Linda Kekic is an anomaly. She is a gifted artist whose glass and jewelry creations are featured in local galleries and retail shops. At the same time she is an organizational whiz who has successfully led programs in human services and the arts.
Kekic worked for 25 years in human services for Van Buren and Kalamazoo counties, overseeing programs involving protective services for both children and adults. She left that realm and delved into the arts, becoming the force behind the West Michigan Glass Art Center’s growth from a small member organization to a regional glass-art education center.
Now she’s working her organizational magic for Buy Local of Greater Kalamazoo, as part-time executive director. The organization advocates for local small and independent businesses and nonprofits. In the two years she’s been there, the membership of the organization has grown from 95 to 175. At the same time, Kekic continues her artistic pursuits, selling her jewelry at a few shows each year and at locations including the Kalamazoo Nature Center and UniQ. She also teaches courses at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and the West Michigan Glass Art Center.
How did you end up doing what you are doing?
I was contacted by the president of Buy Local’s board, who asked if I would help the organization. As a volunteer, I developed a strategic plan and a budget and helped get the organization on a path.
A few years later the organization was struggling and I was asked to be its part-time executive director. What I liked about the organization is that it needed direction, and I like to take organizations and revitalize them. I am a program developer and organizer, and I believe in open communication and collaborating with other organizations. I really like that idea of getting people to help an organization to become what it has the potential to be, and we have a wonderful board of directors. It’s on the right path.
What do people say when you tell them what you do?
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know what Buy Local of Greater Kalamazoo is, and they ask me to repeat where I work and the name of the organization. Very often people think Buy Local is only about local food and local food production, but I explain that there is a lot more to it than that. We have a huge variety of local and independent businesses and nonprofits that are key to a healthy economy and community.
Does your business life conflict with your artist’s life?
I have a good left brain-right brain balance. I’ve always done art, even as a little kid. It’s part of who I am, so I can’t imagine not doing art. And I am always trying to push myself to do something different.
I’ve worked with social workers and artists and now small business owners. Working with small and independent local businesses is more of a stretch for me. The people have been wonderful, and it’s a great experience.
What’s your ideal day like?
I exercise first. Physical fitness and health is most important to me, next to family, and I have to have to exercise and be outside every day.
I also like variety, having more than one thing to do in a day. I’m a planner and a list maker. I like to know how much time I have to exercise and then do some Buy Local work and go to the KIA … but as much as possible I like to spend an hour outside each day, even in the winter.
What keeps you up at night?
I really value good sleep, so having a deadline and thinking about it can keep me up. But I’ve found if I am lying in bed and thinking about what I need to do, I get up and go type it up on my computer or write it down, and then I can go back to sleep and I’m fine.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Southwest Michigan?
Go to Lake Michigan — swim and walk on the pier or walk along the beach and get my feet into that beautiful, wonderful Lake Michigan sand.
I grew up in Muskegon, and I could bike or walk to the lake. When I was child, I realized that whenever I felt bad, physically, emotionally or in any other form, I would go to Lake Michigan and I would feel better. That’s been consistent my whole life.
What was your most influential moment?
The birth of my son. I was 19 years old, and I grew up that day. That was the moment I learned I can do whatever I need to do and whatever I set out to do. (There’s) no obstacle or problem in life that can’t be resolved, and attitude is everything. Being a single parent was a challenge, but it was the greatest gift I was ever given.
What word would you say describes you?
I asked my granddaughter who’s 13, and she said “awesome.” And when I said “no,” she said, “Don’t be humble.” My husband says “creative,” my daughter says “determined,” and I say “optimistic.” But for a 13-year-old granddaughter to call you awesome, that’s worth the price of admission.