Stella Cash has held many influential positions in her career, but none so important as her role as mother, grandmother and just recently, great-grandmother. Cash’s story is unique and her passion for her family and her career are unmatched. The roots of her success both professionally and personally stem from her love of learning and her outgoing personality. “I was born and raised in Arkansas and I am very southern, very southern,” Cash said with a laugh. “My father was an orphan at age eight and only had a third grade education. He was very protective of me and wanted the very best. He knew there was a place called college that you could go to become very educated. So when I was growing up, there was never any doubt I would go to college. Which was fine by me because I simply love to learn.” However, Cash notes being a woman in a professional setting was very different at the start of her education. As a spunky, squeamish and family-oriented girl, the traditional options for career paths were out of the question for Cash. “In those days there were not many career paths for women. You either became a secretary, a nurse or a flight attendant. I was never very good at taking orders, I couldn’t be a nurse because I would be sick too and my father would never let me travel that far from home,” Cash said. “It was my high school home ec teacher who suggested I become a registered dietitian. Since I didn’t have a Plan A, that became my Plan B, and that is what I did.” As Cash set out to reach her goals, she also married the love of her life, her high school sweetheart and her companion for more than 53 years, Dr. Jerry Cash, Professor Emeritus. Jerry’s career is what originally brought the dynamic duo to the Lansing area, but Cash created a name for herself after arriving. “When my sweet husband was in graduate school finishing his PhD in biochem, he was recruited heavily by Michigan State University. Basically, in order to get him they had to find a job for me. They offered me a part time position working with dietetic majors.” Cash said. “I wasn’t technically a registered dietician (RD) yet because you had to do an internship, and if you had children you didn’t go do an internship because it was believed that women couldn’t multitask. So once I was offered this part time position my college then arranged for me to sit for the exam and I passed. Then as an RD I became the director of the dietetics program.” As director, Cash continued to reach higher. She worked not only to grow the Dietetics program but also to address unmet needs in the nutrition field. Though she didn’t fit the research mold perfectly, Cash pursued her interests undeterred. “I received my second masters degree in management, my first being in education. I figured if we moved I could get a job anywhere in the country, or even the world. But the next opportunity that sprung up was one for research,” said Cash. “To be a researcher you had to have a PhD. Well, I didn’t have that but there was all this research in food science that wasn’t being done, so I decided I would become a consultant, and that is when I started Food Creations Inc.” Cash spearheaded her company as it rocketed to success. She also worked to balance Food Creations Inc., her role within the university, her position within the community and of course being a mother and wife. But she faced each challenge head on and dedicated herself to what she loved. “If you go back when we had our kids in the 60s, life was simpler — there is no doubt about it. In the 80s, it was more complex and there was more pressure on women to elevate themselves in the workforce,” said Cash. “But it is really like any other decision you have to make; you have to decide what you can realistically do and what is important. I would also say that you have to have some time for you. That is something I struggled with because the only thing that hasn’t changed is that there is only 24 hours in a day.” But Cash had a great partner in her husband Jerry. Cash and her husband have two daughters, five grandkids and one great-grandchild. Cash beams as she notes how involved and engaged her husband was in raising their children, which allowed Cash to pursue new avenues in her career. “Food Creations opened a whole new world for me. I became a major consultant for Kellogg and other large companies for years. For three years I had the Kellogg test kitchen right here in my home,” Cash said. “Food Creations did really well, for a while any recipe you saw was created or revised by Food Creations. Because of Food Creations I could retire early and the Dietetics program was doing well and was ranked second in the nation. I really thought ‘I’ll retire and do my consulting and life is good.’” But life had other things in store for Cash as new career paths opened for her. Cash was asked by then-Provost Lou Anna K. Simon to come back to MSU as part of the Sports Medicine division to help develop the Sports Nutrition program. As she was finishing that assignment, she received yet another call asking her to serve as the interim president for the Alumni Association for six months, which turned into a two year adventure. “It was a tremendous honor to represent 45,000 alumni. I had a phenomenal staff and I learned so much. It was one of those moments that had a huge impact on me that someone like Lou Anna K. Simon felt like I could do this job. That was huge,” said Cash. After her many roles within MSU, Cash again retired in 2010, only to be met with a phone call from Dennis Swan, President and CEO of Sparrow Health System. Cash has served as the Vice President of Development and Strategic Partnerships at Sparrow Health System for nearly five years and has helped to build a community around the organization. “His assistant called and I honestly thought he was calling to appointment to a board, so I thought, well yeah, I let him buy me lunch. When I left the lunch, I called Jerry and he asked if I got an appointment and I said ‘no, I got a job offer.’ I really was honored that he thought of me and thought I could do it. It’s just fun working there. It really is a joy,” Cash said. Cash has no plans for slowing down and is actually exploring new ways she can give back to the community. She is active in many community organization, helps to organize some of the most recognizable area events and she and her husband have created an endowment for the dietetics program so that they can travel to the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE). “At this stage in my life, to feel that I am doing something that has a positive impact on this community, that is one of the highest honors and individual can have. It is a privilege,” Cash said. “ There is no way I would be able to all this without other people investing in me. I am really trying to pay back. Young men and women will call and ask for 10 minutes of my time and I truly try to make time. That is such an honor. It shows you are at a certain stage in life and I’m ok with that.” Cash devotes the same time and energy she does in the community to her family, if not more. She hopes to inspire her grandkids and create lasting memories as a mother and grandmother. “When all the family comes home — that is when I am happiest. I can hardly wait for them to get here,” Cash said. “We never did the up north thing, but we have gone on cruises and trips to places like Brazil and Thailand, I really wanted to create memories. They may not know everything we’ve done to get here, but what I want them to remember is me riding on an elephant up a mountain in northern Thailand. That is what I want them to remember.”
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.