Chat Room: Michelle Hankes

Michelle Hankes

Michelle Hankes

Age: 35

Occupation: President and CEO of United Way of Blount County.

Family: Married to Michael Hankes. Sons are Keegan, 8 and Rory, 4.

As the 2009 United Way Campaign gets underway this week, Michelle Hankes, president and CEO of the United Way of Blount County, is gearing up for her first campaign in Blount County. She became CEO in January of 2008.

When asked her thoughts about her inaugural campaign, Hankes said she would rather be in Blount County than anywhere else this year. “People of Blount County stand up for each other in a way no other group does. The United Way might be saying it now, but Blount County has a history of being advocates, volunteering where needed and giving money, not just to United Way, but to whatever the need is in the community.”

Here is Michelle Hankes:

What was your first paying job?

“I helped my dad clean audio visual equipment for the school system for which he was A/V Director. I learned how to take apart any machine and put it back together.”

If you could do one impulsive thing, unrestricted by cost, what would it be?

“Buy a cream-colored, convertible Mini Cooper! I have no idea why, but I just love those little cars.”

What are you guilty of?

“Making assumptions based on stereotypes. For example, assuming that an older woman driving a car will drive slowly. When I catch myself doing that, I remind myself that my mother-in-law is a speed demon behind the wheel.”

What is one thing you have always wanted to do but haven’t?

“Hike up the Hawaiian volcano. My master’s degree was in geology. The power of watching a volcano has got to be awe-inspiring and why not climb it? It’s there.”

Do you think there is life on other planets?

“Undoubtedly. With that many stars in the sky, the odds are certainly in favor of it.”

What is your favorite material possession?

“My great-grandmother’s tea set from Norway. My grandmother gave it to me when I got married, much to the dismay of my aunts.”

What are you reading currently?

“Right now this moment the ‘Tennessee Blue Book 2007-2008.’ I’m not kidding. Having just moved here from Iowa via Chicago, I’m trying to get a good understanding of government here before the elections.”

Who has been the most influential person in the 20th century?

“Albert Einstein because he could focus on a topic until he got it figured out. He was the ultimate puzzle-solver. Rosa Parks because how can you not respect someone who can stand up the way she did? Ronald Reagan because he was able to communicate with anyone he spoke to even if they didn’t agree with him. I was blessed to see him in person speaking, and he could touch anyone with words just by talking to them. Franklin Roosevelt because he had polio, and you would never have known what pain he was in. In a time when the world was falling apart, a man who couldn’t walk stood tall. Henry Kissinger, they called him a pussycat. You walked away, and he was so quiet that it wasn’t until later you discovered he got everything he asked for. He could convince you to do everything he said. That’s an amazing skill.”

What was your most embarrassing moment?

“At the April Foolies fundraiser this year, after singing “Hey Big Spender” in front of 500 people, I had intended to say, “Please give generously to support these worthy programs, New Hope Advocacy Center and Success By Six.” I didn’t quite say “Success by Six. All I could do was freeze. Sammy Sawyer, as deputy Barney Fife, came up and arrested me.”

What is one word others often use to describe you and why?

“Well, I know my parents would say ‘stubborn.’ I tend to fixate on a problem until it’s solved.”

When you were 5 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

“A paleontologist. I even went as far as getting my master’s degree in geology and did some fossil digs in grad school. I loved and still love do rocks, dinosaurs and the idea that history is trapped in stone and you can come back and see it.”

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

“Listen a little better. I tend to get excited and jump in where others are wiser to listen and wait a bit longer.”

What is your passion?

“People - young or old; tall or short; rich or poor. People can surprise you. Just when you think society is at its worst, people rise to the occasion and do amazingly kind things for one another.”

With whom, living or dead, would you most like to have a long lunch?

“Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA. She was eccentric to say the least, but determined that every girl should have the chance to reach her full potential.”

What do you hate?

“When people allow others to decide for them - from politics to what kind of cereal to buy at the store.”

What is the best book you’ve ever read?

“ ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare.’ The man was a genius in humor, satire, drama and prose.”

If you could go back in time for a week, what time period or year would you visit?

“Egypt, 1922, when King Tut’s tomb was discovered. You think back at what they must have thought to see all that shining gold in candlelight and to touch something that hadn’t been touched in 3,500 years. That’s bigger than most can get their minds around.”

What character in a book or movie would you most like to be?

“Miss Marple from the Agatha Christie novels/movies. She’s clever and underestimated.”

What is the best present you ever received in a box?

“When I was about 1 year old, I received a doll that I still have. She was my confidant all the way to college, something everyone needs.”

What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?

“Why don’t you apply for this United Way of Blount County job I see is open?’ I absolutely love working and living down here.”

Who is your hero?

“My husband, Michael. He was very brave supporting me and moving to Tennessee away from his family. He’s an amazing man.”

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