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Past Heroes – 2006

RARE Everyday Hero Stories


2006 - Gregory Auner, Ph.D.
Research Engineer
2006 - Ed Deeb
Business Leader
2006 - Marjane Baker
2006 - Michael Thomas
Education Administrator
2006 - Rhonda Walker
TV News Anchor
2006 - Ritchie Coleman
Public Safety Officer
2006 - Robert & Ellen Dickman
2006 - Scott Taylor
Business Owner
Everyday Hero
Gregory Auner, Ph.D.
Research Engineer, Wayne State University

About this Everyday Hero

"I believe that the cure for cancer will ultimately be discovered by scientists and engineers."

Dr. Gregory Auner had the idea for the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Program (SSIM) at Wayne State University over ten years ago. What began as one-man’s idea housed in a laboratory storage room is now a multi-million dollar facility with a staff of 25 scientists and engineers, 37 graduate students and 15 undergraduate researchers who are passionate and committed partners to this unique undertaking.

SSIM’s projects are about trying to find solutions to critical, real-world problems such as delicate fetal and infant surgeries, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as Parkinson’s, auditory and visual implants to restore failing eyesight and hearing loss in people with hearing and visual impairments, detection of pathogens in air and water, chemical detection using robotic platforms, and yes, early breast and pancreatic cancer detection. Under Dr. Auner’s leadership, the odds for success are getting better every day through a unique consortium involving other world-class partners: the Detroit Medical Center including, the Karmanos Cancer Institute, and Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

Early on in his career, Dr Auner made it a point to include a diverse array of collaborators from within the College, as well as throughout the University community, to include all the expertise needed to get the job done. He understands the depth of talent at WSU and is always seeking out new relationships to work harmoniously toward the development of breakthrough research. He has unselfishly initiated collaborations with new and emerging faculty members to increase their exposure to proposal writing and has included students as co-authors on over 100 publications to see that they gain the necessary publication experience.

He continuously mentors, inspires and motivates those around him. "His selflessness as a researcher is one of his greatest strengths," said WSU’s Dean of the College of Engineering, Ralph H. Kummler. "He is not led by ego for personal gratification; rather he strives to include and recruit the most talented people he can find for collaborations on research projects that will benefit society at large."

Dr. Auner has over twenty patents either issued or pending and has attracted millions of dollars in federal and state funds to the University for research in the advancement of life sciences and ultimately the creation of high tech jobs for Michigan.

"Most of the things we do are very comprehensive and technically extremely difficult; that’s what makes them worth doing." – Dr. Greg Auner

Everyday Hero
Ed Deeb
Business Leader, Metro Detroit’s Go-To Guy

About this Everyday Hero

"Don’t just follow the path. Go where there is no path and leave a trail."

It’s hard to imagine Ed Deeb ever being shy. The first things you notice when you meet him are his bear-like handshake and penetrating eye contact. The first words out of his mouth are usually, "How can I help you?"

Ed swears that growing up he had a huge inferiority complex, but his parents continuously encouraged him to take risks with his talents. He gained confidence in interacting with people by selling candy in his parent’s grocery store, became proficient enough at the clarinet to eventually go to Michigan State on a music scholarship, and become a journalism major. He also learned that it made him feel good when he was able to help someone else.

Ed Deeb has been helping others ever since; as Chairman and Champion of the Michigan Food & Beverage Association, as CEO of the Michigan Business & Professional Association and the Eastern Market Merchants Association; and in a lot of other ways as well. The stories of how he lobbied the Mayor’s office for extra police protection for Detroit grocers during the 60’s riots and how he mediated the Cesar Chavez grape boycott are part of Detroit’s business folk lore. All this and much more led to Ed being named a 2001 Michiganian of the Year and recipient of the Presidential Point of Light Award.

Ed will probably tell you that his proudest accomplishment is the creation of Metro Detroit Youth Day. The idea was hatched in 1982 as a way to cool things down between urban youth and the local merchants during Detroit’s long hot summers. Under Ed’s leadership, the store owners came up with the idea of having a day of fun, competition, prizes and free food for the kids. Most of all it was meant to create harmony. Twenty-four years later, Metro Detroit Youth Day involves over thirty thousand kids, nine hundred volunteers and over two hundred corporate sponsors. Even more important, it now includes educational workshops, motivational speakers and the awarding of more than thirty college scholarships a year.

