Former Sen. Joanne Emmons, a Republican of Big Rapids, passed away Thursday at the age of 88.
Emmons was the first female chair of the Senate Finance Committee and served in the Michigan Legislature from 1987 through 2002. The Big Rapids Republican served two terms in the Michigan House and served three terms in the Michigan Senate. She rose to the post of Majority Floor Leader of the Senate during the 91st legislature – becoming the first female Republican majority floor leader.
She served at a time when the state Senate’s membership was approximately 15 percent female. Other female members at the time were Democrats Dianne Byrum and Alma Wheeler Smith and fellow Republicans Shirley Johnson and Bev Hammerstrom.
During her tenure as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, she helped shepherd through many of the tax cuts enacted during the administration of then-Gov. John Engler.
During her tenure in the legislature, she hired and trained many staffers who’ve risen through the ranks in Lansing – including Kurt Berryman of Auto Dealers of Michigan.
“Man, she loved her ice cream,” said Berryman, recounting a story of Emmons making him turn the car around after a long day of campaigning to go back and get ice cream cones in Midland.
Peter Ruddell, now a partner at Honigman, shared a story of the infamous Emmons “woodshed.”
"One time, early in my time with her, I thought I was pretty smart. A local township official called to complain about the new land division act. I told the local official she had no idea what she was talking about – in a rather direct way. A few weeks later, I get called back to Joanne’s office, aka the woodshed”. The local official had found Joanne at an event and gave her an earful. Together, Joanne and I called her, where I apologized and where we tried to find ways to fix her issues with the new law. Pretty sure I had to deliver some of John’s maple syrup as a peace offering too.
“First and foremost, even before considering her meaningful public service record, Joanne was a wonderful person and mentor,” said former staffer, now Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Jim HOLCOMB. “There is no doubt in my mind that I am a better person for knowing her, and my career path has only been possible because of her influence.”
Other Lansing former staffers included:
- Amy Shaw, who now works for Senate Majority Leader Dan Lauwers
- Alan Wilk, partner at Dykema
- Jeremiah Mankopf, president of MGS Consultants
- Patty Hertrich, with Sen. Jim Stamas
- Erik Hingst, of Walmart
- Longtime Lansing lobbyist Peter Jaskoski
- the late Brett Henderson, lobbyist
Prior to her entrance into the Michigan legislature, she served as Big Rapids Township Treasurer and regularly attended GOP state conventions.
She made political news when she ran for an open Senate seat against then Rep. John Moolenaar in a district that traversed from West Michigan to the Midland area, and she beat him.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend Joanne Emmons,” said now U.S. Rep. Moolenaar . “She was a dedicated public servant for almost three decades and our state is better off today because of her leadership and commitment to public service. She provided outstanding assistance to her constituents, and she was a faithful steward of taxpayer dollars, while always fighting to defend the lives of the unborn. I join her family and friends in mourning her passing and celebrating her life.”
The funeral is set for 11 a.m. April 8 at the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Big Rapids.