Distinguished Alumni Award

Former Sacred Heart School student grabs honor

Rick Popp, center, an alumni of Sacred Heart School in L’Anse, receives the Distinguished Alumni Award from Marquette Catholic Diocese officials, who flank him. The school gives out the award annually. Popp is an executive of the Ford Motor Co. (Courtesy photo)

L’ANSE — Ford Motor Company Executive Rick Popp has been chosen as L’Anse Sacred Heart School’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2017. This award is given each year to a SHS alum that evangelizes through his/her life and shows exactly what it means to live their faith, as well as give back to one’s community.

Popp attended Sacred Heart School from first grade in 1971 through fifth grade, leaving in the summer of 1976. His family then moved to Iron Mountain, where he attended Dickinson Area Catholic School (now Bishop Baraga Catholic School) from sixth through eighth grades.

Popp works for Ford Motor Company as Director of Human Resources for Global Marketing, Sales, and Service, Corporate Communications, and Government and Community Relations, a continually growing role that he was first appointed in October 2013.

In this role,Popp is a member of Ford’s MS&S, Communications, G&CR and HR executive leadership teams and is responsible for HR Business Operations, including individual, organization, and team capability development; organization design; performance management; succession and compensation planning; and other responsibilities as the HR business partner of these global operations.

Popp has been with Ford Motor Company for more than 26 years and has held various positions throughout the company.

Popp says he attributes much of his success in his career life to his Catholic faith, beginning with his time as a student at SHS.

“Learning to pray, understanding the basics of the Mass, small classes with fully engaged teachers, a small venue with students of various ages, those active recesses, and so on, were my initial foundation for academic, social, and spiritual growth,” he said.

Some of his most poignant memories from his childhood are from his days as a student at SHS.

“I remember the nuns, most so nice, and a couple that literally put the fear of Jesus in me,” he smiled. “The few lay teachers, like Mrs. Marcott, seemed like the greatest teachers a kid could have as well. Occasionally, a priest would come in and share his thoughts.”

There were many fun times he remembered as well.

“Recess was always outstanding, with notorious kickball games.”

Popp also reminisced that he very much enjoyed being an altar server, usually with his brother Bill.

“We would at times stay for two or three masses on a Sunday… It was truly a wonderful experience.”

Popp explained how his Catholic faith helps him in dealing with different people on a daily basis as human resources director: “Human resources is literally all about people, from those who are considered superstars who are on a roll, all the way to those having serious difficulty personally or professionally who need extra support. My career is focused on connecting with people and teams in an effort to help them all work together for a greater common good – to sacrifice for the team – while also growing individually.

“In attempting to create a great place for employees to work, I believe I’m aligned with Catholic Social Teaching. My Catholic faith has helped me to have patience and empathy in dealing with all types of people, whether or not they share similar values, backgrounds, skills, or faith. And although I must be careful with how I speak about my faith in the workplace, I am very proud to make it known that I am a Catholic and that my faith drives my life. I only hope that I do so in a way that is attractive to those who struggle with finding the truth.”

All of these accolades aside, Popp believes his most important role is that of father and husband. Rick and his wife of 26-plus years, Sue (Willson) Popp, whom he credits for being his daily influence of Christian goodness, have two sons, Isaiah and Sam.

Besides being a former student at SHS, Popp has other ties to the Upper Peninsula as well. He holds a master’s degree in public administration, with an emphasis in personnel and labor relations, and a bachelor’s degree in computer science, both from Northern Michigan University. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for NMU.

His sons are following in his footsteps by attending NMU as well: Sam is now a sophomore at NMU, majoring in business and marketing, and is on the men’s soccer team. Sam went to Detroit Catholic Central High School, where he was active in student government, along with intramural sports and social events. Showing his pride in his son, Rick said of Sam, “Above all, he is a solid Catholic young man.”

Isaiah is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central, and will be attending NMU in the fall. According to Rick, Isaiah was a key player in the Catholic Central state finalist football team as a receiver, a defensive back, and a punt and kick returner. Isaiah recently signed a letter of intent to play football for NMU, with plans on majoring in Art and Design. “Isaiah too has a sound faith foundation, which makes me so proud,” his father said.

Popp also credits his parents for many of his successes. “I would like to credit my mother, Bernice (Stanislawczyk) Popp, for clearly being the spiritual role model and rock of my life. Throughout my entire life, even those challenging days of being a teen through the twenties, my mother was steady in her quiet prayer and leading by example. I can’t thank her enough. And my father, Bill ‘Sugar’ Popp, has recently come back to the Church and is back strong. He is a good man.”

Rick, his wife Sue and their two sons lived in Mexico City from January 2004 until the end of 2007. During that time, Rick was Director of Human Resources at Ford of Mexico, where he helped Ford achieve the honor of being named “Best Place to Work 2007” in Mexico for the first time by a leading Mexican business magazine. While in Mexico, Popp and his family became part of a small English-speaking group that was a subset of a huge parish, Nuestra Senora de Lourdes, where, in his words, “we were needed to participate in every aspect of the Mass and the church community. That experience brought all of us even closer to God and our Blessed Mother.”

Currently, Popp and his family are active members of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in downstate Plymouth. This is one of the Catholic parishes that has been instrumental in his faith life for almost 20 years. “Starting with Sacred Heart School, then moving to Iron Mountain and Immaculate Conception Parish, a few other parishes as we moved around a bit, most notably Nuestra Senora de Lourdes in Mexico City, and now with the fantastic Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, I have been extremely blessed to have great clergy, laypersons, and Catholic brothers and sisters. We continue to need each other to fight the good fight to the very end.”

For more information on Sacred Heart Catholic School, contact the school at 906-524-5157 or visit www.sacredheartlanse.org or find Sacred Heart Catholic School on Facebook.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Victoria LaFave is a freelance writer in the Upper Peninsula, and frequently writes articles for several of the Diocesan Catholic schools.