self’ for eight decades.  In providing emergency aid to those in need, they have improved the quality of life for all members of the community.”  I can’t tell you how proud I am of all of the women who serve and have served this organization.  It was a lovely tribute and they played our Thrift Shop YouTube video which brought the house down.  Congratulations for a job well done ladies!  I have attached a picture of the award.  If you know a Rotarian, please let them know how honored we are to have been the recipient of this wonderful award.

Debbie Bourque

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Ann Arbor Rotary Club Member Spotlight: JOYCE M. HUNTER







Several months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Hunter over coffee to learn more about our fellow Rotarian and what experiences and talents she brings to our membership. Please enjoy excerpts of our conversation, on topics such as her experience in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, her opinion on the recent search for Superintendent, the LINKS program and especially, the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County.


Quick Facts:

  • Retired in 2012 after 37 years as an educator and Assistant Superintendent the AAPS
  • Program Chair of the Achievement Gap Initiative for The Ann Arbor Links program.
  • President of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County
  • Currently serving Rotary in the STRIVE committee



(This interview took place in May, 2013)



What is The Links Program?


The LINKS is a civic and social organization; we have about 12,000 members as well as 47 chapters within the United States and outside the US.  Our program consists of International and National Trends.  One of our National Trends is the Achievement Gap.


Our National Officers  asked all chapters a year  ago to host at least one  community forum on the Achievement Gap; the achievement gap  between African Americans and Caucasians. I was selected to serve as the Program Chair for the Ann Arbor Chapter.  The purpose of the forums was to get the community engaged in a conversations about the Achievement Gap.  The Ann Arbor Club held three forums because we wanted to not just have one conversation but multiple conversations with the goal of developing a Community Plan.  The Links are partnering with Kettering Foundation which is a research organization on this issue.


 I was really interested in doing this from the community’s side. The schools definitely have their role, but I always thought there was something the community could be doing as well to support achievement.


Click here to read an article discussing programs put on by The Links



What are you focusing on now?


One component is centered around literacy.  We have identified a K-12 reading list, and we are going to develop a summer reading program. Our plan is to do this through the community centers. We have three community centers in a2, a couple in Ypsilanti, and we’re going to meet with them and tell them about what we’d like to see happen. We’ve identified how we’re going to track the book that the students have read because we want to get the data. The whole idea is to encourage reading during the summer. So the plan is to give each student a book of their choice at the end and whichever community center has the largest number of students participating the Links are going to give them a collection of books for their library.


What other projects are you working on with The Links?


We also have formed a partnership with Princeton Review, so we’re going to do testing strategy sessions in the fall and in the winter. We did a trial run during the second semester of last year, and now we’ve identified the dates when we’re going to be doing two sessions in the fall. It’s not going to be as extensive as someone paying $500, but there will be tests, with results and strategies.


What challenges are you facing?


I’m trying to form partnerships where it really can carry on [the work]. Sometimes you do things where you get a big grant, and when the grant is gone it’s gone. So we’re partnering with the AADL, the YDL, because they’re there, and the books are there, and the testing is already there. There will be a cost for us to buy a selection of books, to use the space for testing, but I want to be sure that there are things in place for it to carry on.


Click here to visit the Ann Arbor Chapter of the Links Program



Our Rotary Club was honored to hear you speak last year about the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County and the Underground Railroad Tours. Tell us about your work there.


When we first started working on this, around 1993-94, we got our 501(C)3 and we became a museum. Even though we didn’t have a permanent site, we begin having programs and exhibits.   We called ourselves “A Museum Without Walls.” The whole idea was to really start to expand and get out beyond our immediate community and let more and more people know we were doing this work.

As we started this work, Rita and Peter Heydon of the Mosaic Foundation started to follow us. There was an article in the paper, and we got this letter in the mail from this man who we did not know. He said that they had seen the article and they thought it was great that we were doing this.

Click here to find out more about the Mosaic Foundation.

We finally met Mr. Heydon several years later.  In 2008, we received a call saying that he had found a building, a site for us, and he wanted to meet with us. He’d hired an architect. So we met at the architects’ office, Mitchell and Mouat, on 4th Ave.  And that’s when he told us. We didn’t have a clue that he’d been looking all these years.

