Not Slowing Down: Seven remarkable septuagenarians still making their mark on the region

 

Movers. Shakers. International travelers. Working behind the scenes. Our 7Over70 honorees have been and done all these things and more. And they continue to do things, ordinary and extraordinary. While perhaps reluctant to take credit, their achievements speak for themselves. Here are this year’s 7Over70.

 

 

 

 

Steve Constantin 

How it began: After graduating from college with an organizational psychology major, the Baton Rouge, La. native was hired by The Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich. Over the years he worked in Midland, then Texas, Miami and Argentina before returning to Midland. Then it was off to Europe: England, Rome, Germany, Spain, Italy and France. “What an experience,” he said. Constantin retired in 1994. “That’s when we had the choice where to retire. We looked and looked. Traverse City has it all,” he said. “It is the first place where we could decide where we live. Previously our moves were dictated by the job.”

Most memorable roles: Constantin said in their working life, he and his wife never lived in one place long enough to get involved civically. “This was our chance, our turn,” he said. He spent three years serving as chair of the Downtown Development Authority and also worked with his church, Central United Methodist, the City Opera House and the Traverse City Housing Commission.

Lasting pride: “Working with some incredibly gifted people to accomplish results on the DDA board, the City Opera House Board, and NMC,” he said. “I’m so lucky to have been given those opportunities.”

Credit where it’s due: Constantin credits those involved with the boards mentioned above, plus Chuck Judson and Bryan Crough, mentioning how they had their hands in most everything. Top of his list, however, is his wife Sheri. “We’ve been married 48 years. What an incredible partner. We moved from Texas to Miami when she was eight months pregnant,” he said. “When I got the offer to go to Europe, she said, ‘Remember, be careful what you wish for. Are we moving to Europe?’ I’m not sure I would have done all that.

Not slowing down: He continues to work with the City Opera House on its capital campaign.

Words of wisdom: “Get involved. Help this wonderful place stay vibrant. Step up, join boards, volunteer at Father Fred or church or Safe Harbor.”

 

Harlan “Pete” Peterson

How it all began: Born in North Dakota and raised on a farm, Peterson attended the University of North Dakota. Being of an artistic bent, he transferred to Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. “I wrote a naïve letter to General Motors, asked them where do you hire your car designers from. I got a degree in industrial design,” he said. From there he got a job at Ford in Dearborn. But he wasn’t satisfied. He read a column on Julia Child in Time magazine and took a one-week trip to Venice. “The food was rhapsodic. Then and there I decided I’d go to school there full time,” he said. But after realizing he’d never even worked in a restaurant, he had second thoughts.his

Most memorable roles: Jumping into the restaurant life. Still enraptured with food, he saw a piece about the Rowe Inn on the back cover of the company magazine, Ford Times. So he went up to Ellsworth and checked it out. “I said, ‘Can I come up and work for nothing?’” said Peterson. At the end of a week he was talked into working there. He dutifully finished his time at Ford and moved north, working both in the kitchen and the front of the house. That set the stage for him to open his own restaurant, Tapawingo.

Lasting pride: Creating and growing Tapawingo for 25 years. Peterson used as much local and regional fare in his dishes as possible. He also knew that visuals were important, from the plates to the décor to the food itself. “People liked it. The Free Press did a big story, which ended up being the front page of the food section,” he said.

Credit where it’s due: He said he was able to hire some particularly good chefs, including the husband and wife team of Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, who now own two of the most popular restaurants in San Francisco. He said the key was acquiring a local year-around staff, who weathered the extreme seasonal issues and “who treated Tapawingo as if they owned it. Their dedication was critical to its success,” he said.

Not slowing down: “I still do occasional catering for small dinner parties, volunteer, and am looking for other areas with which to stay busy,” said Peterson, who assisted chef James Bloomfield in opening Alliance restaurant, owned by Daniel and Meridith Falconer. And there may be more fun to come. “My 25 years in the restaurant biz provided a lot of fodder to write a memoir, but I haven’t proceeded with that, yet!” Peterson said.

Words of wisdom: “Don’t give up following your dreams. I count tenacity as one of my best virtues.”

 

Chris Dennos

How it all began: Born on Long Island, Dennos moved with her parents to Traverse City at age 13. After her high school graduation, she “ran as fast as (she) could” downstate, first to Michigan State University, then Lansing proper. It wasn’t until 2001 that she returned, to assist her parents after they’d been in an automobile accident.

Most memorable roles: “I was a caregiver for my parents while they were recovering, but the one I am most proud of is Michael’s Place (the grief counseling center she founded). I spent a year before moving here organizing Michael’s Place,” she said. Dennos left Traverse City because she didn’t like the small-town atmosphere, but that feeling changed on her return. “Everyone knows you. I found it very suffocating. When I came back, the fact everyone knows who your parents are was a tremendous advantage,” she said.

