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RapidChat: Diana R. Sieger and Lizzie Williams

Diana R. Sieger and Lizzie Williams recently received community-wide recognition as ATHENA Award winners at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual event recognizing really amazing women. Diana has been President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation for nearly three decades, and Lizzie is a couple years in at Open Systems Technologies. Their careers are different in sector and length, but they can both be found cheering for Grand Rapids and rolling up their sleeves, engaged in community projects. Lizzie and Diana share a common perspective on the importance of taking a macro view and considering why it all matters - be it empowering employees, mentoring young girls, or sitting down for Sunday night family dinner. Read on as we chat about art, entrepreneurship, and building community simply by showing up.
Lizzie Williams, left, and Diana R. Sieger, right.

Diana R. Sieger and Lizzie Williams recently received community-wide recognition as ATHENA Award winners at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual event recognizing really amazing women. Their careers are different in sector and length, but they share a common perspective on the importance of taking a macro view and considering why it all matters. Read on as we chat about art, entrepreneurship, and building community just by showing up. 
Rapid Growth: Have your paths crossed previous to the Athena Awards?

Lizzie William: Yes, Diana was on the Distinguished Community Trustee selection committee for CCL’s annual fundraiser when I worked for the Chamber of Commerce. That was the first time we met. Plus she spoke at Failure:Lab Detroit, which I’m involved with.

Diana Sieger: Listening to all of Lizzie’s accomplishments… if you fast-forward 35 years, wow. I was with a group of “wiser” women, some of my close friends, and we discussed what we were doing at Lizzie’s age. I was working but I wasn’t necessarily grabbing hold of that brass ring yet. Lizzie has lots of dreams; she’s really digging in. I can only imagine her future.

RG: So have you two been getting out on the town with all the ArtPrize festivities? Do you enjoy the community fundraisers, parties, and events always on the docket in GR?

LW: I grew up with my parents and grandparents being busy and active in the community. My mom and dad would say, “We are going to a fuuuuuunc-tion.” So we still always joke about that. We couldn’t wait to be older and go to fuuuuuunc-tions. It was always a positive thing.

DS: I had a different upbringing. My dad was a sports editor at the Detroit News, so he worked a lot. My sister was married and gone by the time I was in middle school. Quite often it was just my mother and I spending the evening together. The whole piece of going to functions was a learned thing that I really do enjoy.

There are times when I simply have to pick and choose what I attend. I could be out every night. I am very selfish about my time. This week I don’t care, it is one of those weeks as ArtPrize commences, such a time for celebration. It is a delight to talk to artists and see the work.

LW: You’re an artist, too; don’t forget, Diana!

DS: Oh, yes. For her ArtPrize entry, “Leaders on Canvas,” Cynthia Hagedorn selected nine people in the community. We all went and painted with her and our entries are displayed together at DeVos Place.

RG: Lizzie, you have artistic endeavors, too.

LW: I’ve always been interested in art and liked working on creative projects. I’ve just recently launched a side project, Bike Antlers. I’m making taxidermy bike handlebars for the home. I’ve been really loving it. We make them one at a time. I’m working with my aunt and uncle and learning wood-working skills.

DS: How did you get into that?

LW: On my way to work, I often see trucks just packed with stuff (probably heading to Pitsch). I thought I saw a deer under a lawnmower one day. I was so sad. I inched closer and realized it was a super rusted bike. It had just been my friend’s birthday so I got this idea and decided to make her one for her birthday next year. Then I made five and sold them. Now I’m making more. It’s fun to go into creation mode; it’s a great way to relax.

RG: What else do you two do to disconnect?

DS: As I told Cynthia, I’m a consumer of art, not an artist. I think that has been well established! I love going to art fairs. I have so much art in my house. I’ve had my artist friend Michael Pfleghaar come over and rehang everything. He would cringe. I have no fear. I just buy things and figure I will find a place for it.

LW: I love going to galleries and openings. I like cross-county and downhill skiing. In the summer if I can end up on a pontoon boat, I’m happy. I like playing cards. Sundays are my rejuvenating day. I don’t really do anything. Sunday is my day to just do what I want to do and then end with a nice meal with my family. That is a good kick-start for my week.

