April 25, 2019
If you step into our office and hear laughter, odds are the source is Gwen Goodson. Likewise, if you join United Way staff members on a volunteer project or at a Halloween party, Gwen will be there in full regalia. Gwen is our project and process coordinator, and this Friday she’ll be retiring after 29 years and 10 months at Heart of West Michigan United Way.
“It’s complicated,” Gwen says of her role on the Resource Development team.
She supports the campaign associates, runs the mailings for thousands of individual donors, handles the mailings for companies too small to run full-scale campaigns, coordinates the training of campaign coordinators, and lends a hand in fixing printers, laminators, and folding machines.
To that list, longtime coworker Bob McKown adds horticultural expert (she waters all the potted plants in the office) and organizational historian. “We turn to Gwen often for answers to questions like, ‘How much has United Way raised since 1917?’ or, ‘Who was the board chair in 1968?’”
When Gwen first came to United Way as a temp, she was pregnant with her second daughter. She and her husband, Derek, who works as a hoist operator at Allied Finishing, have three children: Danielle, Arielle, and Lorielle (“We just call them the “elle” sisters.”).
Gwen was raised in a one-traffic-light town in northern Michigan called Buckley, on a 55-acre farm where her father grew sweet corn.
“Me and my friends horseback rode to school. We basically played all day and all night,” Gwen recalls. Her school was Class D, so she played every sport. “Of course, a school that small, we had to play every sport or we wouldn’t have a team.”
After high school, Gwen studied for two years at Michigan State University. Going from a high school graduating class of 25 to a university where a single classroom could have hundreds of students in it was a big change, but she looks back on the experience fondly. She was there while Magic Johnson led the basketball team (she dated his roommate) and still chuckles when she recalls the epic two-week party that followed the team’s 1979 triumph over Larry Bird and Indiana State.
By Gwen’s estimate, when you include campaign associates, formerly known as loaned executives, she’s worked with over 5,000 different people during her career. The tools of her trade have changed a lot in that time – for the better. She doesn’t miss the era of the typewriter. “Can you imagine using like a duplicate sheet and typing your campaign letters? Yep, it was a trip.”
Asked what she will miss, Gwen doesn’t have to think too hard: her coworkers. “We’ve had a lot of fun over the years.”
“Gwen is a Friday-loving coworker who is sure to say ‘TGIF!’ every Friday and is always there to lend a hand,” says Mallory Brouwer. “I will miss her greatly! United Way won’t be the same without her.”
As the keeper of United Way lore, Gwen has amassed a trove of stories over the years.
“The funniest one of all was the kickoff at John Ball Zoo,” Gwen says. “We had a hot air balloon, and Mike Brennan (a former United Way president) and them are going to float up and do a presentation. The wind kicked up, man, and that thing took off, and all of us are hanging onto ropes trying to hold it down, and it dragged us all around the park.”
“She is the most fun person to be around,” says Dan TenHoopen. “Cracking jokes is very common for us.”
One example: handing a new employee a box and asking them to bring it to the basement. “Well, there is no basement,” Gwen says. “Water table’s too high.”
While her work has largely been behind the scenes, her coworkers did nominate her for a secretary of the year award at WGRD. She won and, as her prize, she was given a crown and scepter and driven around town in a limousine.
Gwen takes satisfaction in knowing that her work kept the organization humming along. “I always say, I try to use my powers for good. My superpowers. Like I said, they’ll go, ‘Man, she did a lot of stuff. She did that? We didn’t know she did that.’”
“Since I’ve known her, Gwen has brought joy and energy to this organization every day, and her passion for our donors is transparent,” says president and CEO Michelle Van Dyke. “Gwen took care of so many things that aren’t visible but will be missed when she’s gone.”
In her time with United Way, Gwen calculates that she’s helped raise a total of $393,323,245.
“That’s a lot. It’s had to have an impact.”