November 23, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
Lake Orion resident Sue Turpen is the Orion Area Parade Group's "Citizen of the Year" for 2011.
She is being recognized for her long-time volunteer involvement with the community's holiday lighted parade and the Orion Art Center, as well as the Hi Hill Homeowners Association.
Turpen will be the guest of honor at the OAPG's Holly Jolly Folly fundraiser for the parade on Friday, Dec. 2, as well as the grand marshal of the parade the next evening on Dec. 3.
"I'm very humbled and appreciative for receiving this honor," Turpen said. "Volunteerism is what makes America different from so many other countries. I really believe you have to give something back to your community to make it a better place to live."
Turpen and her late husband moved to Lake Orion in 1997 from the Flint area. They built a house on a piece of property in Hi Hill that her family owned for decades.
In Flint, she was a president of the Junior League, a women's volunteer organization; a founder of the The Shelter of Flint for battered women and their children; a volunteer at the Flint YWCA; and sat on the board of the Flint Institute of Arts.
Consequently, it was natural for Turpen to look for volunteer opportunities here, too.
"If I was going to leave a community where I was so involved for many years, then I knew I needed to get involved in my new community, as well," she said.
Turpen decided to approach the group of "good 'ole boys" from Lake Orion that staged Lake Orion's annual holiday parade to see if she could help. The men assigned her to coordinate the candy giveaway at Children's Park that was part of the parade festivities.
The next year, Turpen organized holiday characters to join the candy giveaway and it was such a hit with children and their families that she started "moving up the chain" in the parade organization.
Her next big idea was to host a fundraising event for the parade, similar to the Hob Knobble Gobble event in Detroit that supports the annual Thanksgiving Day parade there. She coined the name Holly Jolly Folly for Lake Orion's version.
The first fundraiser was held at Canterbury Village. Parade organizers were surprised Turpen was able to convince Canterbury owner Stan Aldridge to make a significant financial contribution to the event that first year. He liked the event so much that fireworks were added to the event the next season.
Since then, the location of the parade fundraiser has moved to local car dealerships, with Golling Buick GMC hosting it this year for the fourth time. The much anticipated community event now regularly draws a sold-out crowd and raises many thousands of dollars for the lighted parade annually.
"I think we've accomplished our goal, although it's still not a fancy black-tie affair like Wes Fueling (one of the parade's original founders) had envisioned," Turpen noted, with a laugh. "I guess that's just not Lake Orion."
In addition to funding the parade, money raised by the OAPG also helps support the Lake Orion Police Department's "Shopping with Heroes" event for underprivileged children during the holiday season, as well as Lake Orion's Dragon on the Lake festival, which benefits the Great Lakes Cancer Institute.
Turpen played a key role in founding the popular summer event started three years ago. As vice president of the Orion Art Center, she and then Director Reggie Harrison attended an event convention where the idea of Dragon on the Lake was first discussed.
"Lake Orion had held events like flower fairs and the jubilee in the past, but we never included the lake and that's the centerpiece of our community," she said.
Soon after, Dragon on the Lake was born, starting with chalk art contests. Turpen did some research and discovered a company that hosts dragon boat races, which came the next summer. They have been hugely popular and are now the centerpiece of the weekend festival.
"The dragon boat competition has been dynamite," she said. "It gets bigger each year."
Turpen's efforts this past summer added the Silver Lake Ski Team to the event's roster of activities. The show held on Lake Orion proved to be another hit, she said.
Turpen recently left the board of the Orion Art Center after five years. "I think non-profit organizations like this need to change their leadership, specifically board members, every so often," she explained. "You need to bring in new people with new ideas to keep them fresh."
Her volunteer efforts also have included being on the board of her neighborhood homeowners' association, including a four-year stint as its president.
She helped spearhead the successful campaign to get water/sewer services installed in Hi Hill, where most of the homes were built in the 1950s-60s. Not everyone in the neighborhood wanted to pay for such services, but Turpen realized enough did to warrant the effort, which she thought was important to strengthen the neighborhood's long-term appeal.
"You can't please everyone, but you have to do what's in the best interest of the majority," she said.
These days, Turpen focuses her time on her grandson, who will be riding with her in next month's parade, as well as further pursuing her life-long passions for travel and gourmet cooking, of which she has quite a reputation.
In fact, the silent auction at the Holly Jolly Folly fundraiser includes a group meal that she serves either at her house or onsite at the winner's home. For a while, she specialized in Asian food, but now is focusing on Italian recipes.
Turpen may be slowing down some on the volunteer front, but she has no plans to leave the area.
"The people make this town special," she said. "I've met so many wonderful persons and made so many friends living in Lake Orion. This town has such great community spirit.
"Lake Orion is filled with good people, who are generous and friendly no matter what is happening around them."
The OAPG's recognition of her volunteer efforts put Turpen at the top of this list, as the community's Citizen of the Year.