Not slowing down anytime soon: 7(Over70) Inspiring Business people
Our honorees come from all corners of the Grand Traverse community, representing decades as business heavyweights and as volunteer leaders. All have helped weave the tapestry of Traverse City’s past and present, and aren’t slowing their pace while laying the path for future leaders.
Join us in applauding this year’s 7Over70.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: For decades, Pat Alpers has led Alpers Excavating, Inc. in Traverse City, a business that began with her late husband Jim almost by accident in 1969.
“We only intended to fill a very large hole with a lot of dirt,” said Alpers, who at the time was raising five of her seven children. “Our friends saw what we were doing and asked for help on some of the projects … and that was the beginning of our excavating business.”
At the time, her husband worked for Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, a position he left to work with Pat full time. Jim passed away in 1990, but the business has continued under Pat’s leadership with her children’s involvement. Today, Alpers Excavating remains a privately-owned family business, with three generations working together.
MOST MEMORABLE ROLES: Mother and friend. “I would like to be remembered as a mother and a good friend,” Alpers said. “I’d also like my customers to feel that we are there for them and no job is less important than any other.”
LASTING PRIDE: Alpers takes pride in her longstanding volunteer work at St. Patrick Catholic Church, where she is active as a lector, greeter, and helping on the funeral committee. She also volunteers with the Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools, most recently on the capital campaign to help build the new elementary school on Vine Street. The school system recognized Alpers’ service in 2009 when she was inducted into its hall of fame.
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: Alpers credits her family for the company’s longevity and success. Her children grew up alongside the business as she and Jim were building it. Today, six of her children work with her, each assuming integral roles in the operation.
“One of the best parts, recently, is that I now have grandsons joining, which makes us a third generation business,” she said, noting the family is close-knit and enjoys spending time together away from work as well.
NOT SLOWING DOWN: “I enjoy working and do not have any plans to retire soon,” Alpers said. “This is a family business, so I get to see my children almost every day.”
ADVICE: “I’m just old-fashioned enough to believe that if you love what you do and work hard at it, you can accomplish almost anything,” Alpers said. “We have had our share of peaks and valleys but, if you stay the course, things will work out. Always have faith in yourself and be good to others.”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Ray Minervini grew up in the construction business.
“My father took me to job sites when I was 10 years old,” said Minervini, known best for revitalizing the former Traverse City State Hospital and development of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. “I realized at a young age that construction was in my blood. I started my own company when I was 18 years old.”
Minervini saw the potential in preserving historic buildings while working on structures in Detroit’s Greektown. He and his wife, Marcia, moved to Traverse City in the late 1980s, subsequently joining the Committee to Preserve Building 50 and getting appointed to the Grand Traverse Commons Redevelopment Corporation board. The Minervini Group took ownership of the Village’s portion of the Commons property in May 2002.
MOST MEMORABLE ROLE: Grandfather. “Being ‘papa’ to six amazing grandkids ages two to 18, and imparting ‘grandfatherly wisdom’ to them,” he said.
LASTING PRIDE: Taking on the impossible. “Saving Building 50 from demolition, turning it into a vibrant community, and accomplishing what many said was an impossible task,” he said.
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: “There are many people deserving of credit,” Minervini said. “Community support because so many people wanted to see the buildings saved. My mother and father for instilling a strong work ethic. My wife’s support and strong understanding of the real estate market. My sons who stepped up to play an important role. And my entire staff who have been with me from the beginning of the project 17 years ago.”
NOT SLOWING DOWN: The Village work continues. “Building 50 and some of the ancillary support buildings are completed, totaling over 500,000 square feet,” he said. “But we have another 350,000 square feet of vacant buildings yet to be resurrected. We recently started redeveloping the 72,000 square-foot ‘warehouse’ into offices and residential condos.”
ADVICE: Believe in yourself and go for it. “It’s amazing what one can do when one doesn’t know what one can’t do,” Minervini said.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: A Traverse City native, leading realtor and the 2017 Zonta Club of Traverse City Athena award winner, Lynne Moon loves all things Traverse City. She graduated from Traverse City High School, and after earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Michigan State University, became a local Realtor in 1978. Five years later, she became the first female licensed builder in Traverse City.
