In the Spotlight • Deb Deters '86
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Deb Deters

Deb Deters planned to work at Exchange Financial until she graduated from Calvin and “got a real job.” Almost 20 years later, Deters is still at Exchange Financial, now as co-owner and president.

“It was like looking in a mirror.”

That was Deb Deters’ ’86 response when Andy De Vries, a member of Calvin’s development staff, asked her to endow a particular scholarship, one for women coming out of high school with GPAs of 2.8 to 3.4. Not academic stars, they’re bright enough, often unsure of their professional direction and in need of encouragement. These are young women Deters knows.

“In high school I skated by with a C or a B-minus,” Deters said. “That attitude carried through to Calvin. I don’t know what the bottom of the grade-point barrel is before the powers that be tell you that Calvin isn’t going to work for you, but that’s where I was.”

So after a year Deters left Calvin. She worked and attended Davenport Business College, where she earned an associate’s degree. Three years later she was ready to come back to Calvin, this time with a sure interest in business and a determination to do well in the classroom. She had no idea that interest and determination would land her in the mortgage business.

Deters began working at Exchange Financial, a mortgage corporation, while still in college because the owner, her cousin, needed part-time help. She planned to work there until she graduated from Calvin and “got a real job.”

Almost 20 years later, Deters is still at Exchange Financial, now as co-owner and president. She’s one of a handful of women in such positions in Michigan financial institutions. Still, Deters hadn’t thought of herself as a repository of expertise useful to business students until a member of Calvin’s business faculty called and invited her to speak to an interim class on personal finance. “All of a sudden a light bulb went on,” Deters remembered. “I realized how much knowledge I’ve gained, and that I could share it with students who wanted to soak it up.”

Deters is especially eager to share her story with female students. “It’s not in their heads that they can be business owners or in senior management. They don’t give it a thought, because no one has inspired them to do it.”

Someone did inspire Deters, though. When she was five and her brother was six, Deters’ father died, leaving her mother not only with two small children but also with the family restaurant they owned in Hudsonville, Mich. Carol Deters Bogema took on the business herself, bringing her daughter and son with her to the restaurant at 6 a.m. each day to open up for the morning coffee crowd. Deters remembers her mother also working in a drug store and a greenhouse and as a laborer in the onion fields, where her children worked alongside her.

“What a wonderful mother and role model she was!” Deters said. “I’ve never said, ‘I can’t do this.’ It doesn’t matter if you’re a female. Everything is possible.”

That’s the message Deters conveys when she talks to business classes. Now she’s putting some money to her message as well. She has endowed a scholarship that will be awarded to a young woman who plans to major in business and whose high school GPA was 3.4 or lower.

“I want to encourage the girls who are like I was — who don’t have the grade point or the book smarts. I want them to know they can succeed.”