A little over 60 years ago, Don Weeks, then Michigan Economic Development director, told his son, a young journalism student a Michigan State University, about a concept he had been thinking about for months. He had formed a vision for a way to unite business, labor, government and folks from communities across the state under one banner to promote Michigan. The idea: an annual “Michigan Week” for residents to beat their drums for their state.
Son George’s reaction: “It sounds a little corny.” True to his character, Don Weeks did not let negative comments deter him. In typical fashion, he soon won support for the Michigan Week concept from not only his son, but from the governor, lawmakers and residents in both peninsulas. With the groundwork laid, Michigan Week was launched on May 2, 1954, with Governor G. Mennen Williams declaring: “We have much to be proud of in our state, and I am more than glad to be part of an observance which emphasizes the blessings our Creator has bestowed upon Michigan and its citizens. Michigan is a great state, but let’s not keep that fact a secret.”
Weeks had a genius for partnering with decision makers and lobbying them relentlessly behind the scenes to make things happen. It is no accident that Michigan is the only state in the union that enjoys this type of weeklong celebration.
The first Michigan Week in 1954 used the tagline “This is YOUR Michigan!” and prided itself as “a seven-day celebration for 7 million citizens.” Spring was chosen over fall as the right time of the year for Michigan Week so that summer tourism could be promoted. The inaugural Michigan Week began with the first week of May, gradually giving way to mid-May as northern communities complained that snow curtailed a number of outdoor Michigan Week activities. Each day of Michigan Week was given a name that celebrated a particular reason or resource that made Michigan a special place to live, work or raise a family.
Weeks launched the first Michigan Week with a healthy balance of vision and pragmatism. On the practical side, promotional materials were distributed throughout the state at almost no cost to the department. Weeks accomplished this through the sale of the following materials: a colorful brochure @ $2.40 per 100; a decal that would stick to almost any surface @ 12 cents each; a glow-in-the-dark bumper sticker guaranteed to glow for three months @ 15 cents apiece; and a freestanding counter card for a mere 15 cents. Guarding his vision of what Michigan Week should be, Weeks and the committee initiated the folowing “theme” days: Spiritual Foundations Day, Mayors Exchange Day, Hospitality Day, Our Livelihood Day, Education Day, Our Heritage Day and New Frontiers Day.
Two of Weeks’ favorite Michigan Week promoters related to American traditions. One was based on the Michigan flag, which was flown at every occasion during the week and used as a prize for many contests. The other was a unique program called the Michigan Week Minuteman. The heart of the program was a wallet size card, filled to the edges with wonderful state facts that could turn an ordinary citizen into, well, a “Michigan Week Minuteman.”
Weeks reasoned that, just as Revolutionary War Minutemen became famous for dropping their plows and turning into soldiers at a moment’s notice, so, too, could our good citizens become Michigan Week Minutemen. They could refer to their wallet cards for a simple minute—enough time to chat about a Michigan highlight and still respect a person’s schedule.
In terms of historic moments, Michigan Week was certainly in good company that first year. It climaxed at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Mackinac Bridge. Don Weeks preferred to work in the background as an organizer and would be the first to stress that creation of this annual celebration was a collective effort by many business, labor, education and communities across the state,
Weeks promoted Michigan Week until his death in 1968. The Weeks connection with Michigan Week continued as his widow, Leona Weeks, the first woman president of the Public Relation Association of Michigan, was appointed executive director of the foundation.
In a 1971 interview, she reiterated one of her husband’s core Michigan Week values, stating, “…We’re not promoting Michigan as such. We are promoting the promotion
of Michigan. We want to make every citizen a salesman, a knowledgeable salesman of our state.”
Over the past 60 years, Michigan Week has been the fortunate benefactor of many individual efforts. All of them can be traced to Don Weeks, who was not the strereotypical glad-hand promoter, but a quiet, persistent man. In his 1999 Michigan Week proclamation, Gov. John Engler gave credit where credit was due by stating: “Michigan Week was created in 1954 by the late Don C. Weeks.”
When Weeks died in 1968, the Detroit Free Press, in its lead editorial headlined “A Man for Michigan,” said: “From the Rocky Coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula to the black dirt of Lenawee County there are those who regret the loss of a friend who not only loved Michigan but also did something about it. Don Weeks, the tireless promoter of Michigan Week, is dead in Lansing. “Man is fragile and his years are numbered, but Don Weeks has left his mark.”