Groundwork is hiring. Join our team of change-makers! See Careers.

Milliken Leadership Award

The Milliken Leadership Award recognizes community leaders who embody the legacy of Helen and Governor William Milliken and the belief that a clean, healthy environment is necessary for a prosperous economy.

The milliken legacy

Keith Schneider, the founder of Groundwork’s predecessor organization, the Michigan Land Use Institute, was a veteran environmental journalist who was well familiar with the Milliken environmental legacy and way of governing, and he forged the governor’s principles into our core organizational values. Principles like how a healthy environment is essential to a strong economy. How strategically building broad coalitions can achieve results. How embracing civility and respect at all times is both effective and the right thing to do. How it’s important to bring forward solutions that unify. So, you can imagine how it felt in the early days when we received a handwritten note from the governor praising our work and encouraging us to keep going. Over the years we came to know Governor Milliken personally, which was a great honor. Helen Milliken joined our board and served for a decade. She was visionary, a powerful and eloquent voice always challenging us to reach higher, to push harder. And so it only made sense that our award of highest honor is named the Milliken Leadership Award.

Award Recipients

For over 25 years, we've honored individuals in our community that have exemplified the legacy of Helen and Governor Milliken. Their awards hang on our office walls to remind us that we stand on the shoulders of giants. The text below, recorded from their award plaques, represents the spirit of why each person was selected for this most prestigious award.

Bill Latka • 2019

When you walked in the door 11 years ago, how could we have known that we were meeting a living hero? Who could have guessed that it would be your insane talent and relentless commitment that would catapult and sustain the Line 5 campaign, and that your creative genius would elevate Groundwork across our programs to a much higher level of effectiveness? Well, we sure know that now Bill Latka. We see you brother—your deep integrity and your selfless humility. We see how you inspire others to dig deeper, to reach higher, and how you do all of this with a gentle smile and a heart full of love. We are all so very grateful, for who you are and all that you give. Everyone around you is better off, and while we, of course, share a common concern for the prospects for our planet, there is no doubt that our future is much brighter because of you.

Kim Pontius • 2018

Kim PontiusGroundwork is thrilled to honor Kim Pontius with the 2018 Milliken Leadership award. In so many ways, Kim embodies Groundwork’s mission. He has a huge and inspiring vision for what is possible, informed by research and understanding. He is hard-driving and relentless about achieving public interest goals. He’s practical and strategic and he vigorously promotes the principle that a thriving economy depends on a clean environment. Beyond all that, Kim is a kind, compassionate, dedicated person who adds value and verve to everything he does. Groundwork is lucky to call Kim a trusted friend and partner, and Northwest Michigan is incredibly fortunate to have Kim among its most effective leaders.

Maureen Smyth • 2018

Maureen SmythIt is with deep gratitude the Groundwork honors you for your committed service as chair of the board from 2015 to 2018. With keen intelligence and thoughtful insight buoyed by an enduring passion for the people and places of Michigan, you led our board with a steady hand that made our whole organization stronger and more effective. Thank you Maureen for giving so much of yourself to our shared cause. Your achievements as chair will forever be appreciated by all of us.

Mary Van Valin • 2017

Mary Van ValinGroundwork is thrilled to honor Mary Van Valin with the 2017 Milliken leadership award. Mary arrives at this celebrated moment not by way of a high-level career in politics or business; rather Groundwork recognizes Mary simply for the content of her character, for who she is, and the way she inspires all of us to be better human beings. As an educator for 30 years, Mary supported and encouraged a generation of children to become young leaders and thinkers and dreamers and doers. Mary’s compassion for others, her graceful manner, and her unyielding commitment to do whatever it takes to help the people and the environment have resulted in an astounding track record of achievement in conservation, climate solutions, and community well-being.

Chip Hoagland • 2016

In a decades-old, collaborative movement to grow local agriculture, how does one man emerge to change the future of an entire food system? In two ways: first by understanding that distribution is the fulcrum for growth and, second, by having the courage to conjure up a bold vision for a 21st Century social enterprise company that connects people to good food. Chip Hoagland is that unique leader. With a powerful persistence, an insatiable curiosity, and a kind-hearted, even humble, ability to support others and create real, lasting partnerships, Chip has put Michigan on the map as an innovator in the national movement for healthy, locally grown food.

He has given us an inspiring model of what’s possible when ideas, action, and determination are joined with a commitment to doing the right thing. All of us at Groundwork — along with your many, many friends on this journey—salute you, Chip, for all that you’ve achieved, and we extend our heartfelt appreciation for all that you’ve given.

