“I like to be in charge. I have a t-shirt that says so.”
In true fashion, Mary Jeanne Klenow, 94, has taken charge of her own legacy, putting it to use to ensure students from her home community succeed in life, and doing so by giving back in a rather unique way.
“I wanted to support what I consider to be ‘home’, and my hope is that once a student leaves high school or college, all these kids are going to be doing whatever work they’re passionate about – something they love doing,” says Mary Jeanne. “It’s like planting seeds, isn’t it? Seeds for the world to be a better place.”
Mary Jeanne grew up in East Tawas and graduated from Tawas Area High School. Her hometown and the people in it hold a special place in her heart. In spring of 2023, she established the Henry L. and Bernice M. Klenow Fund at the Iosco County Community Foundation (ICCF). This permanent endowment will help provide funding for a full-time Career Development Coordinator whose time will be dedicated to helping students in grades 8-12 at Tawas Area Schools with career and/or college readiness. The funds will provide for the full-time salary, administrative costs, and programming expenses of a Career Development Coordinator who will be an employee of the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency, and positioned at Tawas Area Schools.
Mary Jeanne connected with the Iosco County Community Foundation through ICCF Board President, Cliff Miller, whom she has known for many years. Cliff then helped her to connect to community members with intimate knowledge of local schools, and with Foundation staff who could help facilitate her donation. After two years of meetings, planning, researching, and identifying gaps that could be filled to help students be successful in life after high school – whether through a job, a trades program, or going to college – Mary Jeanne ultimately decided on establishing this field of interest fund to help students from her hometown.
“Over the course of many conversations, we discovered that there were limited resources for students desiring to explore options post-high school. There are good things being done by our school system, but there are also so many kids to try to help,” says Cliff Miller. “Part of the vision for Mary Jeanne’s fund is that this private-public collaboration becomes a successful and replicable model that can eventually be adopted by other schools and communities to be deployed locally, regionally, and hopefully even nationally. Our goal is that students are equipped with the fundamentals that translate directly into success for the next phase of their lives. It’s amazing to see this incredible gift come to fruition, knowing that it is going to be making an impact immediately.”
“My parents did everything for me. They paid my bills right out of college, and really helped me get going in life. I owe them for that. That’s why I named the fund after them,” says Ms. Klenow. “And I wanted to give back to the community that gave me so much.”
Mary Jeanne’s own life experiences instilled a strong work ethic, an understanding of saving and investing, and a belief that nobody was meant to sit around and do nothing if they could help it. She grew up working at Klenow’s Market in East Tawas, the community staple opened by her grandparents and eventually owned by her parents. After high school, Mary Jeanne’s mother steered her toward a bachelor’s degree that allowed her to get a teaching job right out of school. She enjoyed a teaching career that included positions in Oscoda, Alpena, Tawas, and Midland, where she taught until her retirement. She also spent three years early in her career in Europe, following the end of World War II, teaching U.S. students in England and Germany.
“I retired in 1984, and I’ve been terrorizing the neighborhoods ever since,” jokes Mary Jeanne. “I went right on learning after that. I learned how to do taxes for people, volunteering to help seniors do their taxes. I learned how to be a lay minister with the Diocese of Saginaw, and I stay active with that. So, I’m still not finished, I guess. I think God keeps us around if we have work to do.”
Mary Jeanne says she learned a lot from her older brother about saving and investing, which has helped her throughout her life.
“My brother started saving money when he was ten years old, and he eventually used that money as a down payment for a house,” she says. “I think that really impressed me: the idea that money can grow, and that you can have it working for you the whole time you’re working.”
In fact, Mary Jeanne ended up starting her own Individual Retirement Account (IRA) when her brother informed her that she could put money into it, and it wouldn’t be taxed.
“And then I found out that when you turn 70 and a half, you have to start taking distributions from it,” she says. “And you have to pay taxes on it…unless you give it away!”
So that is what she started doing. The annual distributions from that IRA have supported the Mackinac Center, her church and Diocese, libraries, and now, this fund in her parents’ honor at ICCF. Mary Jeanne has elected to make this fund the beneficiary of her IRA as a planned gift - part of the legacy that will set Tawas area students up for success.
The Career Development Coordinator that will be funded through the Henry L. and Bernice M. Klenow Fund will work closely with students in grades 8-12, and their parents, with goals of creating a sense of readiness and preparation for post-secondary success.
Brian Colorite, the first to be employed because of this fund, says there is often so much information that it can be overwhelming for students and parents to navigate. He says that being at just one school and working closely with a larger number of students can help make an even greater impact than working with many students, but for smaller amounts of time.
“It will be great to have someone to help navigate all the things that are changing – colleges, their programs, technologies, things that are different now than they were 20 years ago. There’s so much that’s changed in such a small amount of time. And then you have students that may not have access to any information at all if they have no internet at home; their parents never went to school; whatever the case. One of the goals is to give students access to someone who can help them navigate a career assessment, figure out how to pay for college, join the military, or whatever they decide on, and to start thinking about these things and preparing for them earlier on. This is going to be a game changer for a lot of these students.”
Brian will also be helping students with topics like career exploration; career research and planning; essential skills like time management, leadership, digital literacy, public speaking, and resume writing; internships and job shadowing; financial literacy and entrepreneurship; professionalism and workplace etiquette; and many other topics that will help students to be prepared for their next steps after they graduate high school, and confident in their own future plans.
Mary Jeanne says she is excited and hopeful to learn how this program helps students down the road. Of the knowledge of how this fund will impact future generations of Tawas youth she says, “It’s better than anything I could have imagined. Knowing that we’ve planted these seeds, and that we’ll help these wonderful people grow and become what they’re meant to be, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Now that this fund has been established, anyone can give to it at any time, and in any amount.
“Our hope is that the Tawas area communities will see the value in this and choose to direct some of their own charitable giving to the Henry L. and Bernice M. Klenow Fund,” says Miller. “The seed has been planted. The more support this fund has, the faster and stronger it will grow to support Tawas area students.”
Photos: Top - Mary Jeanne Klenow; Middle - Left to right: Cliff Miller, Iosco County Community Foundation Board President, Mary Jeanne Klenow, and Brian Colorite, NEMCSA Tawas Career Development Coordinator