“I love, love, love my job,” Moon said, reflecting on four decades in the field including her long tenure as one of four owners at Prudential Properties North. Today, she works through Real Estate One – Randolph St. along with her daughter Erica Moon Mohr, who joined her two years ago. Highlights include recognition as 2016 Realtor of the Year, 2017 Traverse City Central High School Hall of Fame, and regular designation among the top one percent for real estate sales. She was also awarded the 2013 Traverse Area Association of Realtors Good Neighbor award.
MOST MEMORABLE ROLES: “Being a single mom, raising two amazing daughters, and now as grandmother to six grandchildren,” Moon said.
Two other favorites include interviewing Louis B. Armstrong in Traverse City in 1958 and surviving a closed head injury in 1987 with support from family, friends and much rehabilitative therapy.
LASTING PRIDE: Moon takes great pride in giving back to the community by participating on many local nonprofit boards. She also is proud of “always thinking positively and treating people the way you want to be treated.”
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: Moon credits her mentors and the Traverse City school system, as well as area builder Tom Moore, who passed away earlier this year, for career advice as she pursued her building career.
NOT SLOWING DOWN: New building and real estate projects continue at full speed. Moon just started a new project to build 20 affordable condos and continues committed to staying strong in her real estate career.
ADVICE: “Be honest. Be happy with who you are, and treat others with kindness,” Moon said. “Smile, and give back to your community.”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Ray Pleva of Cedar is a Renaissance man. He is the owner of Pleva International Inc., which includes four business divisions known for an array of original meat, cherry and nutraceutical products, technology and formulas as well as collaborations in nutrition, health and wellness, and life science research.
Pleva was born into a family food tradition, beginning with his father Joe’s grocery store and cherry orchards and his butcher brother Andy’s meat and specialty sausage shop. He began working at age six, knew he wanted to be in the meat business by age 14, and headed off to meat cutting school right after graduating from Holy Rosary High School. In 1970, Pleva joined his brother in business, helping to build Cedar’s reputation as “The Sausage Capital.”
Pleva began experimenting with new products in 1987-88, the year his daughter Cindy reigned as the National Cherry Queen. She urged him to put cherries into meat to help promote the cherry industry. The result was cherry pork sausage followed by the highly touted Plevalean burger. Awards for the new products and recognition by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Oprah, and TV personality Tim Allen followed. Customer feedback led to research by Michigan State University (MSU) and Central Michigan University (CMU) into the added health advantages cherries brought to Pleva’s products, which led to later development of nutraceuticals and a full line of therapeutic topical products.
MOST MEMORABLE ROLES: Pleva cites two: making a difference and creating opportunities. His impetus to incorporate cherries into meat products led to further technologies benefiting the meat industry. It’s also led to research into the health benefits of cherries, including identification of 17 antioxidants.
LASTING PRIDE: “I have many,” Pleva said. Of note: MSU’s Plevalean burger research and finding the first antioxidant in cherries; working with the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the cherry industry, and the opportunity to improve health and wellness for people around the world through his health and wellness projects. He takes special pride in the potential impact that current research could have on Alzheimer’s disease, as well as successes when facing the ‘impossible.’
“Every time someone said, ‘You can’t do it,’ I just worked harder,” Pleva said. “When you believe you can do it, you work harder to achieve it.”
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: Top credit goes to the entire Pleva family, especially his wife, Marge, and daughters, Cindy Weber and Dr. Ramona Pleva. He extends additional appreciation to those who aided research and promotion of Pleva’s cherry, meat and health and wellness projects, including Glenn LaCross, who traveled more than 85,000 miles with Pleva to promote his cherry meat products; Dr. Ed Heffron, MDA; Dr. Al Booren, MSU; Dr. Bill Haines; Dr. Gary Dunbar, CMU; Phil Korson, Cherry Marketing Institute; the National Cherry Festival and local radio personality Ron Jolly.
NOT SLOWING DOWN: Pleva’s project list is ongoing and extensive. In Cedar, he is leading volunteer and fundraising efforts for the Cedar River marina park project along with Solon Township. Professionally, he continues advocacy, research and product development in the meat and health and wellness industries, including new life science research with Dr. Dunbar focusing on cherry antitoxins, stem cell research, and Alzheimer’s disease. Another major project is underway with the USDA and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, with a project for the pork industry next on his agenda.