Craig Sharp • 2015

As a dedicated family man with two teenage kids and a demanding job, this is most likely the busiest time in Craig Sharp’s life—certainly not an easy time to step forward and lead the Groundwork board of directors. But Craig is an extraordinary man. With incredible efficiency, endless personal energy, and a deep passion for a mission he believes in to his very bones, Craig committed to serve as chair because he knew he could add value. He was more than right. After four years under Craig’s unflinching leadership, Groundwork is a better organization with sharper programs, a great new name, expanded public support, a more engaged board, and stronger financial footing. Of course many hands go into these achievements, but it was Craig’s smart, focus and compassionate style of leadership that made the difference. Thank you, Craig, for your exceptional service and selfless commitment to the cause.

Senator Carl Levin • 2015

Throughout his extraordinary 36 years of service in the United States Senate, Senator Carl Levin was a true leader on so many issues of our generation. Here at Groundwork, we are thrilled that a man of his unshakable integrity and towering intellect had strong cities and a clean environment on his priority list. In the late 1990s, as the national anti-sprawl movement gained traction, Senator Levin moved swiftly to establish the bipartisan Smart Growth Task Force. He consistently pushed urban revitalization, farmland protection, and environmental conservation, and never hesitated to go to the mat for urgent issues like expanding rail service, protecting the Great Lakes, supporting our National Park Service. Senator Levin’s commitment to his country and to Michigan has resulted in healthier people, livelier downtowns and cleaner air and water—gifts that will live on for generations to come, and for which we will be forever grateful.

Ray Minervini • 2014

It is a bit unconventional to speak about a man’s legacy while he’s still alive, but the rebirth of the Grand Traverse commons is all about legacy—a living, breathing celebration of past and future—and nobody ever accused Ray Minervini following convention! How did one man have such a vision? There is no simple answer, but one thing is clear: Ray believes in the power of humanity. At a turbulent time on this planet, Ray sees optimism and hope. When renovating millions of square feet of a former asylum, Ray did not see the obstacles. He envisioned what was possible. And somewhere deep down he knew that people naturally want to come together—and that the commons could be that place for building community.

Pond Hill Farm • 2013

In recognition of Sharon, Jimmy, and Marcy Spencer—and all of the amazing folks at Pine Hill Farm—for their unwavering commitment and leadership toward creating a sustainable local food economy. Their entrepreneurial spirit is a shining model of how hard work and purposeful vision can grow something incredibly special. They lead by example. They build community. They give all of us a chance to experience farming at its finest.

Senator Debbie Stabenow • 2013

Senator Debbie Stabenow is one of the rare leaders who not only embodies Helen Milliken’s deep-seated values, but carries them forward with the same unflappable poise and steadfast determination. She has worked tirelessly for a broadened review of agriculture that recognizes its critical role in building vibrant local economies and providing healthy food for children and families. She engages respectfully the broadest range of stakeholders, and will not be stopped in advancing common sense, bipartisan efforts to achieve historic change. The Michigan Land Use Institute salutes Senator Stabenow for her stalwart efforts on behalf of agriculture, small family farmers, and all of us who need and want to eat the food that Michigan farmers grow.

Don Coe • 2012

Ask those who have had the chance to collaborate with Don Cole to describe him, and there is no telling what you will get. Savvy businessman. Unrelenting activist. Practical problem-solver. Creative thinker. Hard-hitting spokesperson. Don is all of this—and more. But Don’s complexity is not random. His actions are tied to a simple but powerful belief that farming matters in Michigan; and a conviction that if we take bold steps now we can create a durable agricultural economy that creates a lasting opportunity for generations to come. Working shoulder to shoulder with the Michigan Land Use Institute and many other partners, Don has emerged as a driving force behind Northwest Michigan’s role at the forefront of this movement. For all that you’ve given and for all the lies ahead, we celebrate your wise and unyielding leadership.

Denis Pierce • 2012

“What do you need to be a more effective organization?” When Denis Pierce asked that question and decided to help us with the answer, he not only confirmed his deep commitment to the Michigan Land Use Institute mission, but also showed a powerful willingness to help us carry it forward for the long haul. It was an act of extraordinary insight and generosity, but what is truly amazing about Denis is that he has this kind of catalyzing partnership with a host of organizations that advance his belief in sustainability, fairness, and serving those most in need. Denis, for all that you have done for MLUI and the kind of joyful way in which you do it, we extend our most heartfelt gratitude.

