At their last regular March meeting, Oakland County commissioners paused to recognize notable women throughout the county.
While this was part of a Women’s History Month, these women are making a difference on a daily basis. Commissioner Angela Perry, D-Pontiac, had invited fellow commissioners to name a standout in their respective communities. Most of the 2022 honorees expressed surprise and delight at being selected.
District 14 Commissioner William Miller, D-Farmington, chose Rev. Dr. Patricia W. Coleman-Burns for her lifelong advocacy for freedom from all forms of oppression and violence. The University of Michigan assistant professor emerita of nursing and Black studies, Coleman-Burns is a coordinator with the Beloved Community Initiative of Farmington and leads a truth and reconciliation policing project. She is the Farmington Hills Multicultural Multiracial Council’s co-chairwoman.
District 16 Commissioner Penny Luebs, D-Clawson, chose city resident Char Larson, who retired as president and CEO of Clawson Community Credit Union only to create Larson Consulting. She is the current Clawson Chamber of Commerce board of directors president and an active member and leader in the Clawson-Troy Optimist Club. Her reputation as a warm and engaging leader includes seeming to be everywhere – charity poker fundraising, co-organizing auction dinners, and events promoting Claws & Paws and Farmer Market events.
District 12 Commissioner Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham, chose Dorothy Conrad, a Birmingham resident since 1963, calling her the epitome of what it means to be an engaged citizen. The former Birmingham Mayor has long been active in community affairs and local politics. She’s served on the traffic and safety board, planning board and the Birmingham City Commission. Conrad’s long volunteered with neighborhood associations and the League of Women Voters, and in 2014, she received the Birmingham Bloomfield First Citizen Award.
Two Southfield Democrats, District 21 Commissioner Janet Jackson and District 17 Commissioner Yolanda Charles, chose the “Mother of Southfield,” Barbara Talley, who appeared at the meeting via video chat.
Southfield voters elected her to city council in 1983, making her the first African American on that board and she led the creation of Southfield’s affirmative-action plan. As the first African American to run for mayor, she nearly beat an incumbent major of 29 years. In 1986, Talley founded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. task force, organizing Michigan’s first peace walk and led a delegation to Mexico annually to participate in a peace celebration. She currently serves as the project director for a traveling exhibit called “Pathways to Freedom in the Americas: Shared Experiences Between Michigan, USA and Guerrero, Mexico.”
District 9 Commissioner Gwen Markham, D-Novi, selected Novi resident Tia Marie Sanders, an activist working toward financially equitable access and inclusion for Black Americans, women and children. She founded the Tia Marie Sanders Foundation, which provides grants, training and capacity building for small nonprofits focused on ending racial, social and economic disparities.
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She is co-founder of Novi’s Feed the Need summer lunch program, which has provided more than 13,000 lunches to children under 17 since 2015, over the 11-week summer break. During the pandemic, services expanded to provide fresh produce, meat, and dairy products through community partnerships.
District 3 Commissioner Michael Spisz, R-Oxford, picked Oxford resident Constance Miller, for her decades-long commitment to the community. Actively campaigning since the 1990s, she issues ranging from building a new public library to funding police and fire services. Miller’s activism from 1997 to 2005 in the Oxford Public Library Friends led to her being named “Friend of the Year” in 2005.
Miller, a past president of the Oxford Women’s Club, leads the Free Meals program at Immanuel Congregational United Church of Christ. Since the pandemic arrived, she and a dedicated team of volunteers she recruited have distributed free, prepared meals and bags of groceries to whomever needs them. When she’s not busy volunteering, Miller works at Oxford Community Television, where she’s won awards for hosting shows.
District 13 Commissioner Marcia Gershenson, D-Bloomfield Twp., chose elementary school teacher and active volunteer Jennifer Graham — for her commitment to the development and advancement of youth inside and outside the classroom. She has mentored colleagues, parents and students on leadership and purposeful participation. Outside the classroom, she’s served on the Juneteenth and United We Walk committees, including as chairperson for United We Walk since 2016. The United We Walk brings the community together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with various activities .
District 6 Commissioner Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake Twp., selected White Lake history buff Barb Allison, who served as the township’s Historical Society president for six years. She’s currently the organization’s director of communications.
Allison has researched Milford Times editions from 1871-1978. Her work de ella as a local historian also led to the creation of a White Lake Driving History Tour, along with a companion booklet. The Fisk Farm Festival volunteer also helps at all Fisk Farm open house events. Currently working on a book chronicling the history of White Lake’s police and fire department history, Allison is also planning a book on the history of local veterans. Kowall said Allison has spent countless hours researching community history to educate the public while preserving knowledge of the community’s past.
District 10 Commissioner Angela Powell, D-Pontiac, chose Pontiac resident Portia Fields-Anderson for “her reputation of being selfless, energetic and passionate about individuals from all walks of life.”
Fields-Anderson’s efforts primarily benefit Pontiac residents, but some of her work has affected people statewide. She has served as director of community and human services for the City
of Pontiac, therapeutic recreation program supervisor for Oakland County, assistant
superintendent at Huron-Clinton Metroparks, and as a dance and art instructor. Powell notes Fields-Anderson lives by the motto “don’t just count the days, make the days count.”
Gershenson, the board’s vice-chairwoman, and Markham led the March 24 meeting – the first time in recent memory two women have done so, Charles noted in her comments at the end of the meeting.
Markham and Gershenson allowed big smiles and exchanged a high-five as the other commissioners applauded.