So he got the house and hired the architects. I knew Dick Mitchell because he had done some work for the school system, and he’s a great guy. He and the Heydons are obviously wonderful!


Click here to see Mitchell & Mouat’s profile on


[At the meeting] they had drawings, they talked about what we needed to do, and they had this plan laid out. We had to go to city council to get the zoning and so that was like an 8 month to a year process. We had to go and go back, and [the project] was approved.



Tell us about the house?


Right now they’re working on the building on the outside.  They’re restoring the original windows. [The Polhemus House was moved from 411 E Washington St, where it was built in 1848, through downtown and over the Broadway bridge to a new home at 1528 Pontiac Trail.]

Click here to view photos and information about 1528 Pontiac Trail.

I always tell the story that we didn’t have a clue that Mr. and Mrs. Heydon were trying to find a site for us. So I was driving to church one Sunday (it’s on the same side of town as my church, Bethel AME) and I remember I couldn’t go my route because they had this big house they were moving, and I was so annoyed! I was just annoyed that it was interrupting my day.

When they called and I realized it was that house I couldn’t believe it! I don’t think I’ve ever told Mr. Heydon how annoyed I was!



What are your financial goals for the Museum?


[Mr. Heydon] paid for the house and the architect, but he wanted us to have monies in place for some of the items that need to happen, to take care of it. Our first goal was to reach a $100,000 which we’ve done recently.

Click here to see how you can support the AACHM

Our next goal is to start raising money for our archival collection. That’s going to be the next big piece of it. It’s just really exciting when you think about the fact of doing something on this scale. And we have no paid staff, all volunteers. I’ve  been trying to work on getting funding to maybe get a part time person to do some of the work and I’ve applied for a couple of grants. Grant writing is not easy! You do all that work and then when you don’t get it you feel disappointed.



Maybe this is an area where your Rotary connections could help?


Maybe there’s somebody that has a person they can loan, or share or, really give some help since we’re all volunteers.  It would really be great to have an Administrative Assistant  or Executive Director  so they could take some of the things they could take off our plate.  In addition, some assistance with identifying and writing grants.


We’ve never let not having a permanent site stop us from having a program. We’ve had lots of programs over the years, so many. More recently we started a series called Focus on the Arts. We wanted to highlight talent in the community but do it on more of a small scale.


Click here to read about past Focus on the Arts events and like the AACHM page on Facebook.



Switching gears to get your personal opinion of the search for AAAPS Superintendent?


I haven’t talked to anybody but what I’ve heard is that they really want to get somebody that knows the community and is connected to the community; I think that’s important. 

I just value the fact that I’ve know different people in the community from all walks of life because I started as a teacher, then a building administrator, then as assistant superintendent and I’ve served a number of  different advisory committees. I was on the Chamber board at one time as well as other boards. I just think that’s really important. When you have a job at one place and live in another place, to me there’s a disconnect. That’s just my opinion.

When I am out someplace and I see somebody I know, I can stop to have a conversation at the Farmer’s Market or different places, I just value that. Or students that I’ve had in the area that are now working and they see you;  like I was at St. Joe’s and I had someone call my name. It was a former student and she was talking about the value she had gotten from her time with me – those kinds of things are just invaluable.


Thank you Ms. Hunter for your work and influence in our Club!

We look forward to the Underground Railroad tour and learning more about the work that Ms. Hunter has set in motion over the past decade with the African American Cultural and Historical Museum.



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To President Len

Once again it’s time for Rotary’s annual (and amazing) seamless transition of leadership, this time from Len Stenger to Maurita Holland.

It’s time to for me to reflect on 3 of the amazing things that President Len accomplished this year and thank him for his leadership.

Here are the 3 things that I felt President Len will be remembered for:

1.) Wonderful recognition of Rotarian’s community work — Below is a one example of President’s Len work towards highlighting club volunteers with awards and promoting their service.  This year we were able to learn about many incredible Rotarians in the club and their work in the community.  Promoting “Service above Self” starts by giving new members examples of what to aspire to.  Paul Glendon, Howard Cooper, Ken Fischer, and others were all recognized for their gifts to our community and club.