Janice Benson • 2012

The caring, deeply personal touch you brought to taste the Local Difference involved so much more than simply listing growers and businesses in our nationally recognized farm and food guide. One by one, you built strong, deep relationships throughout the region, reflecting the passionate, people-first commitment that graced all of your great work. From teaming up with your sponsors or finding fresh local produce in and up north winter, to sharing your local food recipes and lovely weekly emails, your warmth and professionalism flowed from your deep love of people and land and your unshakable commitment to building a beautiful, harmonious community. We are honored to have worked with you.

Reg Bird • 2011

With a clear vision for what a nonprofit organization can be, and uncanny skill for clarifying complex situations, and an unfailing ability to light up a room with crusty good cheer and penetrating wit, you have been an extraordinary and inspiring model of dedication and commitment. Under your leadership as board chair, the Michigan Land Use Institute has become a better, smarter, and stronger organization. All of us at the Institute—the entire staff, your colleagues on the board, and all of our supporters who recognize the valuable role you played—celebrate your service and extend a big, warm, “Thank you, Reg!” for all you have done to make the Institute a more effective voice for our great state.

Dan Scripps • 2011

As much as any young leader today, you embody the core values and principles that Governor and Helen Milliken share with our great state: passion, truth, humility, and a keen understanding that true prosperity requires a clean environment and an engaged citizenry. We live in difficult divisive times, but your rare and precious ability to bring people together from all walks of life inspires us. Yours is a unique talent, built on personal character that your friends at the Michigan Land Use Institute—and many, many others—trust and believe in. We look forward to your continued leadership.

Jim MacInnes • 2011

Many people are talking about sustainability these days but you’re doing so much more than that. You are dedicated to understanding what’s at stake as our oil-based economy faces its true limits, and, with great care, making Crystal Mountain a model of what a green business should be. You also leverage your hard-earned credibility as a business leader to speak strongly for the steps Michigan must take to prosper in the 21st-century. The Michigan Land Use Institute salutes you for all that you have accomplished and for the inspiration your leadership imbues in all of us.

Seth Bernard and May Erlewine • 2010

Seth Bernard and May Erlewine represent the best of Michigan: committed, creative souls who put their values first. Rather than take their talent to the nation’s major music markets, Seth and May chose to stay in the Great Lakes State and use their gift to elevate the consciousness and inspire the activism of a new generation. Theirs is a hopeful song of the strength of community and the urgency of the moment, an inspiring soundtrack the grounds us in tradition and builds our courage for the future. The power of their example inspires us to embrace the promise of what as possible.

Kimberly Albright • 2010

The Michigan Land Use Institute is pleased to recognize Kim Albright’s extraordinary tenure on the Board of Directors. Over countless hours and with great poise and humility, Kim shared her magnificent talent and her penetrating insight, and helped us become a better, more effective organization. Driven by an unyielding passion to protect the place she loves, Kim’s hard work not only produced terrific results; it also set a new standard for what it means to be a great board member. Thank you so very much, Kim. We are all forever grateful for your many gifts.

Jim Olson • 2010

Jim Olsen’s legacy is measured in nothing less than the air we breathe, the water we need, and the land we enjoy. His life’s work is rooted in the principle that these resources are shared, in fact owned, by all citizens, and all of us have a fundamental right and duty to protect them. He’s not just one of the most brilliant legal minds in Michigan history, he is a man of unflinching integrity, endless passion, and utter humility, a rare person who spreads joy and love amidst even the toughest challenge. Jim Olsen, plain and simple is a living hero. We are forever grateful for all that has done for the Michigan Land Institute and for the great state of Michigan.

Patty Cantrell • 2010

Growing the local food economy helps farmers, creates jobs, and cultivates economic resilience. It decade ago, you made this assertion and were met with everything from hopeful support to suspicious resistance. But you knew what to do: prove it—and that’s exactly what you did. With the foresight of Frank Lloyd Wright, the flourish of Michelangelo, and the fortitude of Mother Jones, you told to human stories, marketed the promise, and developed the framework to fundamentally reform our regional food system. Yes, there were many, many essential partners on this momentous journey. But ask any of them: who led the way? Who inspired us with constant innovation and unyielding resolve? They’ll say without hesitation, Patty Cantrell. You are the leader who transformed possibility into reality. And it is in your honor—as a testament to all that you have given—that we carry this beautiful moment forward.