ADVICE: Pleva’s advice is rooted in his experiences looking at opportunities and trying to make a difference.
“Take advantage of all the research that is out there, but trust yourself,” he said. “Having a Ph.D. is great to have, but they don’t have all the answers. If you have a good idea, go for it and take it to the finish line.”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Real estate runs long in the Schmidt family. Long-time Traverse City Realtor Ken Schmidt is the third of five generations to lead what is now Coldwell Banker Schmidt Family of Companies, the largest real estate company in western and northern Michigan. His grandfather Harold founded Schmidt Real Estate in 1927; Ken joined in 1968. Today, Ken serves as CEO while son, Mike, is president. His wife, Karen, and daughter Shawn Schmidt Smith are also active. Granddaughter Caroline became the fifth generation to join in the family business, which celebrated 90 years this year.
During his tenure, growth has been substantial. In 1968, Schmidt Real Estate had one office, eight Realtors and closed sales volume of about $10 million. The business became a franchise of Coldwell Banker in 1983, a decision made to support anticipated growth. In 2016, closed sales volume was more than $2.6 billion in residential and commercial sales with 15,000 closed transactions, 1,300 Realtors and 68 offices in Michigan, Ohio and Florida. The business is recognized as the second largest Coldwell Banker franchise of more than 900 companies.
MOST MEMORABLE ROLES: “Although I really enjoy my career in real estate, being a father and grandfather is most rewarding,” Schmidt said about his five children and 13 grandchildren.
When it comes to business, Schmidt says his biggest joy is mentoring new associates and seeing the excitement of a young couple buying their first home. He also loves where he works.
“From a career perspective, I feel blessed to have grown up in this beautiful area,” he said. “What better place to sell real estate than one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
LASTING PRIDE: Advocating for land conservation.
“One of the things I am most proud of is that our company brokered the sale of 500 acres and over 2,000 feet of East Bay frontage at the end of Old Mission Peninsula to the [Grand Traverse Regional] Land Conservancy, which later gave it to the township,” Schmidt said, noting the business has continued to be involved with property sales to conservancies as well as advocacy. The company has a program offering one-year memberships to either the Grand Traverse or Leelanau regional land conservacies after each closing.
“We feel that if we can introduce our clients to these two great organizations,” Schmidt said, “some will become significant supporters of land conservation.”
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: God, family and colleagues.
“For the success we have enjoyed, I give credit to God and every one of our Realtors and administrative staff,” he said. “They, in addition to my family, really deserve the recognition.”
Schmidt also credited his brother Fred, who was his partner for more than 30 years and “a very big contributor to the company’s success.”
NOT SLOWING DOWN: “I continue to work because I enjoy the business and energy I receive from the talented people I work with,” said Schmidt, who wants to grow the company only if it adds value to the service, clients, and agents.
He also believes in stepping out of his agents’ way so they can be successful, too.
“We believe in hiring people who are smarter than we are and giving them the autonomy to grow,” he said. “It is amazing the skills they have when giving them the freedom to lead.”
ADVICE: “My advice is to not be prideful of our success but grateful for the opportunity we have been given and thankful for all the people who we have worked with,” Schmidt said. “Whatever your choice for a career, do what you enjoy doing and, in life, put your faith first, then family and career will be successful no matter how we measure it.”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Stegenga is among the region’s winery pioneers as co-founder and co-owner of Bowers Harbor Vineyard (BHV), the second winery to open on Old Mission Peninsula.
Her career in the wine business began in 1991 when her former husband, Jack, decided he should plant grape vines in the empty pastures.
They did this in spite of already raising white-faced heifer cows, sheep, chickens, rabbits, and boarding horses on the property.
“There seemed to be no point in just growing a crop without trying to market it,” she said. “So Bowers Harbor Vineyards was born.”
BHV’s tasting room opened in 1992 in a renovated horse barn. Stegenga says it was a “very humble” start.
“I did virtually every job at the winery, from planting vines to labeling bottles to cleaning floors, and keeping inventory,” she said. “Everything, except driving the forklift.”
Her son, Spencer, joined the family business in 1997.
