2018-09-08 / People

After 25 Years Overseeing Mackinac Associates, Dombroski Retires

By Stephanie Fortino


At left: Diane Dombroski (left) has retired after 25 years as the as the coordinator of membership and grants for Mackinac State Historic Parks and the person who has run the friends group, Mackinac Associates. Taking her place is Michelle Walk, who brings many years of experience with the MSU Cooperative Extension Service. (Photograph by Dominick Miller) At left: Diane Dombroski (left) has retired after 25 years as the as the coordinator of membership and grants for Mackinac State Historic Parks and the person who has run the friends group, Mackinac Associates. Taking her place is Michelle Walk, who brings many years of experience with the MSU Cooperative Extension Service. (Photograph by Dominick Miller) Diane Dombroski, who has overseen Mackinac Associates since 1993, retired this summer, leaving behind a legacy of growth and stewardship for the friends group that supports Mackinac State Historic Parks. Reflecting on 25 years with the organization as she departs, Mrs. Dombroski said she most will miss the people she has come to know.

“Mackinac Associates members to me, most of them are just awesome,” she told the Town Crier. “I’ve made friends with people, I feel like I have best friends, almost like family.”

Mrs. Dombroski and her husband, Dennis, live near Topinabee. Having grown up in Michigan, the couple returned in the early 1990s after living in Tennessee for many years. A year after she joined the state park staff, Mr. Dombroski followed her to the Island, where he is the city’s building inspector and zoning administrator.

Mrs. Dombroski gained experience in fundraising while working for an engineering company that partnered with local municipalities for project grants in Tennessee. When that company closed, she worked at a historic 1792 home, which provided her a foundation of membership, museum, and grant work that she would later use at Mackinac State Historic Parks.

As the MSHP membership and grants coordinator, Mrs. Dombroski was involved in restoration, stewardship, and development projects. She acquired federal, state, foundation, and corporate grants for projects related to archeology, exhibits, and trails. Those included a $297,000 corporate grant from Ford Motor Company to build an exhibit and a $1 million grant that was used to acquire land.

One of the most memorable projects was the reconstruction of Fort Holmes, completed in 2015. About 160 Mackinac Associates members donated toward the $250,000 goal, which was reached in just over two weeks. The state matched those funds to complete the $500,000 project.

“It was a large amount of money raised in a short period of time,” Mrs. Dombroski said, “and that was the first time, I think, Mackinac Associates got some state recognition for what we can do for Mackinac State Historic Parks.”

Mackinac Associates was estab- lished in 1982. When Mrs. Dombroski started working for the state park, the group had about 500 members. Its membership has grown to more than 3,000 members from nearly every state and many other countries, she said.

“It’s people who love Mackinac,” Mrs. Dombroski said. “They come from everywhere.”

The organization’s board of directors is representative of the entire Straits of Mackinac area, Mrs. Dombroski said. There are representatives from the Island, St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, Cheboygan, Petoskey, and Harbor Springs.

“I’ve always wanted it to be that all-inclusive organization,” she continued. “We’re not just a country club or an Island club. We love Mackinac Island wherever you’re from.”

Members have demonstrated their passion and support of the state park financially and through advocacy. Mrs. Dombroski recalled a time in the early 2000s when the state park was threatened with losing all of its state funding. Associates members sprang into action, she said, calling on friends, contacts in Lansing, and congressmen to push successfully for continued state funding.

Mackinac Associates initially took on smaller projects, such as repairs to Mission Church and the McGulpin House downtown. When she started, the group had a fund balance of about $53,000. She leaves it with $975,000.

As Mackinac Associates expanded its membership, Mrs. Dombroski spent more and more of her time working with donors and projects. As the organization grew and strengthened its relationship with the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, Mackinac Associates took on more and bigger projects.

She said the partnership with Mackinac State Historic Parks has been fruitful as new projects were implemented as soon as others were finished, giving members ample opportunities to provide support. It also provided Mrs. Dombroski with many opportunities to use her fundraising and grant-writing skills.

“I enjoy writing,” she said, “and I think it’s really fun to make the case, to write something and convince somebody else of what you want to do and that you have the capability for it.”

Each grant application provided a challenge Mrs. Dombroski relished, but she said working with others was the most enjoyable experience.

“The people part of it, I think, that has been the best part of my job,” she said.

She will continue as a Mackinac Associates member and plans to be on the Island frequently for events and project dedications. She looks forward to continued growth of the organization under her successor, Michelle Walk, and accompanied Ms. Walk for her first Mackinac Associates board meeting on Friday, August 31, completing the transition.

Many core members of Mackinac Associates have been involved from the start. A challenge for Ms. Walk will be engaging younger people. Ensuring the organization’s future with younger members is not a challenge unique to Mackinac Associates, Mrs. Dombroski said, but might require some creativity.

While she has received a few job offers since announcing her departure, Mrs. Dombroski plans to enjoy retirement for the time being. She wants to work on some personal projects that have been put off through the years, ride motorcycles with her husband, and spend more time with her family, especially her grandchildren.

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