March 3, 2024

10 Years of Fascinating People

A look back at nearly 200 northerners doing amazing things
By Jillian Manning | March 4, 2023

2023 marks the tenth year of the Northern Express Fascinating People list, and as we looked back through the archives, we were blown away by the 180 people we had featured over the years. (Plus 20 more in this issue!)

While we can’t go back and interview each of them all over again, we connected with a few Fascinating People from each year to see how life has changed and what new endeavors they are chasing now.

2014

Jackie Kaschel: Executive Director and Cofounder of Peace Ranch, an equine therapy nonprofit

What are you up to these days?
Peace Ranch has grown considerably. In addition to trauma therapy, we now offer training for professionals, parents, and clinical internships statewide and consultation for new programs nationwide. My time is divided. Part executive (my work), part service provision (my passion), and part equine rehabilitation (my love).

How have your goals grown or changed?
From a founder’s perspective, it became clear Peace Ranch will outlive us, so in 2021 we proposed a 10-year succession plan. Our succession goals to date are met and we are moving confidently toward the future. Our focus is sharing our knowledge and our experience and building our team.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
Peace Ranch has positively impacted the lives of thousands of men, women, and children needing hope and healing. We have a great team and a solid plan for this amazing work to carry on. I am humbled by the magnitude of this outreach and proud to be part of it.

Carter Schmidt: Creator of Carter’s Compost, a neighborhood compost collection service

What are you up to these days?
I am currently a Rotary Youth Exchange student living in Thailand. I’ve been living with a host family and attending a local high school in Chiang Mai for the past six months.

How have your goals grown or changed?
Before I went on exchange, I had planned on going to college in Michigan and staying close to home once I got my degree, but this experience has opened my eyes to the possibility of studying and working abroad. I’m currently looking at options to study abroad for college.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
My biggest personal achievement is applying and going through with Youth Exchange. This past year has pushed me out of my comfort zone more than anything has in my life, but I’m so glad that I stuck with it so that I am able to experience all the amazing things Youth Exchange has to offer.

The 2014 Fascinating People List:

Jan Price, Jessica Pociask, Kevin Rhodes, Erik Afton, Christopher Wright, John Mull, Chuck Pfarrer, Carter Schmidt, Stephen Brede, Kevin McDonough, Kerri Finlayson, Gustav Uhlich, Jim Gillespie, Bill “Bear” Fowler, Melissa Saleh, Lou Kasischke, Terrie Taylor, Jackie Kaschel, Charles Eisendrath, Chava Bahle. Read the full bios of all the 2014 Fascinating People here.

2015

Matt Meyers: Co-founder of M22, a lifestyle brand 

What are you up to these days? 
This past month (February) marks 11 years since my life-saving brain surgery to remove a Clival Chordoma tumor, and with immense gratitude I can say I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been. I am still active in working at M22 with an unbelievably talented and dedicated team, and continue to follow my true passion of kiteboarding the earth’s best conditions.

How have your goals grown or changed?
Overall, my life goals  have not changed much: maintain physical and mental health, build a loving family, create and nurture genuine friendships, grow and strengthen M22, and live in an inspiring environment. Raising young children has opened my eyes to how quickly time passes and has helped me to continue to make thoughtful, intentional life choices that support my life goals.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile? 
A professional achievement I am proud of was purchasing the M22 building and the one next to it and doubling our store size. This move has really allowed us to establish permanent roots in our hometown, and to confidently reinvest in the brand we believe in so much. Personally, our family has been vegan for over five years now. It is the most positive life change I have ever made. 

Sue Kurta: Founder of Boss Mouse Cheese, an artisan cheese shop

What are you up to these days? 
Boss Mouse is now in its 11th year in business. We have a small part-time staff and participate in several of our area’s excellent farmers markets. The smoked butter continues to have a cult following. I still love making cheese and living on my farm in Kingsley.

How have your goals grown or changed? 
When Boss Mouse was new, I was trying to grow it and get bigger; now I am happy to stay right where I am, working smarter, not harder and continuing to produce the highest quality products I can. 

