New Faces Join Grand Traverse Nonprofits

Leadership at regional nonprofits continues to thrive, grow and evolve. Meet some of the newer faces who are shaping their organizations moving forward.

DAVID MENGEBIER, incoming executive director/CEO, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation

Prior position: David Mengebier retired this fall after more than 25 years at Consumers Energy in Jackson, most recently as senior vice president and senior policy advisor. For 17 years, he served as senior vice president of governmental, regulatory and public affairs, as well as president of the Consumers Energy Foundation and chief ethics and compliance officer for the company. Mengebier will assume leadership of the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation on Jan. 1, following the retirement of current Executive Director Phil Ellis on Dec. 31.

Background: A Petoskey native, Mengebier was raised in a family that was committed to community service. His father was a pathologist and medical director at Northern Michigan Hospital while his mother was an Emmet County commissioner and active volunteer. Their passion for giving back was instilled in their children from the earliest age.

“I told my company that I wanted to retire soon enough to have another career,” Mengebier said, noting his interest in pursuing philanthropy or similar endeavors as an encore career. “I loved the work I did with the Consumers Foundation … so when the [community foundation] position opened up, the timing was incredible.”

Mengebier says he feels “lucky” to be able to use his experience, skills and training here. “I love northern Michigan,” he said. “This is where my heart is.”

Looking ahead: “The Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation is on solid ground thanks to the leadership of Phil Ellis, the foundation staff and the board … we’ll continue to build on those strengths,” Mengebier said, noting the foundation’s $53 million in endowed assets, $2.5 in annual philanthropy and ongoing work with other nonprofits around community initiatives.

Although he hasn’t officially started, Mengebier has been spending time meeting with staff, board and nonprofit leaders as well as focusing on strategy and the transition with Ellis. “One of my areas of focus will be to raise awareness and knowledge of the role the Community Foundation plays in addressing the challenges facing our region,” Mengebier said. “I’m also very interested in better understanding those challenges and addressing them by strengthening collaborative partnerships with other non-profits, government and the private sector.”

Inspiration: “In my experience, people are truly committed to the notion that giving is better than receiving, but they want to be confident that their philanthropic goals and intentions are being honored,” he said. “That’s where we come in.”

KAZ MCCUE, artistic director, Michigan Legacy Art Park

Past positions: McCue was selected as artistic director this past spring, succeeding the late David Barr who founded the Michigan Legacy Art Park (MLAP) and served as its original and only artistic director until his death in 2015. In addition to his new duties at MLAP, McCue continues as a visual arts instructor at The Leelanau School in Glen Arbor. He is the former director of visual arts at Interlochen Center for the Arts, where he designed and built the Dow Center for Visual Arts on Interlochen’s campus.

Background: McCue has dedicated his life to the arts. He brings a diverse background and wealth of experience built over three decades as a noted sculpture, installation artist, arts educator and arts administrator to MLAP. Past work has stretched from Long Island University, Nassau Community College and University of Bridgeport to Indiana State University, Interlochen Arts Academy and The Leelanau School. His enthusiasm and dedication has helped to define his career; his belief in the power of the arts has driven his commitment to participating in the process of the arts and mentoring young artists. In addition to his own artwork and teaching, he has facilitated hundreds of professional and student exhibitions, managed exhibitions and visiting artist programs, and led projects for at-risk youth, children with disabilities and inner city youth which promoted understanding, apprenticeships and alternatives to violent, gang-based lifestyles.

Looking ahead: McCue says stepping into David Barr’s shoes is exciting. “David was a visionary and I am so enthusiastic about carrying his vision forward while adding my own flair to the programs of the Art Park,” he said. “I think I share David’s passion for the arts and believe in art’s ability to enhance understanding, enrich lives, and expand cultural meaning.”

Noting Barr’s ability to get people excited about the arts, McCue hopes to follow in his footsteps by promoting the artist experience, exposing the creative process and developing dialogue between artist and audience.

