Meet the top three nominees for this year’s Mumford Prize for Good

“Founded by professor, philanthropist and author Dr. Vincent Mumford, The Mumford Prize for Good (also known as ‘The Good Prize’) is an annual prize that honors everyday individuals who do good things in service of others, and whose deeds of good serve to inspire others and uplift communities,” explained Annie Sanders, president and CEO of the United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties during their May 8, 2024 Live United awards and campaign celebration.

Thanks to Dr. Mumford and his generosity and partnership, since 2021 community members have been awarded the coveted “Good Prize” after being nominated and selected by a volunteer committee. 

The first winner of The Mumford Prize for Good was Damon Brown in 2021. In year two, Scott Nemeth won the award; last year, “The Good Prize” was awarded to Angie Evans-Tessman.

This year, the selection committee came to a consensus to highlight the “Top Three” nominations before selecting the winner. 

All three nominees were highlighted during the awards celebration and Epicenter Mt. Pleasant spoke with each one of them about the good they do for our local communities. 

Photo courtesy of the United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties.Jim Holton was celebrated as a “Top Three” individual at the Live United 2024 awards ceremony on May 8, 2024 at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort.

If you’ve visited Mountain Town Station, The Summit Smokehouse, Camille’s on the River, Alma Brewing Company, or St. John’s Brewing Company, you’ve dined at one of Jim Holton’s establishments. Holton has been an integral part of our central Michigan community for decades—not only through his entrepreneurial efforts, but via his behind-the-scenes philanthropy as well. It’s a characteristic the United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties says sets him apart. 

During the May 8 Live United Awards ceremony, they introduced Jim by saying, “Jim's actions underscore the power of quiet benevolence and the ripple effect it creates. His steadfast support and generosity inspire us all to be catalysts for positive change. In Jim, we find not only a successful entrepreneur but also a compassionate leader, who loves his family, friends, and community.”

We asked Jim more about his endeavors.

Epicenter Mt. Pleasant: Jim, your entrepreneurial success is matched by your commitment to community service. Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that ignited your passion for giving back to the community?
Jim Holton: Restaurants are a community gathering point, whether it’s for special occasions, business events, dinners, or even meeting friends for a drink. As a restaurateur I’m always asked to donate gift cards to a variety of great events, organizations or individuals/families in need. We estimate over $100,000 in gift cards given away over my 28 years in the restaurant business. There has never been a pivotal moment to start giving back to the community. It just comes with being a business owner helping your community that helps make my dream a reality.

Epicenter: You've been involved in numerous organizations and initiatives throughout your career. What motivates you to stay so deeply engaged in community service despite your busy schedule as a business owner?
Holton: You get what you give. This is my home, my family, and my life. Doing one's part in trying to make your community better should be a way of life. Every organization I’ve been involved with is not to fill a spot on a resume (never had one and never will ). It’s to make the place you live better for all walks of life. I make the time because I want to, not because I have to.

Epicenter: Being part of the “Top 3” finalists for United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties’s “The Good Prize” is a testament to your exceptional contributions. Looking back, what do you consider to be the most fulfilling aspect of your philanthropic endeavors?
Holton: What an honor to be nominated for this recognition. Everyone nominated for this award is worthy of ‘The Good Prize!’ I’m a behind-the-scenes philanthropic guy so what is most fulfilling for me is to watch the fruits of my labor come to fruition with helping that one person, that one organization, that one family to have a better life, or just make their day without knowing where it came from. Giving is selfless and comes from the heart for the betterment of humanity!

Photo courtesy of the United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties.Phil Maxwell was celebrated as a “Top Three” individual at the Live United 2024 awards ceremony on May 8, 2024 at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort.

“Phil Maxwell is a teacher and lay pastor, but he is really a life and community changer,” the United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties said May 8 during their Live United Awards about Phil Maxwell. “Every lesson he teaches in the classroom or church is designed to help others see that they can be a gift to their school, their church, their family, and their community.”

Each year, Maxwell coordinates a toy building and distribution drive within his curriculum at St. Louis High School, where he is the woodshop teacher. His efforts ensure each child in the area elementary schools receive a handcrafted wooden toy on an annual basis. Maxwell is constantly conducting additional philanthropic activities in his classroom, including creating items to be auctioned off to good causes, building bookshelves for libraries, dollhouses for fire departments to teach about fire safety, service plaques for veterans, and so much more. 

We talked more with Maxwell about his community-changing initiatives.

Epicenter Mt. Pleasant: Phil, your dedication to teaching and serving others is evident in the various philanthropic activities you coordinate with your students. Can you share a particularly memorable moment or project that highlights the impact of your work?
Phil Maxwell: I think the most memorable service that we do is handing out toys to elementary kids at Christmas time. My high school students create, build and wrap the toys. Then they get to go to the elementary schools and deliver them. The joy that it brings to the students receiving the gifts is amazing, but the joy my students experience is priceless. I once had a student tell me that they have never felt so much joy before giving out the gifts. 

