Lake Michigan College to Present Annual Awards to Outstanding Alumni

May 03, 2017
The Clarence Beckwith Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented to Gloria Ender; two Alumni Achievement Awards to Melanie Owen and Cindy Reuss; and the Alumni Service Award to Rick Smiedendorf.
Lake Michigan College will honor four alumni with awards during the 70th  annual commencement exercise being held at the LMC Mendel Center on Sunday, May 7, at 2 p.m.

The Clarence Beckwith Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented to Gloria Ender of Stevensville. Named in honor of the first president of Lake Michigan College, the award is given to alumni who have achieved significant success in their personal and professional endeavors.

Two Alumni Achievement Awards will be presented: Melanie Owen of Benton Harbor and Cindy Reuss of Stevensville. The Alumni Achievement Award is presented to a recent alumnus(a) who attended LMC within the past 15 years and has demonstrated significant achievement and distinguished themselves in their career, education, or community such that they would be role models to current LMC students.

The Alumni Service Award will be presented to Rick Smiedendorf of Berrien Springs. This award is given to alumni who have made important contributions, personally or professionally, to the community or Lake Michigan College.


Gloria Ender is a successful business owner with an international customer base, but she is still able to donate time and energy to many causes around southwest Michigan, including being a friend and supporter of Lake Michigan College.

Ender was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. When she was six, her parents brought her brother and five sisters to Michigan in order for their children to have better educational opportunities. After graduating from Saugatuck High School, Ender attended Lake Michigan College, where she studied arts and earned an associate degree with honors.

In 1988, while also working as an elementary bilingual teacher at Sylvester Elementary in Berrien Springs, Ender started Freedom Finishing along with her husband, Erik. Freedom Finishing electro- and powder-coats 100,000 parts a day for companies that include GM, Ford, Whirlpool, and Herman Miller. Ender became the 100% owner and CEO in 2005. Freedom Finishing is Minority Owned, Woman Owned, Small Business Woman Owned, Green Certified and ISO Certified.

Ender credits LMC with helping her overcome her lack of confidence in order to be a successful entrepreneur and business person: “Growing up, I thought I was going to be a factory worker like my parents, and here I am owning a factory,” she says.

Ender is a board member for the Southwest Michigan Tri-County Manufacturing Coalition, the Lake Michigan College Foundation, Cornerstone Alliance Women’s Business Center, Business Alliance Support Group, and Berrien Community Foundation. She has served on the LMC Winner’s Circle Benefit Auction Executive Committee since 2004, and frequently donates meals to various causes, including a recent school benefit meal for 32,000.

Her awards include the 2016 Volunteer of the Year from the Senior PGA Championship, the 2006 YWCA Berrien County Tribute to Women, and five awards from Cornerstone Alliance. In addition to her degree from LMC, she has a Bachelor’s Degree in Science with a minor in English from Indiana University South Bend, where she was on the dean’s list.

Ender lives in Stevensville with her husband and four rescue dogs. She has a daughter, Liz, who will attend Lake Michigan College this fall.

Gloria Ender Video Interview 


Lake Michigan College alumna Melanie Owen developed, co-owns and manages Lazy Ballerina Winery, the only women-owned winery in southwest Michigan. The winery will celebrate its two-year anniversary in June, and the business continues to grow, opening an additional tasting room in Bridgman this summer.

Owen earned a certificate in hospitality management from LMC after graduating from Coloma High School. She took a job as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines after college, and enjoyed traveling the world. She returned to southwest Michigan after realizing how much she loves the area.

Southwest Michigan is also home to Owens’ large extended family, including her cousin, Lauren Kniebes, the other co-owner of Lazy Ballerina Winery. The two were exposed to winemaking originally from their grandmother, Juanita Kniebes, and they named two of their wines for Grandma Nita, who passed away a few years ago. The cousins also use grapes from the family farm now run by Laurens’ father, Robin Kniebes, for the Lazy Ballerina wines.

Owen says that she is grateful for the connections she made at LMC, where she earned an Associate in General Studies in addition to her hospitality management certificate. She was able to get feedback from her former instructors as she planned the opening of Lazy Ballerina. The assistance now goes the other direction, too. Owen returns occasionally to present to marketing classes at LMC.

