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L’Anse-area resident Bridget Summers is a Superior Woman. A relative newcomer to the Upper Peninsula, she is making a positive impact in the western U.P. community she has adopted as her hometown, and also in her role as the newest member of the Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees.
By Dale Hemmila
How do you go from the hectic pace of one of the fastest trading exchanges in the world, to the more laid-back pace of Baraga County, Michigan? Well, if you are Bridget Summers, you do it the only way you know how: by getting involved and looking to help make your new environment a better place
A Chicago native, Summers has been a resident of Baraga County for the past seven years, and in that time she has worked in a variety of capacities to make her adopted home a better place to do business and to live. While she has worked within the county for much of that time period, she finds her profile raised some in the Upper Peninsula these days, after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Summers to the Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees.
While she couldn’t have known it at the time, her journey north actually began in 1987 when she landed an entry level job at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). The CME is the largest commodities exchange in the world. Daily activity involves trades of futures contracts and options on futures contracts for everything from agricultural commodities to financial products and more.
Smart and ambitious, Summers quickly moved along in her career, earning a number of promotions while developing and refining processes that improved quality assurance. She also worked as a liaison between the CME’s information technology services and the commodities. She rose to the position of director of settlements and global operations, overseeing a settlement team for all commodities and she was responsible for the correct and timely movement of funds.
“It was hectic, with buyers and sellers on both sides trading globally,” she said recently. “It was a busy career.”
Along the way, she met her future husband on the trading floor. She and Ken Summers, a L’Anse, Michigan, native, NMU alumnus, and a commodities trader at the exchange, were married in 2006. That is when things began to point north.
“We decided we would start a family,” she said. “I was working 12 hour days and commuting back and forth, then back to school.” She earned a bachelor’s degree in management from National Louis University, Chicago. “It was then that Ken said, ‘How about if we move back home?’ I love this area and I love his family, so I said, okay.”
Upon their return to Baraga County, the couple opened a consignment shop, and though the store closed after a few years, it provided a good introduction to the community.
“The store wasn’t where our passion lay,” Summer said. “But, this is how we met so many people in the community.”
Putting that store chapter of their life behind them, the couple began a commercial real estate business, where they now manage several rental buildings in the area. One of the buildings they own is the one that housed their consignment store. Thoroughly refurbished, it offers a collaborative work space for other potential business ventures, a community meeting space with Wi-Fi, and includes the office of the Baraga County Chamber of Commerce.
That’s convenient for Summers, as she is currently vice president of the Baraga County Chamber. She is also a former board member of the Baraga County Economic Development Corporation, and the Village of L’Anse Downtown Development Association.
“When we came back here, I wanted to be a part of pushing the boundaries of the chamber,” she said. “What are we offering to our membership?
“We started strategic planning, and we decided to focus on transition and succession planning, developing a feeder system of young people to develop the next generation of leaders.”
That strategic planning also included development of a branding plan for Baraga County, along with a Baraga County web app.
Summers has also promoted the chamber’s involvement with the EDC’s efforts to address a lack of housing in the area. For her, it is all about encouraging community economic growth.
“I don’t set my sights low at all,” she said. “I like to leave a thing better than what I found it.”
With that background and attitude, it is not surprising that Summers was looked at closely when an opening developed on the NMU board of trustees.
Her husband, Ken, had tossed his hat in the ring for Michigan state representative in the 2018 election, which meant campaigning.
“We met a lot of people during the campaign,” she said.
Evidently that included people close to Governor Whitmer and her staff.
Summers received a call from the governor’s appointments office encouraging her to apply for an open position on the NMU board of trustees.
“How do you say no?” she asked.
Though not directly affiliated with NMU, she did feel she had some insight to “the university doing some cutting edge things.”
“I live with an alumnus,” she said, “and he’s a news junkie, so I know a lot more than the average non-alumni.”
Once her appointment was announced in April, her NMU and board knowledge was expanded dramatically when she attended her first board meeting on campus during this year’s spring commencement activities.
“That was a whirlwind,” she said. “It was extremely exciting; it was educational. There are a lot of things you know you don’t know. I felt the weight and responsibility of a board member being on campus in that capacity.”
As for what she hopes to accomplish in her eight-year term, it is probably too soon to say, but she does bring some unique higher education experience.
“I don’t have a clear direction yet,” she said. “But I was not a traditional student, so I have that experience and know the challenges of working full-time, being a mother, and a full-time student.”
That experience may help in one area that she is interested in addressing.
“I do want to work closely with the continuing education department,” she said. “They oversee a lot of the cutting-edge learning, and I think I can make a difference in a lot of strategic planning.
“And I really like Northern’s relationship with the K-12 students, making sure they are proficient in reading and math. I’m really excited about NMU and the work on the board.”
As for NMU, well the institution is pleased to have Summers on board.
“She brings a valuable set of viewpoints to the board through her past and present work in the financial and economic development fields, her experiences living in urban Chicago and rural Baraga, and through her participation in local K-12 educational activities and community endeavors,” said NMU President Fritz Erickson in a press release announcing her appointment. “We look forward to her bringing the energy and passion she’s known for to help Northern accomplish its progressive goals.”