Lasting pride: It’s all about Michael’s Place, which Dennos said is still growing. Its outreach now extends into Cadillac and Wexford and Missaukee counties. “There have been so many tragedies,” she said. “There are support groups in schools and we decided we needed to raise some funds there.”

Credit where it’s due: “Susie Janis I’ve known forever. Mary Lee Lord from the Women’s Resource Center. Mindy Buell, the executive director at Michael’s Place,” she said. “All of them brought an open mind and heart to listen to what I wanted to do.”

Not slowing down: Dennos has been involved with numerous organizations, including The Pathfinder School, Parallel 45 Theatre, Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse City Film Festival, City Opera House, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Up North Pride and others.

Words of wisdom: “Every single one of us can do something. Donate, volunteer – there’s not one person who couldn’t donate an hour a week,” she said. “I keep my support local because I think I can make a small difference right here in Traverse City.”

 

Dr. Marilyn Fitzgerald

How it all began: “I took psychology 101 and fell in love with it,” said Fitzgerald. She eventually earned a master’s, an MBA and a Ph.D. and worked at Kent Oaks in Grand Rapids before moving to Traverse City to work at the State Hospital in 1978. That morphed into all the other roles of clinical practice, business consulting, world-wide humanitarian work, speaker, authorship “and ultimately the profound understanding that we are all global citizens.”

Most memorable roles: Fitzgerald joined Rotary in 1993 at a time when membership was overwhelmingly male. She learned to navigate what she said were sometimes challenging waters, and eventually became its first female president. She credits her tenure with Rotary with much of her world-wide interest and successes. “It gave me international opportunities I’d never have had,” she said. “It changed my life. I saw we can make a difference if we work together. Traveling the world to developing countries provided the opportunity to meet people I never would never have met and learned from. It enhanced my life immeasurably.”

Lasting pride: “Raising a family was the hardest and most rewarding work of my life,” she said. She also cited the hard work she did to get her advanced degrees and using those degrees to gain knowledge that would encourage others to create a path of self-determination. Other areas she cited were writing a book about sustainability, so others can create a path toward self-determination and creating a path toward economic sustainability through microloans and entrepreneurship domestically and internationally.

Credit where it’s due: “It was generous people that helped and encouraged me to identify and follow my own path,” she said. “Some special people in the community really supported me along the way: Ross Childs, Dr. Ken Musson, Wes Nelson and Alan Olson. It was hard work and persistence that helped me discover who I am and my passion, but it was ‘community’ and the help of others that propelled me forward.”

Not slowing down: Fitzgerald continues her private practice and remains a contributing member of Rotary International. “Rotary opened my eyes to being a global citizen,” she said. She remains involved with numerous community projects and continues to consult with foundations concerning sustainability of humanitarian aid projects. She also is giving presentations regarding research and experiences in the field regarding humanitarian aid. “There’s probably another book in my future, based on economics, stability and humanitarian aid,” she said.

Words of wisdom: You may be the first person to do something. Make sure you are not the last.”– Kamala Harris’s mother. “It has been my joy and relief to recognize that we are not in this life alone, just swimming upstream. We have each other. Be an involved member of your community with the understanding this is a global community, you are a global citizen, it extends far beyond your own backyard,” said Fitgerald. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead. “This quote has guided my adult life: change can only occur through thoughtful, concerned citizenship,” she said.

 

Jim Olson

How it all began: “I was fortunate to grow up in Traverse City,” Olson said, noting that his home on the east side on Birchwood Avenue was then rural. “Woods, orchards, hills, ponds, plus the bay. In college I discovered I was intrigued with the stories in law books,” he said. That led him to Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State’s law school), clerking for Justice Tom Brennan and getting a close look at how law is shaped. After moving back to Traverse City, two of his first cases involved environmental law.

Most memorable roles: Various roles as an attorney, including his current work at Olson, Bzdock & Howard and founding For Love Of Water (FLOW), Great Lakes Water and Public Trust Policy Center.

Lasting Pride: Olson’s most rewarding work involved the Friends of Crystal River efforts to protect the Crystal River in Sleeping Bear Dunes, the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation nine-year battle to protect two lakes and a river from Nestle’s bottled water extractions in Mecosta County (which tightened protection of water from diversions and privatization in the Great Lakes Compact), starting the Great Lakes policy center For Love of Water (FLOW), based in Traverse City, and more recently helping develop and teaching a water and environmental sustainability course at NMC’s Water Studies Institute.

