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Lifetime Humanitarian - Marsha J. Smith
Marsha J. Smith’s influence on the quality of life and economic well-being of Michigan has been profound and has spanned 40 years. Her fight for social justice began in the 1980s when she and a passionate cadre of female friends started the Women’s Resource Center, which continues providing services to thousands of domestic abuse victims. As the director of Rotary Charities for the past 24 years, her guiding hand and insistence upon transparency and inclusion have transformed the northwest Lower Michigan region, including more than $58 million granted by the organization during her tenure.
Marsha’s interest in land use and the environment began as a child growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan. It has carried through to this day and manifested in a myriad of ways. She was instrumental in forming the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, which has led the largest acquisition of coastal property in the nation’s history. Over 40,000 acres of land and 124 miles of coastline have been protected.
Marsha was a leader and innovator in forming New Designs for Growth in the 1990s, mobilizing a coalition of regional leaders to implement smart growth practices. The impacts have been profound. The Traverse City region is nationally recognized for its quality of life and noted as one of country’s top 10 places to retire. Another example of Marsha's role in increasing the quality of life in the region is the State Theatre in Traverse City, which was reborn in 2007. From land use to social justice, Marsha paves the way for those who will follow to lead the region and state. She is the gold standard of what a leader should be – honest, transparent, selfless, brave, collaborative, visionary, inspired, and inclusive.
Gov. William G. Milliken once said, “It’s not just what Marsha does; it’s also how she does it. She will deservedly have a chapter in the history of Michigan as a person who left an indelibly positive mark that is reflected in the well-being of families and kids, the quality of our water and land and the resiliency of our communities. What a wonderful legacy.”