2.) Devotion to improving our community and the world.  President Len continued the tradition of focusing on making our community better through grants, volunteer efforts, and promoting the work of club members.  Over $60,000 went into the local community, thousands of hours were given by members through volunteering, and the club continued to focus on the accomplishments of the youth in our community. In addition the international club continues to plan and organize inspiring projects in third world countries.   

3.) A little History and Tradition Focus.   For this Rotarian, the history of our club brings pride to my heart and President Len gave us a little history every meeting.  We remain a club that sings silly songs, and has an interesting lunch, but we focus on service and fellowship above everything.  For almost 100 years our club has been trying to make the world a better place.  Every meeting President Len highlighted our role, our duty, and the importance of fellowship.


Thank President Len for all your work for our club.

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Cheryl Elliot: Ann Arbor through and through



Ann Arbor Rotary Club Member Profile: Cheryl W. Elliott

By Stephanie Blackburn Freeth


“Service above Self” and what I’ve learned from working with Cheryl Elliott

Since joining the Ann Arbor Community Foundation (AAACF) as a staff member in July of 2012, I have had the privilege to work each day with a true powerhouse in our community, Cheryl Elliott.  Cheryl is a proud graduate of the University of Michigan and has been President & CEO of the Community Foundation since 2001.  Since 1963, AAACF has awarded more than $30 million in grants and scholarships that have helped hundreds of organizations and programs change thousands of lives in Washtenaw County and beyond.  All of this is made possible by thousands of committed donors who believe in the power of endowment to make a difference—For good. For ever.  Cheryl has been on staff at the Community Foundation almost 21 years and previously held positions of Youth Council Advisor, Program Director and Executive Vice President and COO.

 A member of Rotary since 1998, Cheryl has served on the Rotary Board and on numerous committees.  Cheryl’s tireless, personal work in our community exemplifies Rotary’s motto of “Service above Self.”  Cheryl received a Rotary Distinguished Service Award in 2011 and is also a Paul Harris Fellow.  In presenting the award, Norman Herbert, past AAACF Trustee and current Rotary Club member, noted Cheryl’s long record of community leadership and unique spirit:  “Cheryl is hard working, committed, dedicated, always giving of herself to family and our community.  She exemplifies our Rotary motto of ‘Service above Self’.  She doesn’t take herself too seriously, and is always a lot of fun to work with – very professional and she loves people.”

In addition to her responsibilities at AAACF, the list of community boards and organizations to which Cheryl has given her time over the years is a long one:  the Washtenaw Economic Club, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, AATA Ann Arbor District Advisory Committee, Eastern Leaders Group Advisory Executive Committee, Council of Michigan Foundations’ Community Foundation Committee, Junior League of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw United Way, Washtenaw Economic Club, NEW, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, Ann Arbor Art Center, Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, Washtenaw Community College, Red Cross Advisory Council, and The LEAGUE Michigan Commission.


50 years of good: 1963-2013

 At April 30th Annual Meeting, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation launches its 50th Anniversary celebration.  During this festive community gathering, Cheryl will kick off a year-long series of events and activities to celebrate “50 years of good” and to set the stage for the next 50 years.

 In the year ahead, the Community Foundation will be sharing 50 stories that highlight all the good work AAACF has supported over the last 50 years including many of the nonprofits and donors that have made it all possible.  In fact, there are many current Rotarians who have played significant leadership roles in these “50 years of good.”  Current Rotarians who have served on the AAACF Board of Trustees include: Daniel Balbach, Bruce Benner, Stephen Dobson, Bob Foster, Douglas Freeth, Patricia Garcia, Norman Herbert, Hugh Morgan, Russell Reister, David Sarns, Ann Sneed Schriber, Ingrid Sheldon, Doug Weber (board and staff member!), and Susan Westerman.  Other AAACF staff have included Terry Foster and Neel Hajra.  Many other Rotarians have also served as volunteers and donors to AAACF during the past 50 years.  This is no surprise given the mission and community impact of the two organizations.


 The Next 50 Years (2013-2063): For good. For ever.


