Paul Cousins Lifetime Award 2020
Paul’s contributions to improvements we’ve seen in the Huron River cannot be quantified. He approaches every task with heart, tenacity and a smile. It makes him amazingly effective and such a gift to work with.” -Rebecca Esselman, HRWC Executive Director

On March 8, at our annual River Givers appreciation event, HRWC happily presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Paul Cousins. As anyone who has met Paul knows, he is well-deserving of this award.

When I started working at HRWC, Paul was the first board member to congratulate me and offer me assistance. That’s always Paul’s way. One of our office’s most frequent visitors, Paul makes sure to check in personally with each staff person. Of course, this has also made him one of our strongest partners.

Paul is HRWC’s longest-standing board representative, serving since 1968, first for Webster Township and more recently for the City of Dexter. Paul is an inspired ambassador for the Huron River, forging relationships and facilitating initiatives that support its protection and restoration. He was Chair of the HRWC Board (2003-2009), has been a member of numerous committees, volunteered for nearly all of HRWC’s events, and has nourished the larger HRWC family with his amazing food and famous hospitality. His vision and leadership led to the removal of Dexter’s Mill Pond Dam in 2008 and the restoration of more than 200 miles of stream to free-flowing habitat and a Mill Creek park that is a community focal point.

Paul Cousin is a strong and steadfast Huron River advocate and protector. Serving on the HRWC board since 1968, he has been the glue between HRWC and the city he represents, Dexter. Paul spearheaded the removal of the Dexter dam and the restoration of Mill Creek, banning pavement sealers, the creation of stronger storm water controls, and as a past teacher he is a great watershed educator. Paul is the “special sauce” that all nonprofits need and that HRWC has been so lucky to claim.
-Laura Rubin, Director, Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition

Paul’s early environmental career was sparked during his time as a teacher at Dexter High School and his work with the Environmental Club. He and fellow teachers cleaned up the property behind what is now the Mill Creek Middle School. The outdoor classroom that Paul led for a decade drew its teaching methods from Dr. Bill Stapp, just as HRWC’s Streamside Education Program does today.

Paul accepting award 2020
Paul Cousins, giving a moving speech while accepting the award.

Of course, Paul didn’t make all of these things happen on his own, and he’s the first to give the spotlight and kudos to someone he’s been working with. When asked his philosophy of community service, Paul says, “if someone thinks I can be of assistance, I will, and will try my best.” His secret to success: “always attend the meetings!” Paul’s commitment to community finds him serving as a Dexter City (Village) representative on and off for 20 years, as well as on numerous commissions and nonprofit boards supporting transportation, education, and the arts, where his knack for fundraising has benefitted an untold number of residents and visitors. Paul helped start the Dexter Rotary over 20 years ago, served on the Michigan Education Association board from 1968 to 1980, and has served on the boards of the Ann Arbor Chamber (now Destination Ann Arbor) and Ann Arbor Summer Festival, to name a few.

He and his wife Pat also owned and operated Cousins Heritage Inn for 18 years, a beloved local farm-to-table restaurant. After their children graduated from High School, they purchased an old house in downtown Dexter with the vision of creating community gathering space. Always good for a laugh, Paul notes they did a lot of research prior to starting the restaurant, though in retrospect “perhaps not enough!” Hi favorite thing about these years were all of the wonderful people he met and got to know.

Always one for appreciation, some of Paul’s best experiences from his time of service are the amazing friends he’s made, including numerous HRWC staff and board members. He is also exceptionally proud to have participated in HRWC’s “growing up.”

Personally, I would like to thank Paul for his astute and caring guidance over the past decade. He’s made my job more enjoyable and helped my work be more successful.

If you work at HRWC Paul Cousins is your close friend. He will teach you how to support HRWC and how to take care of our greatest natural resource, the Huron River. Paul will teach you resilience in working for 13 years to take out one dam that helps improve and restore one river for 650,000 people. He is the guy with the biggest heart and the loudest whistle when you need to quiet a noisy crowd. If there was someone needed to turn on the lights in the morning and be there to turn the lights off at the end of the day and say goodnight to everyone by name, it would be Paul Cousins.
-Margaret Smith, Development Director, Ann Arbor Art Center

To see Paul in action, check out The Making of Mill Creek Parka river revitalization story featuring the removal of the dam on Mill Creek in downtown Dexter. You can also catch him on this episode of Under the Radar Michigan which at 13:29 features Paul talking all things Dexter and sharing progress on the Huron River Water Trail.

It is HRWC’s pleasure to induct Paul Cousins into the Hall of Fame, following other beloved members Herb Munzel, Eunice Burns, David Wilson, Magda Herkof, Sally Rutzky, Janis Bobrin, and Dave and Sharon Brooks.