“I have been given charge of an amazing collection of visual works in an incredibly beautiful natural environment,” he said. “My duty is to bring as many people as possible out to the Art Park to see how art, nature and Michigan history come together. There is no other arts venue like this anywhere in the country. This puts pressure on me to make sure the park – and the presentation of the art there – is at its best.”

McCue says one of his goals is to foster a new generation of artists who are dedicated to public art.

“The next generation of artists approach their work differently,” he said. “It’s more diverse, more complex … I would love the opportunity to share ideas of public art with the younger generation of artists, promote formalism and develop – within them – the idea of art, nature, and the Michigan experience coming together.”

Inspiration: “My passion for the arts drives me,” McCue said. “It propels me to create. It guides me as a community leader. It helps me to be a better citizen. It pushes me to share my experience by teaching. It guides me to affect through programming. It helps me to be a better person.”

McCue credits his passion for the arts and his country to his father’s military service. “As a culture, we are unique because of our embrace of creativity and the more creativity we can cultivate the stronger we will be as a country,” he said. “My dad fought for our country by going off to war. He taught me to be a patriot by giving back and this position allows me that opportunity.”

LEAH BAGDON MCCALLUM, director of community capacity, Rotary Charities of Traverse City

Prior positions: Before joining Rotary Charities last summer to take the newly created role of director of community capacity, McCallum was the northern Michigan regional director for U.S. Senator Gary Peters’ office and director of advancement for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan.

Background: An Elk Rapids native, McCallum has a long history with community building and fund development. She credits stints with Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen and the Harrison Roadhouse during her teen years with early skills training. “Nothing prepares you for [fund] development work as well as waiting tables,” she said. “It’s all about making connections … and food is a great platform for honing that skill.”

Time away from northern Michigan helped hone her love of home.

“Like many, I wanted out of my small town after graduation,” McCallum said. “I missed the green spaces and sense of community … and began to understand why my parents worked hard to raise me and my brother here.”

McCallum says many friends have struggled to find work and housing on par with other Midwestern cities.

“I feel fortunate to have found my way home via my career path,” she said,  She hopes to help find ways to “flip the scenario” and enjoys chipping away at the issue through past work and in the future.

Looking ahead: Creating positive change is exciting to McCallum as she looks forward, noting the grants catalytic nature which creates new opportunities.

“I’ve walked in during a time when great transformations are underway,” McCallum said. “The organization has shifted from supporting solo initiatives to systems-based work. For example, instead of making a grant to one stand-alone food bank, we may want to consider funding a project that tackles [the broader issue of] regional hunger … and include all stakeholders in finding solutions. It makes sense – and I am having fun doing the work.”

Inspiration: “I have been fortunate to have good mentors,” McCallum said. “One managed by adages, and many stuck with me, such as: ‘A family that eats together, stays together’ – if you can work out a problem over a sandwich, the outcome will be better; ‘Go to every dance’ – you never know who you will meet or what you will learn, so show up when you are invited; and ‘Don’t worry about things you can’t change.’

“More than anything else, the last one gets me through the day,” she said.

EVAN GRAY, Director of operational capacity, Rotary Charities of Traverse City

Past positions: Gray most recently supported the local nonprofit community as a consultant with NorthSky Nonprofit Network, sharing his expertise in lean and continuous improvement, board development, strategic planning and leadership development. Previously, he was a project manager and continuous improvement specialist at Britten Studios.

Background: Gray brings a broad experience in several sectors to his new position which, like colleague Leah McCallum’s, was created as Rotary Charities has been transitioning its structure and funding focus. Prior to relocating to Traverse City, much of his academic and work life was spent out West in Seattle, Arizona, Idaho, Washington and Montana as a student, hydrogeologist, EMT, and boarding school manager while also working with programs for struggling teens.
Gray’s commitment to service grew from his 10-year tenure managing a year-round boarding school along with outdoor, student life and vocational programming in northwest Montana.

