You don’t need to be elected to be a leader

Danny Stacks explains how making a big difference in your community can start small.

According to the Journal of Extension article: “Making Communities More Viable: Four Essential Factors for Successful Community Leadership” by Kristina Ricketts and Nick Place, “it has been said time and time again-leadership is important within any setting, across any context. Effective leadership within the community field is necessary in order to assert successful community action, encourage social well-being, and improve community viability. But how does one encourage effective leadership within a rural community?”

One Northern Michigan community leader has been an example of what can happen when community members work together and apply principles related to leadership and placemaking. The community of “Riggsville” is located in northern of Cheboygan County, encompassing small sections of both Inverness and Munro Townships. It is a place where everyone knows most everyone else, where residents know how to farm, raise a family, support each other and most importantly have fun!

On October 15, 2013, Danny Stacks shared a conversation of how he has been inspired by his hometown of Riggsville. Stacks, a junior at Lake Superior State University, has been recognized as the “Mayor of Riggsville” since he was a student at Cheboygan Area High School. There are no “official” elected leaders to represent Riggsville, but his enthusiasm and unfailing determination outshine many elected leaders. Projects that Stacks has completed in Riggsville were highlighted in a Cheboygan Daily Tribune article titled “Riggsville- Place worth Experiencing.” As highlighted in the article, projects include a Riggsville Shuttle, Riggsville Buck Pole, RFRT (Riggsville First Response Team) and the Riggsville Christmas parade. The events required a leader, someone to get the ball rolling and someone to garner community support, also known as effective communication and community engagement skills.

Stacks accepted the challenge of creating these events and commended the community by explaining that “nothing would be a reality if it wasn’t for the people that stand behind these ideas and make it happen.” He jokes by adding “if you ever see something online or in the paper that has the word “Riggsville” in it, it’s generally something that I came up with.”

Though Stacks might not have been intentionally thinking about making his community more viable or using placemaking strategies when he started these projects, that is exactly what he was doing on a small scale. Stacks says “The name “Riggsville” always got my attention as a kid, because I would occasionally hear the farmers talking about it like it was a town/community, when I knew it being just a road. I often asked questions about “Riggsville” and what it was like years ago, how things use to be. Hearing stories from the local farmers were some of the best history lessons I ever had. All I wanted to do is keep the “Riggsville” name going and not forgotten.”

Stacks, now studying Criminal Justice at LSSU, plans to enter law enforcement because “To Protect and Serve” is a motto he takes a lot of pride in. Within ten years, he hopes to reside again in Riggsville and serve as a leader with either the Cheboygan County Sheriff’s Department or the Michigan State Police. “I have had both city and county elected officials talk to me and encourage me to seek elected office in the future. Do I see myself as a Mayor in the future? Not too sure about that”, he laughs, “but as long as I hold the “Mayor of Riggsville” title I’ll be happy!”

The Michigan State University Extension Leadership and Community Engagement team offers training for improved effectiveness in several areas, including volunteer board development, communicating through conflict, meeting management and facilitation skills development, and organizational strategic visioning and planning.

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