Cassopolis-raised Archer speaks to north county business group

Published 4:14 am Friday, October 8, 2004

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Niles Daily Star
BENTON HARBOR - Though he quickly says he was born in Detroit, its former mayor also tells everyone of learning his values from his family while he was growing up in Cassopolis.
Dennis Archer compared Detroit with Benton Harbor Thursday evening as the guest speaker for the eighth annual Northside Business Association Dinner at Lake Michigan College.
Becoming mayor of the largest city in Michigan isn't Archer's only accomplishment. He served on the Michigan Supreme Court, was named most respected judge in the state by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, was president of the National League of Cities in 2001, and is the immediate past president of the American Bar Association, the first person of color elected to that rank.
Archer came to Cassopolis at the age of five. "I carried the values I learned from my parents," Archer said. His father, whose formal education ended at third grade, lost his arm in a car accident. He worked for a man keeping up his summer home on Diamond Lake.
But before he even went to school Archer said he knew his numbers and colors, and to say "yes, ma'am and no sir."
He worked since he was eight, as a caddie and set pins in a bowling alley, then all through his school years.
He kept his ties with Detroit, visiting his grandmother often. Later after his father died, his mother also moved there. Now both his mother and grandmother are also gone.
Though he has no relatives in Cassopolis, he still claims many friends there. "Frank Williams (Cassopolis Police Chief) calls me from time to time," he said, and keeps him posted.
There he learned "the value of an education."
He graduated from Cassopolis High School and went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Western Michigan University in 1965.
While he was studying at the Detroit College of Law, he taught disabled children in the public schools. All the skills he learned, he combined.
Still getting into office he found, "the city was in worse shape," than he thought. Instead of telling the business community the city was dysfunctional, he kept that knowledge quiet until he got the leaders working together and money pledged for improvements.
His message directed to the leaders and business people of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, and the cities' two mayors who both attended the dinner, was to work together.
There needs to be bridges between cities and suburbs, he said, also pride in your community. "Nobody ever wanted to say they lived in City of Detroit," he recalled.
Archer is a partner with the law firm Dickenson Wright and sits on the corporate boards of Johnson Controls, Compuware Corporation and Covisint, and North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.