Prologue: Your Community Foundation is thrilled to participate in beautification projects that improve quality of life, highlight unique aspects of our community, and bring attention to areas needing improvement. These types of projects connect neighbors and give residents a sense of pride.
A coffee chat with Stephanie Richardson & John Bartos, by Renee’ Deckrow
Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” That’s good advice for anyone who wants to make a difference in this world and a quote that has inspired Stephanie Richardson, the City of Midland’s Landscape Designer and Horticulturist.
I enjoyed sharing a warm cup of coffee with two remarkable individuals, Stephanie Richardson, and John Bartos. First, they both shared why they are passionate about serving our community, and both have been careful stewards of the time, talents, and resources they have been gifted with. Then, with mutual admiration, they compliment each other’s contributions and share how much they enjoyed the opportunity to work together through the Midland Area Community Foundation’s beautification projects.
John Bartos tells me, “Yeah, Stephanie gets it done. We were so pleased when she came to work on the “Entranceways Project.” She works effortlessly and has done an amazing job with all the landscaping projects.”
John continues by describing Stephanie’s work as “background music.”
I agree. As a longtime Midland citizen, I have always admired the stunning Downtown arrangements and the entrances. It is evident that they are all meticulously planned and intentionally cared for. So, with curiosity, I asked Stephanie to share a little bit about herself and her story of how she started working with the Beautification Taskforce:
“I grew up in the country, on a farm. We had cattle, chickens, and a large vegetable garden. We also had a Christmas Tree Farm to make extra money during Christmas. We worked on the farm, so there was always something to do. I was pre-med into my junior year at Michigan State, but it wasn’t quite feeling right for me. I was out in the gardens one day and kind of had this epiphany; this beauty surrounded me, and a friend of mine said you’re going to a horticulture school, and maybe you should do something like that. And at the time, it was life-altering for me when it dawned on me that I could pursue horticulture as a career path. So I made a 180-degree turn toward horticulture and landscape design, and I’ve been passionate about beautification and having this connection to nature ever since.”
“One of the first things I was tasked with was creating an entranceway beautification plan for the M20 corridor into town. So that was my first big design project. I designed it and collaborated with the committee until it was completed. I became the project manager and became responsible for the maintenance of it all. So what you see today is a very special project to me. After all, it started from nothing but a dirt hill, and I developed it into what it is today. So that was one of the big projects we worked on together.”
“I was overwhelmed & intimidated at the beginning; I felt like a small-town girl walking into a committee with these outstanding community leaders and philanthropists. I would question, ‘How did I get here’?” She laughs and then, with sincerity, shares, “But I was honored to be able to do this; I began my career with the City of Midland in 2007, and it was at that time that I began working with the Community Foundation on the task force. I was just blown away by the passion, the dedication of the group’s diversity, and their love for improving the community and beautification. As a young horticulturist and landscape designer, I was like, ‘Wow. I can fit in here.’ And I knew that immediately, this was a special place and different from other communities. This is what sets Midland apart. So I felt very honored to be a part of the beginning. I am happy that there is still a lot of support for beautification, just because the “Entranceways Committee” has dissolved. We still need to look after these spaces; the spaces are still going on 20 years later, and we’re still growing and improving upon them. We haven’t let them go by the wayside. Sometimes communities build something that dissolves after five or ten years because they don’t have the long-term maintenance to care for the initial project. However, the Foundation and this group were passionate about ensuring it extended perpetually. So we have a maintenance fund at the Foundation for these projects and for the beautification to continue. Meeting people like John and seeing his passion and vision inspired me too.”
“My role has changed now. I still oversee the Horticulture Division but now also manage the Forestry and Parks Divisions as Lead Supervisor. I’m passionate about engaging people with nature through beautification. We know our younger generations are facing many mental health challenges right now. Connecting people back to nature and showing people we cannot live apart from nature is critical to our well-being. We tend to look at nature as something we visit, but it needs to be more than that, and I hope I can help facilitate this when you look at the beautiful landscapes and flowers throughout the city. I hope you get a sense of peace when you go to the park or for a hike.”