“Being blessed with tremendous energy and a strong desire to persevere have been character traits,” Stegenga said. “[They’ve helped] nurture BHV from its modest beginnings as a small gentleman’s farm to the burgeoning winery it is today.”
MOST MEMORABLE ROLES: “I have always been active in my church and other community organizations, and experience joy and fulfillment by participating,” she said. “Being remembered as someone who always had time for family and friends would be an honor.”
LASTING PRIDE: “I take great pride in the business we have built, along with our exemplary staff and my son, Spencer,” she said. “BHV is highly rated on the travel venues as well as being financially successful.”
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: “My dad, Harry Langley, imbued in me my love and respect for the land,” Stegenga said. “His love of gardening – now literally bearing fruit he could only have imagined – has earned him a lasting place in the history of BHV.”
The estate’s Langley Vineyard was named in his honor and produces the merlot and cabernet franc grapes that comprise BHV’s award-winning “2896” wines.
NOT SLOWING DOWN: “I’m not slowing down, but I am working on passing on some of my duties to others and ultimately, I feel very comfortable turning the business over to my accomplished son and our capable staff,” she said. “It’s been incredibly satisfying to see what can be accomplished when you set goals, are not afraid of hard work, and are willing to take a few chances.”
ADVICE: “My best advice to young people with a great idea is to take small steps in building the business,” Stegenga said. “Contemplate that bigger is not always better, and always be truthful, trustworthy and able to persevere through the difficult growing years.”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Michael and Libby Robold, co-founders of Yoga for Health Education in Traverse City, met during their first week as teachers in the Brooklyn, Mich. Columbia School District. Three years later they were married. Seven years later, Michael resigned his teaching position to start Michigan Bicycle Touring, the state’s first such business, whose success prompted their move to Grand Traverse County in 1982.
“While living downstate, three significant changes in our life took place: vegetarianism, membership at Unity Church of Jackson, and yoga,” Michael said. “We were delighted that we could continue all three pathways.”
After moving, the Robolds joined Oryana Food Co-op, became members of Unity of Traverse City, and enrolled in yoga classes at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC).
Libby later became NMC’s yoga instructor, teaching there and at other locations. In January 2002, the Robolds took a leap of faith and opened Yoga for Health Education. It was one of the first businesses to locate at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
MOST MEMORABLE ROLES: Teachers and health advocates. Whether in the classroom, the biking trail or the yoga studio, the Robolds have remained passionate about promoting health and wellness of body and mind.
LASTING PRIDE: Making a positive difference in people’s lives.
“We strive to serve as role models for our youth and to provide friendship, guidance and support for individuals of all ages,” Libby said.
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: The Robolds credit their parents, teachers and classmates, especially those met during undergraduate years at their respective colleges: Libby at Bluffton College in Ohio and Michael at Macalester College in Minnesota.
They also find inspiration through the writings of health gurus and spiritual guides.
“We have been inspired and motivated by our spiritual practices, garnering clear thinking through time in the outdoors, studying works of great spiritual teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dali Lama, Eckhart Tolle, Eknath Easwaran, Buddha and Jesus along with so many others,” Libby said. “We have been supported and enlightened by the teachings of Unity where we both serve as worship assistants and have led meditations for many years.”
Through it all they remain grateful for the lessons life has taught them.
“Learning lessons through times of joy and sorrow – the good times and the hard knocks – have all been great teachers and provided insight,” she said.
NOT SLOWING DOWN: “We are still enjoying what we do and, so far, there is no end in sight,” Michael said, noting they operated their bicycle touring business for 25 years and are currently in their 16th year owning Yoga for Health Education.
“Remaining a small, personable business gives us the most satisfaction,” he said. “Quality, not quantity, has always been our focus. We try to remember: Life is about relationships.”
ADVICE: The couple observed that younger generations, especially teens through mid-20s, tend to be idealistic and the most likely to believe they can change the world.
“And they definitely can,” Libby said. “First and foremost, believe in yourself and your ability to do amazing work. Life is all about exploration, discovery and change.”
The Robolds believe yoga’s ancient program of transformation through the exploration of self can aid that process.
“May you choose to live life to its fullest, pursue your dreams and stay true to the unique individual you are by listening to, and following, your inner teacher/guru,” she said.