These Harbor Heroes donít need a phonebooth to change from street clothes to spandex and capes. Instead, they simply make the community a better place by pouring passion, talent, and time into this area. The 2013 Harbor Heroes include front row, John Demmer, Citizen of the Year; Abby Dart, Volunteer of the Year; Kathie Breighner on behalf of HARBOR Inc., Area Beautification and Architectural Excellence Award; Scott Langton, Presidentís Award; Molly Ames Baker, Presidentís Award (business); Peter Sears, ďI can do that!Ē award; and Josh Baker, Presidentís Award (business). Missing from the photo is Jordan Breighner, Entrepreneur of the Year.
When it comes to the definition of the word "hero," folks in this community won't describe a person in tights and a cape. They will, however, talk about volunteering, dedication, passion, creativity, innovation, and a true love for this place, its small businesses, and its people. Each year, the Harbor Springs Area Chamber of Commerce hosts "Harbor Heroes" to celebrate these attributes, and to honor individuals, businesses, and organizations who are making a difference simply by being who they are and operating with a set of values that helps define what it means to live, work, and play in northern Michigan.
Last Wednesday, October 16, several hundred people gathered to applaud the list of this year's winners. Here's the thing that makes Harbor Heroes-- and the people it recognizes-- different from other events: it felt more like a room full of family and friends. The Master of Ceremonies for the night, Gary Morse, had stories stemming back to childhood for many of the awardees, and had an equal number of jokes to dole out alongside them. There were plenty of hugs, high fives, and ideas for good deeds yet to happen sprinkled throughout the table conversations.
And that's how it is in Harbor Springs, this coming together of long-time residents and newer-minted locals who give time and talents to keep their community strong.
Mary Ellen Hughes was honored for her 21 years as the head of Taste of Harbor Springs, and as she announced the scholarship winners the culinary event provides, she said it was the attendees, and all the hard work of those behind the scenes, that make "The Taste" the great success it continues to be after two decades.
This was the theme of the night, one winner after another humbly accepting their awards, all the while pointing to other people as the true winners and inspirations. Scott Langton, manager of American Spoon Foods, was presented with the President's Award for his tireless work with chamber committees, as well as spearheading the Pure Michigan campaign. Langton's acceptance speech was brief and to the point: he said he feels blessed to live where he does, and is grateful for the opportunity to be part of the community.
The Area Beautification and Architectural Excellence Award had two honorees this year-- runner up Dan and Connie Warner for the Harbor Care Care new office, and winner HARBOR Inc., for the completion of the M-119 non-motorized trail.
"They've shown great dedication and tremendous effort in facilitating the construction of the 3-mile segment of the Little Traverse Wheelway between Pleasantview Road and the eastern edge of Harbor Springs," Morse said.
Jordan Breighner, who founded and is the director of Coolhouse Labs, was named the Entrepreneur of the Year. Shaun Osborne, chair of the Emmet County Entrepreneurs Club, presented Breighner with the award, saying it is reserved for a person who meets three criteria: impact, innovation, and expansion. He pointed to Breighner's impressive move from idea to implementation in just a few short months, and how by the summer's end, Coolhouse Labs earned a reputation as the best incubator of its kind in the state of Michigan.
"When a lot of people call you crazy, that's usually a good sign you are something that is different," Osborne said.
When Breighner came to the stage, he thanked Rob Mossburg for helping him get his vision off the ground, and gave the rest of the honor to the town itself.
"I've had such great support from the community," he said, choking up enough that he ended with a simple, "the best part of all of this is that I get to be home."
There weren't too many dry eyes in the house after Breighner-- known for his bravado-- expressed the same deep love for Harbor Springs that ran through the entire crowd that night. The misty eyes continued when his mom, Kathie Breighner, spoke about this year's Ambassador of the Year, Josie McLean. MacLean lost her battle with cancer earlier this year.
"She had a tremendous zest for life, which poured out onto others who came in contact with her. She also had a contagious personality which greeted you through her soft smile and kind demeanor," Breighner said. "Those who had the privilege of knowing her knew that she had a very caring, loving disposition, filled with joy and was always willing to help others. All of her actions were motivated by her generosity and thoughtfulness. She accepted her illness with grace, believed in the power of prayer and allowed her life to be witness to her commitment towards others, our community and most of all to her family."
MacLean's three sons, Bruce, Jamie, and Scotty were there to accept the award on their mother's behalf.
The "I can do that!" Award was presented to Peter Sears for his constant dedication to helping with a host of community efforts, from supporting the garden club to quietly raising funds to put the now loved"clock tower" on the corner of State and Main Streets, to supporting many students in various activities and helping start a staple tradition of "bowling down Main Street."
"I couldn't do what I do without the support of my wife, Anne," Sears said. "Everyone here contributes to make Harbor Springs what it is, and there is no better place to call home. I quietly call it 'paradise.'"
The Volunteer of the Year Award was given to Abby Dart for her tireless work on behalf of the Waterfront Wine Festival, as well as her willingness to give so much time and energy to a host of other Harbor Springs Area Chamber of Commerce events.
Dart said she has loved "seeing the Waterfront Wine Festival grow" in its nine years, and that working in the community she calls home is "a great honor and a lot of fun."
The Chamber Presidents Award for a business went to the Outfitter, and chamber president Tom Trautman said he could not think of a more worthy recipient.
"This family owned business also has a deep philanthropic vein at its heart and an eye towards not only sustaining or community's way of life but enhancing it. Whether through innovative marketing, unique and attractive events, or plain old love and passion for their fellow citizens, this business is a beacon for us all," he said.
Trautman also pointed to owners Josh Baker and Molly Ames Baker as leaders in giving back to the community through a thousand different ways, from their tireless support of the food pantry to their willingness to make in-kind donations, to providing countless community opportunities to get out and enjoy the natural resources northern Michigan has to offer.
"This year's GIVE (Generosity, Inspiration, Volunteerism, and Excellence) ceremony presented by the Harbor Springs School District to 'celebrate community members who are making profound contributions to the education and well-being of students' honored Molly for her 'Inspiration,'" Trautman said, pointing to the Learn Local initiative she spearheaded that has now become a major component in the district's strategic plan.
"Just as Molly's essay 'Lakeful,' which initially appeared in the Harbor Light Newspaper inspired our community and many others to be intentional as a community, as a school district, and as
individuals, The Outfitter inspires us as business owners to be intentional, celebrating our
accomplishments, engaging our sense of place and discovering new possibilities," Trautman said.
The night ended with the presentation of Citizen of the Year, which was awarded to John Demmer. The World War II veteran, industrialist, incredibly giving philanthropist (and owner of a Michigan State University Big 10 Championship ring) was surprised by family and friends with the award.
Morse said that Demmer truly represents a person who "walks the walk" and whose good deeds and big personality are "such a blessing to this community." The Young Americans presented a special two song tribute in his honor, noting how blessed they feel to have gotten to know him through his support of their Boyne Highlands summer dinner theatre and music education programs.
Through laughter and his trademark ability to tell stories (and some good jokes, too), Demmer accepted the award with grace and great humor.
"What a wonderful town we live in," Morse said. "It's the greatest place on earth. This is Harbor Springs."
Ames Baker may have summed up the night when she raised her glass and toasted the crowd, saying, "here's to the lake, the harbor, to all of you, and to our community."