Creating their Legacy: Women leaders work to improve Mount Pleasant community


For Women's History Month, Central Michigan Life spoke to seven women leading different organizations. We asked them what inspires them to help make positive strides in the community and what legacy they want to leave behind. 

R.I.S.E Executive Director Jennifer Page sits in her office Friday, March 24 in the R.I.S.E office.

Jennifer Page, R.I.S.E Advocacy Inc. 

Jennifer Page spearheads an organization that has empowered different people since its founding.

R.I.S.E Advocacy provides free support services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. For the last four years, Page has led those operations.

Securing grants and running human resources is only part of the job. Page ensures the group’s operations are running smoothly. She said she’s usually doing something new every day. 

Page graduated from Central Michigan University twice with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and social studies, then a master’s degree in public administration. 

She wanted to be a high school teacher, but after working within the nonprofit field she “fell in love.” 

Her background in public administration allows her to bring new insight to R.I.S.E.

Page said the public perception behind what a nonprofit really is can present its challenges. She works to ensure that people are aware of what a nonprofit really is. 

“The viewpoint that people have of people in nonprofits – and maybe especially women in nonprofits – is that we're not strong and that we're not here to run a business. They think we're here just to be nice and sweet, and I don't think that that's always the case,” Page said. 

Leading R.I.S.E has allowed Page to reflect on what she believes makes a good leader. She relies on experts and listening to the community in order to provide the best services. Working alongside these experts in R.I.S.E is Page’s favorite part of the job. 

As she works alongside other women leaders, she said she is happy to be a part of leadership in the community. 

“One of the things I love about this community of women leaders is that it's a really supportive environment,” Page said. “I hope that more women go into leadership roles moving forward.”        

Megan Bair sits on a set of stairs Friday, March 24 at For Arts Sake in downtown Mount Pleasant.

Megan Bair, For Art’s Sake

Megan Bair, co-owner of For Art’s Sake, is one of the newer women business owners in the area. She focuses her efforts on supporting local artists by not only selling their work, but also teaching and creating her own art. 

Bair opened the business with co-owner, Hannah France Mikus, in 2020.

As of March 29, Bair provides a space for about 54 different artists to get their work out in front of the community to be seen and sold.

“I love being able to share my love for art with other people,” Bair said. “A lot of people just don't have the opportunity to have art in their lives… I just love finding new ways to share the craft with other people.”

With years of community involvement, Bair said opening For Art’s Sake might have been easier for her than others. However, she still faces challenges as an artist and business owner. 

“I think sometimes in business it takes a lot more to get people to take you seriously as a woman (and) especially as an artist,” Bair said. “But I have a mission and we're going to make this happen. I'll figure out how to do it myself and all of the people that join and help and support are amazing bonuses.”

“I think you have to be strong and independent and plan to work your ass off and hope that people join in.”

Before starting a business, Bair said it's important for business owners to understand the mountain of work before them. She recommends seeking advice from existing businesses and getting used to doing behind-the-scenes tasks.

Regardless of her work with For Art’s Sake, Bair said she wants to leave a legacy as someone who encouraged growth and change.

SGA President Kate King stands at the podium after a meeting Monday, March 21 in the Bovee UC Auditorium.

Katelyn King, Student Government Association (SGA)

Kate King acts as the link between CMU students and administration in her role as Student Body President.

King joined SGA in 2020 during her sophomore year as a representative for the student environmental alliance.

“Immediately I fell in love with the position (and) getting to work with other students to kind of make changes on our campus,” King said. 

During her junior year, King took on the role of special projects coordinator where she worked on projects like the tampon initiative. This initiative provides menstrual products in some women's bathrooms across campus. 

As president, she works to create and better coordinate student resources like the Student Food Pantry.

She hopes to get the food pantry into a more accessible space before she graduates. She has already been able to secure a new fridge and a vehicle for the group. 

“My favorite part (about my role) is just getting to advocate for students and create change,” King said. “Our food pantry coordinators came to me at the beginning of the year letting me know that they were struggling with a lot of different things. I was really able to work with them and with the administration to get that immediate change for the food pantry. We were able to give them resources that were being overlooked."

King said she wants students to understand that SGA is a place students can feel confident using to voice their opinions. 

“(I want to ensure) students are getting the chance to fight for what we need (and) that SGA is in the place to continue to advocate for change," she said. 

Dr. Maureen Eke sits in her office Thursday, March 23 in Anspach Hall.

Maureen Eke, Central Michigan University faculty member and Mount Pleasant City Commissioner

Central Michigan University faculty member Maureen Eke prides herself on being an advocate for both CMU students and Mount Pleasant community members.

Eke has been a faculty member since 1995. She teaches courses in issues that deal with social justice and human rights. Her identity compels her to speak out and educate herself and others. She was born in Nigeria. 

“I do believe that I struggle in a number of spaces,” Eke said. “I'm a woman, a person of color, I am faculty but also I was not born in this country. So all these different spaces, I navigate them back and forth.”

Eke has lived in Mount Pleasant for over 20 years and was recently elected for Mount Pleasant’s City Commission in 2021. She said her efforts for the community and for CMU sort of overlap. 

“I don't have a choice but to address (certain issues) because I don't see voices addressing them or people addressing them,” she said. 

