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MC Luncheon Speaker: Leaders Dogs for the Blind

Lora Cabarios, director of national personal giving at Leader Dogs for the Blind

Our speakers on February 25 were from Leader Dogs for the Blind of Rochester Hills. Founded 81 years ago, they have served more than 16,000 clients over those years.

People who are blind or visually impaired endure hardships we can barely imagine. Things that were once routine and taken for granted, suddenly become insurmountable hurdles.

That’s where Leader Dogs for the Blind steps in. From white cane training to matching people with a Leader Dog, they provide the tools and training to reintroduce people to a life of independence, confidence and companionship. It’s a way of living that leads to a new perspective on life.

We heard from Lora Cabarios, who described the mission and history of Leader Dogs for the Blind. Founded by members of the Lions Club, Leader Dogs graduated 3 client guide dogs in its first year and now graduates about 200 per year, as well as training about 100 clients in white cane travel. They are completely self-supported and rely on donations for all of their expenses. They serve the entire US and 19 other countries. Their mission is to help the 90% of the blind population that do not travel independently to do so. Lora then introduced Jeff Hawkins and his leader dog Gracie.

Jeff Hawkins and Gracie

Jeff described his journey with juvenile macular degeneration, the disease that ended his 25-year career as an EMS paramedic. As with most other blind people, he has some vision on the periphery, but it is not safe for him to travel without assistance. He first went to Leader Dogs for white cane training and then returned for a leader dog. He described the social isolation that affects most of the visually impaired and how a leader dog can help overcome such isolation.

Jeff showed us how he works with Gracie. On command, she can take him back to his chair, to the door he came in by, or to a fire door that he shows her. If he introduces her to an audience member, she can return to that person on command. She guides him through crowds, across busy streets, and on to airplanes, buses, cars, etc. He explained why it is important for people to avoid distracting Gracie when she is working. When he removes her harness, however, she returns to being a dog and can be petted and played with.

For more information on Leader Dogs, see their website.

SMC Luncheon Speaker: Dr. Roy Wilson, President of Wayne State University

Our luncheon speaker on February 11th was Dr. Roy Wilson, the President of Wayne State University since 2013. Dr. Wilson has had an illustrious career since graduating from Harvard Medical School. He has served was dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for health sciences at Creighton University, president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus and chair of the Board of Directors of University of Colorado Hospital. Prior to joining Wayne State, Dr. Wilson served as deputy director for strategic scientific planning and program coordination at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).Immediately prior to joining NIH, Dr. Wilson chaired the Board of Directors of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and was acting president during part of that time.

Dr. Wilson addressed the history of Wayne State and a number of myths about higher education. Wayne State was founded as a hospital and medical school more than 150 years ago by five doctors returned from the Civil War. Today WSU consists of 13 schools and colleges offering nearly 350 programs to more than 27,000 graduate and undergraduate students. It is one of the top 60 public research universities in the US. Although some think that universities cost taxpayers too much money, Dr. Wilson described how WSU returns far more to the city and state than it receives. More than 75% of its 275,000 graduates remain in Michigan, creating jobs and adding to the economy. It is also a myth that the campus is dangerous. With its own security force, it is one of the safest campuses in the country, and many Midtown business rely on their officers. Since 2009, crime in Midtown has decreased by 59%.

Another myth is that college students today are “snowflakes” who aren’t ready for the real world. Dr. Wilson’s experience is the opposite. He described the WSU Med-Direct program, where students are admitted to both undergraduate school and medical school, with full scholarships and a year abroad. Even with a scholarship, many of them have to get a job to send money to their parents. More than 80% of WSU students work. WSU students also serve others in a variety of programs. Street Medicine Detroit connects medical students with the homeless. Other programs have resulted in 97,000 community service hours provided in the last 10 years by WSU students.

Dr. Wilson critiqued the myth that tenured college professors have a cushy job that requires no work, although he did say that it happens sometimes. Five years ago, WSU started a program to remove tenure from those that were abusing it. Some faculty members did lose tenure, while others decided to resign to avoid embarrassment.

