Faces In The Crowd: Sarah Dvoracek

April 11, 2019

By Aaron Michell

Sarah Dvoracek never envisioned being a coach.

After all, as a Pine River high school student, sports weren’t exactly her thing. She preferred working – multiple jobs at times – to earn money that she could spend at her favorite store: The Buckle.

And after high school, she went on to college to study accounting and later found work in banking. But coaching still wasn’t a part of her resume.

Sarah, the daughter of Don and Tam Bigelow, learned the importance of hard work and financial independence from an early age. These values earned her a position with the city of Evart in 2012, initially as a treasurer, and shortly thereafter as an assessor as well.

But now, after recently being named Evart’s City Manager, she finds herself in a role she loves.

The coach.

She doesn’t see herself as the boss; rather, she considers herself the coach of the city’s government. As the coach, she loves working together as a team; helping others become educated and empowered; coordinating with various entities, and learning from each other’s voices.

It isn’t the role she envisioned, but it’s a role she loves.

But Sarah’s more than just Evart’s new city manager. She’s Brian’s wife, and Bianca and Anna’s mom. She loves her family, and she loves her city. When she’s not hosting community coffees with concerned Evart citizens, she’s probably on an outdoor adventure with her family.

We caught up with Sarah recently where we learned a lot about who she is and what she’s all about. We learned that Sarah Dvoracek is certainly more than just another face in the crowd.

Marion Press: Are you originally from Evart?
Sarah: My family moved up here in 1990 from Grand Rapids. I actually attended Tustin Elementary and I’m a Pine River High School graduate.

MP: What kept you busy at Pine River schools?
Sarah: I worked a lot. I didn’t play sports. I’m one of four girls. I’ll never forget the time I asked my dad for money, because I wanted to go to Buckle [clothing store]. And he’s like, ‘No. Go get a job.’ So I worked mostly two jobs my whole high school career. I worked in restaurants, and did dishes; worked at Rite Aid pharmacy. [Work] was my hobby, as sad as that is!

MP: Working to make money so you could buy things at the Buckle!
Sarah: Exactly! Yes. At a very young age, when we were all very, very small, my dad told us: ‘I’m not paying for your weddings, and I’m not paying for your college education – I’m retiring when I’m 55.’ And he did!

MP: What brought you to Evart? How’d you get involved with the City?
Sarah: I was living in Grand Rapids; I had relocated back to Grand Rapids. And then I met my husband, Brian – we had just started dating – and one thing led to another, and we started getting serious, and he said, ‘Sarah, you need to come back up north – I’m not moving to Grand Rapids.’
So I started looking for jobs up here, and Pamela Wayne was the current city treasurer, and she was going to go be a county commissioner and she couldn’t do both roles because it was a conflict. And she was one of my customers when I worked for Huntington Bank; she knew that I had an accounting degree. She contacted me when I was in Grand Rapids, and said: ‘Hey, would you be willing to submit your application? I think you’d be a perfect fit.’ And I said, yeah, I’m actually looking for work up there.
I went and interviewed with the council in December of 2012. I got the job with the city and have been with the city since 2012. And then I decided one day – I asked my city manager at the time – if I could get into assessing school with the state tax commission; if that would be a possibility as a dual role. And he said, yes, of course, that’d be great.
I applied with the State Tax Commission for their 18-month program. I passed my state board in spring of 2016 and starting in July of 2016 I wore both hats: City treasurer and city assessor since 2016.

Sarah, Anna, Bianca and Brian Dvoracek.

MP: Are you still technically the interim city manager?
Sarah: No, actually on Monday [April 1] they appointed me city manager. It’s very exciting. I started as the assistant city manager back in the late summer. Then Zach, the current city manager decided to leave in November of ’18, and they appointed me to interim city manager in January.

