GVSU alumna runs for Walker City Commissioner
At Grand Valley State University, civic engagement is valued as a core way for students to make a positive impact on their communities, and some even go a step further by running for local office.
GVSU alumna Melanie Grooters, for example, is running for a seat on the Walker City Commission Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Grooters’ ties to GVSU run deep as her family’s history is aligned with the university's creation. Her ancestors moved to West Michigan in 1865, and GVSU eventually purchased the land that the four "Lake" buildings currently stand on from them, the Reister family.
A GVSU scholarship has since been created in memory of the Reisters for descendants of families who settled in the area in the 19th century.
After raising her own children, Grooters attended GVSU herself, where she earned both her undergraduate degree (2002) and master's degree in public administration (2012).
“I had such a great experience at Grand Valley,” Grooters said. “I was an older adult, but I learned so much. The professors all treated me very, very well. I had such a great time with the younger students—the 'kids,' I called them. That's actually why I went back to school for my master’s degree. I missed being with the students, and I missed learning. … (The professors) really took care (of their students) and wanted you to succeed.”
During her time at GVSU, Grooters formed some long-lasting relationships. In one of her first classes at GVSU in 1999, Grooters met current Walker City Commissioner Cyndy Stek.
Following her years at GVSU, Grooters worked for two years doing nonprofit work with Home Repair Services of Kent County. The organization resonated with Grooters’ interest in housing and accessibility.
“They work to keep lower-income homeowners in their home,” Grooters said. “In other words, they try to keep them in their homes. A lot of times, they’re first-generation home owners. ... They’ve never seen anyone repair a toilet or a faucet. ... (Home Repair Services) offer classes and education for people who want to learn how to do it themselves and how to keep their houses up and running.”
Grooters then moved on to work with the senior administrative specialist of Kent County. She had worked there just one year when she decided to go back to school to get her master’s degree in public administration.
“I love learning, and I would be a full-time student if I could be,” Grooters said.
Grooters also worked as the assistant to the board of Home Repair Services, along with her other job, from 2010 to 2016. She worked with the board for six years until she decided to run for commissioner. This year will mark her 10th year working for Kent County, and it is this experience that Grooters believes qualifies her to run for a seat on the Walker City Commission.
“I think the city of Walker needs committed and qualified community members to serve, and I believe I have the experience and the education and the time now to devote to it,” Grooters said. “I think the fact that I have been in Kent County administration for 10 years and interacting with our 19 commissioners and tracking legislation in Lansing (and) meeting with our representatives in Lansing ... has been very beneficial for serving in this role.”
Grooters believes her platform will be best for the city.
“I believe in living within your means and not spending more than you make,” she said. “I would translate that to the city as well. ... I think the (current) Mayor Mark Huizenga has done a really good job with that. I think his policy fiscally is very similar to mine. So, (I would be) very excited to work with him.”
If elected to the position, Grooters hopes to help the city adjust to the influx of new residents that Walker has continued to experience over the years.
“I think (the population growth) is wonderful, and I think Grand Valley has contributed to that, being that we are the corridor between the two Grand Valley campuses,” Grooters said. “I think that’s awesome, but I also want to keep in mind that every house that we build in Walker adds more traffic to our roads, more demand on our infrastructure.
"I just want to try to achieve some balance between maintaining our open space and the quality of life with the fact everyone thinks this would be a great place to live.”
Another cause near to her heart is working with the senior citizen community within Walker.
“The area that interests me is the senior citizens, and that kind of ties into my home ownership (work),” Grooters said. “I would love to get involved with the senior citizens and find out what their wants and needs are (and to discuss) making sure they have the services they need so they can stay in their homes as long as they (can).”
Throughout her campaign for commissioner, Grooters has received a tremendous amount of support. Most notably, Huizenga and Stek have both come out in support of her.
“(Stek) has been a great resource for me,” Grooters said. “She has been very encouraging and supportive and has really helped me through this process.”
Grooters has also seen an outpouring of love and support from her children during her campaign run.
“My husband and my kids have all been very helpful (though the whole process),” Grooters said. “They've all pitched in. My daughter-in-law is my treasurer. All my kids have helped with signage. My husband has been fabulous driving around in the rain fixing signs. It’s been kind of fun. We’ve been enjoying being together and doing that.”
If elected, Grooters would like to see the board of commissioners come together and really work as a team. With only a few days left in the campaign, Grooters is excited and thankful for the experience she has had running for commissioner.
Editor's note: In the original version of this article, published online Wednesday, Nov. 1, and in print Thursday, Nov. 2, we incorrectly wrote "teacher" instead of "treasurer" in Melanie Grooters' quote, "My daughter-in-law is my treasurer." This information has been corrected. We have also changed the word "have" to "can" at the end of Grooters' quote, "I would love to get involved with the senior citizens and find out what their wants and needs are (and to discuss) making sure they have the services they need so they can stay in their homes as long as they (can)," in order to more accurately reflect the speaker's meaning.