Arts & Entertainment, Human Resources, and Travel & Tourism

Q&A: Emilee Syrewicze

May 14, 2019
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Emilee Syrewicze
Emilee Syrewicze. Courtesy Opera Grand Rapids

Editor’s note: Each Q&A in the Influential Women enewsletter will feature a woman from the region who’s influential, a rising face in her industry or doing interesting work. Submit tips on potential Q&A subjects to tgortsema at grbj dot com.

Emilee Syrewicze is the executive director of Opera Grand Rapids

Previously, she was the executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Syrewicze is a classical pianist, member of Rotary International and loves being outdoors.

A native of Luther, she holds a B.A. from Alma College and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.

Biggest career break?

Being offered the role of executive director of Opera Grand Rapids. Currently celebrating its 51st year in operation, Opera Grand Rapids is one of Michigan’s elite performing arts organizations. I’m incredibly lucky.  

Proudest moment?

In my previous role at the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in Charlotte, North Carolina, I led the effort to litigate against the nation’s largest utility company to remove millions of tons of toxic coal ash from the drinking water reservoirs supplying water to 2.4 million people. On April 1 of this year, we successfully secured a decision form the NCDEQ to make that happen. Years of advocacy, law and policy work and being in the national spotlight paid off. It was an incredible way to end my chapter in Charlotte and return home to West Michigan.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

My mother always tells my sister and me that, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

How did you make your first dollar?

In college, I worked as a bank teller at Lake Osceola State Bank in Baldwin. I did more socializing than actual work, but it was so much fun.

Most-treasured possession?

My piano

Dream job?

I don’t dream of jobs. I dream of missions. Right now, my mission is to make Opera Grand Rapids one of North America’s top opera companies. 

If you were president for a day, you would … ?

Be on my best behavior.

Last book you read?

The Improbable Wendell Willkie” by David Levering Lewis  

Last search term you googled?

How to get a Michigan driver license

Your worst habit?

Turning on the TV, only to mute it 30 seconds later and start reading a book. 

To unwind, you like to … ?

Spend time with my niece. It’s remarkable how a 3-year-old can take your mind off things.

Dream vacation?

Too many places to list – I never say no to travel!  

Favorite food?

I love Mexican food. If it comes with a margarita, even better.

Person you most admire?

My father. He has an incredible work ethic and attention to detail that I envy. Beyond all of that, he is a man of faith who loves his family more than anything. 

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