Marsha Smith • 2009

It takes selfless humility and unshakable will to inspire others to a bold vision. In our region, that vision is the Grand Vision, and our leader is Marsha Smith. She steered the largest and most unwieldy citizen planning project in Michigan history with courage and passion, unleashing her spunky good cheer, laser sharp instincts, and utter honesty to successfully partner with every conceivable community stakeholder. We honor Marsha’s extraordinary leadership, knowing her success will be measured beyond our time and in the enduring magic of this place and the spirit of its people.

Sarna Salzman • 2009

Sarna Salzman shows us what is possible when we align our life and work with our principles. Whether organizing environmentalists, making the case for a strong local economy, reaching out to kids, or demonstrating car-free living, Sarna unleashes the power of a community that celebrates nature, challenges convention and embraces bold ideas and lasting change. With her love of humanity set on high and her intellect trained on the future, Sarna Salzmann is an inspiration to her generation.

Timothy Young • 2009

Environmental passion, business smarts, green economic leadership: Institute board member Timothy Young has all of those qualities and more, and uses them to make Food for Thought a bright light guiding Michigan’s revival—and the institute a stronger organization. Asking tough questions and sticking to his commitments, Timothy set a new standard for our board. We thank him for all that he’s brought us this past decade, and wish him, his family, and business success and happiness.

Keith Schneider • 2008

Keith SchneiderAsk anyone who has had the privilege of working with Keith Schneider and they’ll describe his incisive thinking and laser-sharp instincts. They’ll say his standards of excellence are unparalleled, and then recall an example of his fearlessness in the face of opposition. Ask Keith about himself and he’ll tell you he’s a journalist. That’s because Keith understands that creating a new reality starts with moving people toward shared goals with penetrating facts and powerful stories. As the visionary and courageous founder of the Michigan Land Use Institute, Keith focused his incredible talent on launching a citizen movement that has forever changed Michigan. In effect, he wrote a new story for the Great Lakes State. It’s a story of fairness and opportunity, a story of the power of people and the power of place. The Michigan Land Use Institute honors Keith’s vast contributions and his awe-inspiring body of work with a commitment to pushing the movement toward new heights—to keeping that story alive.

Julie Hay • 2008

It takes passion, commitment, and tenacity to make a real difference in the community, and Julie Hay epitomized those attributes during her time at the Michigan Land Use Institute. Julie’s boundless energy and youthful enthusiasm for finding and advancing good ideas about land conservation, affordable housing, community building, and farming helped make the Grand Traverse region a better place—and greatly elevated the Michigan Land Use Institute’s reputation as a strong, humane, and positive force for transformative change.

Bob Otwell • 2007

Great communities plan for people, not cars. Bob Otwell understands that. A tireless advocate for protecting the basic right to safely ride a bike and a persistent voice for making walkable neighborhoods a priority, Bob’s hard work and dedication has left an indelible mark in northwest Michigan, and on the Michigan Land Use Institute. Bob’s unwavering voice and intelligent perspective made the Michigan Land Use Institute a better, smarter organization. For nearly a decade of service on the board, the institute extends its heartfelt thanks.

Carolyn Kelly • 2007

The enduring legacy of Bill and Helen Milliken is defined by the vision to measure today’s actions on future generations; and the courage to vigorously defend that vision against opposing forces. Painstaking in her pursuit of the truth. Clear in her convictions. Fearless in the face of controversy. Always eloquent and respectful, Carolyn Kelly reflects the Millikens’ values and statesmanship. The Michigan Land Use Institute commends the impressive start of Carolyn’s public interest career and wishes her great success.

Willard Wolfe • 2005

Willard WolfeIn an organization defined by its intelligence and nerve, you stood out as a respected voice of wisdom. Your colleagues on the board and staff knew that behind each of your carefully selected words was the knowledge and insight gained over a half century of achievement and enduring commitment to safeguard Michigan’s wild places. Because of your six years of service on our Board of Directors and your willingness to share your vast experience, the Michigan Land Use Institute is a better, smarter, more influential organization. It is with sincere gratitude and abiding respect that we celebrate your contribution.

