A former mayor/state legislator, a public servant and an educator will be honored by Saginaw Valley State University this month for community work that exemplifies the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision.
Charles Brunner (Bay County), Diane Brown Wilhelm (Midland County) and Frances Elnora Carter (Saginaw County) have been named recipients of the 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Awards, given annually to leaders in the Great Lakes Bay Region. These honorees will receive recognition during the Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Virtual Celebration at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18. CNN political contributor Van Jones is the event’s keynote speaker.
The three recipients are receiving a $1,000 award for a charitable organization of their choice.
The honoree from Bay County is Charles M. Brunner, who served from 2011 through 2016 in the Michigan House of Representatives from the 96th District. He is a former mayor of Bay City (2007-2010) and was a member of the Bay City Commission from 2001-2007. Prior to his time in elected office, Brunner was a teacher for 30 years. As mayor, he was a founding member of what was once known as the Mayors’ Automotive Coalition, now the Manufacturing Alliance of Communities, and started several other city initiatives including a community clean-up and an adopt-a-park program. For years, Brunner has been active in his community, including in initiatives such as the Annual Bay City 4th of July Fireworks festival, Annual Bay City Festival of Lights (co-chair), Annual Kawkawlin River Clean-up, Annual clean-up of both veteran’s memorials (Project Freedom Walk and Viet Nam Memorial), and clean-up/dedication of the Michael Cathcart Park. Formerly a musician, Brunner played with the rock group Question Mark and the Mysterians.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award honoree from Midland County is Diane Brown Wilhelm, who has been a tireless public servant, sitting on the Midland City Council and the Planning Commission for more than 10 combined years. She currently serves as the Midland City Council’s Legislative Director, representing the city on the Michigan Municipal League. In addition, she holds leadership roles in several community service organizations, including Midland’s Shelterhouse. Whether serving in city government or volunteer capacities, or while mentoring younger employees as a part of her employment with Accenture, Brown Wilhelm recognizes the importance of listening to people. She thinks strategically, enjoys tackling new challenges and values hard work. A hallmark of personal success is her ability to connect with people, coupled with her passion to be an advocate for people in need.
Frances Elnora Carter is a posthumous honoree of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award from Saginaw County. A Saginaw native, Carter earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education Administration degrees from the University of Michigan. She returned to her hometown in 1951 to become a teacher for the Saginaw Public Schools System, where in 1973, Carter was named the first Black principal in the district’s history (Potter Elementary School). After nearly 40 years as an educator, she retired in 1991. She also is a recipient of the NAACP Pioneer Plaque and received a longevity plaque for 50-plus years as a member of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Saginaw. Carter was one of 12 women who chartered a Saginaw chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; she held various offices in the chapter, which earned her a Senior Pearl Award. In addition, she was one of the founders and served as acting treasurer of the Ruben Daniels Education Foundation. Carter was an NAACP life member, Friend of Claytor Public Library and member of the Castle Museum. She was one of the charter members of Top Ladies of Distinction in Saginaw and served as its president, historian and chair of the senior citizen committee.
For more information about the Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration hosted at SVSU, click svsu.edu/mlk, or contact the SVSU Office of Diversity Programs at (989) 964-4068.