Before Rebecca Schneider started talking with friends on the front porch of her Henry Street historic home, the Saline Oktoberfest was party at the Tri-County Sportsmen’s Club used to raise funds to help fund Saline’s sister-city exchange with Lindenberg, Germany.
“I remember brainstorming about having an Oktoberfest in downtown Saline years ago with a group gathered on our front porch,” said Schneider, a Dexter native who moved to Saline with her husband, Matthew, in 2003. “I started working on that event when it began as an addition to Harvest of the Arts, which was a Saturday daytime event. I imagined a much larger evening event with German flare and children's activities. It took several years, but we got there with the help of about 100 Main Street volunteers.”
Today, Oktoberfest event is one of Saline’s signature events and a major fundraiser for Saline Main Street, the non-profit group working to revitalize downtown Saline.
Schneider’s dedication to Oktoberfest, downtown Saline, Saline Main Street and the greater Saline community are why she was named Citizen of the Year by the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce. Schneider is one of six honorees who will be honored Friday night at the Saline Salutes banquet, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at EHM Senior Solutions Center for Innovation and Education. She’ll be honored along with Melinda McCabe, Youth of the Year; Major John J. Sheridan, Hometown Hero – Active Duty; Kurt Schneider, First Responder Award; Paul Schwimmer, Distinguished Veteran Award; and Mary Lindquist, Lifetime Achievement Award.
Schneider’s community serve résumé is rich. She’s worked with the Saline Downtown Merchants Association. She’s been chair of the Saline Main Street Design Team since it was formed in 2012. She currently serves as secretary of Main Street’s board of directors. She’s co-chaired Oktoberfest and manages the Be Bloomin’ flower basket project. She volunteers on the city’s “officers compensation” committee,” at Sunday school and she reads to children and helps in the classroom at Saline Area Schools.
Rebecca and Matthew moved to Saline in 2003 to start their family. They knew they wanted to live in Washtenaw County.
“We were both working in the Detroit Metro area, but my parents live around here. We wanted to be close to family, and we wanted an old house in a community with great schools,” Schneider said. Those chose a house on Henry Street, where they raise their two children.
Local leaders immediately noticed the civic-minded and engaged residents moved to town.
“(Former city councillor) Alicia Ping and (former mayor) Gretchen Driskell made sure they put me to work,” Schneider recalled.
She was appointed to the Saline Downtown Merchants Association in 2007. It was while working with the SDMA that Oktoberfest became part of the Harvest of the Arts event in downtown Saline. Schneider continued working with the SDMA until it was replaced by Main Street. During that transition, when some in the downtown community weren’t sure about the new organization, Schneider became a fan of Main Street.
“The ideas, energy and love for this community are what attracted me to Saline Main Street,” Schneider said.
Jill Durnen and Karen Ragland have been working with Schneider since their days in the SDMA. All three have been leaders in Main Street since day one. Durnen and Ragland speak glowingly of their friend.
“Rebecca is a very remarkable person. She is very positive, a person of very high standards, very capable, reliable and trustworthy,” Ragland said. “You can always count on Rebecca to go above and beyond expectations.”
Both Ragland and Durnen speak to Schneider’s organized and methodical approach to management and her empowering leadership style.
“She allows volunteers to feel empowered without micro-managing them,” Durnen said.
Making volunteers feel valued and appreciated is a valuable talent in an organization like Main Street, rich relies on hundreds of volunteers to put on events.
Durnen is impressed by Schneider’s motor. She points to the phrase “Be the Duck,” which she is described on the website, “From The Green Notebook.”
“As a duck swims, it appears almost docile. It effortlessly glides across the water: calm, cool, collected. Ducks look like they have their stuff together. You can look at a swimming duck and think, ‘That duck knows what she’s doing.’ However, the unseen action beneath the surface is utter chaos. The duck’s feet churn, fighting for every inch to maintain forward progress, creating a storm beneath the water,” Durnen said, quoting the website. “Rebecca is an amazing duck.”
While Main Street is most known for events like Oktoberfest and Ladies Night Out, much of Schneider’s volunteering is in leading the organization’s design team.
“Rebecca's passion for historic preservation and good taste makes her an excellent person to lead the design team,” Ragland said.
Over the years, the Design Team has taken on some of Main Street’s toughest projects. It converted the alley between Brecon Grille and Benito’s Pizza into a public gathering space.
“Leather Bucket Alley was the first really visible improvement project and the Design Team under Rebecca’s leadership coordinated with the city, building owners, business owners and service clubs to revitalize a real eyesore in the downtown,” Durnen said.
Lately, Leather Bucket Alley has been a staging area for the construction at Smokehouse 52, but it should reopen to the public this summer.
The Design Team also worked closely with the city on the 2016 streetscape project.
“The 2016 streetscape project was a huge undertaking that gathered input from many different sources to refresh the downtown look,” Durnen said.
The design team has also collaborated with partners on the Student Art Banner project and the Art Around Saline project.
“Both are fantastic additions to the community and coordinating with other organizations is the Main Street way,” Durnen said. “Rebecca has a passion for downtown Saline and is open to new ideas and knows how to implement them.”
Schneider loves living in the heart of historic Saline.
“There is so much character and love in our historic downtown. The houses and buildings were here long before us and have some very fascinating stories to tell,” Schneider said. “We feel like downtown Saline is an extension of our front yard. We love to be near the shops and restaurants as well as the festivals and parades. The thing we love most; however, is our neighbors. We all really look out for each other.”
Schneider is a busy professional. She’s president of Henry Street Consulting – which lobbies for chamber of commerce and manufacturing councils. When she’s not working, she’s busy taking care of her children, Ava and Christian. Still, it’s important for her to find time to be involved in her community.
“Not everyone sees being involved as beneficial, but for me it's been a wonderful way to connect with this community and to make friends,” Schneider said. “It's also been a great way to influence decisions and have a say in shaping this community.”
Saline’s Citizen of the Year for 2018 is, not surprisingly, humble about the honor that will be bestowed upon her Friday evening. She said she was shocked and pleasantly surprised upon hearing about the award.
“Of course it's nice to be recognized. However, I can't say that gaining recognition is ever on my mind when I tackle a project. I just like to be involved,” Schneider said.