Bob Sutherland • 2005

We celebrate your extraordinary tenure as board chair from 1997 to 2004. Our journey has been filled with momentous accomplishments, potent challenges, and vital turning points. With a style unfettered by convention, your bold ideas and clear vision strengthened this organization’s core values and promise. In so many ways, you are the Michigan Land Use Institute: a visionary, and entrepreneur, and an activist. We are deeply thankful for the fortune of benefiting from your leadership, your boundless energy, and your unending passion to make Michigan a place to be proud of. Emboldened, and in your honor, we carry our Smart Growth mission forward.

Kelly Thayer • 2005

Kelly ThayerAt its core, the Michigan Land Use Institute is about change. Changing how people think about land and community. Changing policy. And ultimately, changing how the people of our state use this precious land—for the better. As a dedicated member of our staff for seven years, you met the challenge of making change. You did so by unleashing the power of your intellect and the sheer strength of your determination to tirelessly advance our positive vision for Michigan. The results are nothing short of heroic. There are no new highways encircling our cherished northern communities. Now, the seeds of hope you planted into people’s hearts and minds sustain a vision for generations to come. With the greatest respect for all that you accomplished, we thank you for your extraordinary service to the cause.

Helen and Bill Milliken • 2004

Helen & Gov. Bill MillikenBecause of Helen and Bill Milliken, wisdom is winning its race against waste in Michigan. No other woman or man of their generation has so diligently defended and enriched the noble bounty of our state’s splendid green and blue domain. The Michigan Land Use Institute is privileged to call these two extraordinary people our friends. We are determined to follow their lead and ensure that the 37,000,000 acres that are Michigan are governed with the same kind of lively awareness that Helen and Bill always shine on nature and people.

Howard Tanner • 2003

Howard Tanner’s inspiring work to safeguard Michigan’s natural resources, navigating the shoals of scientific complexity and often bewildering public discord, comes from his expert knowledge and unyielding sense of fairness. The result is a vast green and blue domain of forests, rivers, lakes, and wetlands protected in perpetuity, as he says, “for those living and generations yet to be born.” The Michigan Land Use Institute honors Howard’s thoughtful guidance as a member of our board from 1998 to 2003. On behalf of the Institute and every citizen who values Michigan’s wild beauty and natural bounty, we thank him for his service.

Dick Hitchingham • 2003

Dick HitchinghamFor centuries philosophers have yearned to know: what is the soul? It’s a timeless question indeed, and while we don’t have the answer, we do know that if the Michigan Land Use Institute has a soul, it looks a lot like you. It was around your kitchen table in 1994 that a band of activists joined together, planting the seeds for a thriving statewide movement. It was around a core set of principles—the immeasurable value of nature, the power of people, getting the facts straight, stepping in where others step out—we built the institute. You forged these principles into our identity. You live them every day. With eternal gratitude for your compass leadership, your unflagging accuracy, and your enduring commitment, we honor your service to the institute.

Virginia Pierce • 2003

The Michigan Land Use Institute honors your six years of service as a member of the Board of Directors. At our core we are activists, confronting the status quo, pressing bold ideas until they become reality. Throughout your career in public service and during your leadership in this organization, you embodied this spirit and fostered it among the rest of us. Your keen ability to see the truth and your willingness to stand firm against even the toughest of odds inspired the best in all of us. Your presence will be missed, but we will continue to channel your passion and energy as we work tirelessly to protect the land and water resources of this great state.

Ralph Graham • 2002

Your steadfast friendship, generosity, vision, and hands-on hard work have helped raise this organization trained new and higher level. From your subtle touch in shaping the Beulah office, to your full-tilt commitment to pushing us to sharpen our strategies and raise our standards, your leadership has been a model for all of us. You have been a constant and steady partner in our growth and expansion, providing strength of purpose, firm conviction, and a powerful believe in our mission. Words are simply not enough to express our appreciation. Your many contributions have inspired us all to reach for an even greater future.

Debbie, John and Karl Rohe • 2002

Debbie & John RoheFrom the beginning, you recognized the state’s proposed Petoskey bypass to be a wrecking ball to the community and a relic of a bygone era. You stood up when local and state officials told you to sit down. You persevered when the bypass was declared a done deal. In the end, you opened your neighbors’ eyes to a community worth preserving and your hearts and your home to the institute’s staff. We thank you for your vision, passion, intellect, and your darn nice demeanor. And we leave you with these words. Let them ring in your ears and warm your souls: “We won. We won. We won.”

Sign Up for the Groundwork Voice Email Newsletter

Sign Up for the Groundwork Voice Email Newsletter

Join for program updates, events, and opportunities to take action for a better Michigan!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This