By Judy Crockett
Edited by Susan Harrison Wolffis
As Jennie Marie Naffie takes a much-deserved hiatus from Women’s Lifestyle Northshore, I asked if she would allow me to take the editorial role just this once to turn the spotlight on her.
I had the good fortune to meet Jennie Marie nearly 20 years ago. She came into my office like a nor’easter and within a few minutes, I knew I wanted to be in her orbit.
Jennie Marie is the oldest of 10 children in an Italian, Catholic family. When you come from a large family, you learn early on to fight for your rights. But you also learn there is strength in numbers when you are trying to break down a barrier or change the status quo.
Jennie Marie was a school teacher in the ‘80s when a young woman, one of her students, became pregnant. Thirty years ago it was expected the girl would drop out of school. But Jennie Marie would not hear of it. She knew then that the best outcome for this young woman was a solid education.
“Jennie went to bat for me with the school board,” said former student Gina Kittle. “She rallied support from the principal as well, and as a team they helped me out. I was able to continue to study while on maternity leave. When I did come back to school my senior year, I was one of the first female student council presidents.
“I graduated third in my class and earned scholarships. Years have passed, but I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees and today I am the CFO of a small corporation. It may be cliché, but I would not be where I am today if it were not for Jennie Marie,” said Kittle.
“Because of her example, I advocate for other women and children in need,” added Kittle. “Jennie pushed me to be a better person, a successful student and a loving, supportive mother.”
AH, WHAT ONE WOMAN CAN DO!
Several years ago during a particularly low point in my life, Jennie called me up to tell me about 100 Women Who Care—Muskegon County, a group she belonged to in the Muskegon area. She told me I needed to form a group in Manistee County and then proceeded to send me all the documents I needed to get started. Well, start we did, and the following year, a men’s group formed. To date combined, we have raised more than $120,000 in Manistee County, thanks to the seed planted in fertile soil by a woman who never stops plowing.
Jennie has a history of paving new roads and clearing the way for others to succeed. As a lobbyist, speech writer, negotiator and communications consultant at the Michigan Education Association (MEA), she fought for the rights of teachers and school employees. She was working to crack the glass ceiling when she formed a local chapter of the AWE – Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs.
‘Jennie Marie is unique. She is open to others, confident in herself, very Italian in her social interactions, creative, empathetic, energetic and committed to helping others. I love her deeply — what more could one ask for?’
— Rich Oman, Jennie Marie’s husband
“I met Jennie when I came to work for MEA from Montana,” said friend and former co-worker Terry Cox. “I knew no one in Michigan, and Jennie, who was a public relations consultant, took me under her wing. She became an instant friend, which helped me personally and professionally. Since my social skills are low, I might not have made it in a new state without her.
“The most amazing feat that she performed was doing the public relations when Kalkaska School District decided to challenge the state funding of public schools by closing their doors instead of cutting programs,” said Cox. “Jennie made this an international story with coverage by all of the networks, The New York Times, etc. As a result, the legislature was forced to completely redo the way public schools are financed in Michigan. It would not have happened without her.”
She has used her creative writing, her business skills, her connections and her time to bring one of the finest women’s magazines to the west coast of Michigan. Through this magazine, she has opened doors for other women, highlighted skilled and talented entrepreneurs, supported charities, and invited us into her reading room.
AH, YES. WHAT ONE WOMAN CAN DO!
And while her mother, a Vietnam War protestor taught her to listen to her conscience, and her businessman father taught her about integrity, she has learned many lessons on her own from coping through a divorce, being the victim of a rape, surviving breast cancer, burying several brothers and
sisters and even surviving a train wreck!
Our dear Ms. Jennie is no willow when it comes to social justice and inequity. She was among the first to sign up to be on the bus for the Women’s March in Washington. She was fearless when confronting a clergy member who embarrassed a parishioner. She will boldly exit a room when a speaker offends another. She will defend anyone faced with injustice.
As the mother of two, she taught her children, and now her grandchildren, that they are limited only by their fears and the limits they place on themselves.
AH, LESSONS. WHAT ONE WOMAN CAN DO!
Jennie does mean business – but she also has a contagious fun side. She has brought characters in plays to life on stage. She has danced with the stars to raise money for those in need. She has shared many personal stories and given encouragement in her writings. Still she always finds the time to give a gift, send a card, say a prayer, offer a hug, and write a check when it means she will brighten the day for someone.
And don’t interrupt her on Trivia night – – a sacred time she shares with her supportive, funny, talented, and creative husband Rich Oman.
“Our first ‘coming together’ was when I went to a movie with friends and found other common friends there with her,” said Jennie Marie’s husband Rich. “Those friends have told us that they saw ‘sparks flying’ from the first moment. After the film we all went out for dinner, and we found ourselves infatuated with common interests and emotional reactions.
“Some six months later, we were married,” Rich said. “Jennie Marie is unique. She is open to others, confident in herself, very Italian in her social interactions, creative, empathetic, energetic, and committed to helping others. I love her deeply – what more could one ask for?”
We all have those days when we feel overwhelmed by our tasks, our jobs, the news, or simply life in general. At those times, it is easier to turn and shield our eyes from injustice, tune out the news or shut to door in intrusions.
But if we put on our “Big Girl” pants, take a deep breath, and ask, What Would Jennie Do? We might find the strength, the courage, the wisdom to realize that while we may be just one, if we take action, if we speak up, we too will be amazed at what one woman can do!
Judy Crockett partnered with Jennie Marie to start the Manistee County chapter of 100 Women Who Care. Friends for nearly 20 years, Judy shares Jennie’s passions for supporting women, equity, theater, writing, marketing, and caring for those in need. Judy is a retail marketing consultant and the Coordinator for the Manistee County Human Services Collaborative Body. She lives in Manistee with her husband Dave and they have five adorable grandchildren.