Source: Michigan State University
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 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 Oct. 15, 2013, Danny Stacks shared a conversation with me of how he had been inspired by his hometown of Riggsville. Stacks, was then a junior at Lake Superior State University, and had been known as the “Mayor of Riggsville” since he was a student at Cheboygan Area High School. There is no “official” mayor of Riggsville, but his enthusiasm and unfailing determination continues to outshine many elected leaders.
Other events and activities that Stacks had aspired to implement in Riggsville were highlighted in a Cheboygan Daily Tribune article titled “Riggsville- Place worth Experiencing.” As highlighted in the article, projects included 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.
He joked by saying “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.” He also 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.”
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 said “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 used 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.”
At the time, Stacks was studying Criminal Justice at LSSU, and had plans to enter law enforcement because “To Protect and Serve" was a motto he takes a lot of pride in. He was hoping to reside again in Riggsville and serve as a leader with either the Cheboygan County Sheriff's Department or the Michigan State Police.
Fast forward five years and “Danny Stacks” is now a prominent young leader in his hometown with the Cheboygan County Sheriff’s Department. Deputy Dan Stacks had expressed interest in becoming a K9 handler after having joined the sheriff’s department in 2016 and now he and Thor, the K9 officer, will have a lot of opportunities to serve the community with the department in a new way.
A few of those original ideas have fallen away for various reasons, but remaining in its 7th year is the Annual Riggsville Christmas Parade. What began as a parade of 7 lighted “floats” viewed by few, has now turned into an event watched by hundreds with an array of lighted floats, trucks, cars, tractors, fireworks, bonfires, community parties, and reason to be joyful for where you live or where you came from.
Deputy Stacks demonstrates everyone at any age can make a difference; not everything you do will always be successful, but don’t stop trying; and most importantly you don’t need a title or an office to generate the spirit of community.