Street Talk: Contractor, camp make unexpected connection


Since coming under new ownership in 2018, Wolverine Building Group has been actively searching for ways to give back to the Grand Rapids community, but one particular project had a personal connection with the company.

The Grand Rapids-based contractor made a connection with Camp Blodgett, a local organization providing educational and recreational opportunities to underprivileged children. The organization needed construction work done for the summer retreat center at its West Olive camp. The facility also is often rented out for weddings and other events.

“The money they bring in for those event rentals actually helps supplement for kids to go to camp, so it’s a main source of income for them to provide camp opportunities for underprivileged kids,” said Kim McLaughlin, vice president of marketing and engagement for Wolverine.

The retreat center had a main deck that was in dire need of repair. Lucy Dyer Joswick, executive director of Camp Blodgett, said the deck had not been touched since it was built in 1998 and was becoming a safety hazard for guests.

Camp Blodgett had a separate company donate the necessary lumber and materials to reconstruct the deck, but it needed Wolverine to come in and resurface it.

It was a simple enough task for Wolverine, but McLaughlin, in setting up the project, made an uncanny discovery when going through Camp Blodgett’s marketing material.

“As I’m watching this video, they interview (Camp Blodgett’s) STEM director, and her name is Keli Christopher,” McLaughlin said.

Camp Blodgett partners with Dr. Christopher’s company, STEM Greenhouse, to administer the camp’s STEM curriculum.

“We offer STEM programs for middle school kids who are struggling with science and math,” Joswick said, “and Keli is really the brains behind that project … she ‘s an engineer and has that level of expertise that we need.”

Christopher also was the wife of Benjamin Amponsah, Wolverine’s former HR director, who had passed away in November 2018.

“Once we connected those dots, Wolverine knew that we needed to do this,” McLaughlin said. “We believed we were meant to help Camp Blodgett.”

Wolverine finished the deck in mid-May, and to top it off, the company will install a plaque dedicated to Amponsah.

“Benjamin always valued education, and he thought it was very important,” McLaughlin said. “He was a huge advocate for underprivileged kids.”

Wolverine donated approximately $25,000 in labor to Camp Blodgett by finishing the deck.

Wolverine’s strategic plan includes “doing good by doing well,” McLaughlin said. While the company prioritizes doing well in business, its success manifests in doing good for the community, too, she said.


The Muskegon County Airport now offers a program to expedite travelers through security lines.

As of May 19, passengers can utilize the national TSA pre-check program when traveling through the Muskegon airport. The program gets passengers through security without having to remove their shoes, jackets, belts or laptops, or remove liquids from carry-on luggage.

Once enrolled, an indicator is embedded on the boarding pass and scanned at the checkpoint, allowing the passenger to join a separate pre-check line.

Pre-check enrollees must complete an application and in-person background check and fingerprinting. TSA charges an $85 enrollment fee for five-year eligibility.

Participating airlines include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.

The Muskegon airport offers two flights daily to Chicago via United Airlines.

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport has been offering the pre-check program since 2014.

Culture club

Michigan Software Labs has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces 2019. Michigan Software Labs is one of seven companies to win the award from the state of Michigan and the only software company on the list. 

“We are very honored to have earned this national award from Inc.,” said Josh Hulst, managing partner and co-founder of Michigan Software Labs. “We have an outstanding team. This is really about recognizing their efforts.”

The recognition is based on a comprehensive measurement of private American companies that have created exceptional workplaces through superior culture, employee engagement and benefits. From nearly 2,000 submissions, Inc. narrowed its list to 346 finalists. 

“With today's tight labor market, building a great corporate culture is more important than ever,” said Inc. Magazine Editor in Chief James Ledbetter. “The companies on Inc.'s Best Workplaces list are setting an example that the whole country can learn from.”

Michigan Software Labs develops custom mobile, web and internet of things software for clients ranging from locally owned businesses to Fortune 500 companies. 

The company also was named among the Top UX Design Companies in the U.S. by Clutch in 2018.

Dialing back

A local media executive is closing the book on a 44-year broadcasting career.

WZZM 13, the TEGNA-owned ABC affiliate in Grand Rapids and West Michigan, announced the retirement of its president and general manager, Janet Mason, last week. She has spent the past 22 years with the local affiliate. Her final day is scheduled for July 12.

Mason has spent more than 40 years with Gannett, now TEGNA, in a variety of executive and on-air positions.

“When I began my Gannett journey at WTCN-WUSA-KARE in Minneapolis/St. Paul in January 1979, I didn’t know where that journey would take me or how long it would last,” Mason said. “It has been a wonderful and rewarding adventure.”

Mason spent 17 years at KARE 11, rising through the ranks. She started as a general assignment reporter before becoming the local Today Show news cut-in anchor.

She later became the St. Paul bureau chief and then assistant news director. She spent her final eight years at KARE 11 as vice president of news.

In addition to being promoted several times, Mason achieved many “firsts.”

She became Gannett Broadcasting’s first woman and person of color to serve as news director in the 1980s. In 1996, she was promoted to vice president of news at Gannett Broadcasting, where she worked with station general managers and news directors to improve their news programs.

A year later, she made West Michigan her home and became the first woman and person of color to serve as a station general manager in West Michigan.

She accepted the position of president and general manager of WZZM 13 in 1997. Since then, she has created an investigative reporting unit, provided in-depth coverage of many significant events, ushered West Michigan into the age of digital journalism and high-definition TV, and strengthened the station’s community involvement.

Throughout her tenure in West Michigan, she served on a variety of community boards, including the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids.

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