Legal community well represented in Senior Neighbors 16 over 60 cohort

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Group Photo: The 2019 cohort of people receiving the 16 Over 60 awards, at the Nov. 13 gala in their honor, hosted by Senior Neighbors. Shown are (left to right): front row, Mary Jane Dockeray, Mary Alice Williams, Marc DeRuiter, Julie Haveman, Cindy Ritter, Steve Maas, Suzan Couzens, and Elaine Hillary; back row, Susan Zimmerman, Rodney Martin, Faye Richardson-Green, Sara Smolenski, Carl Ver Beek John Mulder, Doyle Hayes, and Dave Kampfschulte.

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

As a group of incredible community leaders became recipients of the Senior Neighbors 16 Over 60 awards on Nov. 13,  it was evident that age is no deterrent to  efficacy or desire to serve.

It was also clear that “over 60” encompasses a wide range of ages, from Judge Sara Smolenski at 62 to 92-year-old Mary Jane Dockeray.

“I was thinking they probably could have done something like 8 Over 80 too,” mused Carl Ver Beek, Of Counsel at Varnum and one of several winners associated with the legal community.
Smolenski, Chief Judge of the 63rd District Court, commented, “I joked with them that I didn’t even feel like a senior, at my age.”

One of the other awardees, Rodney Martin of Warner Norcross + Judd, was the subject of a profile in the August 14 issue of the Grand Rapids Legal News. At the time he said, with characteristic modesty, “In one sense it’s a true honor, and I’m very happy to have received it. But there are so many people who deserve it at least as much as I do.”

Martin is an excellent photographer in addition to being a banking/financial/cybersecurity attorney, which encompasses his deep commitment to diversity and inclusion work. He was quoted in the program as saying, “My  commitment  to  diversity,  like  my  photography,  causes me to look more carefully to understand the richness and beauty of all people.”

Senior Neighbors was very intentional about honoring those whose community lives have more than one dimension, and each winner was described in the program with three descriptive designations.

Another winner, Julie Haveman (described as “Caregiver, Mediator, Volunteer”), was a manager at Kent County Friend of the Court before her retirement. She continues to serve within the legal framework as a divorce coach, sometimes without charging, and a mediator at Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan focusing on domestic relations cases. Payment she receives often goes to such nonprofits as Safe Haven Ministries and Legal Aid of West Michigan.

Haveman also volunteers at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and advocates for veteran issues. Other volunteer efforts include Frederik Meijer Gardens, where the 16 Over 60 gala was held; Mercy Health St. Mary’s Hospital; and meal preparation for Ronald McDonald House Western Michigan.

Judge Smolenski has been at the 63rd District Court since 1990. She mentors students, including by bringing them in to visit the courthouse, serves or has served for many organizations such as the Dominican Sisters, Circles Grand Rapids, the Hospice of Michigan Foundation, American Cancer Society, Kent County Literacy Council and the YWCA.

She also has a high profile due to frequently emceeing events ­–­ The Grand Rapids Bar Association Just Lips show is just one example – and speaking humorously about her life out in the community. For example, the Detroit and Genesee County Legal News papers featured a column about her “stand-up” anecdotes Nov. 4.

“Senior Neighbors is a great organization and they make such a huge impact on seniors in our community. It was such an honor to get the award from them,” she says, adding, “The event was fun and it was festive. They had us send four photographs to depict our life, and then talk about them. It was so beautiful to see the testimonials of the other recipients.” (The judge’s photos included one of her shaking hands with Supreme Courts Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and one with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.)

Carl Ver Beek agreed, commenting, “The whole thing was really classy.” Recipients had professional photographs taken in the early summer, and there was a reception held so they could get to know one another. Poster-size enlargements of the photos taken decorated the Meijer Gardens lobby as guests entered, reflecting the “Engaged and Inspiring” theme on the certificates given each.
Ver Beek, whose reputation as an excellent lawyer was made during his years as a labor and employment lawyer at Varnum, continues to do arbitration and mediation, including volunteering with Dis-

pute Resolution Center of West Michigan. In fact, another award he won in 2019 was 2019 Peace Maker of the Year Award from the DRC. Among the more prestigious of the many honors that have come his way was the State Bar Roberts P. Hudson Award for service to the public and legal community, considered the highest award the State Bar confers.

What Ver Beek really wants to talk about is Holland Home, one of dozens of health-related organizations he has given time to, in this case the last 30 years. “As my term on the board would end,” Ver Beek says, “I’d stay on a couple committees and then after a year or two get re-elected to the board. I just have a strong affection and affiliation for what Holland Home does. It’s been around now for 132 years.”

He explains that in addition to running two senior living buildings housing about 1,600 people, Holland Home has programs covering 13 counties (surrounding Kent) to facilitate older adults staying in their homes. Ver Beek himself suggested that collaboration was a good way to approach this, resulting in the partner organization Atrio Home Care.

“When you work with nonprofits by definition you’re working with nice people,” he says. “So as far as this award, it’s nice to receive an honor for doing something you like to do.”

Thanks in part to fundraisers like the 16 Over 60 Gala, Senior Neighbors, was able to help 4,353 seniors in 2018.

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