Epicenter: The 5 H's—Humility, Honesty, Honor, Helpful, and Hope—are foundational to your character and teaching philosophy. How do you instill these values in your students, and what role do you believe they play in building a strong and compassionate community?
Maxwell: The 5 H’s were developed from me working with students that struggled with loss and failure. These 5 H’s are the foundation of everything I teach in my class. They help the students to look beyond themselves and see the value of other people. The 5 H’s are the reason we serve people and the roadmap to get us back on track no matter what we are dealing with in our lives. 

Epicenter: Your efforts extend beyond the classroom, shaping the character of both students and community members. Looking ahead, what are your hopes for the future impact of your teachings and service on the community?
Maxwell: I have an unbelievable opportunity to serve the community of St. Louis as a teacher, pastor and chaplain. It’s my hope to invest wisely in the lives of people with intentionality. One of the ways I would like to do that in the future is to develop a more structured after-school program for the woodshop. I have students that love the success they experience in the woodshop, but there are limitations with a normal class schedule. With the afterschool program, I believe we can be more committed to the skills of woodworking and the development of a mindset that focuses on being ready for the workforce. 

Photo courtesy of the United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties.Kim West was celebrated as the 2024 recipient of “The Good Prize” during the Live United 2024 awards ceremony on May 8, 2024 at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort.

Kim West is well known for her advocacy efforts to improve the lives of children and caregivers. For over six years, she’s volunteered at the Baby Pantry with Gratiot County Child Advocacy, ensuring families are supported with essential diapers, formula, and clothing. Plus, she’s written letters of support for their grant funding and has completed research on the impacts of food insecurity in rural communities—which ultimately led to an addition of toddler snacks as a service within the Baby Pantry. 

West is also a volunteer at the Alma Community Art Center, is involved in her church and reading groups, plus provides financial assistance to young musicians via her Ross Maki Memorial Fund in memory of her son.

During the Live United Awards ceremony, thanks to Dr. Vincent Mumford and his generosity, West was awarded “The Good Prize” and was presented with a beautiful one-of-a-kind commissioned work of art, as well as a medallion and a $1,000 cash prize to continue her good work.

We asked West more about her community contributions. 

Epicenter Mt. Pleasant: Kim, your dedication to supporting families through the Baby Pantry is truly admirable. Can you walk us through a particularly impactful moment or experience you've had while volunteering there?
Kim West: When I explored options for volunteering, my choice was the Baby Pantry. I had not had the opportunity to be around babies for quite a while and it was a delight to interact with babies and toddlers and their parents.

In 2020, the Baby Pantry shut down due to the COVID outbreak. At the same time, Child Advocacy was in the process of constructing a new building. A partition of the new building was a drive through area with a roof to serve installation of new car seats.

After COVID, the Baby Pantry still did not reopen for in-person service. Instead, the drive through served as a pickup area for clients to pick up their weekly orders.

The drive-through process became a preference for our clients and it has become a permanent service way of serving our clients. (In person appointments are available on Thursdays for clients who prefer this service.)

Although the delivery of services of the Baby Pantry changed and we no longer have a parade of babies and toddlers, the overall effect of the change has been to serve our clients in the best way possible and further the intention of the Baby Pantry to build a community of healthy families. 

Epicenter: Your involvement in establishing the Ross Maki Memorial Fund reflects a deep commitment to nurturing young talent in music. How do you believe music education and support for young musicians contribute to the well-being of communities?
West: The establishment of the Ross Maki Memorial Fund is our way of continuing the music opportunities that were afforded to our son, Ross, who became a professional cellist. He performed individually and in a number of youth and community orchestras. 

To develop his skills, Ross received a number of scholarships and grants to attend summer camps, participate in the Chicago Youth Symphony, and a trip to Europe.
Fostering young musicians allows them the opportunity to expand their talent and abilities. The Ross Maki Memorial Fund provides similar financial resources for individuals to excel in their art and brings the community together to create opportunities for performance and to experience music in group settings. 

Epicenter: Beyond your work with the Baby Pantry and the Ross Maki Memorial Fund, you're also involved in various other community activities. How do you manage to balance your time between these different endeavors while ensuring each receives the attention it deserves?
West: In 2016, my husband and I returned to Michigan after many years of living out of state. We did not know anyone in Gratiot County and began to build connections in the area.

The Ithaca library was my first stop and I was directed to a small country church in our township. 

This is a small church and had a small congregation (but now has doubled). It provided the opportunity to sit on the board, take part in church upkeep and attend a committee for reorganization. Attendance at a small country church has resulted in a caring church family. 

Seeking regular volunteer activity brought me to the Baby Pantry and subsequently a member of the Child Abuse and Neglect Council. 

Other things fell into place.The Ross Maki Memorial Fund was created and which provides financial assistance to young musicians.  

Now, seven years later, I delight in attending the monthly book club at the Ithaca library for discussion of literature and another occasion to meet others in the community.

Maintaining balance within these activities is not an over-burdening schedule but rather connections with other people. I love living in Michigan and being part of the Gratiot County community. 
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Read more articles by Courtney Jerome.

With 15 years of professional media experience, Courtney Jerome has found a passion for storytelling and showcasing our region in a positive light. She's written stories for television broadcasts, numerous magazines, and digital publications. In addition, she owns a boutique creative marketing agency that focuses on social media, photo, and video storytelling for small businesses across Michigan and the country — Contact Courtney, the managing editor of Epicenter, at