Mt. Pleasant resident Janet “Jan” Maar Strickler never stops looking for ways to be involved in her community.
Strickler, 74, originally from Durand, Michigan, has been involved in many fundraising and philanthropic activities since moving back to Mt. Pleasant when she retired from her 27-year-long career with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in 1999.
“I felt energized,” Strickler said. “I was retired and had free time and I just started getting involved in the community doing things that I hadn’t been able to do when I was just a single person working. I now had the time and a supportive husband who loved the fact that I wanted to get involved in the community and we did everything side by side.”
Amanda Schafer is the Executive Director of the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation (MPACF) and has worked with Strickler for nearly a decade; the entirety of Schafer’s career with the foundation.
“She’s just a champion in our community,” Schafer said. “She’s not afraid to take a few risks and role model what she’s expecting from other people. If she believes in something she’s going to give to it and she’s going to ask other people to join her. Not a lot of people feel particularly comfortable asking their friends for money, but Jan believes in these things so strongly that she doesn’t bat an eye.”
In 2015, Strickler and her husband were nominated jointly and received the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Citizen of the Year” award, an award that is typically awarded to one person and rarely given to couples.
Strickler and her husband William “Bill” Strickler, who died in February 2018 from lung cancer, married in 1997. The couple have six children between them from their first marriages.
Strickler said she met Bill when her daughter Joneil invited her to attend Parent’s Day Weekend at Central Michigan University.
Janet Strickler and her husband William "Bill" Strickler pose for a photo while on a bicycling trip in Montana. 2010. Photo provided by Janet Strickler.
“We ran into each other four times that day,” Strickler said, having seen him at her friend’s apartment complex she was staying at and then for the third time at the football game where they finally introduced themselves. But it wasn’t until they met up again at a post-game event where he asked for her phone number.
“I was in the food line and I looked up and there was my husband, for the fourth time that day,” Strickler said. “And we’ve been together ever since.”
The couple loved reading and outdoor activities such as downhill skiing, golf, and both were enthusiastic cyclists.
“We would take bicycling vacations,” Strickler said. “We’ve probably taken 12 to 15 vacations where we would ship our bikes with us on an airplane, fly to a location, and then have only our bicycles for transportation.”
Bill was a geologist and studied maps for his career in the oil and gas industry. Prior to their trips he would study maps to determine the distance they would traverse each day and where they would stay at night.
“Since he’s been ill for the last few years we haven’t bicycled and I'm just now getting myself ready to get back into it in the spring,” Strickler said. “We have some great bicycling trails now where you can bicycle from Mt. Pleasant to Shepherd and I just put new tires on my bike.”
Strickler said shortly before his death they had talked about donating to the local nonprofit center. At the time, the center was in its first year of operation and working to raise funds to buy the building it rents from Victory Church. Following his death, Strickler made a contribution of $200,000 to the campaign.
“I’d asked him how he would like to be remembered, and he said very quickly, I’d like to be remembered for lifting people up and for my friendships,” Strickler said. “Bill was always doing things to help people that needed a lift and so his answer did not surprise me. His friendships were always extremely important to him. The nonprofit center is a place that lifts people up every day that are in need and it just made sense.”
During an open house in April at the nonprofit center the new name was announced: the William Strickler Nonprofit Center.
After the open house, members of the community said they felt the nonprofit center should be named after both Strickler and her husband because they did everything together. The change to renaming the center to the William and Janet Strickler Nonprofit Center was announced in September.
“It was very heart-warming that people in the community felt that strongly about it, I was touched,” Strickler said. “It wasn’t intended to be that way, but it makes me happy that we have our name on it together.”
According to Schafer, the campaign is close to reaching its $1 million campaign goal, with over $900,000 raised.
“Jan has been a leader in that ever since she made a lead gift,” Schafer said. “Once that building is purchased, we can do some things in that space to take the next step. The organizations that are tenants in there now are starting to talk about what it would mean to bring resources into the facility and working on self-sufficiency plans and taking it beyond the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. It’s moving to a point where we're helping people remove the barriers that they’ve felt so that they can get good jobs, pursue education, get quality healthcare, affordable housing, transportation, affordable day care, you name it. All of those things become possible because we’ve got this facility now.”
Strickler said making the contribution in honor of Bill’s memory was one of the best decisions she ever made.
“Making a gift like that, it’s a gift that keeps on giving,” Strickler said. “I get so much pleasure and satisfaction every time I go into that building and see all those people that are getting the help they need. People are being treated with compassion and respect and dignity and I just go away from there thinking oh my gosh this is just a miraculous place.”
Strickler also spends a lot of her time on various committees and boards. She is currently on the Mid Michigan College’s Advisory Board, the board for McLaren Central Michigan and a few other committees for the hospital. For more than 12 years she’s been involved with the MPACF’s board, somewhere she says she spends a lot of her time and energy. She served as MPACF board president for two years and is currently a member of the executive committee, the development committee, and also co-chairs the Women’s Initiative committee.
“Jan to this day continues to be someone who walks the talk,” Schafer said. “She’s great and so very personable. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like Jan. She’s a role model for me and I think for a lot of others, especially younger women and peers in the community because of how strong she believes in the community.”
Janet Strickler (right) and her mother Eva Martin pose for a photo on Eva's 98th birthday. 2018. Photo provided by Janet Strickler.In her spare time, Strickler said almost every day she visits her mother, Eva Martin, 98, who lives in an assisted living home in town.
But she is not done helping the community. She said she is constantly thinking about possible needs and evaluating how she can help.
“I’ve always liked the quote ‘Don’t stop until you’re proud’,” Strickler said. “I think that having lost my husband to cancer, one of my goals right now is to live a healthy life. I try to be as healthy as possible and be productive every day- you never know how many days you have left.”