The Starke County Economic Development Foundation recognized one of its former presidents as a “quiet leader” Thursday. William J. Sonnemaker was presented with the foundation’s 2016 Robert E. Hamilton Award, during the foundation’s Prospectus and Achievement Luncheon.
Sonnemaker has been a resident of Bass Lake since 1997. In 2003, he joined the Starke County Economic Development Foundation Board of Directors and for six years, served as the foundation’s president.
Presenting the Hamilton Award Thursday was Diane Thalmann, who succeeded him as president. She said that Sonnemaker has been a mentor during her time on the foundation’s board. “He’s someone I’ve truly come to admire and to respect,” she said. “He’s taught me some of the great traits of a quiet leader: gently nudge, subtly suggest, quietly remind, but always carefully monitor progress and outcomes, to assure that in the end, the goal is achieved.”
While accepting the award, Sonnemaker began his remarks by thanking the foundation for the recognition. “You don’t volunteer to do things to be recognized,” he said, “but when you are recognized, it gives you a real warm feeling, knowing that people do understand what you’re trying to do when you volunteer in the various community activities. And I can’t tell you how nice I feel right now, up here.”
He explained that economic development plays an important part in making essential community services possible. He said that things residents want and expect, such as fire and police protection, good schools, and good roads, all cost money to provide. “There’s only one way that money comes in, and that is through taxes,” he said. “And when you need more of it, you have to raise the tax rate or have economic development to spread the tax base. And that’s what has happened here under the leadership of Charlie and Ron and Lisa and those before them. And it’s been a tremendous thing for this community and I was very happy to be a part of it.”
Before coming to Starke County, Sonnemaker was employed by the Lockheed Facility Operations Division for nearly 40 years, including 10 as the head of that division. During that time, he oversaw more than 1,200 people and 12 million square feet of buildings, at a time when the company was involved in missile projects and the Hubble Space Telescope program.