Eke is also a part of the Isabella County Human Rights Committee, which she chaired for almost seven years.

It's through all these involvements, Eke hopes to be a voice for multiple underrepresented groups. She believes that involvement is the best way for someone to lead a group. 

“I think if you want to be a good leader, or a strong leader, you really have to model the things that you believe in,” Eke said. “I can't teach courses and talk about these issues in the classroom, and then walk out of the classroom and not pay attention to them. That's not me.”

United Way Executive Director Annie Sanders stands in front of photos Tuesday, March 22 in the United Way office.

Annie Sanders, United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties

United Way is an international network of over 1,800 local nonprofit fundraising affiliates but Annie Sanders, president and CEO at United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties, has spent the last three and a half years helping her neighbors. 

United Way aims to create community-based and community-led solutions to fight for the health, education and financial stability of each individual within the community. 

Sanders grew up in Mount Pleasant and attended Central Michigan University where she majored in commercial recreation. She worked with Special Olympics Michigan while pursuing her master's degree and served as CMU's assistant and associate director of Alumni Relations.

Now, she splits her time between both her Mount Pleasant office and her Alma office trying to create changes in both communities. 

While advocating for those who need help, Sanders is also working to raise funds locally to invest in United Way’s nonprofit partners. Last year the group was able to financially contribute to about 50 nonprofits within the community. 

Sanders notes the strong female presence within her team at United Way, but also in nonprofit leadership around the world

“All of my positions prior to this I've had strong women leaders as my supervisors and bosses in my department. So, I think I've always felt there was a place for me in those roles,” Sanders said. “Now having interns from CMU and having younger women that work within our organization I just think that we're making big moves for sure.” 

However, she often thinks about her daughters and the challenges they still have yet to overcome such as pay differences. 

“I never want my daughters or any female to ever think that they're not equally as capable of doing something as well as a man would be in the exact same position," Sanders said "My girls are raised strong, and they know that they can do anything that they want to do."

Executive Director of the Nimkee Clinic Karmen Fox stands near a window in her office Friday, March 24 in the Nimkee Clinic.

Karmen Fox, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Nimkee Memorial Wellness Center 

Executive Health Director at Nimkee Memorial Wellness Center, Karmen Fox, oversees seven different departments and around 65 employees. 

Nimkee Memorial Wellness Center is the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe's (SCIT) health center located on the Isabella Indian Reservation. 

Fox is a member of the SCIT and prides herself on being there for her community. 

“I can sleep at night because I do go above and beyond,” Fox said. “If I get a call in the evening (or) if I get a call on a weekend (then) I will answer those calls, and I will try to find them the resources or the help that they need. My office closes at five, but I don't stop working at five.”

She started at Nimkee Medical Clinic filing papers when she was in junior high as a way to participate in the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s summer youth program. 

Fox went on to become a medical assistant for Nimkee Medical Clinic while she was training to become a nurse, but later decided not to pursue nursing. 

She went to Central Michigan University to get a bachelor’s degree and become a public health educator. She continued to work with Nimkee Medical Clinic’s public health department while attending CMU. Fox earned her master's degree in health administration at CMU. This eventually led Fox to her current role in 2014. 

After this past holiday, Fox took action firsthand to help those within her community with COVID-19 testing. Fox and a medical coder at the clinic worked together to test 284 people over two days. 

She also volunteers within the community doing things like serving the Girls on the Run Executive Board and volunteering at the Isabella County Restoration House. 

As Fox continues to lead the Nimkee Health Clinic, she stresses the importance of confidence and curiosity. 

“Women can be leaders. Be confident in what you're doing and if you always want to learn and grow, you can continue to do things," Fox said. “I don't know everything and if I don't then I'm going to try to find the answer. When you think you know everything is when you stop learning and growing.”

Director of Diversity Education Nikita Murray is interviewed in her office Thursday, March 24 in Warriner Hall. 

Nikita Murry, Director of Diversity Education at Central Michigan University

Director of Diversity Education, Nikita Murry, has spent the past two years working to create institutional change within CMU. 

Murry works with faculty and staff to ensure the university is constantly educating itself.

“Every day I'm developing something related to education and education on campus,” Murry said. “Our work is on changing the campus, changing the culture, changing the policies and procedures so that (individuals)… have the positive experience that they need.”

Murry's background is in journalism. She worked as a sports reporter for the Midland Daily News where she was hired to help diversify the paper. She remembers the "pushback" of being a woman of color in a very male-dominated position.  

Regardless, even as a sports reporter, equity and inclusion would always find its way into her stories, Murry said. 

Murry worked in counseling for some time and specialized in helping young adults heal from sexual assault. Murry also specialized in understanding trauma as it related to minority groups. 

“Even in counseling, I was able to develop a specialization around advocating for people and elevating voices and ensuring that we were equitable in how we conceptualize people and their needs from a mental health and wellness perspective,” Murry said. 

Murry said securing her current role in diversity education felt like a “straight path.” 

Despite her leadership now, Murry wants to recognize Ulana Klymyshyn,  former director of CMU’s Office of Diversity Education, and continue to be a part of her legacy. 

“I think it's very important to acknowledge her because she was the one who really established the foundation for what diversity education on campus would look like,” Murry said. “If I'm following in her footsteps appropriately, I'm adding another strong layer for the next person to build on.”