“It’s where I met my wife, and where I discovered service, and the importance of serving others,” Gray said. “Working with those great kids, watching them learn and grow, got me to start thinking and acting outside of myself.”

It also prompted graduate school at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. in 2014 where Gray studied organizational and servant leadership, and began practicing leadership in a different way.

Looking ahead: “I am proud of all the things I’ve been able to do to support others – as a professional and as a friend, son, husband and father,” Gray said. “That said, I am most excited by our nine-month-old daughter, Georgia Mae. She is learning and growing so quickly, and my wife and I try to expose her to new things every chance we get. To be a part of her life, and to support her in every way gives me energy to do everything I can in support of this community and our beautiful and vibrant region.”

Words of experience: “Looking back, every bit of my journey has impacted who I am and how I show up for others,” Gray said. “I don’t believe I would’ve gotten here any other way.”

ANTHONY RUPARD, director of development, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy
Prior position: Rupard and his wife, Natalie, wanted to return to Michigan in 2013 so they could raise their children, Anna and Owen, in an area where they could grow up making memories in the woods and on the water. Prior to his current position, Rupard was the development director for the Northwestern Michigan College Foundation.

Background: Rupard says his two greatest loves are people and nature.

“My most cherished childhood memories were on our family farm in central Kentucky where for decades we raised cattle and harvested tobacco,” he said. “That is where my love for land originated as my father and grandfather encouraged me to roam and explore the wonders of nature on hundreds of acres at a very young age.”

Rupard’s upbringing was also influential in his family’s decision to live at the northern end of Old Mission Peninsula, surrounded by fruit farms.

“When my wife and I decided to purchase our home on seven acres, it was with an anticipation that our kids would learn to love and appreciate the outdoors,” he said. “Surrounded by blocks of permanently protected farmland, they can run out the back door and spend hours in their tree house in the woods, explore the neighboring vineyards, help with our neighbor’s horses and watch the sunrise over East Bay.”

Rupard says the farming community has been especially welcoming.

“One time my son returned to the house after a long adventure and I inquired where he had been,” he said. “He said, ‘Mr. Tim took me over to the sugar shack and taught me how to make maple syrup.’ Open space is a special place for children, and the farming community on Old Mission has been especially kind to our family.

Looking ahead: “I’m energized daily,” Rupard said. “The chance to raise money to protect our region’s fruit farms and natural lands, and enhance public access to water and trails … this continues to be a dream job.”

Rupard says he believes he lives in the one of the most beautiful places in the world.

“When I drive into work each morning and take in the natural beauty of the greater Traverse City area, I often reflect on the vision and good works of those that have gone before us who were passionate about protecting and reclaiming land for the public,” he said. “Shoreline reclamation projects like the Open Space and the Acme Shoreline, development of the VASA and TART trails; these are remarkable investments that have taken decades of leadership, volunteerism, and millions of dollars from generous families and foundations.”

Rupard says no matter who comes here, the attraction to natural resources is paramount.

“I believe we can agree that whether you were born here or relocated to the area, we are here because of the natural resources,” Rupard said. “What keeps me up at night in my role at the Conservancy is the challenge to find an appropriate balance between sustainable growth and protecting the land and water that makes this place unique. “

Inspiration: “It can get overwhelming when you are part of a team responsible for raising millions of philanthropic dollars annually,” Rupard said. “Nevertheless, what drives me is a belief in the work and mission of the Conservancy. I’m inspired when a longtime supporter shares that they believe our organization is best positioned to ensure their grandchildren have the opportunity [for] the same experiences on land and water that they enjoyed.”

Rupard says recreating on the VASA reminds him of the importance of his work.

“When I see kids of all ages in Norte jerseys, with smiles on their faces, riding their bicycles on the VASA trail, I’m reminded that this is a vitally important investment we are making in our land, our water, our health and our economy,” he said.

LEISA ECKERLE HANKINS, resource director, United Way of Northwest Michigan

Prior positions: Before joining United Way this summer to assume the newly created position of resource director, Hankins was the Junior Achievement of Northwest Michigan’s district manager, a position she held for four years.