MP: What are some of the biggest challenges being city manager?
Sarah: I’m going to have to bring everyone together. I think that a lot of our different entities in the city, unfortunately we’ve created silos; the DDA’s their own people; the LDFA’s their own board. I think the biggest challenge will be breaking through those silos and working together. I think that we’re in a really good place right now. I think we have a lot of momentum, and we’re slowly breaking down those communication barriers and trying to include every entity in every project and keep that line of communication open. Just to make sure that everyone stays informed, and not go back to creating those silos again. Just by giving those entities the love and attention they need…
Just including them in the different projects. And saying: ‘Hey school, hey fairgrounds, this is what we’re doing. We’re gonna pave Recreation Avenue.’ And bringing in all the people that need to know. I think we can a better job of communicating with the different entities and asking for their input and their opinion, because they may have better ideas or different ways of doing things too.

MP: It does seem like there have been a lot of good things happening in Evart recently. Can you explain some of the projects and programs that are underway?
Sarah: We just graduated from project Rising Tide, which was a program through Governor Snyder. And through that project we were able to obtain a splash pad; it’s been constructed, but it hasn’t been opened yet. That’s going to put us on the map for a destination because I know those are very popular with the kiddos. We’ve had a couple repaving projects – we’re getting ready to pave Recreation Avenue, which is currently dirt right now and it creates a lot of headaches for the fairgrounds and for the school. That project is going to start, hopefully, in June. A lot of good things are happening, we keep chasing grants and doing our thing. And we were recently named a Michigan Main Street community.

MP: Can you explain what [Michigan Main Street] is all about?
Sarah: It’s Michigan Main Street, and the DDA [Downtown Development Authority] is the head of it. So they go through a very lengthy and time-consuming strategic plan for how they are going to revitalize the Michigan Main Street district, which includes most of the downtown area. And the state, through the MEDC [Michigan Economic Development Corporation] they give us access to resources that we would not have if we weren’t a Michigan Main Street community. A lot of visual things haven’t happened yet because they’re putting together their plan for how they’re going to do it, and what goals are achievable. But our community will be open to a lot of resources and grant funding through this process once we have the planning done.

Sarah’s hobbies – Bianca and Anna.

MP: What is your favorite part of the job?
Sarah: I know I’m technically the boss, but I don’t like that terminology. I feel like I’m a coach, rather than the boss. It’s my job to get everyone the best training possible; to pursue more education so they can be the best employees in their roles as well. I like the coach sound much better; I’m everyone’s coach, and the person to try to get the best training and tools so they can do their job the best and most efficient way.

MP: What keeps you busy outside of work? Any hobbies?
Sarah: My hobbies are Anna and Bianca – those are my three and five year-olds. Whether we’re going on nature hikes – I just took them to the emporium the other day; they’re obsessed with that place in Big Rapids. I do work a lot so when I do have them, we stay pretty busy. Mostly nature stuff; being outside. Bike riding, they love Ludington. And they think that the splash pad is built for them – they think that the splash pad is theirs, which is hilarious.

MP: Where is that splash pad going to be located?
Sarah: It’s going to be located at the Riverside West Park. That’s where our campground is located; where two of our pavilions are located. Five years ago, we remodeled all of the playground equipment. So that park is going to be beautiful. We just finished a passport grant, so now we have a handicap assessible floating dock for people to get in and out of kayaks. And we just built another beautiful pavilion down there next to the river.

MP: Who have been your biggest role models in life?
Sarah: My parents. I know both of my parents instilled that hard work ethic in me. There’s nothing free in this world, and if you want to get anywhere you have to work hard for whatever you want. At the time, when I was a teenager, I thought that was the worst thing in the world – but by being responsible for you own car insurance, and seeing how expensive everything is… and being exposed to that at a young age – I think that it’s made me who I am today.

MP: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Sarah: The best leaders are coaches, not bosses. Me having that attitude has helped me, and it’s helped our staff. Nobody likes a boss, or a know-it-all. But if you’re constantly encouraging your team to be better and giving them the tools to succeed, it’s a win-win for everybody.

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