Dr. Wilson addressed criticism of university research which some feel is impractical. He cited basic research projects that have had enormous practical benefits, such as drugs for AIDS and car safety research. Other myths, including that a four-year degree is no longer a good investment given the need for workers in the skilled trades, were rebutted by Dr. Wilson. He also cited Wayne State’s high social mobility index that compares the graduation rate of schools that enroll disadvantaged students. Among US universities, WSU has one of the largest increases in graduation rate over the last six years. Last year, Wayne State won the IEP Talent award from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, recognizing exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.

For more information, see the WSU website.

MC Luncheon Speaker: Madeline Bialecki, Director of Gilda's Club Lake House Location

Our Speaker on January 28 was Madeline Bialecki, who serves as the Director of the Lake House in St Clair Shores, which recently became part of Gilda’s Club of Metro Detroit. The Lake House became a part of Gilda’s Club in April 2019 but still continues its same mission — to provide support, education and wellness activities for those impacted by cancer.

MC Luncheon Speaker: Patrick Colbeck, co-founder and CEO of Freedom Center at DTW

Our luncheon speaker on January 14th was Patrick Colbeck, the co-founder and current CEO of the Freedom Centers at Detroit Metro Airport and Military Entrance Processing Stations in Troy and Lansing. Patrick is a former Candidate for Governor and Two-Term State Senator in Michigan. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan with bachelor’s and Masters of Science Degrees in Aerospace Engineering and also the Life Sciences Department at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. His professional career is highlighted by his public service in the Michigan Senate (term-limited) and his engineering design work on key elements of the Life Support System for the International Space Station. He also served as an instructor at Space Camp in Huntsville, AL

Colbeck described that the need for the Freedom Centers, previously called Michigan Armed Forces Hospitality Centers, arose from the fact that Michigan has no USO centers because there are no active duty military installations in Michigan. Freedom Centers are airport lounges available to both active duty members of the all branches of the military as well as veterans. Their motto is “Serving Those Who Serve Us.” They also serve members of the armed forces of our allies as well as gold star and blue star families. The first Michigan Freedom Center opened in the McNamara Terminal at DTW in 2011, but now they also have a Center in the North Terminal as well as the MEP Stations in Lansing and Troy. They provide a place for military members in transit and veterans to relax, recharge and refresh away from the noisy, harried atmosphere of the airport. In addition to refreshments and comfortable chairs, the Centers have bunk beds for short naps.

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GP South Temple Belles sing at December 10 meeting under the direction of Christopher Pratt


Men’s Club Luncheon Speaker: Mark Heppner, President and CEO of Eleanor and Edsel Ford House

Ken Mokray and Mark Heppner

Our luncheon speaker on November 26th was Mark Heppner, the President an CEO of the Ford House. Mark had previously served as vice president of historic resources and most recently, interim chief of operations over both Ford House and Fair Lane. With nearly 30 years of experience in museums and historic sites, Mark had served historic properties in Ohio and Iowa before moving to Michigan. A native of Ohio, he earned a B.A. studying history at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, and an M.A. in American history from Cleveland State University,

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SMC Luncheon Speaker: Ike McKinnon, Ph.D., former Detroit Chief of Police and University professor

Ike McKinnon nd Ken Mokray

Our luncheon speaker on November 12th was Isaiah “Ike” McKinnon, the former Detroit Chief of Police, Deputy Mayor, and Associate Professor of Education at University of Detroit Mercy. Ike earned his B.A. from Mercy College, his M.A. from the University of Detroit Mercy and his doctorate from Michigan State University. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the United States Secret Service School. McKinnon joined Detroit Mercy in 1998.

McKinnon has authored three books and co-authored two others, in addition to numerous articles on crime victims. He won an Emmy as the NBC News/Safety Consultant. He has met six U.S. Presidents and Nelson Mandela, and has appeared on the “Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Oprah,” and “The History Channel.”

