As I drove into Downtown Sanford to meet Dolores Porte, an extraordinary individual, I was immediately captivated by a magnificent mural I would later discover was graciously donated. Bursting with vibrant colors, it depicted the community’s landmarks, activities, and values. It was a sight that filled me with delight.
Located on the wall of the charming Cultivate coffee shop, whose mission is to spread love and hospitality with no strings attached (yes, free coffee!), I felt an overwhelming sense of awe for the power of community. I eagerly awaited my conversation with Dolores about her experiences during the historic flood of 2020. Her graceful leadership in the restoration and rebuilding efforts of the Village of Sanford over the past three years intrigued me deeply.
With a warm welcome and genuine kindness from the Cultivate staff, we settled into a cozy nook to begin our interview. As we cradled our steaming cups of tea, I inquired about Dolores’ background, eager to learn and be inspired by her unique story.
“I reside in Sanford, where I have established my home for 22 years. Before that, I had the privilege of growing up in Coleman.
I come from a bustling family of seven children, including five beloved sisters and one brother. Our upbringing was characterized by the charming simplicity of Coleman, a small town that still holds a special place in my heart. I am deeply drawn to close-knit communities’ intimate atmosphere and strong camaraderie. Beyond my immediate family, I am blessed with a loving son named Brian, a beautiful granddaughter named Willow, and two stepchildren, Christopher and Jonathan. In addition, I am fortunate to have adorable twin grandchildren, Addie and Gabe. My family ties bring immense joy to my life.”
I worked as an accountant at Dow Chemical and held the Global Accounts Payable Leader position at the time of my retirement in 2016. I obtained two Associates degrees from Delta College. I further pursued my education at MSU and earned a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in accounting. I continued my education and received a Master of Social Science with a focus on Gender Studies at UofM-Flint, and completed an MBA at Northwood University.”
Before making Sanford my home, I had the opportunity to live in multiple places, including Coleman, Los Angeles, Essexville, and Auburn. However, the lake charm and inviting community spirit of Sanford drew me in two decades ago, and I knew it was the place for me. This loving and tight-knit community became more than just a town; it became my family. In smaller communities, emotions can fluctuate from chaos and discontent to unity and camaraderie. Luckily, we have fostered a sense of togetherness among us. It was through collaborating with friends to enhance our village that this bond truly solidified. Together, we have created a place we can all be proud to call home.”
Dolores radiates an irresistible positivity that permeates every aspect of her remarkable career journey and cherished family life. From her humble beginnings at Delta College to ascending to the position of Village President, her path is undeniably inspirational. What truly sets Dolores apart is her unwavering commitment to continuous learning and her innate ability to harness her exceptional gifts and talents. For Sanford, her calm demeanor, selfless leadership, and kindness were precisely what the community needed during the 2020 flood and dam failure. Can you take us back to 2020 and share your story?
“The night before everything happened, we received the first alarm to evacuate. Can you believe it? I was just getting ready for bed, and suddenly, my phone started ringing, and I received the message to evacuate. I was like, “What the heck is going on?” I called the Fire Chief, and he filled me in on the eminent danger saying that the Edenville dam was at risk of breaking. I quickly went over to my niece’s house in Midland and spent the night there, and in the morning, the dam was still intact.
When I returned to town, everyone was scrambling to move things away from the area that could get flooded. We were all helping, loading trucks all day long and coming to Sanford Hardware to buy materials to batten down the hatch. It was unbelievable. Water was already rising and flooding the neighborhood south of the rail trail, and there was bustling to get things moved as fast as possible; you wouldn’t believe it. But hey, we were all in it together.
The water was rising even before the dam broke, and the Saginaw Road bridge started flowing with water. So, we had to close it down and redirect traffic. It was chaotic because we were not used to directing traffic, but we did our best. And, of course, the news media was there, watching everything unfold.
We spent the whole day dealing with the rising water and trying to evacuate people. At around 6 pm, they finally asked us to evacuate because the dam had broken. It was still so surreal because you couldn’t see the water yet, but you could feel it rising. We drove east, telling business owners to close up shop and lock their doors. It was a tense time, wondering what was going to happen next.
I couldn’t believe the water ended up flooding all the way down to the Dollar Store and all those businesses on Saginaw Road. It was such a mess. I remember checking on an elderly woman, my dear friend, who lives near Pizza Hut in Midland. I didn’t want her to be alone during all this chaos, so I made sure she got to safety.
The strangest part was not knowing exactly what was going on. Some people stayed home and posted things on Facebook, but it wasn’t until the following day, when I saw a video of a guy walking through the flooded streets, that it really hit me. It was like something out of a movie.
We were without power for several days, and it was a struggle to do anything. But people came together. We brought in generators and helped each other out as best we could. And despite everything being closed due to COVID, the community still came together to support one another.
The summer of that year left an indelible mark on me – a testament to human kindness and camaraderie. Witnessing people reaching out, lending golf carts, and volunteering at events warmed my heart. Even after three years, we persevere, committed to restoring, fixing the bridge, and securing grants. But you know what? We will prevail. Our community, Sanford Strong, stands tall with an unwavering spirit. With such resolute support, no challenge is insurmountable, for we have learned that together, we can overcome anything.