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
I am proud that I turned one of my hobbies into a livelihood. I teach for the MSU Dairy Division, and despite the economy or pandemic, we have never raised our prices. Over the past decade I have traveled the world and spent quality time with friends, family, and a menagerie of beautiful rescue animals.

The 2015 Fascinating People List: 

Sally Van Vleck, Bill Bustance, Jim McDivitt, Mardi Jo Link, Sue Kurta, Al Bakker, Jada Johnson, Bernie Rink, Nik Carman, George Golubovskis, Maureen Abood, Zoe Marshall-Rashid, Leo Gillis, Brad Bensinger, Rebecca Lessard, Vicky Long, Christopher Morey, Lou Mettler, Matt Myers, Eddy Walda. Read the bios of all the 2015 Fascinating People here.

2016

Matt Cassidy: Professional Sailor

What are you up to these days?
My family and I now live in Newport, Rhode Island. We moved here four years ago when I joined American Magic for the 36th America’s Cup. I’m still a professional sailor competing around the world at the Grand Prix level. Currently, I’m racing TP52s and M32 catamarans in Europe and the U.S.

How have your goals grown or changed?
My goals are the same as they’ve always been: be the best professional I can be to my teammates and at my position. Learn from each race and be better for the next one. With so much traveling required for work, I now make a big effort to limit my days away so I can spend time with my wife and two boys.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
My professional achievements include two America’s Cups, the 35th America’s Cup with Oracle Team USA in Bermuda 2017 and then the 36th America’s Cup with American Magic in New Zealand 2021, and two more TP52 World Championship wins in 2018 and 2022 with Quantum Racing.

Cheri Leach: Founder, CEO, and Program Officer of Raven Hill Discovery Center, a hands-on learning center

What are you up to these days?
I am still at Raven Hill helping visitors make connections between science, history, and the arts, and 2023 is turning out to be especially busy! This summer, we will be hosting a second Smithsonian Museum on Main Street (MoMS) exhibition and Summer Classes for Kids will replace Discovery Camps in 2023. Classes are subject-specific and can better meet the interests of young Raven Hill participants.

How have your goals grown or changed?
Raven Hill Discovery Center continues to grow and is busy preparing itself for the future. The Center is just beginning to work on plans for a Winter Center at the bottom of the hill, which will be more accessible and visible, with the goal of increasing attendance numbers, especially during the fall and winter months.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
I am proud that the Center continues to expand, providing new ways for visitors to learn, create, grow, and play. I am delighted at the community’s partnerships with Raven Hill for the past 31 years. Northern Michigan residents continually demonstrate their belief in Raven Hill and the informal learning opportunities we provide. As the saying goes, it takes a village.

The 2016 Fascinating People List:

Brittany Brubaker, Erika Hayden, Tanya Whitley, Marty Lagina, Jane Fortune, Elnora Milliken, Matt Cassidy, Samantha Harris, Jake Slater, J.B. Collings, Billy Strings, Mike Winters, Cheri Leach, Tommy Tropic, Owen Chesnut, Craig Webb, Therese Renis, Thomas Renkes, Elise Hayes, David Johnson. Read the bios of all the 2016 Fascinating People here.

2017

Xavier Verna: Major Gifts Officer for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities

What are you up to these days?
I am the first major gifts officer for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. I will be working with the development team to raise funds that help protect the environment in Michigan. On the side, I teach percussion and drumline at West Shore Community College. On occasion, I get to play in the orchestra pit for WSCC's musical productions.

How have your goals grown or changed?
Development was something that was born out of the work I did at the historic Ramsdell Theatre. It is an area I invested myself in, trained, got educated, and am still pursuing. I’m currently enrolled at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis taking online classes.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
I led a performing arts venue through a treacherous time. The pandemic hit many industries hard. Performing arts venues were among the worst hit because they thrive on bringing people together. We adapted, and the Manistee community came together beautifully to support it. We were resilient as a community, and I couldn't be more proud.

Lynn Evans: Curator of Archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks

What are you up to these days?
I’m still working at Michilimackinac, leading a team excavating a trader’s house inside the fort walls.

