Viewpoint: It started with family, sports, and friends
Billy Lucksted, GVSU Assistant Director of Operations for the Downtown Campus and Regional Centers, and Former Grayling High School Student-Athlete
In 1976 my dad moved our family from a suburb of Detroit to the fresh air and clear water of Grayling. We became instant lumberjacks as we gathered the logs needed to build a sizable stack of lumber. It would take all winter to fall the large red pines that we were permitted by the DNR to take from nearby forests and swamps. Soon we were busy hauling cinder blocks, mixing cement, and acting like we were a huge help.
That start helped myself and my three brothers, Terry, Jerry, myself, and my younger brother Danny become very physical. Once football started in the early fall we were in pretty good shape. I can remember from very early on, my parents running us from practice to practice. Football, baseball. basketball. And sometimes we were all on separate teams. Dad always had us in the yard playing catch or pitching batting practice. Even though he was dead tired from working he would always find time to be our coach and later on our greatest fan for every high school game. Mom, of course, was right there to be our other greatest fan.
By the time we reached our third year of high school we had developed into four decent athletes. At the end of my junior year, I would have a meeting with my football coach/guidance counselor that would change my life’s direction. Coach/counselor Bill Klinger brought me into his office and asked me a question that I never thought of until that day: “Billy, have you ever thought about playing college football?”
I told him, as a matter of fact, I have not ever thought about playing college football. Not only have I not thought of playing college football, but I have not really taken very many college prep courses. He assured me that I had time to sign up for and complete the required courses to allow me to apply. From there, he and Mr. Branch, another one of my coaches, and the assistant principal at the time, started taking me around to a few colleges. We visited and talked to coaches at CMU, Saginaw Valley, and Grand Valley. With Coach Klinger’s reputation of sending decent players to Grand Valley, it didn’t take too long before I had a letter of intent to play football at Grand Valley State University.
In the fall of 1980 I showed up for my first preseason training camp. I would be lying if I said everything was easy during that first year. You found out very quickly that you were certainly not all that you thought you were. All my new teammates were great football players coming from their respective high schools. I had to settle for playing on the JV squad my freshman year, as I watched some of my fellow freshmen move up to play varsity their first year. As the first season wore on, I worked very hard at becoming a better football player, and an average student. In high school, I was a “B” student at best, and I knew I would need to work hard to keep my scholarship. I knew that this scholarship was a pure gift, and I didn’t want to let anyone down by flunking out.
Coach Klinger had started my journey to Allendale, Michigan, and we decided together that I would major in Physical Education with a minor in English. I really enjoyed my classes, and I found out quickly that I would be living at the Athletic Facilities that Grand Valley had just built. I actually stayed in the dorms, but I spent a lot of time in the Fieldhouse and adjoining class rooms. I quickly learned that I would be more interested in Corporate Health than teaching and coaching.
By my senior year I had taken enough credits to earn my bachelor’s degree, but school would be put on hold since I was offered a chance to play football for the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League. I signed a two-year contract that was full of incentives. It was a whirlwind time, as I had to cancel classes and head out to Tempe Arizona after Christmas for training camp. Once in camp I realized again that I was surrounded by superstars from all over the United States.
The Panthers had just won the league the year before, and were looking to repeat. Once again I found myself in a situation where I needed to make a life changing decision. My contract would only be activated if I made the team. After only two days in camp I asked Coach Stanley to send me home, as I was not interested in playing football anymore. I knew my decision was the end of my career, but I knew that my head was not in it anymore. Coach Stanley said, “Bill, if your head is not in this game, at this level, you could get your head knocked clean off.”
Although I had put myself behind to graduate that spring, I picked up the rest of my credits to graduate the following year. I was very proud to be the first in several generations to graduate college. Like every college graduate the sudden realization of finding a job hit me right square between the eyes. I took a couple short term jobs as a fitness instructor in two different public health clubs. I found that these public health clubs were more about selling memberships than making sure their members were getting quality fitness for the hundreds of dollars that they paid to belong. This fact caused me to start looking for a program that I could use my emphasis in Corporate Health. I was hired by Corporate Fitness Systems LLC to help operate and develop a Fitness Center for Steelcase Inc., the large office furniture manufacturer with its corporate office in Kentwood. I worked eight years with this company, and we opened and ran Corporate Health Clubs for Amway, Dow Chemical, and Steelcase. I really enjoyed working for this company, and I stayed there until these companies closed their centers due to the downturn in the economy.
As my wife and I worked in our respective careers, we also began our small family. A daughter and son later, we were off and running, chasing our kids to sporting events and dance classes as the kids grew closer to school age. This started one of our most interesting decisions as a young family. We decided to move to Spring Lake, and I would become Mr. Mom for three years while I remodeled our fixer upper.
After three years we decided it was time for me to go back to the corporate world, and find work outside the home. I will say that I would never trade that time I had with my two children and the home we were making ours. After two very short-lived jobs near home, I received a call from a friend at Grand Valley. She knew that I would love to find a way to make a career back at Grand Valley. The first opportunity would be managing a crew of custodians on the main campus in Allendale. This would prove to be the most challenging job of my career, as it was my first Union experience. I was able to keep my energy high while improving the overall look of the campus because I truly felt that Grand Valley was where I was always meant to work. After several years working in Allendale, I decided that it was time to try the next step, and I was hired as one of four managers of the GVSU Downtown Operations Department in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids. I enjoyed working downtown as we were tasked with working with every aspect of operations. In a very short time I took over responsibility of the 12 service staff personnel that do most of the maintenance and set-ups for the downtown campus. I take care of payroll for all operations employees, various maintenance contracts, and operations of several buildings on the Grand Rapids campus as well as our Detroit Center next to Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.
Just before Christmas 2016 I was promoted to Assistant Director of Operations for the Downtown Campus and Regional Centers. I really enjoy this position, as it allows me to work with all of our employees, customers, neighbors, and contractors. Most days are different than the day before, and we always have new opportunities.
In October, I will have been at the University for 20 years, and although I have several years left before retirement, I don’t see ever leaving the university before then.
Moral of the story: spend time with your parents playing catch, listen to your coaches and counselors, and never forget all the friends and family that helped you get where you are.