Ruscett honored as Woman of the Year

Becky Vargo • Jun 8, 2017 at 9:00 AM

SPRING LAKE — A local environmentalist, community activist and educator was named Counterpart Distinguished Woman of the Year during a luncheon Wednesday at the Holiday Inn.

Sylvia Ruscett, a longtime Spring Lake resident, said she was surprised to receive the honor — but thankful, as well.

“I think this is just amazing,” she said after family members — some from as far away as New Jersey — and friends filled the room.

The award celebrates a local woman’s professional accomplishments, commitment to her community and personal attributes.

Grand Haven resident Ronda Ruscett said she nominated her mother when she learned about the award a couple of years ago.

“She was talking about it,” Ronda said. “I got to thinking about it. I felt she deserved it, especially considering where she came from.”

Community members might know Sylvia Ruscett as a former teacher and one of the first female principals for Grand Haven Area Public Schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Others may know her from her work on the Spring Lake Township Planning Commission. And others may remember her work to start a Wetland Watch group and associated Wetland Watch programs in the local schools.

Sylvia also volunteered for the area arts council and was a long-time supporter and volunteer of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum. She and her husband, Ron, have also been active in the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.

The Ruscetts also donated a mile-long stretch of their property to accommodate a section of the North Bank Trail. Sylvia has worked on the non-motorized path since its inception.

While Sylvia and Ron spend a lot of time and resources helping the community, neither of them had an easy life.

One of seven children, Sylvia grew up very poor on a farm in Clarkston, according to her daughter. When it was noticed that she needed glasses, there was no money. The Lions Club stepped in and bought her first pair of glasses.

Sylvia was the only one from her family to graduate from college. She attended Western Michigan University and traveled with a friend to Alaska to take summer classes at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks.

But she never went back to WMU. She met Ron and stayed in Alaska, later obtaining her teaching degree at the University of Alaska.

The couple’s next step in education took them to the University of Michigan, where Ron received a fellowship and Sylvia obtained her master’s degree. At the time, she was pregnant with their second child.

The Ruscetts moved to Grand Haven in the early 1960s, and Sylvia went to work as a kindergarten teacher and Ron worked for the Ottawa County Road Commission. They eventually developed a mobile home park in Crockery Township.

Spring Lake Township’s community development director, Lukas Hill, was the township planner when he started working with Sylvia.

“Dr. Ruscett’s passion for balancing the growth of our township with the preservation of the fragile ecosystems was her strong suit,” Hill said. Her “past and continued involvement in our community makes Spring Lake a better place to live.”

Sylvia said she just likes being involved.

“You gain an awful lot when you do for others,” she said.

Counterpart was founded in 1974, at the height of the Women’s Movement, as a counterpart to the local Rotary Club — which, at the time, did not allow women to become members. Today, Counterpart is an organization that provides an opportunity and support system for personal and professional growth, networking and service, with a commitment to support local women and children. 

Luncheon meetings take place on the first Wednesday of each month. For more information, contact Yvonne Viera at 616-566-6382 or email her at [email protected]

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