How have your goals grown or changed?
We’re still trying to figure out who lived here during the 1770s. One of our unusual discoveries has been a sleeve button with Masonic symbols, which may be a clue to the occupant. We’ve discovered a second cellar and other deep architectural features which extended the duration of the project.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
Despite the pandemic, we have kept the project going every summer since the original story!

The 2017 Fascinating People List:

Ben Whiting, Gregg Schumaker, Laurie Sears, Xavier Verna, Rebecca Childs, Brian and Piper Edwards, Harold Kranick, Dr. Lynn L.M. Evans, Shannon McWaters, Don Cunkle, Bob Downes, Joshua Jordan, Anthony Mikula, Rick Neumann, Patty Steele, Larry Warbasse, Tom Moran, Lisa Flahive, John Curtis, Stephen MacNeil. Read the bios of all the 2017 Fascinating People here.

2018

Maya Tisdale: Fun-loving kid and author who is living with cerebral palsy

What are you up to these days?
Maya is now in the third grade [her mom, Ann, tells us]. She’s walking independently, playing wheelchair tennis, skiing, singing in the choir, and traveling with her family all over the country to National Parks. Basically living her best life. We are currently in California for two months to participate in a clinical trial for a device that shows a lot of promise for cerebral palsy.

How have your goals grown or changed?
Her goal before was to walk and run. She’s smashed those goals and is now on to conquering all sorts of sports and activities. Her new goal is to participate on a swim team and try gymnastics.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
We wrote a book about Maya’s adventures—Mighty Miss Maya: See It, Then Be It—and it has been on a few bestseller lists and has been sold all over the world. Our second book will be back from the printer soon, called Mighty Miss Maya: Say Hello. We will be doing a book launch at Horizon Books on May 13.

Brian Confer: Co-owner of Stormcloud Brewing Company

What are you up to these days?
In 2018, we transitioned brewing operations out of the original pub location and into a newly built production facility on the edge of Frankfort. The old pub system moved 10 miles away and started a new life at Five Shores Brewing in Buelah, while we fired up a brand-new, 20-barrel brew system in the new building. We’ve slowly added fermentation capacity and continue to open new distribution territories in Michigan.

How have your goals grown or changed?
The goal remains the same: produce the best quality beer we can. We continue to educate ourselves and expand our ability to meet quality standards as we add capacity and launch new brands. The craft brewing landscape has changed considerably in the 10 years since we started, but we still have fun, get excited about new recipes, and look forward to a shift beer with the crew at the end of the day.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
It would be easy to say I’m proud of the awards we’ve received over the past several years, but the biggest reward has been part of developing such an outstanding brew team who are passionate about beer and show daily dedication for brewing to Stormcloud’s high standards. It’s an honor to work side by side with this crew, and I raise my glass to them.

The 2018 Fascinating People List:

Maya Tisdale, George Colburn, Rod Cortright, B Kareem, Bill Koucky, Nate Rook, Kim Diment, Dave Caroffino, Karin Reid Offield, Mitch Roman, Shane Bagwell, Stan Otto, Brian Confer, Jerome Rand, Anabel Dwyer, Rick Clark, Zander Cabinaw, Nancy Vogl, Karl Crawford, Sarah Shoemaker. Read the bios of all the 2018 Fascinating People here.

2019

Seth Beaudry: Entrepreneur who was paralyzed from the waist down after a 2017 car accident

What are you up to these days?
I have moved on from my previous ARêTe clothing brand and am now building a Web3 company as the founder and artist of ERA.

How have your goals grown or changed?
I am continuing entrepreneurship in hopes of creating a brand that can scale. Whatever that is, I hope my efforts provide something of value to humanity in my lifetime with creativity remaining forever infinite, innovation, and progressing onward.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
I think my greatest personal achievement since my original fascinating person was surviving 2020. I almost died multiple times and I underwent six major surgeries. Having to go through things most humans won’t ever have to endure has changed me a lot. It has illuminated the resiliency my body has and how driven I am to want to thrive. I am just getting started: paralyzed and grateful to be alive.

