It's Miller Time

October 8, 2007
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Hope College professor and dean for social sciences Nancy Miller was named the third annual winner of the Lakeshore Athena award last Tuesday during a sold-out event at the Trillium Banquet & Conference Center in Spring Lake.

“It’s a great thing to see men and women come together to honor the empowerment of women,” said Miller as she accepted the prestigious women’s leadership honor. “Sometimes you can be lulled into thinking that it’s not necessary anymore, but then there is something that reminds you that it’s not done yet. There will always be a need to lift up and empower women.”

A partial reminder came in the form of keynote speaker Deborah Rodriguez, a Holland native and author of the best-selling Kabul Beauty School. Rodriguez discussed her experiences opening and operating a cosmetology school in Afghanistan from 2002 until she fled the country under threat of violence last spring.

“I was not thinking about mentoring or teaching, I was a hairdresser that saw bad perms,” said Rodriguez, who came to the country as part of a disaster relief expedition and previously served as a massage therapist for firefighters at Ground Zero on 9-11. “It was a nightmare for a hairdresser to see this. I was horrible on the medical team anyway, and I knew I could do something…”

Beneath the burkas, Rodriguez encountered women beaten further down than she could have previously imagined. War-torn for a quarter-century before the Taliban’s rise to power, Afghanistan is two generations removed from any semblance of women’s empowerment. Women are sold off as brides before their teens, and widows (there are many in a war-torn country) regularly turn to prostitution, a capital offense. There is no electricity or running water, and bombings are as common as traffic jams in New York City.

“It was something that I wish I hadn’t seen, because once you see it you become accountable.”

How can hairdressing make a difference? It is a trade only women can do, men aren’t even allowed to go into a salon.

“When you give her a skill, you give her some power,” Rodriguez said.

**Priority Health is out and Bissell Inc. is in: Bissell will be title sponsor of UCI American Tour Continental pro cycling team in 2008, according to a company press release. The team had been co-sponsored for two years by Priority Health, Bissell and Grand Rapids-based Advantage Benefits. Bob Hughes of Advantage Benefits said his company will continue to back the Bissell team. Priority Health, the Spectrum Health-owned health benefits plan, operates solely in Michigan and just didn’t need the national exposure, spokesman Rob Pocock said.

But Bissell, the venerable, privately-held floor care company, has the big footprint to match the successful cycling team’s reach. Instead, Priority Health will sponsor the U23 team. “It’s like Bissell is taking over the Tigers and we’re taking over the Whitecaps,” Pocock said. The Priority Health Grand Cycling Classic, a crit race in downtown Grand Rapids that debuted at Celebration on the Grand last month, is in no danger, Pocock said. In fact, Priority Health is considering sponsorship of several other races in Michigan, including one in the nonprofit company’s Eastern Region, which encompasses the Detroit area. Earlier this year, Priority Health completed an acquisition for its first foray into the highly-competitive Detroit market.

**Spectrum Health has committed to keeping Blodgett Hospital open in East Grand Rapids with a $98 million infusion. But the uncertainty continues for the fate of land once slated for a new Blodgett. “We’ll hang onto it for a while. Nothing is planned,” Spectrum Health CEO Rick Breon told the Business Journal recently.

Part of the 75-acre site at Leffingwell Avenue and Bradford Street, between East Beltline Avenue and I-96, now is home to West Michigan Heart, a large cardiology practice. “Our plan for Blodgett has answered some of the question. We’re not going to put a hospital on it,” Breon added. “We don’t really have any plans for it at this point.”

**The owners of the former LifeSavers manufacturing facility at 635 E. 48th St. will be showcasing the facility’s $2 million renovation to the public Tuesday an open house tomorrow afternoon from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Now under consideration for the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s SelectSite designation, the East 48th Industrial Center no longer has any undesirable remnants of the LifeSavers operation.

“I had a vision of how it would turn out and I think it turned out even better than that,” said Doug Gulker, principal of Fusion Properties in Ada, the company that purchased the 40-year-old property four years ago. “It definitely doesn’t look like LifeSavers anymore. All I’m hearing from everyone that has gone through is how well it’s cleaned up and what a dramatic difference there is.”

**Frustrated Park Township Trustee Jeffrey Ebihara took the odd step last week of requesting an audience with Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle with hopes of annexing the municipality into Wisconsin.

In a tongue-in-cheek letter (on Park Township letterhead) complaining of the Legislature’s inability to pass a budget without a government shutdown, Ebihara outlined why Park would make a worthy addition to the cheddar state, including “Most of the people I polled are willing to change their allegiance from the Lions to the Packers.”

The response, from Doyle spokesperson Rachel Allen to the Holland Sentinel: “We understand why Park Township would want to become part of Wisconsin because it is a great place to live, work and raise a family. Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, we too have a legislature that has failed to pass a budget.”

Amanda Price, also a member of the Park Township board, is chief of staff for Sen. Patty Birkholz, so she might disagree with Ebihara’s suggestions (it would mean she would be out of a job).

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