Background: A Leelanau County native, Hankins grew up on the family’s cherry farm and still helps out during the busy summer harvest. Her career combines more than 27 years of experience in nonprofit management with several years as a downtown Traverse City retail business owner.

In addition to Junior Achievement, Hankins worked with such organizations as The Pathfinder School, Grand Traverse Bay YMCA, Encore Society of Music and the State Theatre Project in Traverse City, Gilda’s Club and St. Cecilia’s Musical Society in Grand Rapids and, as a volunteer, with Everybody Reads, the Kiwanis Club of Traverse City, the Kiwanis Foundation and the Downtown Traverse City Association.

Like many nonprofit managers, she’s worn many hats in many roles and juggled diverse responsibilities while implementing projects. The cumulative experience gained from prior workplaces has given Hankins a strong skills toolbox to put into action at United Way.

She says that building business and community relationships have been key roles in the past, drawing on her collaborative and team-building skills, and will continue to do so moving forward.

Looking ahead: Hankins says she is excited to be part of the United Way team, commenting on the progress made during the past two years as the organization has transitioned from transactional grants to impacting lasting change in the region.

“We are no longer your mom and dad’s United Way,” she said.

Her priorities will include: planning, organizing, coordinating and growing the annual United Way campaign; developing and maintaining a year-round communication program that will promote awareness and understanding of United Way’s goals and objectives; to clarify United Way’s unique position as a foundation for strategy and communications, and focus on key actions to pursue collectedly and locally to grow impact and scale.

Inspiration: Hankins plans to keep expanding her reach, bringing passion to her work and continually working toward making a difference.
“I ask what good am I doing?” she said. “For me, it’s always been about the people.”

She says she realizes it’s a process that will take time.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow or the next time,” she said. “It will happen because we show up. We settle in. We become part of the fabric of the community … and ideas spread.

“[D]rip by drip, day by day: That’s how we change the world.”


Two more Traverse City organizations will be shifting leaders during the next two months.

At Networks Northwest, longtime CEO Elaine Wood will be retiring on Dec. 31. She will be succeeded by chief operating officer Mathias “Matt” McCauley, who first joined the organization as a regional planner in 2004.

“Networks Northwest’s governance and programming is built around the economic development concept that businesses need talent, talent needs community, and community needs business,” McCauley said. “I firmly believe in that concept and, more importantly, in northwest lower Michigan. I look forward to working alongside a terrific staff and other organizations to further solidify this region’s reputation as a leader in collaboration, effectiveness, and prosperity.”

McCauley credits Wood’s visionary leadership in such endeavors as innovative adult education, a customer-focused approach to workforce development, and implementation of the Regional Prosperity Initiative. She also led the reorganization of Northwest Michigan Council of Governments into Networks Northwest, establishing the organization as one of few in the U.S. that delivers a variety of workforce, business, and community development programming under the same administration and using a public/private board.

Downtown Traverse City will also have new leadership in place by year’s end, according to current DDA Director Rob Bacigalupi. Recruitment and review is being led by consultants from Northsky Nonprofit Network with a task force of downtown stakeholders. The group of finalists will be chosen for interviews by early November with the final candidate slated to be chosen and hired by year’s end.

Bacigalupi joined the DDA as deputy director 19 years ago and has served as executive director for four years, succeeding prior Executive Director Bryan Crough who passed away in June 2013.

During his tenure, the DDA has transitioned to become a more data-driven organization, with systems in place to assure continuity, consistency, access to information and thoughtful analysis and decision-making. In addition to strengthening data and systems, Bacigalupi take pride in recent development of the Warehouse District, including the Garland and Pine Street pedestrian pathway, as well as improved neighborhood dialogue.

Bacigalupi says all prospective candidates are positive and say they will keep downtown’s momentum strong.

“Downtown is doing great,” Bacigalupi said, “and is very well positioned to move forward under the new executive director.”