Gaylord’s chocolatier honored for ‘pay it forward’ mindset

GAYLORD — The generosity of Bruce Brown has been noted through a number of local awards over the year.

But last week, Brown received recognition for his altruism at the state level for the first time.

Brown’s business, Alpine Chocolat Haus, was presented the Michigan Association of United Way’s small business Spirit of Michigan Award in Lansing. Awardees are selected for their leadership in improving Michigan communities and focusing on the common good through corporate and employee engagement.

According to the association’s CEO and president Scott Dzuraka, the association received nominations from across the state, but “it was Alpine Chocolat Haus that rose above the rest” because of Brown’s leadership and commitment to his community.

Brown’s benevolence toward others was born from painful lessons he learned as a boy. He describes his parents as lacking in wealth but rich in the ability to fill their home with love.

“My father developed a terrible disease, diabetes, and eventually lost both his legs,” Brown said. “I ended up practically living in the hospital most of my seventh-grade year.”

The Brown’s home was in Sault Ste. Marie, but his father was a Canadian national who worked across the border in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

“My father thought he had Canadian insurance, but they wouldn’t give it to him because he lived in the states,” Brown recalled. “It was hard times. But my hometown community stood by us and held a fundraiser. They raised money to help us with the medical bills. When you witness something like that you feel like you want to ‘pay it forward.’

“And the Gaylord community has been good to me,” he added. “Contributing is my way of giving back to it.”

Brown becoming a successful chocolatier with three stores in Northern Michigan began as an accident of fate in 1985.

“I was looking for a business to buy and this store was for sale,” he said. “The owners didn’t make their own chocolate, and I had no intention of making my own. Then in 1986, I met (a mentor) who took me under her wing and taught us how to make chocolate.”

Brown was nominated for the Spirit of Michigan Award by Lorraine Manary, executive director of the Otsego County United Way. She highlighted Brown’s community participation, support for United Way and support for youth programs as her justification for nominating him.

Brown’s philanthropy includes holding an annual two-week caramel apple sale to support United Way. He offers an ice cream social every year at reduced rates to raise funds for the local Little League program.

Brown has actively promoted Gaylord businesses, served on boards such as the Gaylord Area Chamber of Commerce, and was honored with the title of Alpenfest Grand Parade Marshal in 2005. He has received awards from the chamber, Kiwanis and other service groups in recognition of his civic participation and generosity.

Since 2010, Brown has opened Alpine Chocolat Haus businesses in Boyne City and Sault Ste. Marie, the community that stood by his family in hard times.

Brown has already begun to “pay it forward” in his old community. Earlier this month, he received a Volunteer Business Neighbor Recognition Award from the local United Way for helping to raise funds to purchase pharmaceuticals for uninsured people in the eastern Upper Peninsula.

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February 21, 2012 Lorene Parshall, Staff Writer | Petoskey News

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