At Counterpart, we enjoy presenting the Distinguished Woman of the Year Award, which recognizes the volunteer service and leadership of one special woman in our community.  The Nominee must volunteer at a policy-making level in the Tri-Cities Area, demonstrate outstanding achievement in her profession, maintain high personal and professional ethics and leadership, reside or work in the Tri-Cities Area. The award also recognizes candidate’s efforts to support and encourage other women to reach their own potential and her sensitivity to the role of women in today’s society.

The 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Woman of the Year Award is Dr. Sylvia Ruscett.

Sylvia is a Spring Lake resident.  Sylvia grew up quite poor on a farm in Clarkston MI.  The Lions Club stepped in and bought her first pair of glasses. She has always been a great achiever and was the only one out of seven children to obtain a college degree.

She began her bachelor degree program at Western Michigan University.  Her junior year she attended summer classes at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks.  She met her future husband Ron and became one of the first students in U of A’s new teaching program.  While studying at U of A, she was asked to teach on Eielson Air Force base.  Her students were Air Force Commanders children, Athabascan Indian and Eskimo Children.  Her husband Ron received a fellowship to the University of Michigan, they moved to Ann Arbor, and Sylvia worked on her Masters of Education.

In the early 60’s they moved to Grand Haven.  Ron, a civil engineer, decided to design and build a mobile home park in Crockery Township.  On weekends Sylvia worked the back hoe, Ron laid the water and sewer pipe, and their children Ronda and Jeff complained. As role models, John Nash, Spring Lake Supervisor shared “Sylvia and Ron have been shining examples of how hard work, pursuit of education, and sound financial decision making provide a very comfortable living.”

Sylvia was one of the first female principals in the Grand Haven School District working at Central and Elliott Schools. She was the only female among the other 12 male principals.

While working as a homebound teacher of the Intermediate School District, taking care of and raising a family, Sylvia took night classes and attended summer semesters at U of M to get her Educational Doctorate Degree.  Her thesis was on ‘Gifted and Talented’.  During the 70’s and 80’s, Sylvia developed gifted children programs for local school systems at the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District.  She also became the Director of Special Education Learning Media Center 7.

Sylvia Developed and funded a Wetland Summer Workshop for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders that came about from her experience with the Wetland Watch.  She then developed an after school program also called Wetland Watch within our local elementary schools that sparks curiosity and awareness about our local natural resources and environment. This program is now included in all elementary schools in the Grand Haven and Spring Lake area.

Lana Jacobson of the Grand Haven School Foundation, said in regard to the Preschool Program at Central Alternative School “Dr. Ruscett was not asked to support this effort.  She contacted us and expressed her desire to help develop literacy practices in the home.”  She purchased a book for each child entering preschool. When home visitations were performed, the teacher would then deliver the new book to the child.

Sylvia developed a six week cooking class at Central Alternative School for teen moms.  She purchased crock pots and healthy food for each student.  They discussed healthy cooking practices and during class the students made a crock pot dinner to take home.  At the end of the course, the students were able to keep their crock pots.

One of Sylvia’s colleagues describes Sylvia and her volunteerism as “a woman whose steady, quiet commitment to community life reflects a lifetime of service.”

She served on the Spring Lake Township Planning Commission for six years, three as secretary. Here she helped work on writing the ‘Wetland Ordinance” which is still a working document for the Township and an example for other communities.  Sylvia helped organize the group Wetland Watch to protect the vegetation, habitat, and water of the wetlands.

Being a volunteer for both the Art Council and Tri-Cities Historical Museum. Also being involved with the Grand Haven Community Foundation, she had an idea and funded the Art Hangings on the back of the Waterfront Stadium bleachers.  The pictures are taken from old post cards and blown up to 500 times their original size, depicting how the waterfront looked in the “old days.”

Sylvia and Ron gifted one mile of Crockery Township farmland for the bike bath between Spring Lake and Grand Rapids known as the North Bank Trail. One of her supporters noted, “She is not content to write a check to support a worthy cause – personal involvement and action accompany any gift from Dr. Ruscett.”

Adopt a Garden was Sylvia’s project last summer.  This volunteer-driven program was to revive Spring Lake Village’s some 80 garden spaces with Michigan Native Wildflowers. She recruited her daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter to plant flowers, while her husband Ron was in charge of watering them.

Leslie Newman, president of Wetland Watch praises Counterpart’s 2017 Distinguished Woman of the Year.  “Sylvia’s creative thought, devotion to education, her generous financial support and her steady guidance and amazing ability to bring people together with grace and persistence, benefit us all.”

Congratulations, Sylvia!


  • 2016 Christine Wright
  • 2015 (award not given)
  • 2014 (award not given)
  • 2013 (award not given)
  • 2012 Kaye Nedderman
  • 2011 Cindy Anderson
  • 2010 Gail Ringelberg
  • 2009 Donaylle Rogers 
  • 2008  Lisa Luckey
  • 2007  Renee Freeman-Risher
  • 2006  Lynne Sherwood
  • 2005  Bobbi Jones Sabine
  • 2004  Shirley Lemon
  • 2003  Lynne Kinkema
  • 2002  Susan Jonas
  • 2001  Barbara Johnson
  • 2000  (award not given)
  • 1999  Kellie Oom
  • 1998  Tami Harvey
  • 1997  Sheila McNally
  • 1996  Connie Farell
  • 1995  Barbara Dean
  • 1994  Victoria Verplank
  • 1993  Karen Benson
  • 1992  Thelma Soerhyde
  • 1991  Marilyn Sherwood
  • 1990  Mary Creason
  • 1989  Dottie Johnson
  • 1988  Nancy Rieske Hanenburg
  • 1987  Carol Bedford
  • 1986  Marianne VanEenenaam
  • 1985  Carol DeBlaey
  • 1984  Eleanor Andrews
  • 1983  Edie Swart
  • 1982  Marge Boon
  • 1981  Eunice Bareham
  • 1980  Doris VanDam

Note: Due to organizational restructuring, Counterpart did not accept nominations for the Distinguished Woman of the Year Award in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

We’re accepting nominations for the 2017 Woman of the Year now! To nominate a deserving woman, download the nomination form and submit it along with a letter of support. Questions? Please contact Chairperson Wendy Schweifler at 616-566-1437 or