Teary-eyed, I share what an incredible sight it was to witness people uniting from all corners to provide immediate assistance. I personally witnessed an outpouring of support and a “Flood of Love” group mobilizing to help. It was heartwarming to see friends and acquaintances offering acts of service in various forms. Even in Midland, where some of our close friends endured water rising to their basement ceilings, the community rallied together.
“Yes, even my own basement was flooded, reaching a depth of approximately two to three feet. As I stood in my yard, fielding phone calls and desperately connecting my phone to a generator to prevent it from losing power, an unexpected encounter occurred. A passerby on a bike kindly offered help. Grateful, I accepted, and he assisted me in retrieving my belongings from my house. Later, I discovered he happened to be the spouse of our high school principal, who had organized a relief center offering supplies for the affected community.
Witnessing this act of kindness and support truly showcased the best of humanity. It was an incredible experience — people from all over, including those affected by the floods in Louisiana, came to help. Though I initially thought it would be best to set them up outside of town due to the bustling environment, I quickly learned their presence was necessary. People gathered, shared meals, and returned for more. It became evident that everyone needed to be in one central location to ensure coordination and accessibility. This realization, alongside the spirit of unity and resilience, made me truly appreciate the strength of our community.”
Speaking of community, through the lengthy endeavor of the restoration process, I would love to hear about the significant support provided by the Midland Area Community Foundation during this time, acting as a constant source of inspiration and motivation. How have they helped you navigate through these challenging times?
“The Midland Area Community Foundation has played a pivotal role in financing various community-growth initiatives in Sanford. These include the reconstruction of Village Park, the development of an exciting new playground, and providing invaluable support for municipal projects and residential rebuilding in the aftermath of floods. Adding to the park’s charm, they even contributed the beautiful Heart sculpture that symbolizes Sanford and its resilient community. The Big Red Heart installation symbolized hope and solidarity among residents. The heart became an iconic representation of our community’s strength and resilience.
Personally, I have sought the Community Foundation’s guidance on navigating different situations and have found their expertise invaluable. Notably, they manage an endowment fund that provides ongoing support for Sanford’s advancement.
During our recovery, we focused on three key areas: addressing municipality-related matters, assisting residents with resources, and supporting flood-affected businesses. Our collaboration with the Midland Area Community Foundation was critical to our progress. They swiftly allocated $250,000 towards our relief efforts, providing much-needed financial support.
Sharon Mortensen’s profound understanding and empathetic nature shone through her encouraging words and thoughtful gestures. Her unwavering support during challenging times has been invaluable. Her heartfelt cards and considerate gifts now adorn my desk, serving as a constant reminder of her kindness.
Furthermore, Sharon took the lead in establishing a long-term recovery group, successfully bringing together various stakeholders, and securing approximately $4 million in funding. This initiative has become a true pillar of support for our community.
Sharon Mortensen’s remarkable ability to navigate sensitive conversations and complex situations is truly inspiring. In instances of miscommunication with other groups who struggled to grasp the challenges we faced without power and internet access, Sharon played a pivotal role in bridging the gap between organizations, ensuring seamless collaboration and cohesion.
I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to Alysia Christy, whose exceptional support and expertise in grant processes have been instrumental. I am thoroughly impressed with the MACF and its immense contributions.”
I agree; both Sharon and Alysia are a gift to our communities!
With your abundance of wisdom and optimism, do you have any words of encouragement for our readers?
“Give to your community, and your community will give back to you. Be patient and kind – it makes life happier. Manage your thoughts so you don’t let the negativity of a situation override the overarching objective and goodness.” Sanford is more than a Village; it’s an experience. It’s where the heart is. It’s when everyone pulls together to create a place where people love to live.
Recovery for small towns like ours is difficult. Still, our hope for Sanford Village includes enhancing community spaces, offering affordable and engaging activities, ensuring a permanent repair for the Saginaw Road Bridge, completing the Village Park and ball fields, and introducing a new pump track for children. We are dedicated to improving the quality of life in our community and providing enjoyable experiences for all.
You know, it’s essential for people to really love where they live, you know?”
Yes, I agree, and is Porte Park named after you? That’s so cool!
“It was an incredible surprise! I mean, I absolutely did not see it coming. But you know what? I’ve been putting in so much effort back there, working hard to get things cleaned up and all. And guess what happened next? Teresa Quintana, a genuinely generous colleague, recommended me to the board, and they actually voted in favor of it! Can you believe it? They recognized my dedication to the community and decided to honor me. I am genuinely grateful, you know? It’s like, wow, people regard me in that way. But at the same time, I also feel this undeniable pressure to consistently live up to this expectation, if you know what I mean.”
As we laugh, I assure Dolores that her legacy is enduring and Sanford Strong. I enjoy sharing uplifting quotes with others, and I wonder, do you have any that have buoyed you through this challenging time?
Indeed, I resonate with both of these quotes: “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm,'” and the warrior defiantly whispers back, “‘I am the storm.”
The power and strength evident in these words is truly captivating.
“Make me a channel of your peace, where there is despair in life, let me bring hope, where there is darkness only light, and where there’s sadness ever joy.”
Dolores, you have been a channel of peace, hope, light, and joy. Keep shining, and thank you for all you are doing to promote strong communities.
Together, Forward, Bold…..we go!