Passing on life’s lessons to youth is one of Ed’s deepest passions. "You can be successful in whatever line of work you try as long as you remember three things: Decide what your talents are and don’t be afraid to take risks with them; there are plenty of people out there who are willing to help you if you’ll just ask; and finally, discover the joys of your labor because there’s a lot more to any job than just the work itself." – Ed Deeb

Everyday Hero
Marjane Baker
Caretaker of the Creek & Firend of the Local Leprechauns

About this Everyday Hero

"If we are to make our children care for the environment, we must care and share our love of nature with them."

Marjane Baker’s legacy is in the trees, natural grasses and cleaner waters of Fellows Creek, an arm of the Rouge River, that runs behind Tonda Elementary School in the Plymouth-Canton School District where she spent the past ten years of a distinguished forty-year teaching career. The energetic Mrs. Baker has always had a passion for the environment and made it a point to instill the same values in her students. Ten years ago, she led a campaign to convert the carefully mowed landscape that bordered the creek into a fully developed nature center so that students and families could study the environment in their own living laboratory. The students pulled the debris from the creek and lobbied the maintenance crews to let the natural grasses grow along its banks. Meanwhile, Marjane wrote a National Wildlife Association grant to raise the money for a thousand new trees and bushes, showed her students how to test the water for purity and safety, and once it all began to mature, encouraged nature activities for the school that are still used today. These activities are a result of her studies with and encouragement from National Geographic, the Michigan Geographic Society, and weeks of studying Inquiry Based Science in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Marjane Baker Natural Habitat is "a place to learn and a place to take care of earth." It’s also a place to live for thousands of birds, frogs and dragonflies that happily feed on the abundant wetland plants and insects. In 2005, her project and stewardship was recognized with a Best Friend of the Rouge Award.

The idea of introducing her students to Leprechauns is also a part of the legacy left by this caring, creative teacher. It was one of her early ideas in experiential learning that really caught on and left a lasting impression with many of her former students, including this Harvard-educated lawyer, Mary Strimel: "Mrs. Baker made learning fun and exciting every day. Her method was to delve deeply into every subject from many different angles, creating an aura of mystery and adventure. Her most important gift to us was the understanding of the value of life-long learning."

Even though she is now retired from teaching, Marjane has no intention of giving up her passion for life-long learning. She continues to design Social Studies, Science and Language Arts curriculum as well as conduct professional development workshops. This year, the Department of Environmental Quality is offering an excellent new and thorough statewide environmental studies curriculum and motivational teacher workshops. The Ecosystems Curriculum section includes several of her educational plays.

Mrs. Baker promises however, that she’ll still find time to go back to the creek to experience the special piece of nature that she created, to see what the children are learning, and hopefully catch a glimpse of a leprechaun.

Everyday Hero
Michael Thomas
Director, Partners Plus – Henry Ford CC and U of M Dearborn

About this Everyday Hero

"Sometimes all that is required is a simple spark to create a burning flame." So wrote business student Alina Johnson in nominating Michael Thomas for the 2006 RARE Award. She went on to say: "My journey into college after several attempts in the past was wrought with obstacles. Such is the way for many students; but Mr. Thomas, as he has for many others, helped ignite my interest into an appreciation for learning that has sustained me throughout my undergraduate career."

Partners Plus was created to help academically-challenged students connect the dots between high school, two-year community college, and a four-year degree. Its uniqueness lies in the ways it helps students develop an academic vision, acclimate to college life, and position themselves for success in life. The program was struggling when Michael Thomas arrived on the scene in 1994, but he quickly energized it through innovations like developmental workshops, leadership training, mentoring, tutoring, and scholarship assistance. Over ten years, the program has grown from serving 40 students a year to currently serving over 400 in 2005. In 2000, Partners Plus received the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars Award for promoting and encouraging equal educational opportunities for minorities.

This extraordinary commitment and dedication comes as no surprise given the fact that in 1974, when Mike was only seventeen, a Detroit Free Press article said this about him; "Mike feels pretty strongly that something must be done about the large number of young people who come out of high school and haven’t been taught enough to get into college right away."

Mike Thomas has created a culture of diversity and empowerment by demanding that students take charge of their lives and do their best to perform with excellence every day. He allows students to have input into every new element of the program and he immediately set out to kill the myth that being smart was bad for minorities. Students, for instance, developed their own orientation program, College 101. As part of it, Mike takes incoming students away for a weekend retreat to get them acclimated to college life. Each year at the retreat, he delivers the same compelling message to his incoming students: "At some time in your life you have to stop blaming other people and circumstances and take charge of your life. Only you can make a choice about what you want for yourself. Pick something, commit to it and become excellent at it. Remember that no single issue, comment, person, course, program, college or university should stop you from getting your degree. Keep telling yourself that you are too close to quit."

