Whitmer recognizes Marquette County residents for community service
By Journal Staff
MARQUETTE — Two residents and one organization from Marquette County have been honored at the 2023 Governor’s Service Awards.
Big Bay resident Marcia Gonstead was one of five honored in the Volunteer of the Year category, which includes those over the age of 25 who strive to improve the lives of people in their community or state.
According to Gonstead’s biography on the 2023 Governor’s Service Awards webpage, she has been a “fervent and effective leader for more than 20 years in Marquette County.”
“Marcia’s passion for volunteer work developed early in life and accelerated after college. Her more recent volunteerism has been focused on the Big Bay community,” Gonstead’s biography said. “Preserving the sense of place and sustainability are the tenants that underlie most of the service that she now supports.”
She has served on several boards, including the Noquemanon Trail Network, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Marquette Community Foundation and on the marketing committee of the Big Bay Stewardship Council.
“She and her husband, Sven, founded the Big Bay Summer Concert series to bring the community together. Her continued work and advocacy for the Big Bay community have helped transform the community into a destination for many tourist activities and helped preserve the environment for future generations,” her biography said. “Marcia is one of the driving positive forces who has improved the rural opportunities of the Big Bay community and greater Marquette County.”
One resident and one organization were honored with a Community Impact Award. This award recognizes individuals or organizations that successfully make an impact in a Michigan community through volunteerism.
The Suicide Survivors Fund, administered by the Community Foundation of Marquette County, was honored.
According to the Suicide Survivors Fund biography on the 2023 Governor’s Service Awards webpage, the organization serves to provide financial support to individuals and families who have lost a loved one to suicide, created after founder Dave Aro lost his neighbor and friend to suicide.
“Distressed by the lack of support for the grieving family, Aro and community members personally financed the necessary cleanup and repairs,” the organization’s biography said. “This incident propelled Aro and others to explore the prevalence of such situations and advocate for assistance in handling post-suicide issues.”
According to the organization’s biography, 22 suicides happen each year in Marquette County, half by firearm. Law enforcement officials estimate that half of those families did not have resources to hire a company to clean the scene, which eventually led to the collaboration and establishment of the Suicide Survivors Fund.
“The Suicide Survivors Fund has garnered substantial community support, receiving over $40,000 in donations. Currently, Marquette County is the only county in the state that has funding for people who need these kinds of services,” the organization’s biography said. “Dave and other members of the group continue to educate adjacent counties, the Legislature and the public about the importance of supporting survivors of suicide loss.”
Marquette resident Andrew Rickauer was also one of five honored statewide with a Community Impact Award. According to his biography on the awards webpage, his impact in producing change within the county is “immeasurable.”
As executive director for the United Way of Marquette County, Rickauer has spent countless hours outside of the typical work week volunteering, networking and strategizing about how he can “best help those in need.” He created Yoopers United in 2020 to support local nonprofits to engage more people in service.
“Rickauer’s belief that volunteerism is crucial to a community’s success is evident through how he and his family volunteer, whether it’s mentoring youth leaders, dressing as the Easter bunny, stuffing thousands of eggs with candy, testing ski trails prior to races or grilling food for athletes and volunteers,” his biography said. “He has become a guide to support blind athletes competing in cross country skiing, running and biking.”
He also serves on multiple boards and committees including the Kiwanis Club of Marquette, Marquette Township Downtown Development Authority, Marquette Trail Running Group, NTN, Marquette County Habitat for Humanity, Marquette County Salvation Army and the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy.
“Michiganders roll up their sleeves to help their communities and always have each other’s backs,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a press release. “That spirit of service and selflessness defines us and demonstrates the power of getting things done for the people and places you love most.
“Every year, we come together to honor those extraordinary Michiganders who go above and beyond to serve their community and this year is no different. I look forward to meeting and celebrating all the awardees from across Michigan and hearing their stories.”
The Michigan Community Service Commission will host the 2023 Governor’s Service Awards at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. For more information or to read all the biographies, visit michigan.gov/leo/boards-comms-councils/mcsc/gov-serv-awards/2023-governors-service-award-winners.