DS: You’re really wise to reserve time. There have been times in my life where it has been “boom, boom, boom” even on the weekends and you can really lose your balance.

RG: What would you add to the city of Grand Rapids?

DS: I’ve lived in Grand Rapids for 41 years. The change from what it was in 1973, it’s staggering. I would love to see a value of acceptance as a key part of the city. A community that really embraces difference. We aren’t there yet. It is getting there and I can’t say there is any city in this world at 100 percent. I just would really like to see inclusion be a key part of the city.

LW: I would like to have cool places to dance and go out. Also, interesting high-end boutiques like the shops in midtown Detroit. I went to the Middle West pop-up last week -- my bike antlers were there -- I walked in and was like yes, this is cool.

RG: It’s interesting to observe you both at different points in your career. Diana, you’ve proven yourself a seasoned leader. Lizzie, what’s down the road for you?

DS: I’ve spent 27 years as President of the Community Foundation. When I started here in my 30s I had no idea I would do this. When I was hired, it was two part-time people here -- the woman who ran it, Pat Edison, and a secretary. We move differently than a typical nonprofit. The secretary was shocked I wanted to do things. For several months, I was all by myself. The foundation is 92 years old but it was putting on a growth spurt. I had no idea I had the chops to do it. We’ve really energized a lot of stuff, which is great to see.

LW: I’m thinking a lot of about what I want to do for my whole career. There are a lot of options based on my different interests.

DS: When you are my age, I hope you keep that eagerness and energy.

LW: It’s great to be surrounded by entrepreneurial people. Jordan O’Neil has been really inspiring to me, with Failure:Lab. Young people just doing things. Molly, you’re a great example. It helps to see that in your friends. My sister will call and be like “Hey! I’ve got this idea, let’s do it!”

Right after college I felt like I wanted to work for a major company and follow a specific path. I didn’t understand the value of flexibility and entrepreneurship. But I like the DNA at OST; it’s all about entrepreneurialism. We take projects, own them, come up with things, determine if there’s value, and then implement. That has been great. I get to live in that every day. There’s a lot of energy around ideation.

RG: You received your ATHENA Awards partially for the work you do supporting other women. Who has helped you?

DS: My friends. Many of them had pretty grueling leadership roles. They really talk me through a lot of things. They give me five minutes to feel sorry for myself, then say let’s just get with it. I have good friends, good supporters.

LW: I mentor two girls, who I initially met through Schools of Hope. What started as 30 minutes a week working on reading quickly turned into something much more. As our relationship developed, we welcomed each other into our different worlds in ways that I wasn’t expecting. All of sudden Habitat for Humanity wasn’t just an organization building homes in the community – it was building homes for people I knew. Kid’s Food Basket wasn’t just packing lunches for “kids” it was packing them for these kids, my kids. It motivated me, it discouraged me, it made me think about issues systemically.
 
I’ve learned so much from my relationship with Mariah and Destiney, like the closeness of the Burton Heights neighbors and how intoxicating the Saturday morning energy at Union High can be when the elementary schools play each other in basketball. In many ways they’ve mentored me. 

At one point, soon after we met, the older sister called me and left me a voicemail. She said, “This message is for Miss Lizzie. I was just calling to see if I could set up an appointment to spend time together.” After I got that, I was like yup, I’m in. They recently moved to Arizona but before that, we spent time together every week. We still talk weekly. When I’m sad I listen to that voicemail or I call them. When they moved I told her I saved the voicemail and she just started crying. From the first day I met these girls at Campau Elementary School I knew this relationship would be different, we opened ourselves up and we became family. They changed my life.

RG: And you changed theirs.

DS: That makes me think of Simon Sinek; the why. Why I am doing what I am doing has a lot to do with similar experiences. It’s so important to hop out of the macro level view and connect with what is really going on. Gets you back to reality.

LW: Part of the reason I got involved, I understood early on if you weren’t going do it, it wasn’t going to get done. I’ve seen my parents accomplish a lot just by showing up. When I entered the working world I heard that message, show up and be present. There is a lot of work to be done. I felt compelled to be a part of that.

DS: We live in a community where we can still really make a difference. We just have to make sure our motivations for doing it aren’t focusing on ourselves.
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