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ECD APRIL CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT: MICHIGAN’S PRSA WHITE PINE STANDS TALL

The name “White Pine” stands out among our ECD chapters because it may immediately put you to the test.  It’s not a big city, like Cleveland or Pittsburgh, nor does it conjure an identity, like Bluegrass and Thoroughbred.  But if you are a Michigander, you know White Pine.

They know the actual Michigan town of White Pine is located in the Upper Peninsula. PRSA White Pine represents the Great Lakes Bay Region, better known as the Tri-Cities, the region surrounding the Greater Tri Cities of SaginawBay City, and Midland. It is part of Central Michigan and includes much of Bay, Midland, Isabella and Saginaw Counties.

To get a handle on this area, think of crook of the thumb on the Michigan hand.

It’s fourth largest combined statistical area in the state of Michigan, but population has fallen consistently through recent censuses. In January 2009 local community and business leaders began calling it the Great Lakes Bay Region, hoping a cooperative regional focus could spur economic development.

PR opportunities have come from several large corporations that have operations in the region. They include the Michigan Sugar Company, a cooperative owned by 1,250 farmers in Bay City; the GM Powertrain plants in Flint, Bay City, and Saginaw; the Dow Chemical Company world headquarters in Midland; Nexteer-Saginaw Steering Systems in Saginaw; and the  S.C. Johnson and Son manufacturing in Bay City making Ziploc products.

Today White Pine Chapter members work more in health care and higher education, non-profits and small businesses.

A key associaton is with Central Michigan University. It was established in 1892 and has more than 20,000 students on its Mount Pleasant campus.

The area welcomes travelers and is included the tourism lore descibed as “Pure Michigan.” The Great Lakes Bay Region is tucked along the eastern coastline at the base of Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay and invites road trips to discover six unique vacation stops in Bay City, Birch Run, Chesaning, Frankenmuth, Midland, and Saginaw.

COVID-19 was hard on the tourism industry. Healthcare thrived, but for all the wrong reasons. Economic challenges among small and mid-sized cities in Mid-Michigan impacted everyone, and brought an exisential challenge to the White Pine chapter.

“Over the past few years, we’ve watched our membership dwindle, to the point of ECD reaching out to rescue our fledging chapter,” said Chapter President Holly Roenicke in the April ECD Chapter Spotlight. “We gathered ‘core members’ and have stayed together.”

The struggle isn’t over. “We have not had an in person meeting, since… October 2000?” said Holly. But they rely on the strength of their senior members, the youth of their PRSSA Chapter at Central Michigan University, and a belief that the chapter has a role to fill and services to provide to the PR community.

So when Michiganders and non-Michiganders alike hear the name “White Pine” they should think “resiliance.” ECD collectively values the history, the culture, the contributions and the community of each chapter.  As we enter what we are encouraged to believe is a truly hopeful spring, our April Chapter Spotlight shines brightly on White Pine.

ECD 2022 CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT SURVEY: PRSA WHITE PINE

By Holly Roenicke, Chapter President

Give us a brief history of your chapter.

The White Pine Chapter was chartered in 1988. White Pine Chapter currently has nine APRs (60% of its total membership) and no current Fellows. PRSA White Pine serves public relations professionals in the Great Lakes Bay Region, which includes Bay, Isabella, Midland and Saginaw counties.

 Who are your current executive officers?

President: Holly LaRose-Roenicke, APR

President Elect: Jerry Boehm

Past President: Melinda Ann Shriner, APR

Treasurer: Karen Stiffler, APR

Membership Chair: Kristen Squires

Describe your membership.

Our membership is small – but most members are loyal to this region, the White Pine Chapter, and helping one another. Two of our founding members, Melinda Shriner, APR, and Karen Stiffler, APR, are still active members some 34+ years! We’re well represented in health care and higher education, and also have members in non-profits and small businesses.

What is normally your biggest project of the year?

We are the professional chapter to the PRSSA Chapter at Central Michigan University. We partner with the students, and their advisor Jim Wojcik, associate professor of journalism, to put together a half day conference for students and professionals. The conference drew approximately 50 attendees when it was last held, prior to the pandemic.

How has your chapter adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic?

In 2020 White Pine PRSA reached out to members and regional friends in public relations to encourage them to use the Eventbrite online planning site as a new chapter resource. We said, “While we wait for the time when we can gather together again, we invite you to take part in this online learning opportunity our chapter has purchased. We hope you find it beneficial. Meanwhile, work hard, stay safe, be healthy!”

It followed the chapter’s webinar series, “Communications During COVID-19.

White Pine continued to address COVID-19 and Crisis Communication head on in 2021 with timely member events:

Feb. 24, 2021 – Communicating in a Pandemic – Peer Insights & Networking

As communicators, we’ve been in crisis mode for a year and our personal lives turned upside down due to coronavirus. Hospitals have had to announce no visitors, alternatives for 100% capacity, masks or no masks, and finally, assuring employees and the public the vaccine is safe.

The virtual Peer Insights discussion included two of our own front line (super)heroes, Millie Jezior, APR, public relations manager for MidMichigan Health and Kristin Knoll, planning and communications manager at Covenant HealthCare. Millie Jezior shared her experience on how a local story angle on the COVID-19 vaccine delivery took off with national and international media. Kristin Knoll shared how communications took center stage amidst the pandemic for both internal and external audiences.

We took time to break out and connect because we all have been “in this together.”

Sept. 21, 2021 – The Day the Dams Broke – A Case Study in Crisis Communications

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 19, 2020, residents in Edenville Township, northeast of Midland, Mich. were asked to evacuate due to an “imminent dam failure” at the Edenville Dam. After seven inches of rain in 48 hours, the Edenville and Wixom Lake dams breached, sending potentially nine feet of water toward the city of Midland. In all, 10,000+ residents living along the floodplain of the Tittabawassee River were evacuated with no deaths, and those displaced had emergency shelter.

The virtual panel discussion with emergency officials from Midland, Midland County and United Way addressed how preparation is key in responding to potential crisis in your area and gave communication advice for the first 24 hours, first weeks and months following devastation of a community.

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

The PRSA Michigan chapters (PRSA Detroit Chapter, WMPRSA – West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, PRSA White Pine Chapter and CMPRSA) came together to form the PRSA Michigan Chapter Collective, a historic statewide collaboration to provide programming and resources to all PRSA members in the state.

Any “little known/fun facts” about your chapter to share?

We gave a shoutout to our Millie Jezior who was MidMichigan Health “Corporate Most Valuable Person” for July 2020! We think she’s awesome year-round, but hey, we’re happy she’s being recognized.

What’s your secret to a “happy chapter”?

Secret to a happy chapter? A few volunteers willing to say “yes.” Over the past few years, we’ve watched our membership dwindle, to the point of ECD reaching out to rescue our fledging chapter. We gathered “core members” and have stayed together. Like everyone, we are challenged by how the workplace is changing and we are trying to find a mix of meeting our members needs in professional development and networking opportunities.

 

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