As a Northern Michigan University trustee, Greg Toutant recently attended the dedication of the new WellBeing Center on campus, which provides comprehensive physical and mental health services in one easily accessible location. A few weeks earlier, in his full-time role as CEO of Great Lakes Recovery Centers Inc., he had participated in a ribbon-cutting and open house for the John Kivela Center, a new behavioral health campus in Negaunee that also offers integrated care and services under one roof.
“There are certainly parallels between my career and my appointment as a trustee, given the timing of Northern's increased emphasis on well-being,” he said. “I think my experience in the behavioral health field lends some common touchpoints for perspective and ideas on how to strengthen the services Northern provides in order to take better care of students during their time at the university and enhance their overall experience.”
Toutant has worked for more than 30 years in addiction and behavioral health treatment services. Under his leadership, Great Lakes Recovery Centers has expanded its scope and reach. In addition to its longtime role of addressing substance abuse, GLRC now provides a wide range of behavioral health treatment and prevention services throughout the Upper Peninsula.
This summer, he accepted an appointment to Michigan's Opioid Task Force to represent rural areas like the Upper Peninsula, which have unique needs and may require different models to most effectively address the crisis, yet still require financial support for services despite the population differences.
Fueled by his professional achievements and community involvement with several boards and organizations, Toutant was selected as NMU's 2020 Alumni Service Award recipient. GLRC also assists his alma mater by offering community-based internships to NMU students and employs a number of alumni as part of its expanded system throughout the region.
The Palmer native and Negaunee High School graduate entered NMU as a first-generation student. Driven by a natural curiosity about people and events, he majored in history with a minor in sociology and completed his degree in 1994. He also holds a master's in clinical counseling from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
“I thought perhaps teaching history for a high school or middle school, or going on to do research rather than museum work, might be a good path,” he said. “I didn't have a great handle on what history parlayed into, only that I was interested in the subject. You learn later in life that everyone has a history and a story to tell. Making the leap from that background to a counseling role is about understanding what people have gone through in their own lives and how they have reconciled their personal history.”
Despite his local roots, Toutant said he chose not to experience NMU as a commuter student. He spent about three years at the Delta Chi house off campus and has remained lifelong friends with some of his fraternity brothers.
“NMU had excellent academics and professors,” he said. “It is a gem of a university that provides access to a high-quality education. My time there was one of my best life experiences, and my education opened up a world of possibilities. But I had no clue what those on campus did to support, manage and provide that opportunity. As a trustee, I'm now looking through the lens of protecting that experience and assisting those who want an education, particularly those at a disadvantage.
“When the curtain is pulled back and you see the entire scope of what it takes to run a university, it's eye-opening. There's an immense amount of care, compassion and empathy that staff, faculty and the leadership demonstrate for students on a daily basis. It's not a business; people truly care. I can't think of a more inclusive, welcoming and supportive group to be part of than the NMU board. All of the trustees are authentic and genuine in terms of their commitment to the mission of Northern. An outsider looking in might not realize this, but it' a great group of people who give of themselves to take on that responsibility.”
During his studies at Northern, Toutant assisted with community service projects conducted by Delta Chi, along with homeless outreach and social missions through Catholic Campus Ministry. Those activities, combined with his first post-NMU job working in an adolescent residential treatment program in Iowa, led him toward an advanced degree and a career in helping people heal from difficult life experiences.
“Being a lifelong learner, community involvement enriches my ability to continue to grow. NMU built the ability to gain hands-on experience as a collegiate student doing different service activities, which really set the stage for a better university experience. You don't have to be isolated and just be a student. There are all these other opportunities. If you take advantage of them, you build a great skill set going forward that will positively impact your future.”
Toutant has been an active member of the Provider Alliance (Community Mental Health Board Association of Michigan) and involved in the creation of Recovery Centers of Michigan, LLC. He has served on several boards, including the Marquette County Community Corrections Board, Negaunee Public Schools, Negaunee Area Community Fund, Mitchell United Methodist Church, Upper Peninsula Mental Health Advisory Committee, and the Upper Peninsula Steering Team for the Michigan Department of Corrections Offender Success Program.
Outside of work and community service, Toutant has started playing racquetball again after a 20-year hiatus. His weekly partner on the court is a local oncologist. He also enjoys time with his family outdoors at camp, often riding on a pontoon or side-by-side. His wife, Heather (Veale), holds two degrees from NMU and is a middle school special education teacher in Negaunee. Their 23-year-old daughter, Faith, is a 4th grade teacher in the same district. Son Preston, 20, is an engineering student who will join Greg at deer camp next month for their annual hunt.