Remembering the Life of the Honorable Connie Binsfeld
MAPLE CITY — Connie Berube Binsfeld, 89, of Maple City, passed from this life on Jan. 12, 2014. A loving wife, mother, grandmother and longtime resident of Glen Lake, she served her community and state as a Leelanau County Commissioner, State Representative, State Senator and eight years as Michigan’s Lt. Governor.
Born in Munising, Mich., on the shores of Lake Superior in 1924, Connie was the third child of Elsie Berube, a just-widowed school teacher. Connie never knew her father — he was tragically killed in an auto accident, leaving Elsie with two young children and a third on the way. Aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors all helped raise Connie. The sense of community she gained from growing up in Munising produced the moral foundations on which she built her life, her family and her political career.
Connie grew up during the depression in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She witnessed how thankful her mother was to have a job (even at half the pay the men made) and how thrifty she had to be to raise a young family without a husband. Education was important to this family of a teacher. Connie achieved top grades and led her classmates as president of the small student council. When the war came, her brothers, Bob and Bill, went to fight overseas. They sent their pay home so that “Sis” could go away to college.
It was a long train ride through the UP wilderness, crossing the Straits of Mackinac by ferry, then down to Adrian, Mich., where Connie attended Siena Heights College. For holidays, she frequently traveled home with classmates who lived nearby downstate. On one such visit she met a young soldier home on leave. John Binsfeld was the older brother of school chums Reet and Binnie. Connie and John fell in love and when he came out of the service they were married.
The young couple, like so many in the post war years, settled into Detroit suburbia and started growing a family. Young John came first, then Greg (and a move to a bigger house), then Susan, Paul (another house) and finally Mike (and the move to Elgin in Huntington Woods). Family and community were always important, and as a neighborhood Mom, Connie wore the hats of scout leader (Boys and Girls Scouts), church supporter, PTA and eventually teacher of Social Studies and History when the children were older.
In 1968, troubled times in the Motor City and troubled health of husband John led the family to relocate to their beloved Glen Lake in northwest Michigan. When the Federal Government began buying surrounding property to create the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, local citizens formed a council to have a voice in the plan. Connie rose to the challenge as their leader, thus entering into her long and celebrated political career.
Recognized and respected for her listening and speaking skills, Connie was elected three times to the Leelanau County Commission, four times to the Michigan House of Representatives, twice to the Michigan Senate and twice to the Office of Lt. Governor. All told, this career spanned 30 years of service. From the humble beginning as the only woman on the local County Commission, she rose to become the only woman in Michigan history to serve in leadership positions of both Legislative Houses and as President of the Senate as Lt. Governor. Connie worked tirelessly in all corners of the state, always taking time to listen to constituents and to help them find solutions to their different problems.
Her crowning achievement was the creation of the “Binsfeld Children’s Commission” during her second term as Lt. Governor. Findings of her commission were incorporated into a package of 20 Bills that she wrote, reforming adoption laws and children’s rights. Writing legislation is hardly the responsibility of the President of the Senate, but Connie felt compelled to be an advocate for the children of Michigan. In an unprecedented show of support by her peers, all Bills passed unanimously in both the Michigan House and Senate and were signed into law by Governor John Engler.
It’s not surprising that this champion for children earned many honors and accolades throughout her career, including Honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters from Notre Dame, Northern Michigan, Grand Valley State University and other prestigious institutions of higher learning. Of all her accolades, she was most proud to be selected as Michigan Mother of the Year in 1977.
Connie loved her family, both immediate and extended. She enjoyed nothing more than welcoming all into the home she and John shared on beautiful Glen Lake. Kids and grandkids were always coming and going, with swimming and boating, and many conversations and meals together. In later years she and John kept a second home up in Munising where Connie was loved like nowhere else! They named it “Home Again!”
Connie is survived by John, her husband of 66 years; four children, Gregory R. Binsfeld of Steamboat Springs, Colo.; Susan C. Maxwell (Michael) of Santiago, Mexico; Paul J. Binsfeld (Cherie) of Empire, Mich.; Michael W. Binsfeld (Mindy) of Maple City, Mich.; daughter-in-law, Maria Binsfeld, Broomfield, Colo.; six grandchildren, Becky Hummel (Chris) of Grand Haven, Mich.; Katy and Gus Maxwell; Nancy, Molly, and Matt Binsfeld; two great-grandchildren, Ethan and Raina Hummel; step-grandson, Stuart Bentley; and many nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Omer and Elsie Berube; her two brothers, T. William Berube and Robert O. Berube (Joyce),; and her son, John T. Binsfeld.
The family will hold a private service now, but plans to celebrate a Memorial Service with extended family and friends to honor Connie’s life in the late spring or summer. Details will be published at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to one of the following worthy causes championed by Connie: Chance at Childhood Program, http://chanceatchildhood.msu.edu/help.html; or The City Opera House of Traverse City, http://www.cityoperahouse.org/support.php.
Please share your thoughts and memories of Connie with her family by way of her online guest book at www.reynolds-jonkhoff.com.
The family is being served by Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home and Cremation Services.