By Patti Samar
Marcia Haynes carries with her a favorite poem called “The Dash.”
The poem explains that it is not the year of birth nor the year of death that tells the story of one’s life, but rather, the dash in between those years.
Haynes’s dash is a long and productive one.
Haynes has dedicated her life to historic preservation and reclaiming structures. She sees history and value where others see debris and deterioration.
Since she graduated from college with a degree in history in 1953, she has volunteered countless hours working for the preservation of buildings and other historic structures so they are preserved for the enjoyment and historic value for many generations to come.
“I should have majored in home ec,” she quipped.
There is irony in that the biggest and most valuable project Haynes has undertaken could not save the object of her inspiration and affection, but will provide resources for families finding themselves in the midst of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, as she did in 2006 when her late husband, Fred, was diagnosed.
In 2013, as Fred was entering stage four with Alzheimer’s, Haynes pulled together a wide range of community resources to establish the Alzheimer’s Resource Committee of St. Clair County.
Since its founding, the Alzheimer’s Resource Committee has established a partnership with the University of Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Ann Arbor that has helped bring educational workshops to St. Clair County; established an annual fundraising walk that raised more than $25,000 in its first year; arranged for nationally-known speakers to visit St. Clair County to discuss Alzheimer’s Disease; and numerous other public relations and marketing initiatives designed to help community residents – both the patients and the caregivers – facing this disease learn about the many resources available to them.
Her lifelong dedication to preserving history in St. Clair County and beyond, and her hard work in establishing the Alzheimer’s Resource Committee, has earned Haynes recognition as the Blue Water Woman Community Activist of the Year.
“Marcia Haynes is that most remarkable and irreplaceable kind of person: someone whose passion, empathy, knowledge, energy and flexibility creates meaningful change, improves the lives of her fellow residents, and inspires others to become champions for those in need,” said Kathy Swantek, executive director of Blue Water Developmental Housing, Inc., in her letter of nomination.
Haynes noted that, despite many years of knocking on doors in St. Clair County, in Lansing and in Washington, D.C. in the name of historic preservation, putting together the Alzheimer’s Resource Committee was a bit out of her wheelhouse.
“Working on that project was the first time I went outside my comfort zone of history and preservation,” she said. “But of everything I’ve been involved with, I think it is the most lasting. Helping the caregiver and the patient is the most worthwhile thing I’ve done.”
Born in Bay City, Haynes moved to Port Huron when she was just a year old. She graduated from Port Huron High School and then Denison University in Ohio, where she earned a teaching degree. As a young woman, she worked as an educator and also in newspaper advertising sales.
“Women were not allowed to be reporters,” she said of her work in the media in the 1950s.
While her three children were young, she was instrumental in establishing the Port Huron Little Theater, which brought theatrical culture to the city. A decade later, in 1968, she was one of the founders of the Port Huron Museum.
That same year, Haynes and her husband, along with another couple, purchased a home on the historic East Bluff of Mackinac Island. She sat on her front porch there, looking at the dilapidated condition of the iconic Round Island Lighthouse across the shipping channel from Mackinac Island. The historic preservationist inside of her kicked in.
“I called and introduced myself to the head of the Hiawatha National Forest,” she said. “He wanted to save the lighthouse, but he didn’t have any money.”
Haynes asked him if he was game to help her work through a process that could help him obtain the funding. He said he was.
She then went to work on getting the lighthouse named to the National Register of Historic Places. Once that was accomplished, Haynes filed a lawsuit of negligence against the federal government.
The lawsuit worked. A combination of private fundraising and federal funds were used to restore the lighthouse over the course of a decade.
Most of Haynes’ efforts in historic preservation, however, have taken place much closer to home. She is especially proud of her efforts that helped identify the location of the childhood home of Thomas Edison, which resulted in archaeological digs and eventually the establishment of the Thomas Edison Depot Museum.
Haynes continues to be involved in historic preservation efforts and, since the mid-2000s, has been a vocal proponent of saving the bascule bridge located at the mouth of the Black River, and now owned by the Port Huron Yacht Club.
“There are only eight of those in the U.S.,” said Haynes. “In the train world, it is a very unique bridge, and trains were very important to the history of Port Huron.” The yacht club applied, a number of years ago, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to remove the bridge, but that process has been slowed by Haynes’s preservation efforts. “Our whole objective was there would be no cost to the yacht club.” At press time, a resolution has not been reached.
An advocate of education, she served on the board of trustees for St. Clair County Community College for 24 years. She worked as an insurance agent for Northwestern Mutual and was the first female agent the company placed in the Thumb of Michigan.
Haynes often found herself as one of the “first” women involved in many projects.
“Port Huron has been a man’s town, and I never let it stop me that I was a woman,” she said. “I treated them as men, and they really didn’t know what to do with me. It’s still that way today. Being a woman never stopped me, and anything I did, I always included men.”
“I’ve been the first woman on several boards, and I like to think that I have broken the way for others,” she said. “We’ve come a long way in the last 30 to 40 years. We’re not there yet, but we’re nearly there.”
The driving force in all of her efforts over the years has always been one of service.
“You have to give back to your community,” she said. “You are your brother’s keeper, whether you are a woman or a man. If you have ambitions and drives, do them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”