“But,” she smiles, “If I could put the spotlight on John for a minute and tell you that I think he is amazing. He is such a champion of people. You build people up, and you don’t see much of that today.”
I nod in agreement because, in the short time I have known John, I have also experienced his gracious kindness.
John Bartos, father of 3, lifelong Midlander, a former engineer for Dow who studied diligently from Delta to Stanford and ultimately founded Three Rivers Corporation, has spearheaded many impactful philanthropic endeavors that have made Midland the wonderful community it is today. John grew up in a hardworking family of 15. From an early age, the Bartos children were taught the importance of serving their neighbors. He shares, “We were a Catholic family, and we prayed a Rosary every day, and all those things. But when I was about five or six years old, my dad had a Studebaker, and on Saturdays, he would put as many as he could stuff in the back end, and we’d go up to Mills Township to bring dinner to people. And we’d go there, fix their windows and help shovel the dirt to get water away. That stayed with me my whole life.”
I love hearing about these defining moments in a person’s life and witnessing how they really shape who people become. I ask John to share in his own words why beautification is essential for our community, “Beautification improves our quality of life because our welfare has much to do with our surroundings. And your first impression of a city gives you a snapshot of the entire community. Your first impression of Midland is when you enter the entrances, so the first impression must be good. For example, when you met me for the first time, within five to 10 seconds, you made up your mind about me, the type of person I was. What they teach at the Legacy Center, another thing I am passionate about, is that the first impression is embedded in neurons in your mind and form synapses. And you say, ‘Okay, Bartos is a certain type of person.’ Whatever you classify me as, it takes seven times of me showing that I am something different before your mind changes. If I come in and they say, ‘Bartos is a jerk,’ your neurons will need to see me doing good deeds seven times to prove I’m not. So your first impression is critical anytime you come into a community.”
Beautification projects are an essential part of every city’s development. It helps to boost economic growth, develop social activities and improve the quality of life for residents. I have noticed the Foundation’s endeavors over the years and feel pride in our public spaces.
“We’re so lucky to live here. You know, not because of us, but because of what they did 100 years ago. We must try to figure out how to get that attitude to continue,” John shares as he leans towards me with a sincere conviction to ensure future generations remain grateful for those who have invested in all of these good things we now enjoy and that we stay service-oriented.
I am again reminded of one of my favorite quotes, “The true meaning of life is planting trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” John and others have indeed planted many trees for our community, and I hope we will do the same for future generations. This kind of forward-thinking and stewardship inspires me daily.
I heartily agree with John as he shares a personal benefit we receive when we help others, “If you want to feel good about yourself, go help others.”
Stephanie says, “And be a steward of the land, a caregiver.”
And do what you can where you are; get in that Studebaker, right John? Go and help your fellow neighbor.
Well, I am motivated, thank you… For your hard work, dedication, and humbly sharing your talents with us. What are you excited about next?
“There are so many different things to be excited about, but I like to take life as it comes and watch the doors open… I love to see the move to increased accessibility and look forward to more opportunities through the Parks and Recreation Department.” Stephanie adds, “John answered the reason for beautification on the macro level really well. For me, we all need, at the micro level… regular and significant interactions with nature. John told me before we started that he was ready to plow the fields. John is still connected to nature, which I was talking about. It is so important, and I hope to foster more of these opportunities for people.”
John shares, “Seeing improvements in childhood development programs and helping families to see the importance of volunteerism. I hope we keep encouraging families to bring their kids with them to volunteer. My young grandson helps with Midland Blooms and loves it. Altruism will make you feel good and improve your well-being. Simply put, it starts with you. Treat others with kindness and do good.”
These things excite me too, and we can do it when we all work together.
Together, Forward, Bold…. we go!