Cheryl Elliott is someone who firmly believes in the power of endowment to foster change in a way that few other philanthropic vehicles can.  Whenever Cheryl talks about the power of endowment she reminds us, “A gift to endowment is an investment in the future.  Every time we make a grant or scholarship or join in a community collaborative effort, we invest in the future.  These investments require unique generosity of spirit.  A generosity of spirit that goes beyond the immediate, that reaches out to people we don’t know and to generations yet to be born.  It’s challenging to think how life might be in our community in the next few years, much less 50 years from now.  Will the issues we face today be the same ones concerning us in the future?  How should we act today and work together to be certain that the place we call home will be even better in the future?

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Rotary Club of Ann Arbor Awards Grants


ANN ARBOR, MI – The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor recently made grants to 11 area nonprofit organizations totaling $45,000. The grant program’s goals are to help Washtenaw County are children of all ages succeed educationally and socially, to help young adults learn skills required to succeed in later life, and to fund support services for at-risk children. This year, the club received requests for over $224,300 from 52 area non-profit organizations. After careful review, the following organizations best matched the program goals and will receive funding:

  • Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
  • Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra
  • Avalon Housing
  • Corner Health Center
  • Interfaith Hospitality Network at Alpha House
  • Leslie Science & Nature Center
  • Ozone House
  • Peace Neighborhood Center
  • SOS Community Services
  • Washtenaw County Youth Center
  • Wild Swan Theater



Programs funded by the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor serve thousands of youngsters through well-designed programs run by area nonprofits including those representing health and human services, education, arts and culture. 

Programs being funded include:

  • Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum with their signature community event, Tech Twilight.

This program helps create our area’s next generation of entrepreneurs starting with ‘tweens, teens and young adults.  It convenes innovative, entrepreneurial and academic professionals for an evening of demonstrations, conversation and exhibits designed to inspire “kids” of all ages. Support from the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor will provide the AAH-oM with the resources to welcome five youth organizations as featured student groups for the evening.

  • Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra with their KinderConcert program which provides over 2,000 toddlers to six-year-olds a free concert experience at Ann Arbor, Dexter and Ypsilanti libraries which pairs pair listening and performing age-appropriate movements through the expert guidance of a child movement specialist, pianist and A2SO musician.
  • Avalon Housing for its Summer Program for Youth.  The SPY will give 18 Avalon youth the opportunity to spend the summer in ways that will not only maintain their school-year progress, but will further their intellectual and emotional growth and their community center at Carrot Way in Ann Arbor.  Staffed by Avalon employees and volunteers from the community, they will offer programming four days per week for six weeks, with lunch and healthy snacks provided for all youth participants, all of whom are from extremely low-income households.
  • Corner Health Center which will offer nutrition education and food preparation classes. Funding helps to renovate and equip an existing meeting room to make it suitable for nutrition education and food preparation providing young people with education and tools to help them eat properly and live healthy lifestyles.
  • Interfaith Hospitality Network at Alpha House which helps provide emergency shelter to children and families, and has staff committed to focus specifically on the needs of children experiencing homelessness. Their Children’s Services Program identifies and addresses the individual needs of each child, strengthens the parents’ role in the family and helps families stay together while working in tandem with their Shelter and Home-Based Support Programs to help families to stabilize and access the services they need to secure and maintain housing.
  • Leslie Science & Nature Center for their after school MEAP prep program for at-risk youth. At these free programs, youngsters will focus in on prep for 5th grade MEAP science content in a hands-on fashion.  This type of kinesthetic engagement with a subject allows a deeper understanding of the scientific principles, and reinforces teaching done in the classroom setting.  Additionally, LSNC will provide sustaining materials for the teachers in a MEAP preparatory box to use beyond the after school program implementation.
  • Ozone House for their health care program of homeless and displaced youth. The specific objectives of this proposal are to provide preventative and acute care to runaway and homeless youth at Ozone House; to provide health education and basic health training to runaway and homeless youth; to enroll eligible youth in medical assistance programs; and to develop a network of health care providers to facilitate continuity of care.
  • Peace Neighborhood Center for its Peace Neighborhood Center Leadership Development Camp, an age-specific program for 45 – 60 middle-school students that runs alongside their annual “Youth on the Move” Summer Day Camp. Each camper receives the care and attention of staff members, as well as the mentorship and demonstration of positive role models of older youth who have returned to the program as camp counselors.
  • SOS Community Services for its Sunny Days 8-week summer enrichment program for 30 homeless children enrolled in area shelter programs or transitional housing in Washtenaw County.  Sunny Days provides children, ages 6 – 12, a structured, safe, and supportive environment to address the traumas of homelessness, substance abuse, and domestic violence within their families.
  • Washtenaw County Youth Center for help cover the cost of take-home supplies and the printing costs for booklets and equipment used at the Youth Center in connection with its Youth Gardening Program which teaches youngsters about raising vegetables from seed to harvest, allowing students to see where their food comes from and what it looks like before being cooked, demonstrating composting and showing its importance and preparing simple recipes from the garden harvest.
  • Wild Swan Theater for its Comprehensive Audience Accessibility Programs which includes incorporating  American Sign Language (ASL) into all of their main stage performances, and inventing a new aesthetic for the theater by fully integrating ASL actors into the central action of the play.  Other audience accessibility tools include onstage touch tours and audio described performances for blind and visually impaired audience members; and pre-performance workshops for developmentally disabled audiences. 