Norm Fred: Chairman of Boardman River Clean Sweep, a nonprofit focused on protecting northern Michigan waterways

What are you up to these days?
I have been invited to more DNR and Trout Unlimited meetings about the conditions of the rivers around here.

How have your goals grown or changed?
My goals haven't changed that much, but I have been able to achieve more than before because people read your article and more people know me when I call them for help.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
I have gotten some more awards, which really should have gone to our volunteers, more cooperation from local governments, more volunteers signing up to help us do river cleanups, and more conservation districts in other counties taking on river cleanups of their own.

The 2019 Fascinating People List:

Eric Stanfield, Lindsey Anderson, Seth Beaudry, Al Anderson, Lori Spielman, Mica Scotti Kole, Garth Ward, Kennith Scott, Mary Scholl, Paul Stebleton, Jason Kasdorf, Rebecca Russell, Scot Little Bihlman, Inanna Hauger, Tabatha Watkins, Nadia Daniels-Moehle, Bernie Friedrich, Daniel Cote, Norm Fred, Ruth Adamus. Read the bios of all the 2019 Fascinating People here.

2020

Piper Shumar: Creator of Piper’s Project, a program that collects cans to buy bikes for kids

What are you up to these days?
I am still returning cans! Also we are getting ready to start the new season and return more cans.

How have your goals grown or changed?
Well my goals changed because I planned on this being a small project, but it’s so big now. So we’ve had to make a few adjustments.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
My biggest achievement is becoming a Toys for Tots Youth Ambassador.

Travis Synder: Veteran’s champion and speaker who has walked around Lake Michigan twice to raise money and awareness for vets

What are you up to these days?
I’m currently wrapping up my B.A. Communications at Grand Valley State University. I still continue to speak and share with different organizations, schools, and media outlets about veteran mental health needs. I completed my second lap around Lake Michigan in 2022, walking 900 miles in eight weeks. We’ve raised almost $15,000 for the Mission 22 organization and walked almost 2,300 miles for the cause.

How have your goals grown or changed?
When I took off on the first trip in 2019, I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the effect of the suicide epidemic and what it means to our communities. I’ve now made it my mission to advocate for this cause full time and am grateful for the opportunities that have come with advocating.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
I was recently blessed to be awarded the 2022 Veteran of the Year award for the state of Michigan for my efforts in amplifying a message for so many of our veteran brothers and sisters. Giving a platform to those who haven’t felt encouraged to speak up before has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

The 2020 Fascinating People List:

Wayne Richard “Dick” Smith, Cindy Hull, Jennifer Drake, Piper Shumar, Wayne Wissner, Travis Snyder, George Armstrong, Francisca Stig-Nielsen, Gene Lagerquist, Kevin LaRose, Harry Goldson, Jessica Dennis, Bill Siegmund, Brittany Adams, Andrew Farron, Hiro Miura, Michael Long, Karl Manke, Chayse LaJoie, Goldie Beebe. Read the bios of all the 2020 Fascinating People here.

2021

Courtney Wiggins: Co-founder of Northern Michigan E3, a nonprofit and anti-racism task force

What are you up to these days?
I am organizing grief work events in the community as it relates to racial healing, community healing, and self-reflection, continuing my vibrational sound therapy practice, and still pressing for equity and inclusion within the community.

How have your goals grown or changed?
Community grief work has become a high priority to me. In order to find healing and move forward, I find it very important to acknowledge the everyday grief we each carry and find ways to sit with it, hold it, process it, and release it—if we can.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
I was honored to be the 2022 Sara Hardy Humanitarian of the Year, but truly it was an award that goes to all of Northern Michigan E3 and the community for the hard work we did together to make Traverse City a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive place.

Heather Spooner: Owner of Ampersand Lettering Lab, an art and hand lettering business

What are you up to these days?
I am currently working with a brilliant film crew out of Los Angeles on a documentary about The Letter League, the adult pen pal program I created during the pandemic. The film will feature stories of connection and community that was created through the art of letter writing. Fingers crossed that we will be able to preview the film in Traverse City and celebrate this giant accomplishment alongside friends and supporters in this community.

