When I left West Michigan Tourist Association on August 19, 2004 to launch Promote Michigan, I was taking a leap of faith…in myself! I had accumulated 13 years of experience in public and media relations by that point (about seven years with Otsego Public Schools and seven with WMTA) with even more time clocked in as a writer, broadcaster and public speaker. Yet, stepping out on my own (as the single mother of two young kids at the time) was a little scary. Thankfully, I had learned the art of networking early on in my career and I knew deep inside that I could count on the people I had connected with over the years to guide my way!
Within a week after my 2004 announcement, I had a call from Dave Lorenz at Travel Michigan asking if I was interested in a short-term, 3-month position while Kirsten Borgstrom was off on maternity leave. Without hesitation, I said YES! Having the endorsement of such an esteemed entity was priceless. A week after that (two weeks to the date of being a solo consultant), I signed my next two clients: Double JJ Ranch & Golf Resort in Rothbury and the Traverse Tall Ship Company in Traverse City.
In early summer of 2005, I fielded another promising call from a guy named Henri Boucher from ShowSpan in Grand Rapids. I met Henri in the early 2000s when I contacted him about a trade-out promotion of the Michigan International Auto Show (a WMTA member) for something he had and I couldn’t afford: tickets to the Auto Show Charity Gala Preview at the Grand Center, a black-tie event with great food and wine, and at the time, nationally known comedians. The Auto Show, which was first held in 1998, had grown to the point where Henri needed a dedicated publicist and he wanted to talk with me about my ideas. By that fall, I was hired and with the January 2006 event I was immersing myself in the world of cars – new, exotic and classic!
Not long after wrapping up my first ShowSpan event, there was talk of a NEW consumer festival unlike anything else that the company had ever produced, and Henri asked if I was interested in getting involved. ShowSpan was founded in 1945 and in those early years were focused on boats and outdoor sports (hunting and fishing). Over the years, they’ve added more than a dozen consumer shows – from home & garden, RV & camping, home remodeling, cottage living and golf, along with the auto, boat and sport shows.
The Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival was a way to showcase area restaurants, specialty food producers, local craft beverages, chefs, culinarians, hospitality educators and more. It was right in my wheelhouse and I was honored to be part of the early planning stages, along with several other community leaders. When that first festival was held in 2008, I was there as the publicist of record! The year after that, Henri added the Grand Rapids Boat Show to my roster, followed by the Ultimate Sport Show – Grand Rapids in 2019. That’s four shows over the past 17 years that I’ve had the honor of working with Henri!
In 2020 (in the middle of the on-again-off-again pandemic lockdown), Henri was named the recipient of the Chairman’s Award – a recognition program tied to the Wine Festival (which wasn’t held that year). In a well-attended virtual ceremony, Henri was recognized for his guidance, inspiration and leadership in pulling the festival together all those years before (along with the Convention Arena Authority and Rich MacKeigan of SMG Global, who initiated the idea).
Much of Henri’s background was new to me, but in preparing the news release for the presentation of his Chairman’s Award, I learned about his early days.
A native of Chicago, Henri was a high school (baseball and football) and college (lacrosse) athlete, graduating from the University of Illinois in Champaign with a degree in accounting. He later passed the CPA exam and worked four years in a commodity trading office in the Chicago Board of Trade. Little did he know that when he left to become the Michigan sales representative for a distributor of fishing, hunting and marine products that it would lead him to managing a series of nationally recognized consumer shows.
In 1989, Henri joined ShowSpan when John D. Loeks and Mike Wilbraham were producing just two shows in Grand Rapids and one in Pontiac at the Silverdome. They immediately grew to six shows, including an RV show and Home Show at the Silverdome and the 10-day Milwaukee Boat Show. Today, ShowSpan produces 14 shows, all except the Wine Festival, within the first quarter of the year. Until his retirement this month, Henri was directly responsible as producer for seven of those events.
Henri and his wife, Bea, have been married since 1981 and have two children – Emily and Andy, and several grandchildren. While they live in Grand Rapids, they always enjoy escaping to their cottage on Glen Lake in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore where Henri relaxes and enjoys time fishing.
When my own kids were growing up, I remember one day when we stopped by the Boucher cottage on Glen Lake (next to mutual friends and fellow Michigan historians/authors Chris Byron and Tom Wilson) where Henri entertained us with a boat ride around the lake. He even threw the tub in the water and pulled my kids around for a bit – a treasured memory! Now that Henri is retired, and a permanent move to northern Michigan is on the horizon, I look forward to returning to the cottage for what I guarantee will be one hell of a fish fry, Michigan wine and great conversation!
Thank you for all the years of guidance, support and friendship. I’ve learned a lot from you over the years and appreciate your unwavering belief in my ability to manage PR for your events! I’ll do my best to continue on representing ShowSpan and working with the amazing team that you’ve helped assemble there!
Best in this next chapter of your life Henri!