BY JAMES RUSSELL,, ART BUKOWSKI, and BRIAN McGILLIVARY
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TRAVERSE CITY — Wendy Sak was a do-everything volunteer for local organizations and a hard-charger in the workplace. Julie Davis was a single mother who earned praise as a dedicated bookkeeper.
Friends, family and former co-workers are mourning the two local women who died Saturday in a single-vehicle crash near Grand Rapids.
They were passengers in a car driven by Carol Saxton, and the three were on their way to an International Association of Administrative Professionals conference and luncheon, where they were to be honored for earning an administrative professional designation.
"We're all just in shock," said Wendy Gauthier, immediate past president of the Northern Michigan Chapter of IAAP, who attended the luncheon. "They had all studied together and taken the test together, but when their names were called that's when we noticed they weren't there. One of the girls texted (Sak), and we thought maybe they were just skipping lunch and coming down for the banquet later."
Police showed up to the conference and pulled Gauthier and others out of their meetings to obtain emergency contact information for the women.
Sak, 35, of Lake Ann, died at the scene. Davis, 50, of Traverse City, died a short time later at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. Saxton, 56, of Copemish, was treated for minor injuries and released.
Saxton was exiting I-96 onto 28th Street about 11 a.m. Saturday when she lost control of her 2005 Honda and rolled the vehicle.
Michigan State Police said their investigation continues.
Sak worked at Charter in Traverse City, but left a lasting impression at the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, former co-workers said. Laura Oblinger recalled one aspect that illustrated the Lake Ann woman's caring nature.
"What I remember most is her tight hugs," said Oblinger, the Chamber's chief operating officer. "She always had a tight warm hug, which always said so much."
Sak worked for several years as an executive assistant to Chamber President Doug Luciani. Oblinger said even three years after she left the Chamber for a job at Charter, her presence remained strong.
"Wendy, she had a motto of 'get 'er done'," Oblinger said. "She said it all the time, probably two or three times a day. She was one of the biggest drivers and one of the most passionate people for doing what was best for members, keeping the staff energized and make our organizations great."
Davis worked as a bookkeeper for Strata Design in Traverse City for about 10 years.
"She was one of the most dedicated employees that Strata ever had," said Tyler Cerny, company president. "She was one that strove to make sure everything was right and perfect."
Strata is a small company, so the loss hit hard.
"It was pretty devastating for the whole team here," Cerny said.
Cerny said Davis had one son, a senior at Traverse City Central High School.
Davis joined the administrative professionals local chapter about two years ago, Gauthier said.
"She said she had never been out and about, just a homebody with her mom and her son," Gauthier said. "But she enjoyed it and really blossomed, served on committees and volunteered for any little thing that had to be done."
Sak volunteered and advocated for local groups including the Grand Traverse Area Sport Fishing Association, 4-H and the Cherryland Humane Society. She also was an avid outdoorswoman who often hunted and fished with her family and friends.
Ryan Matuzak, president of the sport fishing association, said Sak did a lot to promote fishing in the area. But she worked hard to improve the community through her involvement in several organizations, Matuzak said, so her death in a car crash has an impact that reaches far beyond the outdoor community.
"This loss stretches across a lot of different groups in our community," he said.