Notes from April 14, 2021 Ann Arbor Rotary Meeting

Collyer Smith

President Joanne called the meeting to order at 12:26 PM. Tom Strode was unable to be with us, today, but he led us in “The Star-Spangled Banner” via video.

Collyer Smith gave the inspiration message. Last Thursday, April 8, was Yom HaShoah, the Jewish remembrance of the Holocaust, a time when 6 million people were killed for no other reason than they were Jewish. Collyer has been to the Holocaust Museum in Farmington Hills many times where he and all visitors are greeted by an enormous railway car; one the was used to pick up people and take them to concentration camps during the Holocaust. On one trip to the Museum, an object over the doorway was pointed out to Collyer. It was a mezuzah, a piece of parchment called a klaf contained in a decorative case and inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah. Collyer then saw that there were a number of mezuzahs around that doorway. He was told that all of them were made by Martin Lowenberg, a Holocaust survivor. Over the years, Collyer and Martin have become friends. Martin spoke to our Club about 5 years ago about his experiences and the Holocaust. Martin, who is 93 years old, is passionate about telling his story, especially to school aged children. He often says that soon there will be no more survivors to tell these stories. Last February, Martin Lowenberg, after hearing about Collyer’s path to District Governor of District 6380, gave one of the mezuzahs that he had made to District 6380 with the express wish that it be housed with the Ann Arbor Rotary Club. The mezuzah was made from original wood taken from the railway car when some of the its wood was removed and replaced during restoration. Collyer and Lori Walters are working with the University of Michigan Union to display the mezuzah at the Union according to traditional Jewish culture. Collyer ended by echoing Martin Lowenberg’s words, “We must never ever forget.” (Our member and photographer Fred Beutler wrote a piece for interested Rotarians called “What is a Mezuzah” — click here to read.)

Marlena Studer and Steve Pierce sang a lovely rendition of “Here Comes the Sun”, including special words of encouragement to Rotarians after our long winter.

President Joanne welcomed guests. She thanked everyone who makes today’s meeting work.

There was a remembrance of our fellow Rotarian, Victor Rosenberg, who passed away on April 11. Vic joined our Club in 2005; he is a multiple Paul Harris Fellow and was very active in our Club.

New Member Emily Plumley

New member, Emily Plumley, was introduced by Lauren Heinonen. Emily grew up in Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan where she was a member of Rotaract. She has already started to attend some of our service committee meetings. Welcome Emily.

Bev Seiford introduced our Club’s newest Distinguished Service Award honoree, Susan Smith. Susan was born in Lansing and lived there until she headed to the University of Michigan, where she earned a BS in math in 1963. After graduation, Susan headed to Philadelphia with $175 in her pocket to work for an actuarial and consulting firm. She stayed in Philadelphia for 29 years before she transferred to Chicago, then back to Philadelphia and then to Detroit. She retired from Willis Towers Watson actuarial firm in 1992. Susan had broken the “glass ceiling” being the first woman stock holder and Vice President.

Since retirement, Susan has used her talents in so many volunteering ways. To name a few: she served as treasurer and then President of her college sorority corporation board; she has been active in the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop for more than 20 years; she has been very active in the Ann Arbor City Club for more than 26 years, including being Board President twice; others include Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Kiwanis.

Susan has been a philanthropist. In 2007, Susan gifted $1.5M to the University of Michigan, the Susan Meredith Smith endowed professorship in actuarial sciences in the math department. She has given several scholarships to the School of Public Health and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Susan has been generous in supporting other organization in the community.

Susan has been in Rotary since 2002, serving almost the entire time as an outstanding chair of the social committee. Bev ended with these words:
Susan, “We appreciate who you are as a person. We value the contributions you have made to all. We respect the values you live by. We love you dearly.”

Susan Smith and her husband Bob Gray

Our Speaker

Chief Michael Cox

Dennis Powers introduced Chief Michael Cox, police chief for the city of Ann Arbor.
Chief Cox began with talking about what is happening in policing, today. There have been many issues raised in the social justice movement. He said that there is hope in building trust with a philosophy shift.

Historically, there has been a police “warrior” culture; the police should clean up the street, catch the “bad guys; there is danger all around us; every contact could be life-threatening; little or no explanation of behavior or data sharing; police are the professionals and they know what is best. In this type of culture, the police can lose contact with people and become more interested in their own statistics.

There has been a societal demand for change. Some of the causes of this demand: Black Lives Matter movement, videos of police killings of African-Americans; appearance of an unjust criminal system; the pandemic; worldwide protests; high police distrust.

We need to be shifting to a philosophy of police as “Guardians”. To do this, police need to partner with residents to solve problems; determine the root cause of problems; value positive community relationships; prioritize police resources based on community preferences; empower the community with education on ways to stay safe. Chief Cox emphasized that police need to listen. He said that community-oriented policing addresses building trust. The police should not just think in terms of law and order, but need focus on building peace through working together. The police should tell the community about themselves; get to know each other. Officers need to understand the importance of respect, information, and fairness. Just because the police can do something because of multiple laws, doesn’t always mean it is the right thing to do. Traditionally, the biggest negative impact in communities of color comes where there has not been a lot of communication.

We hear a lot of slogans today regarding the police such as:
“Defund the Police”
“Keep the Police Out of Neighborhoods” – the police can’t build trust if they aren’t out with the people
“Police shouldn’t talk to kids or be in schools” – how would children know about police or how can police build trust if they are not meeting together.
“Abolish the Police”
“Unarm the Police”
“Police should only respond for limited core services” – often, the police are asked to do too many things.

In Ann Arbor, what is community policing for every officer? This includes a lot of data-sharing and a more robust website. It means “law enforcement with the community in mind (through public engagement, data sharing, partnership, problem-solving, communications, training and education). Policing has to be community-centered; designed to facilitate learning; require police, community members, and policymakers to participate in collaboration efforts to reduce crime, fear of crime, and build trust.” Needs to be transformative and transparent. Officers must develop positive relationships. This includes Ann Arbor residents, businesses, agencies, schools, faith-based organizations, stake holders, and service providers.

Community -oriented policing is not: easy or quickly achieved; achievable without community support, reliable data, governmental support and partnership, reorganizing organizational and structure. It is not soft on crime, risk-free, or achievable without commitment to training.

President Joanne Pierson

President Joanne announced that our speaker next week will be Dr. Kelly Sexton, UM Associate Vice President for Research, Technology Transfer and Innovation. Her topic will be “Commercializing Innovations”

President Joanne ended the meeting with a quote from Dr. Brené Brown: “When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.”

The meeting was adjourned at 1:31 PM.

Carol Senneff, Reporter
Fred Beutler, Photographer