2013 Recipient Bios

Community Award

Jim Cunningham

From public sculptures to Little Free Libraries, local artist Jim Cunningham has created beautiful art throughout the City – oftentimes at little to no cost.

He recently created the “Recycling for a Sustainable World” sculpture that sits on the east plaza of downtown East Lansing’s Marriott, charging only for the cost of his materials. This beautiful piece of public art symbolizes the City’s commitment to green initiatives and is made of at least 80 percent recycled metal. He also assisted the City of East Lansing by helping repair the bronze duck sculpture in Fountain Square at no cost.

More recently, Cunningham was generous in helping the Trowbridge Business Association, the Red Cedar Neighborhood and Red Cedar Elementary School bring two beautiful Little Free Libraries to the community; one for the school and one for Trowbridge Plaza. Similar to the plaza sculpture, Cunningham donated his time and was only reimbursed for the cost of materials. The libraries not only serve as pieces of public art; they promote literacy and “placemaking” by serving as an enjoyable place for community members to share and find new books they love. In addition to the libraries, Cunningham also helped install tables and benches - made possible by Michigan Association of Realtors placemaking grant - in Trowbridge Village. Cunningham’s beautiful artwork can be found in other parts of the City as well, including East Lansing High School, downtown East Lansing’s Biggby, Edgewood Church and seven pieces on the MSU campus.

The East Lansing community is fortunate to be the beneficiary of Cunningham’s exceptional artistic talent and generous spirit. He has donated much of his time to completing artwork that has improved the aesthetics of East Lansing and has also worked to advance the goals of organizations like the East Lansing Pride Team, the City of East Lansing and the Trowbridge Business Association. Cunningham is a retired veterinarian who has gone above and beyond to continue working past retirement in the honorable field of community service.

Hometown Housing Partnership

Hometown Housing Partnership (HHP) is a non-profit organization who has been providing home ownership assistance programs to qualified East Lansing home buyers and homeowners for 20 years. The community-based 501(c)(3) has a dedicated all-volunteer Board of Directors and a hard-working staff, led by Executive Director Mikki Droste.

Among its many programs and projects, HHP provides down payment assistance to home buyers of moderate means who may not have the opportunity to live in East Lansing without assistance. The organization also provides funding to income-qualified homeowners for home rehabilitation projects, improving East Lansing’s housing stock. Other HHP projects aimed at neighborhood stabilization include the addition of new, income-qualified homes along Wolf Court, home buyer assistance on a number of new homes in the Avondale Square neighborhood revitalization project and the purchase and renovation of several homes, resulting in the conversion of rentals to owner-occupied homes in target neighborhoods.

In addition to HHP’s single family housing achievements, the organization recently became a general partner in the entity that purchased and rehabilitated Deer path Apartments on Haslett Road. This 126-unit, $16.5 million endeavor provides improved, affordable housing for income-qualified renters.

HHP has made great progress and has experienced unprecedented growth over its years in East Lansing, due, largely, to dedicated community members working behind the scenes on boards, committees and community projects. HHP, formerly East Lansing Housing & Neighborhood Services, began with one funding source and one program and has since grown to include multiple funding sources (CDBG/City of East Lansing, MSHDA, MSU, private donors) and six assistance programs.

An astonishing 92 East Lansing households have either been purchased or rehabilitated with the assistance of HHP over its two decades in the community. HHP’s mission is to help create a community that provides healthy, vibrant neighborhood choices for residents of East Lansing. Their commitment and long-time dedication to serving new and existing residents of East Lansing is well-deserving of community recognition. 

Michigan Flyer

Ody Norkin has brought East Lansing closer to the rest of the world by creating the Michigan Flyer public transportation service. Michigan Flyer provides travelers with affordable and easy round-trip travel between East Lansing, Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro Airport via motorcoach connections. Customers who utilize the service can park for $2 per day in East Lansing and take a comfortable two-hour trip, with WIFI service included. Tens of thousands of customers have utilized Michigan Flyer since its creation and it has become well-known as an outstanding business with clean vehicles, always-on-time trips and above-and-beyond customer service.

Norkin had to overcome a number of obstacles in bringing Michigan Flyer to East Lansing and it is due in large part to his risk-taking, perseverance, hard work and vision that Michigan Flyer exists and is so successful today. He specifically chose downtown East Lansing for Michigan Flyer’s home base, which has created a boost for the local economy by drawing tens of thousands of visitors to the heart of the East Lansing community. Michigan Flyer offers eight round trips between East Lansing and DTW and carries more than 100,000 passengers a year. On any given day, 50 to 100 Michigan Flyer customers who otherwise would likely not be strolling the streets of downtown East Lansing find themselves shopping in local East Lansing stores and dining in local East Lansing restaurants.

In addition to creating a new, easy and affordable option for travel to and from DTW, Michigan Flyer has also created a travel option with numerous environmental benefits. Michigan Flyer-AirRide passengers make a significant difference in energy conservation - decreasing pollution and easing congestion on highways. Each Michigan Flyer motorcoach exceeds EPA standards on air pollution, achieves high fuel economy (184 passenger miles per gallon) and has the capacity to remove 50 cars from the highway. No other comparable service exists anywhere else in the state of Michigan. The local community is fortunate that Norkin overcame the odds to bring Michigan Flyer right here to the heart of East Lansing.

Tom Petroni

Tom Petroni has selflessly turned what was once a hobby of playing music into a vehicle for supporting the community. An attorney working by day as General Counsel for the Municipal Employees Retirement System, Petroni helped form the “Lost Marbles” band with other parents of children at Marble Elementary School in 2000. The band was formed with the idea that all performance fees would be donated to local charities, including local food banks, homeless shelters, the East Lansing Athletic Boosters, the East Lansing High School Theater Program and the Eric “Ric Star” Music Therapy Camp.

After the “Lost Marbles,” Petroni went on to form a new band in 2009 called “Time2Play” with the same charitable business model. All of the fees from the “Time2Play” gigs were to be donated to charities. The band also went on to donate its time and music to charities holding fundraising events. Under Petroni’s leadership, “Time2Play” has played multiple local venues and has donated its performance fees to countless local charities over the last three years, including but not limited to the Great Lakes Folk Festival, the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival, (SCENE) Metrospace, Haven House, MSU Special Olympics, MSU Students Cancer Support Network, Habitat for Humanity, Elder Law of Michigan, The Shinksy Orphanage, EPifanyNow, Greater Lansing Food Bank, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Sparrow Hospice, Tri-County Office on Aging, the Ingham County Animal Shelter and several more.

In addition to inspiring his band to play for charity, Petroni has purchased all of the sound equipment for the band’s performances and opens up his home every week for practices. He also transports, sets up and tears down all the equipment for the band’s live shows on top of the hours he dedicates to practicing and performing.

In addition to sharing music with the local community and helping countless local charities, Petroni also worked regularly with East Lansing’s Share-A-Bike program in the 1990’s, repairing donated bikes that were later given to community members in need. He also volunteered for several years at the Marble Elementary School Bike Rodeo, repairing children’s bikes. Petroni’s generosity and selflessness is something to be recognized and honored. He truly is a treasure to the East Lansing community.