Niles resident to be recognized as an Exemplary Viking

NILES — Resident Jane Brandstatter still has the tenacity, toughness and metaphorical ragged beard of the Niles Viking in her blood. She said being a Viking stays with a graduate forever.

“There’s just something to it, this Niles pride you grow up with,” she said.

Brandstatter has taken that Viking spirit into leadership positions on numerous boards of nonprofits and foundations, each of which seek to improve others’ lives.

Tomorrow, fellow Vikings will recognize her commitment to community by officially giving her the 2019 Exemplary Viking award through the Niles Education Foundation.

Pictured is Jane Brandstatter, the recipienta of this year’s Exemplary Viking. The award is given to a Niles High School graduate that the Niles Education Foundation believes has made an impact on the community. (Submitted photo)

She will be recognized at Legendary Evening, which the foundation hosts each year. The event runs from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Grand LV in Niles and features awards, dancing, auctions, a cash bar and a dinner buffet of foods from Niles cooks and restaurants.

Aside from Brandstatter, the event will also recognize the teachers and staff who received its grants for innovative classroom projects. District leadership will recognize Nancy Studebaker-Barringer for her work with its adult education program as well.

Legendary Evening reflects the organization’s mission, said vice chair Lisa Muñoz.

“Our goal is to put Niles in the spotlight, whether that’s on a district level, a state level or a national level,” she said.

One way to do so is through the Exemplary Viking award. For the award, the foundation’s board members choose a recipient from community suggestions and Niles alumni they know.

Muñoz considers Brandstatter a mentor.

“As long as I’ve known her, she’s been the one to help out,” she said. “She’d be in the classroom if needed. Anywhere she was needed, she was the type of person to step in. You can just see by her resume that she is definitely an active member of our community.”

Brandstatter’s resume includes numerous experiences in voluntary executive roles. She has spent 30 years serving on local YMCA boards, from secretary to chair. She currently sits on the YMCA of Southwest Michigan Board.

She also is a board member of the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation, where she helps direct funds to local organizations.

She also sits on the Niles-Buchanan Meals on Wheel Board. When Brandstatter sat down for an interview, she had just finished a delivery route.

Like Muñoz, Brandstatter was also a Niles Education Foundation board member. She helped found it.

“It’s truly a group of volunteers who had to start from scratch,” Brandstatter said. “We had no donor base. It’s really hard. Even today, that group continues to work hard to get the word out because so many people don’t understand school foundations and their purpose and need.”

Brandstatter said the foundation is able to fill in the funding gaps for classrooms and education that a school district’s funding cannot always reach.

She hopes the foundation will one day expand its giving opportunities to donors while continuing to provide awards for innovation. An increase in donations could lead to big changes in the district, she said.

“If she has a problem with something, she is the first person to voice it,” Muñoz said. “It’s, ‘You guys, I don’t think we’re doing this the right way,’ to ‘We’ve tried this last time. We need to consider this this time.”’

Brandstatter’s career as a board member goes back to when she was attending Niles Community Schools.

“I grew up in a household that believed in giving back,” she said. “It is very important. Both my parents served on numerous boards throughout the community.”

Brandstatter said that to be a great asset to a board, a member must be invested in the community it serves.

“I would always take great pride in wherever I live,” she said. “It’s important to give back. It’s important to get involved. It’s very emotional for me.”

That message is something she said she would pass along to others, especially Niles students.

She said she was lucky to have the time she did to sit on boards — not everyone does — but as long as one is focused on the community, changes can be made regardless of official position.

“To make a community strong you have to be there and be part of it,” she said.

Those interested in seeing Brandstatter receive her award can still purchase a ticket for Legendary Evening. The cost is $35.

Niles Education Foundation staff recommend bringing extra money for a cash bar and live and silent auctions. All money raised goes toward the foundation.

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