Rotary Club of Ann Arbor Endowment Fund

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor has a permanent endowment fund of more than $1 million that generates income that it grants annually to nonprofit organizations. Grant applications are due to the club in March and awards are announced in April.

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor

The club meets each Wednesday at noon in the Anderson Room of the Michigan Union, 530 S. State Street in Ann Arbor. Founded in 1916 and with more than 300 members, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor is one of the 50 largest Rotary clubs in the world, and the largest in Michigan. It is part of Rotary International, an organization of business and professional persons united worldwide, who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world. The motto of all Rotarians worldwide is Service above Self.  In the past year, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor contributed more than 7,500 hours of service and $155,000 in contributions to local and international projects.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in recognizing Kenneth C. Fischer, a worthy recipient of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor’s Distinguished Service Award.

Today’s honoree is well known to nearly everyone in the room for his warm personality and endless energy – and also because he is widely regarded one of the Michigan’s Leaders and Best.  In the world of the performing arts, Kenneth C. Fischer is an established star and it is my pleasure and honor to share with you some of his many achievements that not only exemplify Rotary’s motto to Service Above Self but also reflect how UMS under Ken’s leadership has contributed Rotary International’s mission of building peace and understanding at home and around the world through culture and the performing arts. 


For those who don’t know Ken, he was born and raised in Plymouth, Michigan in a musical family that often piled into station wagon to attend concerts at Hill Auditorium.  Brothers Jerry and Norman and sister, Martha, are all musicians.  Young Ken was both a jock and musician:  a swimmer on his high school’s state championship team and a talented French horn player who was first chair in the top Interlochen orchestra.  There he met the love of his life, Penny Peterson, from Iowa.  Penny says Ken had “high horn chops” and she first fell in love with his gorgeous sound from her seat in the flute section two rows in front.  There’s a great photo of these two charmers standing under a tree that looks like it came from central casting. 


Ken left Michigan for a degree in religion from the College of Wooster, where he was honored as a distinguished alumnus and returned to begin a doctoral program in higher education at U of M.  There he reconnected with Penny, who was pursuing her own doctorate at the School of Music.  They married during grad school and Penny got a job as assistant to Gail Rector, the second President of the University Musical Society.  In 1969, Ken joined the UMS staff to help launch the short-lived Fairlane Festival on the grounds of the old Ford mansion in Dearborn.  Perhaps that experience kindled the impresario flame in Ken – or at least made him restless – because he soon took extended leave from his doctoral program for a job in Washington, D.C., first as an executive at a higher education association and later as a management consultant.  At the same time, Ken became a part-time concert and event presenter who met with increasing success.  One winter he had a lot riding on a little known British group called the King Singers at the Kennedy Center – and a blizzard hit town.  When Ken managed to fill the hall despite D.C.’s notorious aversion to snow, people in the business took notice and word got back to his Michigan friends.  So, when Gail Rector retired in 1987, Ken was urged to submit his resume – and the rest is history – really interesting history!