Credit where it’s due: In addition to Brennan, he cited fellow attorneys Dean Robb, Ken Thompson, Joe Sacks, Bill Rastetter and Mike Detmers. Sacks did a presentation at the student union at MSU on how law could help combat pollution. “I was taken by what he put on the board about watersheds and the planet. I don’t know why it hit me so hard,” Olson said. He also cited his parents, wives, other family members and many of those involved with FLOW.

Not slowing down: Still active as an environmental attorney, much of Olson’s time is taken up with the fight against Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, as well as other environmental causes, including working against invasive species.

Words of wisdom: “Be thankful when you can learn from your mistakes and move forward. Work at gratitude and trust. Be thankful for good friendships,” he said.

 

Jack Segal

How it all began: Segal was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966 after leaving college due to his father’s heart attack, and served two tours in Vietnam with a stint in Germany. College followed, with a B.A. in political science from Boston University, followed by a master’s in International Relations from University of Southern California. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service, and following a posting in Botswana he took a job in intelligence. “That led to the most important event, meeting my wife, Karen Puschel, when I joined the Office of Soviet Union Affairs’ arms control team,” he said. “She was handling space arms control and I took on strategic missiles, bombers, submarines and warheads in the START talks. We had some weird dinner conversations.” They were at The Moscow Kremlin to watch George H. W. Bush sign the START 1 Treaty with Boris Yeltsin.

Most memorable roles: “In the Army, I led troops in combat. As a diplomat, I was a political/military counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv from 1988-91; consul general of the U.S. to central Russia; National Security Council director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia; NSC director for non-proliferation, and NATO senior political advisor to the operational commander of forces in Afghanistan,” he said. “I’m father to an amazingly talented transgender child, and occasionally successful professor to students at Northwestern Michigan College and graduate students at Norwich University.”

Lasting pride: “I wrote the first draft of an agreement that became the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Agreement on Nuclear Risk Reduction and helped negotiate the agreement in Geneva,” he said. “I was at the Rose Garden ceremony in 1997 for the signing and got to hand the document to Secretary of State (George) Schultz for his signature.”

Credit where it’s due: Segal’s wife Karen is also a retired U.S. diplomat. They served in places of active combat, including Israel (1988-91) and Moscow (1993). “Though not ever trained by the military, she is as unflappable and cool under pressure as they come. Together we were asked to create a new U.S. diplomatic mission in central Russia, which we did in 1993. U.S. Consulate General Yekaterinburg is one of two still operating in Russia,” he said. “It wouldn’t be half what it is had it not been for Karen’s leadership, vision and determination. We visited there earlier this year and were greeted like heroes, despite the current tensions and sanctions. While we began our mission we created tons of goodwill and opened up business opportunities for American companies (some still in operation).”

Not slowing down: “I’m of the mind people my age can pass on knowledge to younger generations. I find it stimulates me,” he said.

Words of wisdom: “Don’t be afraid. Stick your neck out,” he said. “Figure out what your bosses need, then deliver it on time and better than they thought possible.”

 

Sharon Edson

How it all began: Edson and her husband Bill moved back to their home state of Michigan in 1978 after five years in Los Angeles. They had embraced the natural food ethos and moved to Traverse City to open an establishment dedicated to healthy foods: Edson Farms. The sale for the original location was brokered by Ken Schmidt, and he offered to let them use one of his real estate offices for their office. That led her down another road. “I liked what I saw the Realtors doing,” she said. “When Edson Farms was running smoothly I tried real estate.” She has been one of the area’s top Realtors for 30 years.

Most memorable roles: Edson cited her family and her two business loves. “Being a mother and wife. Bill and I did really well for 57 years. He died last year of Alzheimer’s,” she said. “We’d known each other for three months (when they got married). I don’t mind taking chances. When he was alive and healthy we loved adventure travel: the Himalayas, safari, all over Asia, dog sledding above the Arctic Circle. The store was wonderful, and being a Realtor.”

Lasting pride: The same three things come to her mind. “Raising kids, being married to Bill, Edson Farms and real estate,” she said. “I realized in doing this my forte is helping people. Edson Farms is helping people, and real estate is also helping people find what’s right for them, whether it’s a starter home, if they’re empty nesters, or just moving to the area.”

Credit where it’s due: “Renee Rosa has been with me 23 years. She started as an assistant and is now a licensed agent,” said Edson. She also pointed to the third member of their team, her son Eric, also a licensed Realtor. And as mentioned above, she also credits the rest of her family.

Not slowing down: “I take things one year at a time. I’ve been doing that for a while,” she said. “I’m going to Peru with friends and have an upcoming Guatemala mission trip with my church.”

Words of wisdom: “Do what works for you,” she said.

 

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