How have your goals grown or changed?
The goals of my business have shifted away from my personal growth and focused more on what my community needs. When I began my business, I thought the only story I would share about the ampersand would be about it being a secret “I love you” between my wife and me. Now, I am able to see very clearly that my story of the ampersand also tells the story of connection and community.

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
In addition to work, my “airplane friend” and wife, Christy, and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and are planning to jump on a plane together again in the spring to explore Portugal. 

The 2021 Fascinating People List:

Abra Berens, Gus Schmidt, Ean Guenthardt, Mark Fisher, Fred Falting, Carolynn Taylor, Jon Sangeorzan MD, Shiloh Slomsky, Courtney Wiggins, Ben Scripps, Brad Dohm, Deanne Bennett Criswell, Liam Dreyer, Matthew Elliott, Ian Murphy, Jamie Chapman, Sheryl Guy, Heather Spooner, Richard Rossman, Ken Taylor. Read the bios of all the 2021 Fascinating People here.

2022

Emily Umbarger: Director of Sustainability at Interlochen Center for the Arts

What are you up to these days?
I’m excited to share that we are nearing the completion of our institution’s first ever Climate Action Plan 2028. Interlochen’s 100-year anniversary is in 2028, and as a part of that celebration we are rolling out huge campus-wide sustainability initiatives that will also be put into place in my classroom.

How have your goals grown or changed?
Interlochen recently committed to purchasing 30 percent green energy from Consumers Energy. This will help us think more about clean energy and green technology. We continue to expand our free programs for the community in the Summer Garden Lecture series, and I’m teaching a new class in Regenerative Ag Biology!

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
Leading ICA toward our first ever Climate Action Plan has been incredible. Working with a passionate, dedicated campus team of over 25 people to put this plan together has been a labor of love and commitment. I’m so proud to be a part of this community at Interlochen.

Mike King: Skier and filmmaker who recently released his first film, Lake Effect

What are you up to these days?
I’m in the middle of a premiere tour for my two-year Michigan ski documentary, Lake Effect. We are about to have our sixth show throughout the state. The response has been unbelievable—I am so thankful the community has shown such support.

How have your goals grown or changed?
My goals have changed as I have seen how many people have been supporting this film and coming. It just shows if you put your all into something, people will support it! I am not sure what those next goals are, but I am excited!

What’s your biggest win or achievement since your Fascinating People profile?
Just finishing the film is a pretty big achievement. The fact it won Best Feature Film at Fresh Coast Film Festival is cool too. But regardless of the success of the film, I am just proud I went for it. Doing something that I have never done took me way out of my comfort zone. I was in over my head, but I believed in the project. I learned a lot and am grateful for the experience.

The 2022 Fascinating People List:

Paxton Robinson, Al Laaksonen, Carol Greenaway, Mike King, Liz Saile, Mickey Cannon, Kaila Kuhn, Winter Vinecki, Michael Lehnert, Dr. Rachel Sytsma-Reed, Mark Wilson, Emily Umbarger, Alex Sanderson, Tawny Hammond, Duane Brandt, Katherine Corden, Kyle Evans, Joe Van Alstine, Molly Ames Baker, Nancy Bordine. Read the bios of all the 2022 Fascinating People here.

 

Trending

Building the Party

In a recent opinion column, small business ownership expert Mary Keyes Rogers adeptly diagnoses several problems in our Un... Read More >>

Film Review: Bob Marley: One Love

Perhaps the first sign that Bob Marley: One Love might be a suspiciously polished and glowing take on the pop culture icon... Read More >>

The M-22 Chili Challenge

Chill(i) out at the 2nd annual M-22 Chili Challenge at Leelanau Sands Casino on Saturday, March 9, from noon-4pm. This coo... Read More >>

Just Keep Skiing

Don’t let the intermittent snow fool you—there is still plenty of ski hill fun to be had! Crystal Mountain in ... Read More >>