Athena awards honor women's leadership

Matt DeYoung • Oct 4, 2017 at 8:00 AM

FERRYSBURG — Stefanie Herder couldn’t hold back the tears when she was introduced Tuesday afternoon as the recipient of this year’s Athena Young Professional Leadership Award.

The honor was presented to Herder — the marketing and communications manager for Visit Grand Haven — as part of the Lakeshore Athena Awards presentation luncheon at Trillium Events in Ferrysburg.

“I love my job and I love my community,” she said. “We live in such an amazing community. It’s pretty easy to show all the wonderful things we have to offer for visitors and for people who live here. Every time someone sends us a sunset photo or tells us about a new ice cream place, it makes me so excited to do what I do every day. I love seeing the world through the eyes of a visitor.”

The Athena Award program promotes women’s leadership and honors outstanding individuals within the community.

Kelly Springer, the chief operating officer for the Metal Flow Corp. in Holland, was announced as the winner of the 2017 Athena Award during Tuesday’s lunch. She worked her way to her current position in the manufacturing industry despite being told throughout her career that “most women don’t choose this path,” she said.

“I feel very strongly that no one makes a journey like this without a lot of support,” Springer said. “As my career journey went about, I quickly learned that I had to find my own course. I had to follow what was important to me, and that led me down the path of manufacturing. I love that things are made, I love that it’s part of the core of our economy as a country, and it is very exciting for me to be a part of that.”

Nominees for the Athena Award must demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession; assist women in reaching their full potential; devote time and energy to improving the quality of life for others in the community; exhibit the spirit of regional collaboration; and live or work in Ottawa, Allegan or Muskegon county.

Other nominees for the Athena Award were: Liz De La Luz, vice president of community impact for Greater Ottawa County United Way; Darcy Komejan, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center; Reyna Masko, an investigator for the Ottawa County Friend of the Court; Geri McCaleb, the mayor of Grand Haven; Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage; Rachel Terpstra, the only female founding partner at Gielow, Groom, Terpstra & McEvoy PLC; and Mirka Wilderer, the general manager/vice president for the Separation Technologies Segment of Evoqua Water Technologies.

The Young Professional Athena Award is presented to an emerging leader who demonstrates excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession; serves as a role model for young women personally and professionally; is age 40 or younger and has a minimum of five years professional experience; provides valuable service to improve the quality of life for others in the community; and lives and/or works in Ottawa, Allegan or Muskegon county.

Other nominees for the award were: Elizabeth Carson, a preschool teacher to children with autism at Jeffers Elementary School in Spring Lake; Colleen Hill, vice president of private banking for the Lakeshore of West Michigan at Huntington Bank; Elizabeth Kid, vice president of community impact for the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland area; and Nicole Paquette, communications manager for the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland area. 

Herder, a 2002 graduate of Spring Lake High School, attended Grand Valley State University. She began working at Visit Grand Haven in 2011.

Herder has been working in the hospitality and tourism industry for 18 years, tackling every job from scooping ice cream to hotel management. For the past six years, she has invested her time and talents at the Grand Haven Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Her social media campaigns have spotlighted the area with national and international recognition and, in 2017, Grand Haven earned the title of “America’s Happiest Seaside Town” by Coastal Living. Herder also serves as a board member for the Grand Haven Young Professionals and has been a “Big” with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lakeshore since 2007.

Also at Tuesday’s lunch, four Athena scholarship recipients were announced: Bree Austin-Roberts and Angie Briggs Johnson, both Grand Valley State University students; Kaley Kiewiet, Cornerstone University; and Erin Elizabeth Kolbe, Baker College.

The keynote speaker was Patti Poppe, president and CEO of CMS Energy and its principal subsidiary, Consumers Energy. She is one of just 27 female CEOs of a Fortune 500 company.

Poppe encouraged all in attendance not to let their gender or their race keep them from moving up in the world.

“I ask each of you when that thought crosses my mind, ‘I do not belong here because I don’t see anyone else here who looks like me,’ why not be the first?” she said. “Somebody has to be first. Why not you?”

The Athena Award luncheon is a collaboration between the Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven-Spring Lake-Ferrysburg, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce. 

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