Summer Road Trip 2019: Friendraising and Fundraising in District 10


On the second stop of his road trip to visit all Extension districts in a single summer, director Jeff Dwyer meets Don Fletcher, whose passion is to bring partners together around people, place and prosperity to strengthen his community.

October 14, 2019

Map of Michigan

Summer Road Trip 2019: Friendraising and Fundraising in District 10

Jeff Dwyer: Did you know that Michigan State University Extension provides community development services. We do that through partnerships with individuals, community groups, nonprofits, and government agencies. Today, I have the privilege of speaking with one of our important community development partners in the Port Huron area. I'm Jeff Dwyer, director of Michigan State University Extension, and you're listening to Partnerships and Peninsulas.

Speaker 2: This is Partnerships and Peninsulas. And just like the state of Michigan, this podcast is filled with stories of amazing people who are doing wonderful work from Marquette to Monroe. Sit back and discover everything you didn't know about Michigan State University Extension. Here's your host, Jeff Dwyer.

Jeff Dwyer: Don Fletcher is counsel board chair for MSU Extension District 10, an MSU alumnus, past president of McLaren Hospital in Port Huron, and very active in his community. Welcome to Partnerships and Peninsulas, Don.

Don Fletcher: Thank you very much, Jeff. I appreciate the opportunity. Our family has a long history of being green and being a part of Michigan State. My wife and I grew up in Lansing, and we were little Spartans and I went to school at Michigan State. We have our son, who is out in California, is an alumnus of Michigan State. We've got two granddaughters that just recently graduated, and I've got one coming from California that is starting in the fall. So Michigan State is very important to us. I'd like to say also that Bonnie, my wife, and I are also donors. So over the years, we've had success and we like to share it with good causes.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, that's fantastic. You and I've had a bit of a chance to talk today, and it's really been a pleasure getting to know you. We're just really thrilled about the fact that you've been such a good partner with MSU Extension in a variety of capacities over the years, but that you've chosen at this point to join us on the district council as well is just very meaningful to us. So let's take a minute, in addition to your strong affinity for Michigan State University, let's tell our audience a little bit about your background.

Don Fletcher: Born and raised in Lansing. Went to Michigan State, and then I went down to the automotive industry. I was in HR and labor relations for about five years, and then I got into the healthcare field. First one was at McPherson Health Center in Howell. And then I was at Port Huron Hospital, that's what it was called prior to the merger, 33 years. I think some of the accomplishments that I really like would be we won the Baldrige Award in 1998. For listeners, that's the highest quality award in the state of Michigan, regardless of industry. It was all about learning a process and benchmarking. 

You know, we benchmarked the best in healthcare, but we went beyond that and we benchmarked Disney, we benchmarked the Ritz because we were looking for customer experiences. And that's how we wanted to treat our patients. They were customers. Not all of the caregivers get into that language right away, so we had to say patient/customer but it was trying to determine, "What are the needs of the patients and their families? And how can we, the staff, the physicians, and administration, how can we meet those needs?"

Jeff Dwyer: That's a fabulous story. And I know, Don, that you accomplish that in your work leadership roles through building partnerships and through collaboration. But I've also become aware that that's really how you conduct your life and everything that you get involved in. So could you tell me a little bit about how in this part of the state in St. Clair County and the surrounding areas you've been a part of helping to lead and being part of a leadership group that's really been founded on collaboration to some great results.

Don Fletcher: I retired in 2004, and so I've been retired now for 15 years. Upon retirement, and I don't like the word retirement, it's too passive for me. I like the next half. And so the second half consists of reading a book, and the book was called Halftime. And it was by Bob Buford. It's not about sports, it's about going from success to significance. So you develop a personal vision. You'll look at yourself, you'll look at your passions, your strengths, try to identify who you are, and then you develop this vision. My vision was to give back, to give back to my family, to give back to the community, and to give back to my profession. The easiest probably would be the profession. 

I have a company, it's not quite as active now. But it was an executive coaching company that I like to be a sounding board for leaders within our region. So executive coaching was something that I really enjoyed. From there, when I left the hospital, I really have a passion for friendraising and fundraising. So that led me to being involved with our Community Foundation. I've been involved with the Community Foundation for 20 years now. Tomorrow, I will have a wonderful honor to be named a lifetime achievement award through the work with the hospital, and the foundation, and Blue Meets Green.

Blue Meets Green is an interesting concept. It started in '09, and it was a collaborative effort. The state of Michigan was building a bridge to connect a bigger bridge and platform bridge from the U.S. to Canada, and it was going to have an adverse economic impact on our region. So MDOT gave us a grant to go out and to hire professionals to lead this region in strategic planning. I happen to be co-chair of that effort. Blue Meets Green means the blue water and green means prosperity. Can also be the blue economy and the green economy, but Blue Meets Green. 