Many have heard this inspiring message over the years, and for some it has changed their lives. At this year’s retreat, Partners Plus celebrated the accomplishments of its first Doctorate Degree holder, Dr. Nikita Plummer and its first Fulbright Scholar, Reneta Gray. One of the many letters in support of his RARE Award said this about Mike Thomas as a role model: "The qualities of a role model never change; commitment, creativity, high energy, charisma and enthusiasm. It is the delivery of these qualities that separate the ordinary from the exceptional, and Mike Thomas from others."

Everyday Hero
Rhonda Walker
Television News Anchor

About this Everyday Hero

"Don’t ever accept that your future must be defined by where you are today."

Before Rhonda Walker became a television news anchor, she was just another young girl with a dream; one that many told her was way too ambitious for her talents. Her college counselor advised her to change her major from communications to business because the opportunities in business were greater. Career professionals openly discouraged her. She went into food sales after graduation, then pharmaceuticals after that; but after seven years of following the advice of others, she decided it was time to follow her dream.

She became a product presenter at conventions and trade shows because she loved to talk, and at least that way she could list professional talent on her resume. Her first job in television was as a traffic reporter. While it wasn’t her dream job, she recognized the opportunities it presented. As it turned out, all those years on the road in sales had made her really smart about the traffic patterns of Detroit. When she was offered the opportunity to move up to Weather, she did it with the same tenacity. Two years later, she got her first shot at News reporting. That lasted two days before they pulled her off the air, telling her that she really didn’t have the tools. Rhonda Walker had something far more important; the dream.

Today Rhonda Walker anchors a morning newscast on WDIV Channel 4; writes, produces and hosts a segment entitled 4 Your Children, a program that reaches out to parents and children; and is doing her best to be a positive force in the media. The first thing she tells the young people she speaks to is "Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged by all the negativity in our world today. No one else can write your story." The really good news is that Rhonda Walker is the same dynamic, positive personality off the air as she is when she’s on-camera; and she’s a giver. She easily logs about 100 appearances a year as a motivational speaker, host, and volunteer for community projects.

In 2003, she established the Rhonda Walker Foundation with the mission of empowering teen girls to become strong, confident, successful and moral future leaders through her program called Girls Into Women. Her proudest success stories are about the young women who come to her without a vision, or the self-confidence to pursue it. Through Camp I Can and other initiatives, they learn first-hand the meaning of the Foundation’s motto; "Respect yourself and others…walk with confidence…be fearless and faithful."

"As a teenager, what could be more inspiring than to have Rhonda Walker as your mentor and role model?"– Kris Marshall-Mentoring Solutions

Everyday Hero
Ritchie Coleman
Public Safety Community Coordinator – Pittsfield Township

About this Everyday Hero

"We are community, America stands for what is right."

One of the Most Creative and Innovative Public Safety Professionals in the United States, Ritchie Coleman’s impact has been felt well beyond Pittsfield Township to Lansing, and even to our Nation’s Capital. His initiatives in crime and fire prevention and drug awareness have been nothing short of phenomenal. What’s more, he has dedicated thousands of hours of volunteer time to positively impact the quality of life for the residents in his community.

Ritchie has made it a priority to integrate at-risk youth issues in whatever he does. Parent and teen awareness presentations on gangs, violence, date rape drugs, bicycle safety and personal safety are presented regularly to community groups across Washtenaw County and have served as a model for other jurisdictions in Michigan and across the country. Ritchie also plays a leading role in the Washtenaw County Community Partnership Program, organizing events to reduce the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs by providing alternative events for youth and increasing the awareness of the danger of designer drugs.

Coleman has received the FBI Director Community Leadership Award, and has been selected as Michigan Crime Practitioner of the Year on two separate occasions.

"Ritchie Coleman serves our community with endless enthusiasm and devotion. His commitment to its citizens is unwavering. In his long list of accomplishments you will find diversity and a fresh approach to the business of crime prevention." — John Phillips-Pittsfield Township Police Dept.

Above and beyond his day to day public safety duties, Ritchie applies his bountiful musical talent to his profession through a concept called Prevention Entertainment, producing music and videotapes that communicate hope and positive messaging for youth. His musical group, The Washtenaw Knights, perform live in concert at schools all across Michigan. One of his songs won a Billboard Magazine Award and he is a member of the American Society for Composers and Writers and the American Federation of Musicians. Ritchie has moderated a nationally televised program focusing on drug prevention that was sent to over 600 downlink sites throughout the country. Over the past four years, he launched a community television network program titled Prevention Corner through the Ann Arbor Community Television Network.

"Our children deserve our best, they should expect nothing less. Let’s put our strength together and work to pass this test." –from the "We Are Community" CD.

