According to NMU 1977 graduate Charles Hawes of Lansing, his main “claim to fame” prior to his selection as this year's Alumni Service-Community Award recipient was being a teammate of Tom Izzo for all four of his seasons as a Wildcat.
“I am one day older than Tom,” Hawes said. “When we were at Northern, the team would celebrate both of our birthdays at the same time. But I must admit Tom looks better than me; he's taken better care of himself than I have. And it's great he's gone on to have a successful coaching career with the Michigan State Spartans.
“I was stunned to learn I was getting this award from NMU. I started to read the letter as my wife returned from running some errands, but stopped after the first paragraph because I couldn't go on. I told her I had to read the letter to her. It was hard to get through the whole thing without becoming emotional.”
Hawes played high school basketball at Royal Oak Kimball before receiving a scholarship to continue the sport at NMU under the guidance of the late coach Glenn Brown.
“Overall, our team was pretty good,” he recalled. “We had probably had our best year when I was a sophomore; I think our record was 18-10. We also had a chance to play some Division I schools that year, which was a lot of fun. Our junior season was decent as well.”
He earned a bachelor's degree in accounting after switching majors partway through college.
“There was kind of a recession going on at that time,” Hawes said. “Based on the job market, I thought the accounting program was my best chance to land a job when I graduated. I'm not a super numbers person; I got along with them, but I really enjoyed the concepts. My most impactful professor was the late Dr. Clifford Brin. He didn't teach exactly from the text. He used a lot of personal experience he had in the accounting profession working for a large CPA firm and taught by using real-life examples.”
After his NMU graduation, Hawes landed his first job as a regional bank auditor. But he decided to take the CPA exam and, upon passing it, embarked on a 35-year career in public accounting.
“As my professional life progressed, it became more about interpreting numbers and communicating and assisting with clients. I really enjoyed helping clients solve business problems. The education I received from Northern was excellent preparation for that. I worked in the private sector as vice president and CFO of a mutual insurance company late in my career, and retired at 62.”
Hawes' community service role has been firmly entrenched since the late 1980s, when he attended a TGIF gathering of business and organization representatives and met the executive director of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Michigan. That chance encounter would have a lasting impact on Hawes.
“When he asked what I did, I said I was a CPA and my firm happened to have a lot of experience working with nonprofit organizations. He was thrilled to hear that and I'm thinking I'm going to land a client. Then he told me they'd just lost their volunteer board treasurer and were looking for a replacement, and asked if I would be interested. Initially I was kind of disappointed because I thought I might get a paying client. But he was very compelling and I went through the vetting process.
“About a month later, I attended my first board meeting. The UCP of Michigan was a community of people committed to helping others with CP and disabilities. They welcomed me into their community and it's been a great experience ever since. It's the people who have kept me there for more than 30 years. I'm glad I seized upon that opportunity when I first met the executive director.”
During his tenure with the organization, Hawes received the President's Award in 2002 and 2008, was recognized for volunteer service to UCP at the 2021 Mary Ann Greenawalt Awards Ceremony, and received the Volunteer Recognition Award from the National UCP Office. He said he felt the need to remain involved to help the organization resolve some challenges, but it is now strongly positioned after merging with UCP of Detroit to become MiUCP.
Hawes' community service extends to other areas. He has been a recycling volunteer at several Common Ground music festivals, and for the last seven years, he and his wife, Nancy, have volunteered to be campground hosts at one of the State Parks in Michigan. He also gave back to his alma mater as a former member of the NMU Alumni Association Board of Directors.
“I thought it would be a great way to give back to the university. Plus, I had a built-in excuse to return to Marquette several times a year. I learned a great deal from my fellow board members and I'm still friends with quite a few. They were great people to work with.”