2018 Recipient Bios
Jeffrey Kusler was honored for his outstanding contributions to the East Lansing community. As a business supporter and current board member of the East Lansing Downtown Development Authority and East Lansing Downtown Management Board, Kusler has demonstrated a long-time commitment to the City of East Lansing. He is dedicated to ensuring that the community has a more prosperous economic future, while promoting environmental responsibility. Kusler has been involved in a number of past and current projects in the community, including the Center City District project, Park District project, The Hub project, the installation of recycling receptacles throughout the downtown area and the installation of solar panels in Burcham Park. Kusler has also supported projects such as the Valley Court Park pop-up ice skating rink and Starfarm’s performances in Ann Street Plaza. Since 2011, Kusler has donated more than 500 hours of his time to the City of East Lansing through his volunteerism and various board terms. Moreover, Kusler mentors and encourages others to increase their civic engagement. Kusler has a strong desire to move East Lansing forward, while striving to create a more inclusive community.
KAREN & JERRY JENNINGS
When there is a cause or an event that will benefit East Lansing and the surrounding community, Karen and Jerry Jennings can be counted on to be extraordinary contributors. They care deeply about their community and their passion leads to the ultimate community multiplier effect - they inspire others around them to care more, become more involved and make their own contributions. Karen and Jerry are great supporters of the arts, from children’s events to professional productions and everything in between. They have provided wisdom and energy while serving on community boards, offering strategic advice, mentoring and support in pursuit of the greater good, and even helping with the nitty-gritty of event setup, cleanup and fundraising. The list of organizations and boards this powerhouse couple has been involved with includes, but is not limited to: the Lakes Leadership Academy, East Lansing Arts Commission, Peppermint Creek Theater, Volunteers of America - Michigan, the East Lansing Folk Festival and The Telling Project - a spoken arts program bringing veteran stories to the stage. Throughout their professional careers - Jerry as an elementary teacher turned school superintendent and Karen as a public health advocate and program coordinator - they focused on helping both individuals and the community to be better, smarter, kinder and more inclusive. In retirement, they have translated these noble goals into their work with the community and the community is better because of it.
EAST LANSING INFO
East Lansing Info, also known as ELi, was honored for its continued dedication as a local, nonprofit online news source. From its inception, ELi has engaged community members in reporting that has strived to keep East Lansing informed about the people, activities and issues in the community. Motivated by the power and responsibility to do better for the community, ELi has successfully brought attention to news and community events that would otherwise go uncovered in larger news platforms. ELi is continuously raising questions and bringing forth discussions that engage residents at higher rates than before its creation. The nonprofit is also inspiring younger generations to increase their civic engagement, while exploring journalism, at annual writing seminars geared toward high school students and through its partnership with Michigan State University’s School of Journalism.
Chris Root can often be found doing the things that others have said, “someone should do something about that,” but few ever do. Root is a quiet, behind-the-scenes type of person with a big heart. She is reliable and can always be counted on to get the job done, and she doesn’t like to take credit for her incredible work. In recent years, Root has tackled a wide range of issues in the community, from working with local police on racial and immigration policies that ensure fair and equal policing to advocating for health care and social justice and writing about government - free of charge - for East Lansing Info. She is also active in Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union, Edgewood United Church and was a founding member of East Lansing Citizens Concerned. Now retired from the Michigan State University Department of History, Root is working to archive and document African and African American history and has been curating priceless and rare items as a part of the African Activist Archive project at MSU – a project she started.