Click here to see the video for "We are Community: America Stand for What is Right."

Everyday Hero
Robert & Ellen Dickman
Founders of the William Booth – Legal Aid Clinic

About this Everyday Hero

"To affect real and lasting change you have to commit to a hands-on approach."

Robert & Ellen Dickman are two exceptionally blessed, yet compassionate individuals who know that to affect real and lasting change you have to stop talking and start doing. A graduate of U of D Law School, Robert had actually been out of law for several years and running a successful construction business that he decided to sell. Instead of giving back by merely writing the occasional check to those charities that interested them, he and his wife Ellen decided that they would devote their talents and resources to changing the lives of those less blessed.

Their original idea was to start a shelter for homeless women and their children. They kept running into bureaucratic resistance and were about to give up when they were introduced to Colonel Clarence Harvey of The Salvation Army. He lit the spark when told them, "No need to reinvent the wheel. We have shelters all over the Detroit area for women and their children, many of whom are also in need of legal assistance they simply can’t afford. You’d be providing an essential service." Thus was born the William A. Booth Legal Aid Clinic, the first and only full-time legal aid clinic worldwide for The Salvation Army.

The Clinic was barely up and running when Colonel Harvey was transferred away, leaving the Dickmans without a champion, and more important, without funding. They continued paying the bills out of their own pocket until they were able to secure grants from The Salvation Army, the Michigan State Bar Foundation, and others. With these sustaining funds, the Clinic expanded into the greater Detroit area to service people who live at or below the poverty guidelines and for whom free legal representation is not easily available.

Today, the Dickmans offer a full array of life skills classes such as financing or renting a home, reestablishing credit, financial planning, insurance needs, and more. To expand their capacity, the Clinic has taken on law students and paralegals, training them not just in the practice of the law, but inspiring them to include service to those less fortunate as an integral part of their lawyer’s creed. Many of their former clients keep in touch with the Dickmans, sending them invitations to weddings, pictures of their children, updating them on new jobs, reunification with families and length of sobriety. Additionally, their growing alumni of lawyers keep in touch and express how their careers have been enhanced by this experience.

The Dickmans recently welcomed a new member to their extended family who also has aspirations of becoming a lawyer. Ten-year old DeMarcus comes with his mother to the Clinic in the mornings before school to be tutored by ‘Uncle Robert and Aunt Ellen.’

"Life is filled with possibilities. Turn them into colorful realities. It can happen. Paint your portrait with strokes of happiness, hope and determination. What a masterpiece you have the power to create." – Robert and Ellen Dickman

Everyday Hero
Scott Taylor
Business Owner

About this Everyday Hero

"Find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life."

Scott Taylor is CEO of National Logistics Management (NLM) and Artisan Associates, in Detroit. He employs nearly two hundred and fifty people in the challenging business of Transportation Logistics Management. The companies have the responsibility for ensuring that parts, materials, and machinery get from the supplier to the manufacturing plants, so that the assembly lines can run on schedule. Be late with a shipment, shut down a line and the cost to the customer could be $40,000 a minute.

Now that’s pressure!

The companies are located on Joy Road on the west side of Detroit, in a distressed residential neighborhood. Even during challenging economic times, they are succeeding in their core business while making a difference in the community. The primary reason for the companies’ success is the people oriented corporate culture. High value is placed on employees, their families, and the local community. At all levels, teamwork is inherent at every turn within NLM and Artisan.

The companies have been recognized by many prestigious industry honors including:

– Inc. magazine’s Inner City 100 list for 2006 and 2004, a national listing of the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies located exclusively in America’s inner cities.

– The Top 100 3PL Providers list in 2004 and 2006, as ranked by Inbound Logistics magazine.

– One of Start-IT magazine’s Hottest Companies in 2005 and 2006 for its innovative use of technology.

While Taylor has led NLM and Artisan Associates to many business awards and distinctions, his passion for leadership lies in the community work that he and the employees support. An example of one initiative is the Sherrill School project. This effort provides comprehensive and long-term programs that focus on mentoring and tutoring, computer training, and exposure to professionals for the students at Sherrill School. It also focuses on school beautification projects and computer donations to foster school and community pride.

Another example is a neighborhood association formed in 1992 by the companies, called Action on Joy Road. It was formed to unite the residents and the local businesses owners in the common goals to beautify the area and keep it safe. To this day, it continues to successfully meet those established goals and create positive changes for the community.

Together, Taylor and his team have created thriving businesses AND maintained their number one priority: people. Taylor will tell you with great pride, "We have some of the most passionate employees anywhere."