The leader of a local electric cooperative whose marathon running has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for children in the Grand Traverse region is being honored with the 2018 Distinguished Service Award from the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Tony Anderson, who’s served as the General Manager of Cherryland Electric Cooperative for more than 15 years, was selected by the Chamber Board of Directors to receive its Distinguished Service Award. The DSA is among the region’s oldest and most-prestigious civic awards, presented annually by the Chamber since 1929. He will be honored at the Distinguished Service Award Luncheon on January 23, 2019 as part of Chamber Celebration Week from January 21 – 25.
Anderson has been part of numerous volunteer and community service efforts over his long and distinguished career. But he’s best known for his Marathon 4 Kids initiative to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan. It’s raised more than $400,000 for “The Bigs”, an organization that matches local boys and girls in the 5-county area with adult mentors to improve their lives.
“Tony’s quiet perseverance, thoughtful eye and subtle leadership have inspired so many people, both here at the Chamber and throughout the community. He truly embodies what the Distinguished Service Award is all about,” Chamber Executive Director Whitney Waara said.
Anderson, 56, was born and raised in Timber Lake, South Dakota. After graduating high school, he attended Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D. where he earned an Associates Degree in General Business. From there he started his long career in the electric cooperative field, working as a bookkeeper at his hometown utility. He worked as an office manager at a cooperative in Medicine Lake, Wyoming, and earned his first general manager position in the fall of 1991 at a cooperative based in Lusk, Wyoming. In 1998 Tony became general manager for Oconto Electric Cooperative in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, before coming to Michigan in March of 2003 as the General Manager of Cherryland Electric Cooperative based in Grawn.
“It’s all I’ve ever known,” Anderson said of his life in the cooperative sector. “That’s what cooperatives do – it’s all about service to the communities they serve.”
Anderson joined the board at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan in 2005 and later served as board president. His affinity for the work of the organization was inspired by his personal experiences, having lost his father as a toddler, and by the involvement of his grandfather in his young life.
Anderson said he’s never been comfortable asking people for donations, so he wanted to come up with a way to raise money for BBBS where he was putting as much or more effort into his fundraising as were his donors. So he launched Marathon 4 Kids in 2009 with the goal of running a marathon in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to raise money for the organization.
“For whatever reason, I wanted to do something hard. And running a marathon is hard,” he said. “I felt like I had to earn that money.”
The results are nothing short of amazing. He recently completed his 43rd marathon in Minnesota and has his sights set on number 44 coming up in February in Mississippi. He’s raised in excess of $400,000 through his efforts – despite undergoing hip replacement surgery in 2016.
Anderson’s community support spreads to other area organizations. He’s a past president of the Freedom Builders, a local faith-based organization that provides housing assistance to disadvantaged residents of the area. Tony also served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician at earlier stops in his career. He’s been a familiar face here at the Traverse City Area Chamber, serving on the Chamber board and as board president in 2012. He’s been an effective part of the Chamber’s legislative advocacy efforts as part of the Government Relations Committee, and a major resource in helping craft Chamber energy policy. He also serves on the board of Rotary of Traverse City.
His vast and diverse resume of community service earned him a Governor’s Service Award as Michigan Volunteer of the Year in 2012. He and his wife, Mary, have three adult children and four grandchildren.
Anderson said he felt “blessed” and “humbled” when he was informed by Chamber Board Chair Kevin Schlueter about the DSA honor.
“It was completely unexpected,” Anderson said. “We live in a great community and it’s an honor to be included among (DSA recipients)….they’re all great names who’ve done so much for the area.”
Anderson will be honored at the Distinguished Service Award Luncheon on Wednesday, January 23, from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Northwestern Michigan College’s Hagerty Center. The honor will be presented by the 2017 DSA recipient Elaine Wood, the retired CEO of Networks Northwest. Tickets for the luncheon are available through the Chamber’s website at www.tcchamber.org