‘Our cooperative is better today because of Julie’s contributions’

When she came to work at Michigan Sugar Company in 1997, Julie Perry didn’t know what a sugarbeet was, from where sugar came, or anything about the sugar industry.

She had been working as a paralegal, looking for a career change, and taking network administration classes at Delta College when she saw an ad in a local newspaper for a Help Desk Analyst job in the Information Technology Department at Michigan Sugar’s corporate office.

She got the job, setting in motion a quarter-century of service during which time Julie’s knowledge about sugarbeets, Michigan Sugar Company, and the sugar industry has grown to epic proportions. In fact, when she received her 25-year service award during Michigan Sugar’s 2022 Employee Service Awards celebration, company President and CEO Mark Flegenheimer ended his introduction by pointing at Julie and telling the audience, “If you want to know who runs this company … it’s Julie Perry.”

Indeed, over the years, Julie has worn many hats at Michigan Sugar and across the industry, and she has been a mentor to countless co-workers.

“She has an immense amount of knowledge on a variety of topics, which has made her an invaluable member of the leadership team,” said Flegenheimer, who began working side-by-side with Julie in 1998, when she took on the role of Executive Assistant of Administration, which later was changed to Executive Assistant to the President and CEO. “I was fortunate to have Julie assisting me for so many years.”

The accolades for Julie come as she retires today (Sept. 30, 2022).

“Our cooperative is better off today because of Julie’s contributions,” said Flegenheimer. “Her positive impact on so many aspects of our business will be seen and felt for many years to come.”

Julie said she and Flegenheimer clicked right away.

“We’ve always been in sync with each other,” she said. “We have had a great partnership for 25 years.”

Julie has been at the heart of many milestones for the company, taken leadership positions across the industry, and volunteered her time to strengthen her community.

She was instrumental in seeing through the formation of the Michigan Sugar Company cooperative in 2002 and the merger with Monitor Sugar Company in 2004. Over the years, she has prepared for and taken minutes at hundreds of Co-op Board meetings, coordinated many orientation sessions for new directors, helped author company and board policies, and prepared countless presentations for executive team members.

She served for many years as Editor of the company’s award-winning Newsbeet magazine and oversaw production of the company’s Annual Reports. She was instrumental in planning the company’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders, as well as the annual district meetings and elections.

She has been a valuable member of The Sugar Association’s Communications Committee and has served as a member of the Cooperative Communicators Association, a group made up of communications leaders from cooperatives across the country.

She has given her time as a volunteer tutor to young children enrolled in the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Great Lakes Bay Region’s Lunchbox Learners program, aimed at strengthening literacy skills.

For these and many other accomplishments, Julie was the recipient, in 2012, of Michigan Sugar Company’s Ernest Flegenheimer Award, given annually to an employee for their outstanding wisdom, integrity and character – the same qualities that Ernest Flegenheimer brought to the company as President and CEO from 1963 to 1993.

“Julie is just an all-around amazing person,” said Charlie Bauer of Laracha Farms in Reese and a member of Michigan Sugar’s founding Co-op Board of Directors. “Her abilities always seemed endless. Some of the things she accomplished for us and put together were just unbelievable. You could tell her what you wanted, and she would just get it done and done very well. She just has this ability to figure things out and make things happen.”

Bauer said he loved spending time with Julie and making her laugh.

“We had a lot of fun together over the years. I always admired Julie’s never-ending smile, her get-it-done attitude, and the fact that she loved her job,” said Bauer. “I’m not sure anyone has ever loved their job more than she did.

“It’s been an honor and privilege to work with her. What a special lady …. absolutely first class … just flippin’ amazing!”

Julie is married to her high school sweetheart Bruce, and together they have two daughters, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, with whom she plans to spend much more time in retirement. She also plans to focus more on her love of arts and crafts, Bible studies, traveling to see the Grand Canyon, and volunteering her time again to work with kids in the field of literacy.

She said she’ll continue to share all the good news about Michigan Sugar Company, a place that has become a part of her heart and soul.

“I think for years, Michigan Sugar was like a hidden gem,” she said. “In recent years, we’ve really been sharing that story with people, and we’ll continue to do so.

“It’s a great story to tell.”