Ken Fischer is only the third President in UMS’s 133 year existence.  The position and the organization were largely created by the legendary Charles Sink (also a founder of our Club).  When Ken succeeded Gail Rector, UMS faced steep challenges: a substantial deficit that had to be erased, a strained relationship with the University, a struggling state economy that forced schools to cut arts programs, lack of an education or outreach program of its own and declining grant support for classical music. 


Ken stepped into the UMS breach with new energy, vision and amazing  willingness to meet with and listen to community leaders, volunteers, donors, and other arts and culture groups, conversations that began to change the image of UMS as an insular, elitist institution.  Ken worked with the UMS Board on a major management restructuring, an inspired decision that allowed him to hire a young, highly talented team that helped transform UMS Programming, Marketing, Financial Management and Development – and Education.  Three of those early hires are still part of the illustrious M-Team and regarded as tops in their respective fields – Director of Finance and Budget, John Kennard, Director of Programming, Michael Kondziolka and Sara Billman, Marketing Director.  Rounding out the team today are our own Margie McKinley, Development Director, and Jim Leija, Director of Education and Audience Engagement.


Under Ken’s leadership, UMS has become known internationally for innovative programming that has kept Ann Arbor a prize destination for debuts and encores of the world’s finest artists and ensembles.  Just this past weekend, “Einstein on the Beach,” which was remounted and performed here last January, received the 2013 Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production of the Year at the Royal Opera House in London!  UMS’s creative residencies inspire and enrich students at the School of Music Theater and Dance – from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road to last year’s San Francisco Symphony.  These arts integration projects have won praise and historic funding from the Mellon Foundation to support future collaborations across the spectrum of the University’s schools and programs.  Indeed, UMS’ education and audience engagement program rivals that of the Kennedy Center, with which it partners on a number of projects to enhance K-12 arts curricula and offers lifelong learning opportunities through UMS Night School, prelude talks and post-concert conversations with the artists.  Ken and the M-Team are also leaders in the Major University Presenters (MUPs) group and have led many initiatives to better utilize the arts as a force for creative teaching and learning. 


Ken is a world class networker with dozens of wonderful stories from more than 25 years at the UMS helm.  Less well known are the accolades he has earned for his contributions to the presenting field as speaker, workshop leader, writer, consultant, panelist, and U.S. State Department cultural ambassador to Brazil, China, Lithuania, and Mexico.  He chairs the board of National Arts Strategies and the National Advisory Board of the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project.  He is a board member of the Sphinx Organization has served on the board of Interlochen Center for the Arts where he remains active.  In 2011 the International Society for Performing Arts accorded Ken the prestigious Fan Taylor award, the field’s highest honor.


Although Ken is often on the road, he is active in local economic development efforts, sits on many university committees and search panels, is an enthusiastic champion of Ann Arbor and the state of Michigan and always has time to mentor students – and take photos of Junior Rotaraians.  Ken is also a devoted family man. He is tremendously supportive of Dr. Penelope Peterson Fischer and her distinguished career as a professional flutist, past president of the National Flute Association, principal flutist of the Ann Arbor Symphony and co-founder and first Director of the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts.  Ken and Penny are the proud parents of Matt Fischer, Director of the App Store at Apple who lives with his wife, Renee and sons Alex and Reid in the San Francisco Bay area.  Incidentally, son Matt also has impresario chops: while an undergrad at the University of Virginia, he served as Music Director of the Virginia Gentelmen, an a capella singing group like the U-M Friars.


As mentioned at the outset, one of Ken and the UMS team’s hallmarks is introducing Ann Arbor and SE Michigan to a panoply of global performing artists, helping all of us understand and appreciate the rich traditions of other peoples and cultures. As a result, UMS is one of the top recruiting assets for U of M and brings the best talent from around the world to this community.  So here we are after another tremendously varied UMS season that celebrated the 100th anniversary of Hill Auditorium.  It is the perfect time to honor the iconic leader who has done so much to make it possible – and who has committed to staying for another few years to ensure the institution’s long term financial stability.  

