Go Fund Me to raise end of life funds

Published 9:50 am Tuesday, October 2, 2018

NILES — Residents who have been to a city council meeting or Four Flags Chamber of Commerce event have likely made contact with Jan Personette.

Clad in a shade of iconic purple, Personette with her shortly cropped gray hair and spectacles did not necessarily stand out as a force to be reckoned with, but the self-proclaimed “squeaky wheel” was not afraid to challenge her city and state leaders to do more for their constituents. In doing so, the Niles resident, has inspired countless changes in south county, from aiding local charities with hours of volunteer service to influencing county leaders to bring resources closer to home.

A photo from 2015 showed Jan Personette with a Giving award she received from United Way. The award recognized her efforts to serve her Niles community. (Submitted photo)

Personette, 73, is a mother and grandmother. She is battling stage four cancer and despite chemotherapy and radiation treatments, her family said her health has taken a serious turn and she is now receiving hospice care.

Because Personette focused on giving back to her community, her family needs donations to prepare for her end of life expenses. They have started a Go Fund Me page and they are asking the community to give back.

“While donating her time to causes she believed in, she failed to think about herself,” the post reads. “With her diagnosis coming suddenly we, her children, are unable and not prepared to pay for her final expenses.”

Personette’s family is hoping to raise about $6,000. As of Monday afternoon, the Go Fund Me campaign had raised about $1,345 and generated quite a bit of response from the Niles community.

Tyanna Weller, the former president of the Four Flags Chamber of Commerce, donated to the cause. She said she has worked with Personette for about three years. Personette was a volunteer at the chamber for more than 10 years and helped in the office and at community events. Through Personette’s volunteer work, Weller saw how passionate she was about the Niles community. 

“Jan was just a tiger,” Weller said. “She was a powerhouse who fought for Niles. The people in south county do not feel like they get enough services and things. Jan always pushed.”

Personette was a presence at a number of charity organizations throughout Niles, including the Niles Salvation Army, Optimist Club, Ferry Street Resource Center and the Niles Main Street Downtown Development Association. She also dressed as a historical re-enactor, taking part in the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological open houses during the summer.

But her fiercest of advocating tools for her community seemed to be her voice.

“She spoke to legislators, she would write letters, she would make calls, she would show up whenever there were legislative meetings,” Weller said. “She just went to everything that she could to help the community. She really believed in Niles. She really loved Niles and wanted to help everyone there have a better life.”

Personette’s efforts paid off. During a public meeting, she approached Bret Witkowski, the county treasurer and advised that he find a way to bring a treasury office to Niles so that residents did not have to drive to St. Joseph to take care of their business.

“After thinking about it, ‘I was like, yeah you know what, you’re right,’” Witkowski said. “To expect people from the Niles and Buchanan area to constantly drive to St. Joseph: not fair.”

Because of Personette’s influence, Witkowski decided in 2016 to open up an office in the south county courthouse on Front Street in Niles. The office is open every Tuesday and is always busy, he said. By providing easier access to Niles residents, Witkowski said he believes it has not only been a convenience, but a significant impact.

“I think because of that, the number of people in Niles that are on payment plans [who] avoided foreclosure jumped dramatically,” Witkowski said.

Personette was also a well-known community advocate to State Sen. John Proos.

“Our communities are stronger, our communities are more vibrant and our communities are more loving when you have somebody like Jan, who has continued to be a part of all that is good in the greater Niles community,” Proos said.

From ribbon cuttings to community meetings, Personette sought out Proos to provide suggestions for positive change in her community and often encouraged him to attend events, such as the Fort St. Joseph open house.

“She always insists that I look at issues with a broad lens and understand what the people of the Niles community are saying,” he said.

Since starting the Go Fund Me, Personette’s daughter Teddi Kella, of Niles, said her family has been touched by the outpouring of support. Kella said she knew her mother had accomplished a lot, but had no idea the scope of her efforts.

“For years we have jokingly called her the “Mini Mayor” because she always knew what was going on in town or what was going to be happening,” Kella said. “We are so proud of her.”

Personette has two other children, Pauline Hyatt, of Niles and Trenton Personette (Coeur’ D’Alene), of Idaho.

Personette claimed several awards recognizing her commitment to the community. In 2015, United Way of Southwest Michigan recognized her with a Giving award. That same year, the chamber made her Volunteer of the Year.

With her efforts in mind, Weller said she hopes to see the community give back just as Personette did.

“She gave her heart and soul and her time to every cause she could,” Weller said. “Everything she had, she gave to the community.”

The Go Fund Me page can be found at gofundme.com/janet-personette.