Ferndale Remembers Dave Coulter through the Years with Community Send-off to County
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 28, 2019)
Ferndale, MI – “This is so cool. Who gets to hear this stuff when they’re alive?” said former Ferndale City Councilperson Kate Baker when it was her turn with the mic for a recent party to celebrate former Mayor Dave Coulter who resigned in August to take over as Oakland County Executive.
The event, held at the Ferndale Elks, raised money towards park improvements through the Ferndale Community Foundation while also paying homage to Coulter’s history in the small suburb just north of Detroit.
“I could not have planned my life out like this, even if I tried,” Coulter told the crowd of friends, fellow officials, and family after listening to several people talk about their experiences with him at different stages of community life.
Coulter grew up in Macomb County but moved to Ferndale in his early 20s, where he rented a flat on Channing Street.
Kevin Deegan-Krause remembers his friend as a young man eager to be part of the team to bring the Ferndale Library up to more modern standards. “In 1954 Ferndale built a state of the art library, and fifty years later we still had a state of the art library, for 1954,” Deegan-Krause said, adding “We had the largest collection of 1974 cookbooks in SE Michigan.”
In 2004, Coulter helped create grand changes. The first was paving the way to make the Library independent from the City, which gave it more autonomy and dedicated funding, as well as a board. The second was establishing an independent, elected board that Coulter and others helped to fill with progress-minded people who wanted to see the library evolve. Soon after the library was updated and plans began for major remodeling that was finished in 2010. The Ferndale Area District Library now has more space, including a kids area and a community room. It also has many green features, including Stormwater retention to be used in toilets, and a green roof.
Coulter went on to become Oakland County Commissioner in 2002 by defeating a 20-year incumbent by just 86 votes. He served until 2010 when he resigned in order to run for the State Senate. He was unsuccessful in that race, but became Mayor of Ferndale in 2011.
County Commissioner Marcia Gershenson, who currently serves as Vice Chair, was among the dozens of people who turned out to celebrate Coulter’s past and his ascension to the top County spot. She spoke of Coulter’s involvement with Renaissance Unity church, where he serves on the board, saying that his spiritual mindset helps him to have a “warm, generous, welcoming spirit.”
“I’ve learned so much from his example,” Gershenson said. “He accepts all challenges with an open mind.”
Former Councilperson Scott Galloway also shared his memories of Coulter, including how he and Kate Baker took him to lunch to recruit him to serve as Mayor. “If you know Dave, you’ve probably hear him say that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far go together,’ and that is how Dave gets things done.”
Like many of the speakers, Galloway spoke of the contrast in personalities and priorities between Coulter and his predecessor L. Brooks Patterson. “It’s just transformational what’s happening,” he said. “To see Oakland County go from the stale old way of doing things to forward-thinking people leaning in.”
After assuming office in mid-August, Coulter quickly tapped former Ferndale City Manager April Lynch to serve as Deputy County Executive. “I’m one of the few City Managers who can say that my mayor has been a mentor,” Lynch said. She valued his wisdom, including the idea that “We’re gonna keep moving forward and always be better today than yesterday.”
State Senator Jeremy Moss remembered the first time he met Coulter, which was the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver. Moss had been there as an assistant to Congressperson Brenda Lawrence and Coulter had been there as a delegate. “He had so much excitement and energy,” Moss recalled. “I met Dave on the convention floor, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘I’m so excited, I had to call my mom and tell her I have better seats than [former Governor] Jennifer Granholm.”
Moss credited Coulter with “blazing the path” for LGBT people such as himself. “There truly would not be me as a State Senator if it weren’t for Dave Coulter.”
After these and several other speakers, Coulter thanked everyone for their support and friendship and talked about his hopes for the next year and a couple months.
“This is a little overwhelming, just like the last month has been,” Coulter said. “One of the things I learned from Brooks is to surround yourself with good people, and I have surrounded myself with smart people…If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. And as I figure out my team, I’m picking people who are not just smart, but in a way that reflects the diversity in Oakland County.”
He talked about how Ferndale has grown in the time he’s been here, but how for him it’s always been the people that make Ferndale great. “The people of this community and the way they embraced me are the reason I am where I am today. Not just Ferndale, but the communities of Hazel Park and Royal Oak that I represented as the first gay county commissioner. This journey would not have gotten started if I were anywhere else.”
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