Gogebic Community College

Foundation Hosts Annual Recognition Banquet

People eating dinner together at a large table.

The Gogebic Community College Foundation will host the annual “Celebration of Achievements” Banquet on Thursday, October 26, 2023 in the David G. Lindquist Student and Conference Center. 

Each year, the GCC Foundation Board of Directors chooses several individuals and/or organizations to honor who have exemplified their commitment to the College.  This year’s honorees include Distinguished Alumnus Matt Leaf, Class of 2004; Carol & Jerry Pisani, Outstanding Foundation Board Member (Carol) and Honorary Friends to the College; Jeanne Graham, Outstanding Staff Member; and Arnold “Jim” Vander Spoel, Outstanding Staff/Faculty Member.  

A reception will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the student lounge of the Lindquist Center with a catered dinner to be served at 6:30 p.m.  The awards program will follow.  The public is invited to attend!

Tickets for the Banquet can be purchased from any Foundation Board member or by calling the GCC Foundation Office at (906) 307-1202.  Tickets are $40.00 each.



2023 Honorees

Man in front of a fireplaceMatt Leaf was born in Ironwood, Michigan to parents Tom and Marge Leaf and grew up in Bessemer along with his younger brother, Anthony (Tony) Leaf.  He graduated from A.D. Johnston High School with the class of 2002. He earned his Associate of Arts degree from Gogebic Community College (GCC) in 2004.   He then earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Minnesota – Duluth in 2006 and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato, in 2017.

While attending GCC, Matt served on the Student Senate as both Student Representative and President. This experience taught him about compassionate leadership and thoughtful decision making from his mentor, Dean of Students Steve Wesselhoft. He carries these lessons to this day. Matt also helped coach the Bessemer Junior High Football Team during this time, which is another one of his most memorable experiences—one he likely would not have gotten if he left the community to pursue college elsewhere.

After completing his degree at University of Minnesota - Duluth, Matt moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area where he began his career working in the corporate sector. In the fall of 2010, he accepted a position at a two-year college in the Twin Cities. Matt spent the next decade spreading the gospel about the benefits of community colleges—a belief he still holds today that was sparked during this time at GCC! In 2021, he re-entered the private sector where he currently works as a Sales Engineer for an Education Technology consulting company.

Man and woman posing for a pictureCarol Pisani is a graduate of Luther L. Wright High School and Gogebic Community College. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education at NMU.  Carol’s first four years as a teacher were with Madison Public Schools, Madison, WI. She was then employed by Ironwood Area Schools as a teacher for 39 years. 

Carol has served on the GCC Foundation Board of Directors for the past 24 years, beginning in 1999.  She is also active in Alpha Delta Kappa, Bas Bleu Book Club, Klassic Kruisers, and the Up North Model A Club. Carol is a world-wide traveler visiting places such as Viet Nam, Africa, Peru, Brazil, Portugal, Poland, and many other countries and states.

Man and woman posing for a pictureGerald “Jerry” Pisani is a graduate of J.E. Murphy High School. He attended Gogebic Community College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial Education from the University of Wisconsin – Platteville.  Jerry returned to Hurley after one year of teaching and entered the family beverage business. Eventually he and his two brothers became owners of Pisani Company, Inc. with locations in Ironwood and Atlantic Mine, MI thus forming the second generation of a family owned business. In 2006 his ownership of the beverage business was sold to another family member to form the third generation of a family owned beverage business.

 The Hurley Education Foundation, at their Distinguished Alumni ceremony, honored Jerry and his brothers as businessmen in 2016. Jerry's community involvement includes Hurley Lions Club, current member and past president.  He was past president of the Piave Society, a member of the Ironwood Industrial Development Corporation, Klassic Kruisers Car Club of Ironwood and the Up North Model A Club of Minocqua.

Woman smiling and posing for a picture.Jeanne Graham graduated from A.D. Johnston High School and earned a Liberal Arts degree, majoring in music (piano) with a minor in business, from Northern Michigan University.

She was employed by NMU for over a decade, working in the Computer Center and the Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) department. During the mid-1980s NMU’s HPER Department received the designation of an Olympic Education Center. She ended her tenure at NMU as the Assistant Administrator of the Olympic Education Center.

In 1991, Graham was hired at GCC as the Coordinator of Admissions and Housing.  In subsequent years, she took on the responsibility of marketing and community relations.  During the last decade of her 29 years at GCC, Graham was the Dean of Students, then the Vice President of Students where she oversaw Admissions, Financial Aid, Academic Advising, the ACES Center, TRiO, Counseling and Career Services, Housing, Campus Life, Athletics, Student Discipline, and Title IX.  She, along with former VP of Business Services Erik Guenard, acted as Interim Co-President for approximately 18 months as well as the Interim VP for Instruction.

During retirement, Graham remains active in the community, serving on the Wakefield-Bessemer Rotary Club where she recently held the office of president for six years and is a Paul Harris Fellow. She is on her second term on the Theatre North Board and has been on the Emberlight Festival Board since its inception.

Man smiling and posing for a pictureJim Vander Spoel grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and got hooked on the sport of skiing at the age of five.  He was one of those kids; if the ski area was open, he was there.

Jim grew up always working in one of the family businesses.  In 1973, Jim got his first job in the industry as the rental shop manager and ski instructor at Grand Rapids Ski Club.

Growing up, Jim always planned on being an Engineer and going to work in the family machining business. He had been accepted to the University of Michigan and Georgia Tech in engineering but convinced his parents to let him try this ski thing. So off to Gogebic Community College (GCC) in Ironwood, MI he went and entered the Ski Area Management Program.  After graduating from GCC in 1978, he went to work at Blackjack as Mountain Operations Manager.

In September of 1979, GCC hired Jim on a 180-day contract to install the chairlift on Mt. Zion and see them through the winter. Mt Zion was built in 1937 and owned and operated by the college since 1968.  Forty-five years later, he is still there. In the spring of 1980, he started teaching in the Ski Area Management program and the rest is history.

Jim has had multiple job titles at GCC.  He started as Assistant to the Director of Ski Area Management which morphed into Supervisor of Ski Area Operations and has been the Director of Ski Area Management since 2005. He was also the Manager for the Porkies Ski Area for nine years on an operational agreement with the State of Michigan.

Some of the other industry involvement includes being a Level 3 PSIA ski instructor, a member of the Michigan Ski Area Safety board for three terms, currently an ANSI B77 committee member and National Tramway Safety Board member, and an ASTM F 27 committee member.


Scenic Background