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Stacy Welling Haughey, the Upper Peninsula Regional Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, is a Superior Woman. As a child, Welling Haughey dreamed of following in her grandfather’s footsteps by working for the DNR, and, following a career based on hard work, learned that sometimes a little girl’s dreams can come true.
By Dale Hemmila
Stacy Welling Haughey grew up immersed in the natural resources that surrounded her childhood home in the Upper Peninsula, learning how to fish and hunt.
The Welling family had always been engaged with the great outdoors. So much so, that her grandfather, Gerald Welling, was a conservation officer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
And then, he was killed by a poacher.
Gerald Welling was on duty, patrolling for illegal bear hunting activity in Menominee County, when he was killed by poachers in 1972.
That event changed Welling Haughey’s family unit, and, though she was not yet born when that tragedy took place, it became a part of family lore that made an impact on her life.
“I was the kid on the playground defending the DNR,” she said. “If anyone said anything bad about the officers, I was the one supporting them.
“I wanted to be a conservation officer,” she said, pointing back to when she was kid.
Though she initially followed a different career path, she ultimately took a job that certainly would have made her grandfather proud: since 2008, Welling Haughey has served as the Upper Peninsula Regional Coordinator for the Michigan DNR.
An Upper Peninsula native, Welling Haughey graduated from North Central High School in the southern U.P. She went on to earn two degrees from Northern Michigan University: a bachelor’s degree in business management, and a master’s degree in public administration.
Following a stint in development and community relations for OSF St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba, she moved into public service, first as Governor Jennifer Granholm’s Northern Michigan Representative. She was then tapped to be deputy chief of staff for U.S. Representative Bart Stupak, working out of the Congressman’s Washington D.C. office.
“That was such a good growth experience,” she said recently as she reflected on some previous career activities. “I got to work for someone I respected, and for the district, and I got exposure as to how government works.”
After coming back home to Michigan to work on the Congressman’s 2008 re-election campaign, Welling Haughey felt a strong pull to return to her roots.
“I loved being home, I loved being with family, and I knew I had to figure out a way to stick around,” she said.
That “way” popped up when the DNR regional coordinator position was posted in October of 2008.
“I looked at that and said, ‘Wow, this would be a great opportunity,’” she recalled.
She knew, based on her family’s experience in losing her grandfather, that working for the DNR wasn’t “just a job.”
It was a calling.
As it turned out, her wish to be part of the DNR was fulfilled when she was hired by then-Michigan DNR Director Rebecca Humphries, but at first it seemed to come with the caveat of, “be careful what you wish for.”
As the first woman — and an outsider — in the top DNR position in the U.P., did not initially sit well with longtime observers of the agency.
“It was not easy,” she said. “I came from the outside, and on paper it looked like I landed from Capitol Hill.”
Among the comments she recalled hearing were: “unqualified,” “political hack,” “this girl is coming from D.C.; what does she know?”
While she came to the job with excellent professional credentials, she faced several challenges. First, she was new to the department, which had typically filled position from within. Second, she faced questions about her knowledge related to the state’s natural resources and field work. And third, her gender was a sea change in that position.
Early in her tenure, she sat down with a veteran outdoor reporter, and she recalled their initial exchange.
Reporter: “You’re the first woman in this job, how does it feel to be a woman in this job hired by a woman?”
Welling Haughey: “Well, I never considered that, but how would that be different if I was a man hired by a man. Would you still ask that?”
Reporter: “I never thought of that.”
Welling Haughey: “No, I didn’t think you would.”
While the critics continued, Welling Haughey understood what they seemed most concerned about.
“They wanted to know what my resource background was,” she said. “(They were asking) ‘Can she bait a hook? Can she gut a deer?’”
To that end, she put together a photo collage on paper, handwritten at the top, “Welling’s Resume,” which showed her fishing as a youngster; on a successful pheasant hunt as a teen; as a proud adult showing off the camp buck pole; and more. She promptly printed 100 copies and handed them to those interested in her outdoor background.
“It was kind of a conversation starter,” she explained. “They needed to see that I had been in the field. There were a lot of questions I wanted to answer. I wanted people to know me, not just what they thought (they knew).”
Ultimately, she was able to get past the criticism.
“I definitely had my guard up for a long time; it was a challenge,” she said. “I’m very thankful I had a great network of amazing family and amazing friends. They just kept pushing me to not give up.”
That has allowed her to spend the last decade doing the work she was hired to do.
Welling Haughey pointed out that part of that work included a change in the position, which once ran all of the DNR operations in the U.P. When she accepted the job, the position was changed and became more stakeholder-oriented, reporting up to the state DNR Director.
“I’m not telling the fisheries biologist what to stock, or the forester how much cedar to harvest,” she said.
Instead, as a representative of each division of the department, with 10 sections that range from fisheries, mining, real estate and more, she finds herself more in the customer service business.
“I coordinate and try to keep things running smoothly,” she said. “I want to be the U.P. point of contact if there’s an issue. I might not have the answer, but I usually know who does. I try to connect the dots.”
Much of her work includes being the DNR liaison on the U.P.’s two, 20-member citizen’s advisory councils. The councils provide local input to the DNR on programs and policies, and identify areas where the department can be more effective and responsive.
The citizen’s advisory councils came on-line in 2008, the same year Welling Haughey was hired. And while she may have questioned her own hiring, once telling then-DNR director Humphries they might have been the only two people in Michigan who thought her hiring was a good idea, the woman who hired her didn’t question the move.
“I wanted someone to be my eyes and ears in the U.P. and tell me the unvarnished truth about what the community felt, both good and bad,” Humphries said recently from her South Carolina office where she is CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Stacy does that in a very professional way. She’s shown her worth over and over again, and it’s worked out very well.”
And it has apparently worked well for Welling Haughey.
“I love being able to solve challenges,” she said. “I have a passion for the U.P. I feel like an advocate for the U.P.”
Meanwhile, since landing with the DNR, Welling Haughey has added two new job titles in her life: “wife” to her husband, Jared, and “mother” to two daughters.
While juggling DNR responsibilities across the entire U.P., like most working mothers, it is the job at home that keeps her focused.
“Being a parent is the best thing I have ever been a part of,” she said. “It’s fun and it’s crazy. We have an amazing network, and family is a godsend. My mom helps out two days a week, and my husband is very supportive. We approach all of it as a team and our girls are priority number one. I love what I do, I am passionate about my job, but family comes first.”