So we had 150 people, back in 2010, that came together and we established our first strategic plan. I think what we really did, Jeff, is it was a process that brought us together and then it allowed us to identify our priorities. But probably more that we were developing a culture of collaboration and partnerships. We now are into our fifth edition. So, unlike some strategic plans, and this was a lot thicker than it should be, now we have it on one page, two sides, very simple. But the goal has been to continue to identify and focus on three things, people, place, and prosperity. So our goal was to develop an outstanding business workforce to support career and college readiness and promote equitable growth within the talent phase.

And then it was place. Improve the quality of place. We have wonderful water resources. It's a beautiful part of the state. So we wanted to improve our quality of life. We wanted to grow neighborhoods, and also downtowns, and to leverage the proximity that we have to the metro area. You know, we've got millions of people on the metro area that head north, and we want them also to look our way. We've been able to do that by a lot of tourism, and we've got boutique restaurants and just a tremendous number of things.

You know, some examples would be that we expanded our Smith Creek landfill, St. Clair Inn in St. Clair is being developed, the Marine City Hotel, a innovation director. We took Sperry's, which was a department store, it's now a movie house. Also, the YMCA area now is in a eight-story apartment building called Bluewater View. Two brothers, both that were born and raised here, and it's going to be an incredible opportunity. The things that we're working on now is we spend a lot of time improving the infrastructure, and now it's time to do more in terms of growing the population, growing Desmond Landing, which happens to be a physical spot in the community, regional trails, and greenways, robotics, and a regional watershed center. So those came out of our most recent retreat, which was in February of 2019.

Jeff Dwyer: That's really quite an accomplishment in a rather short period of time. Congratulations. And I know that it came about with your leadership, but also the leadership of a lot of other people and it's really quite impressive. So a question that comes to mind is, so at Halftime, you develop sort of a personal strategic plan to give back to your family, and to your community, and to your profession. Clearly, you're doing all of those sorts of things. What led you to think that maybe MSU Extension, through your role on the district advisory board, was one of the ways you'd like to give back when clearly you have so many other things that you do give back to and could give back to?

Don Fletcher: Well, I would say probably the history of being from Lansing. I would say my wife and I have been donors to Michigan State. And I would say when Jerry Johnson, who is the current director here of Region 10, when he came to the community looking for work, I am outgoing, extended my hand to Jerry to meet him and to have him kind of meet some community leaders. Out of that, he was exposed to opportunities, employment opportunities within the region. And he was selected by your organization to be the director. So Jerry and I, through that relationship and then I invited him to be a part of Blue Meets Green, and he asked me if I would consider being involved in MSU Extension. 

So as I look at the responsibilities of the advisory group, and we've only had one meeting, so we're just starting to get it up and going, but it's advocacy. So it's to tell the story that we're much more than just 4-H and agricultural. Although, those two things are very important and certainly our anchors of Extension. But there's so much more in terms of visioning, opening doors, and being able to tell the story of what Extension is today. Also, because I'm very involved in knowledgeable with a lot of people, a lot of organizations, and I know the needs within the community, I looked at this as a marriage, a marriage of a great university that had a lot of resources that wanted to expand beyond its traditional role. And me, who had knowledge of the community and the needs of the community and relationships with other people, that sounded like it was something that met my personal vision and my strengths. So here we are.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, thank you for that and we're really grateful. So we appreciate the time that you're investing. Just before we end here, you've mentioned philanthropy two or three times in this conversation and it's clearly something that you and your family feels strongly about. As you and I have chatted about and as others listening know, philanthropy has not historically been a part of what Extension has thought about in terms of supporting the work that our amazing people here in St. Clair County and around the state do. I wonder if you would just talk for a moment, just from your experience in your work roles in your community roles, about the importance of philanthropy for a group like MSU Extension.

Don Fletcher: I first started in philanthropy on a personal level. My wife and I, we worked hard, we saved, we invested, and we looked at organizations in terms of the work they did, what was their mission, what were they trying to accomplish. And so we give to people, and we give to causes. So that's our passion. I also find that I canned the word friendraising and fundraising because you raise friends first by the good work that you do, the activities you do, the programs you offer to the community, and that develops friends. And through friends, they get to be closer to the work that we do. 

I'm very excited about the opportunity, and I'm sure there's some challenges with a university that has tremendous capacity in terms of endowments, so this is something new in terms of doing it for Extension. But, to me, it's all about the work that the dollars is going to accomplish. How can you make a difference? How can we touch the lives of people? So that's why people give. So if we have the right programs, the right causes, we definitely will be successful. Now, it's something that we all have to learn though, and not everyone has the knack of being able to ask. But as I mentioned before, basically the professionals say, "You have to give people an opportunity to say, 'Yes.'" And I think we can do that.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, I wholeheartedly agree with you, Don. And again, we appreciate your helping us in this regard. This is Partnerships and Peninsulas. My name is Jeff Dwyer. I have the privilege of being the director of Michigan State University Extension. My guest today has been Don Fletcher. Thank you very much for being here with us today, Don.

Don Fletcher: Thank you. I appreciate it, and I'm looking forward to a good partnership.