A member of several organizations, including the Lake Michigan College Hospitality Advisory Board, Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Michigan Tourist Council, Michigan Grape and Wine Council, and Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail Association, Owen also has a Bachelor of Business Administration from Siena Heights University.

In 2015, Owen and Lazy Ballerina were presented the regional award in the Delta Sigma Theta Women-Owned Business Plan Competition. At LMC, Owen won the Celebration of Excellence Award from the National Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Owen lives in Benton Harbor with her husband, Jason Hayes.

Melanie Owen Video Interview 


Cindy Reuss considers Lake Michigan College part of the fabric of who she is. And, having been a student, staff member, administrator, instructor, consultant and volunteer at the college, she is part of the fabric of LMC, as well.

Reuss came to LMC as a non-traditional student, after her employer of 14 years told her that the only way she would get ahead was to return to school to get a degree. Though “terrified of coming to college,” she credits Dr. William Sprunk, her first English professor, with convincing her to continue, using a turn of phrase that she would later use to inspire her own students: “I want you to allow me to believe in you until you can believe in yourself.”

Dr. Sprunk and the rest of the faculty and staff she encountered while earning her Associate of Applied Business in administrative office systems inspired in her the passion that has motivated her ever since: “to help students find what they want to do and then pursue it.”

Though her associate degree was her “favorite degree,” she didn’t stop there. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Applied Science from Siena Heights University and a Master of Arts from Western Michigan University.

While furthering her education, Reuss was also working full-time for Lake Michigan College. For 11 years she held positions in the Marketing Department, then the LMC Foundation, and then Student Services, where she was director of enrollment services. She left LMC and served five years as dean of enrollment services at Muskegon Community College, and she retired last year.

After her retirement, Reuss returned to LMC. She played a critical volunteer role in the recent LMC millage campaign, and she currently serves as enrollment management consultant for the college. She also plays percussion as a member of the Southshore Community Concert Band.

Reuss’ daughter Angie Greene Ott and her husband Joe have two children. Her other daughter, Kirsten Klupp, is married to Michael, and her son Aaron Greene lives in New Orleans. Reuss lives in Stevensville with her husband, Dale.

Cindy Reuss Video Interview


Rick Smiedendorf retired from his position as a police officer for the City of St. Joseph, Michigan in 2009 after 30 years. More than seven years later, he hasn’t left the profession, which he refers to as not just a job, but his vocation. He is currently the school/community resource officer for the Berrien Springs/Oronoko Township Police Department, where he is responsible for maintaining good relationships with the students in twelve school buildings, totaling 3,000 students and teachers, as well as various community groups.

Smiedendorf decided to become a police officer when he was in seventh grade. He attended Lake Michigan College, earning an Associate of Applied Science in criminal justice. He says, “Lake Michigan College offered me the opportunity to stay local, to stay affordable, and had the career choice that I was looking for.” He also earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Michigan University in 1979.

At LMC, he was a member of the Student Senate, and in 1977 he received a student service award for his work with the college administration.

In St. Joseph, he was twice named Officer of the Year, and, in 2008, Crime Prevention Practitioner of the Year. In 2014 he was awarded Outstanding Youth/School Officer of the Year by the Crime Prevention Association of Michigan. He serves on the boards of the Crime Prevention Association of Michigan and the LMC Alumni Association and is a member of the National Association of School Resource Officers. He has also volunteered his time as a cub master and den leader for the Cub Scouts, and he is a former adult leader, committee member and merit badge counselor for Boy Scout Troop 623.

Smiedendorf says that his proudest accomplishment has been raising his family. He has three children: Joel in St. Joseph, Jeremy in Chelsea, and Michelle in Union, Kentucky, outside of Cincinnati. He has two granddaughters, an eight-year-old and a four-month-old.

Rick Smiedendorf Video Interview


To nominate an individual for future LMC alumni awards, contact Rita Whise, manager, Advancement Programs and Stewardship at (269) 927-6278, or by email at

Nominations can also be made online at Nominees must have earned at least 30 credit hours at LMC or at one of its predecessors. Upon nomination, an application will be sent to the candidate.