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Distinguished Service Awardee, James Wallace Cook



Today we recognize one of our Club’s past presidents, a person who has succeeded throughout his life as a student, professional engineer and executive, community leader and stalwart volunteer, wonderful husband and father, and great friend to those of us fortunate enough to know him well.  

Our Distinguished Service Awardee is a native of Huntington, “West-by-God-Virginia” – as he might say – and still has a slight southern accent to go with a generous dose of southern charm.  He grew up in a multi-generation household with parents, aunts and uncles all involved in a family hardware business, and his time spent working in the store may have stirred his curiosity  about all sorts of gadgets, machinery and science in general.  At first his father wasn’t enthusiastic about him going away to college, but that changed when he was awarded a full scholarship to Princeton, and instead of joining the family business he earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering there and a Master’s in Nuclear Engineering from Penn State.

As you may have surmised, we are talking about – and honoring – one James Wallace Cook.   Jim is and always was an excellent judge of talent and intelligence, as well as beauty.  Early evidence of that was apparent in his courtship of a young lady originally known as Constance Ewing.  They met soon after the Ewings moved to Huntington, when Jim was home between Princeton semesters, and were married when the lovely bride was still in college!  Connie earned her undergraduate degree from Barnard College, went on to earn Master’s and Ph.D. degrees as well, and is now Associate Vice Provost and Director of the U-M Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. 

Jim and Connie are proud parents of Jay Cook, an Associate Professor of Cultural and Intellectual History at U-M.  Jay’s wife Rita also is a U-M Associate Professor of History.  They are parents of the delightful young Oliver, and they’re here today to help us honor Jim and celebrate his many contributions to club, community and family.  The Cooks’ daughter Amy is a social worker in Albuquerque.  She and husband Dan are parents of three lovely girls, Sarah, Kelsey and Robin, and Jim and Connie will help their granddaughters hunt for Easter eggs this weekend in New Mexico.

In the Cook family’s early days, Jim began a professional career that included over 40 years of engineering work and executive leadership in the energy industry, from nuclear power plant design to acquisition and management of multiple power production businesses and projects, in the United States and internationally.  He was Senior Vice President of Technology and Development for CMS Energy when he retired a little more than ten years ago.  He and Connie have lived in Ann Arbor for almost 25 years, and although Jim’s daily commuting and extensive business travel didn’t leave much time for community involvement before he retired, the ink was barely dry on his retirement papers when he launched a second career in “service above self.”

He joined our Club in July 2002 and quickly put his global business experience to effective use on the International Humanitarian Service Committee, leading major Rotary projects in the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Africa, and South and Central America.  He was a strong force in changing our Club’s culture to establish a major fundraising focus for our annual Golf Outing, significantly increasing both our financial resources to help kids succeed and Club members’ actual service in those and other projects.   He was a Club Director for six years and President in 2008-09, has been a faithful Rotary Reader and math tutor, enthusiastic participant in several iterations of the Club’s Strategic Plan, and for the past year he and fellow former presidents and Distinguished Service Awardees Anne Glendon and Norman Herbert have been working to research and plan for a major Club Centennial Project.

Besides Rotary, Jim has served as Board Member and Chair of the Ann Arbor Art Center and Washtenaw Chapter of the Red Cross and on the Board of the Michigan Diabetes Association.  Without lessening any of those commitments – except for unavoidably missing some Rotary meetings – he also resumed involvement in the energy industry (and commuting) a few years ago as a Senior Adviser with a company called Novi Energy.  One of its projects that he played a key role in is the Fremont County Complete Mix Anaerobic Digester Plant, a thoroughly “green” project in West Michigan that converts organic and agricultural waste into electricity – for which, coincidentally, Senator Stabenow helped to break ground in June 2011.

Jim says he’s winding down his post-retirement career commitments, and all of us who value his outstanding service, friendship and fellowship hope his second retirement will be permanent!  As it was my privilege to introduce him to the Club as his sponsor back in 2002, so it is today to ask you all to join me, as President Len makes the official presentation, in congratulating Jim Cook as the newest recipient of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor’s Distinguished Service Award.

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