Super volunteer, Beecher coach, labor/environmental justice priest honored with Riegle Community Service Awards

By Jan Worth-Nelson

Three lifelong activists with deep roots in Flint will be honored Thursday, Sept. 12 as recipients of the 30th annual Donald Riegle Community Service Awards.

The three are League of Women Voters leader Rhina Griffel, Beecher High School football coach and former NFL star Courtney Hawkins, and Christ the King Catholic Church pastor, Father Phil Schmitter.

The fundraising event, hosted by the Flint Jewish Federation, will begin at 5:30 p.m at the Flint Institute of Arts.  A three-term U.S. Senator from 1976 to 1995, Riegle, now 81,  is expected to speak.

Proceeds from the event provide funding for acculturation, social programs and case coordination for refugees and other immigrants in Genesee County.

Tickets are $125 per person. Sponsorships for a table of eight is $1,000, and corporate sponsorships including 25 tickets are $5,000.  To purchase tickets, become a sponsor or for more information call 810-767-5922or email

Rhina Griffel (photo from Flint Jewish Federation)

Rhina Griffel, an Ohio native, graduated from Hiram College with a liberal arts degree and a major in French. She married Gene Griffel soon thereafter, and lived in Cleveland and Chicago, where Gene was director of the Elmwood Park Library.  When they moved to Flint three years later, they affiliated with Temple Beth El, where Rhina began teaching Sunday School.  She has been co-president of the Temple Sisterhood, participant in the Social Action Committee, and secretary of the Temple board.

Her devotion as a community volunteer has been wide-ranging and benefited a host of local efforts.  She is a life member of the League of Women Voters, a member of the St. Cecilia Society, sponsor of the annual William Byrd Competition, a volunteer at Applewood Estate;  she participated in PTAs at Pierce Elementary, Whittier Jr. High School and Central High School.

She and Gene were a host family for Russian emigres;  she has served on her neighborhood association and neighborhood watch.  She is a lobbyist for “Medicare for All”;  she volunteers at the North End Soup Kitchen and has been on the committee working on the City of Flint’s new charter.

Courtney Hawkins (Photo from Flint Jewish Federation)

Courtney Hawkins, also a Flint native, attended Beecher HS where he was a multi-sport athlete, he participated in track, basketball, wrestling and football.  He won six state championships in high school in track and basketball.  He earned a full ride football  at Michigan State University;  there, he made the All Big Ten Team as a wide receiver two times at MSU, and was an Academic All Big Ten Athlete.

Hawkins was drafted into the NFL with the first pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1992.  He played five years in Tampa and then went to the Pittsburgh Steelers where he is still second on their record books for the most catches in one game.  He retired after nine years and 15 surgeries.

In 2006 he returned to his alma mater, Beecher High,  as the athletic director and head football coach.  Before his arrival, BHS had lost 82 games in the prior 11 seasons.  In the 13years that Courtney has been coaching at BHS the teams have made it to the playoffs 11times, won 3 conference championships, 3 division championships and one regional championship.

Hawkins mentored hundreds of young men and women in the Beecher community and continues to dedicate his time and efforts to his beloved school district and community.

Fr. Phil Schmitter (Photo from Flint Jewish Federation)

Fr. Phil Schmitter grew up in Mason Michigan until he entered the seminary. He received his Bachelor of Philosophy degree from the Athenaeum of Ohio in 1968 and Master of Divinity degree in 1980 at St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. He completed an internship at Milan Federal Correctional Institution and one at the University Hospital in Ann Arbor.

Since Fr. Schmitter came to Flint on Labor Day, 1970, he has served six parishes and cofounded the St. Francis Prayer Center in 1974. A labor activist supporting  the Teamsters and UAW, he also wrote grants that brought money in from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Fr. Schmitter has been Pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church since 2009 and has taught religion to high school seniors at Holy Rosary High School. Through Christ the King Church, he has been an employer for Genesee County Teenquest and a member of Michigan Faith in Action.

Among many awards, he  has been honored by the NAACP, the Flint Housing Commission, the Cecilia B. Turner Humanitarian Award for his work in environmental justice on behalf of the poor and people of color in Flint.

The Riegle event, co-hosted by Inez Brown and Diane Lindholm, will be catered by Luis Fernandes.

EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at





Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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