Ike began his talk by telling us how he has a wonderful life, even though he was shot at eight times and stabbed twice. The first time he was stabbed, the knife hit his belt buckle and broke. Ike grew up in Detroit, enlisted in the Air Force, came back and joined the Detroit Police Department, rising through the ranks to become Chief. He credits his father for the success he has had. His father had a third-grade education and was a sharecropper in Alabama before moving to Detroit. Ike remembers his father asking him to read the Bible to him, saying that was not a good enough reader to read it himself. Ike later realized that it was a way for his father to teach him how to read and spend time with him. His father used to tell him that he played professional baseball in the Negro league and played with Satchell Paige. Ike said, “Sure you did” not believing his father. But years later Ike was on duty at the Olympia Stadium when the Harlem Globetrotters were playing. Their guest was Satchel Paige, and Ike, wearing his police uniform, walked up to him and asked him whether he ever played ball with a McKinnon. Paige said, “I don’t think so.” But as Ike walked away, Paige turned around and said, “Wait, did you mean Cody McKinnon?” He went on to say what a great player Cody had been and how he would have played in the Major Leagues had the color barrier been broken. When he went home, his father then told him that he didn’t play more because his team went on barnstorming tours and he wanted to stay home and work and take care of his family. He told Ike that he would never lie to him.

Years later, Ike told the story to his sons, and of course they didn’t believe him. They asked Ike what he did and he told them that he almost made the 1964 US Olympic team after winning the Military Olympics as a sprinter. He couldn’t go to the Olympics because he was serving in Vietnam. One of Ike’s sons is now trying to convince his 11-year old daughter that he almost made the Michigan men’s basketball team. Ike thinks it is important to learn to listen to older people. When Ike was serving in Vietnam, he was surprised when his chaplain asked Ike to accompany him to the Danang orphanage. There they held and fed orphan babies that were getting very little attention. They started doing this every weekend, seeing how the infants responded. Recently Ike saw a story on a Sunday morning news program that showed the same orphanage, still in operation.

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SMC Speaker Report: Barbara McQuade

Barbara McQuade and President Ken Mokray

Our luncheon speaker on October 8th was Barbara McQuade, the former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She is currently a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School and a legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

Barbara began by talking about whistleblowers and the Whistleblower Protection Act, a federal law that protects whistleblowers who work for the US government and report possible wrongdoing. The law is intended to protect whistleblowers from retaliation such as firing, demotion or reassignment, but only if their claims are credible and raise an urgent concern. Such protections are important to discourage the leaking government secrets to the press. Barbara cited a number of well-known leakers, such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Reality Winner, and Julian Assange and described how leaking classified documents could damage national security. She mentioned that established media outlets had declined to publish such documents but several internet sites such as WikiLeaks had no such compunctions.  Barbara had a security clearance while serving as US Attorney and prosecuted cases involving terrorism financing, foreign agents, and export violations, so she was able to discuss the different levels of classified documents.

Barbara stayed for a lengthy question and answer session that covered a number of issues, including the current impeachment proceeding. She discussed the elements of the crime of extortion and how it was important in the federal prosecution of Kwame Kilpatrick that she headed in Detroit. Barbara also touched on topics such as the power of Congress to investigate the President, the chance that a President could be prosecuted after leaving office, how she uses remote studios to appear on TV, how experts are compensated by TV networks, and the Michigan Innocence Clinic at Michigan Law School.

SMC Speaker Report: Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press

President Chris Walsh and Phoebe Wall Howard

Our luncheon speaker for our very well-attended and successful 60th Anniversary Celebration on September 10th was Phoebe Wall Howard, the Detroit Free Press automotive writer.

Phoebe is a sixth-generation Detroiter whose family arrived in Detroit in 1850. They ran a small painting business in Corktown. She was the first in her family to grow up in Grosse Pointe. Phoebe went to Grosse Pointe South where she worked for the Tower newspaper. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia and has worked in the Midwest, South and California covering business, politics, government regulation and labor negotiations. She returned to Detroit to cover the auto industry for the Detroit Free Press in 2017. Phoebe has a background in magazine, newspaper, radio and TV news with an expertise in political polling and social media. Today, Phoebe covers the automotive industry for the Detroit Free Press with a focus on Ford Motor and industry news for investors. Read more

SMC Speaker Report: Laura Burton, Forgotten Harvest

Laura Burton serves as Director of Community Engagement at Forgotten Harvest of Oak Park, Michigan. She is a graduate of Central Michigan University and earned a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan. As our luncheon speaker on August 27th, Laura told us how Forgotten Harvest has been busy driving hunger from our community for almost 30 years.

The mission of Forgotten Harvest is relieving hunger and preventing nutritious food loss. As long as the need exists, no one will be forgotten.

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