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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Paula D. Cunningham: A Senior Force for Good

November 24, 2017 

She has been a dynamo throughout her three-plus decade professional life and she is dedicating her work life today to advocating and supporting the needs of seniors in Michigan.  Paula D. Cunningham was appointed State Director of AARP Michigan after a successful career in higher education and banking and began her new role July, 2015.

She is a Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame inductee, former Lansing Community College President and bank CEO banking on her skills and Senior Power to keep the needs of aging citizens in the forefront of public policy 

Paula D. Cunningham – a distinguished community, business and education leader is responsible for leading and directing the advocacy and community outreach work of AARP and its 1.4 million members in the state of Michigan.  Clearly, policymakers keep their pulse on what seniors are thinking as they are a major voting bloc in every corner of the state, and the AARP is their megaphone.

Aging Michigan and America

Michigan’s 55 and older population will comprise 30 percent of the state’s total population by 2030. The fastest growing age demographic in Michigan and nationwide is the 80 and older group.

A study by AARP’s Public Policy Institute indicates older adults are a boon to the state’s economy, rather than a burden. Their contribution to Michigan GDP and tax base is greater than their share of the population. They spend a greater percentage of their income in the local economy, and they make up a larger percentage of entrepreneurs than younger age groups. 

Thomas Kimble, President of AARP Michigan at the time of her appointment says, “Paula Cunningham combines impressive leadership skills with a deep passion for community service. We are pleased and honored to have someone with her stature, grace and ability to lead AARP Michigan into the future.” 

Paula understands the value of older adults declaring, “The whole concept of ‘seniors’ is different today than it was during my grandparents lifetime.  The fastest growing segment of our population is older adults. More than 10,000 people turn 65 every day and many of these folks are vital, engaged, and active in their communities. Their vitality contributes significant dollars to our economy.”

Blend of Business, Education and Community Service 

Cunningham spent 25 years at Lansing Community College, where she served as President from 2000-2006. Under her leadership, the college implemented a strategic planning process that resulted in five new buildings. The main building on the LCC campus was officially named the Paula D. Cunningham Administration Building in 2006.

Deborah Canja

“Paula was exactly the right choice to lead AARP Michigan,” said Deborah Canja, former LCC trustee and daughter of Tess Canja, former AARP national president.  “She is respected, liked and admired across business, education and community organizations.”

After leaving LCC she served for 9 years as president and CEO of Capitol National Bank in Lansing, where she successfully led the bank through Michigan’s worst recession in 70 years. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013 for her business and community service. Cunningham is known as a pioneer. She was the first female president of LCC and the first female president and CEO of Capitol National Bank, in addition to being the only African American female in the country to be president and CEO of a majority owned bank. Cunningham was also the first African American female to chair the board of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Rob Fowler

“I am following my heart to this leadership job with AARP,” Cunningham said. “I am deeply passionate about and committed to this organization and its social mission to fight for and equip each individual to live their best life.”  Rob Fowler, executive director of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said Cunningham “will be a huge asset and a presence in this state that will be helpful both to seniors and to AARP as an organization.  I think so highly of her. She is a quiet, thoughtful leader. She also is entrepreneurial, a creator and an innovator. That’s what is special about her.”  Fowler and Cunningham have worked together as directors of MiQuest, an organization that promotes entrepreneurship in Michigan. 

Her experience in both the public and private sectors is a major plus in this day and age. Listen to her explain how AARP serves you in this recent podcast:


Lou Anna K. Simon

Lou Anna K. Simon, President of Michigan State University, added: “Paula Cunningham’s academic and business leadership experience and her deep involvement in the community make her a wonderful choice for AARP Michigan State Director.”

Throughout her career, Cunningham has been actively involved with numerous community and governmental organizations, some of which include: Chair of the board of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce; Board of Trustees of Davenport University; Executive Committee of the McLaren Health Systems; Chair of the Michigan Association of United Ways; Executive Committee of the Michigan Nonprofit Association;  founding member of MiQuest Board,  and Co-chair of the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan.

She has not slowed down since grabbing the reigns of AARP-MI. She has been a presence across the state and in the halls of state government. I recently ran into her at a Chinese-American Association meeting in SE Michigan and she was as enthusiastic and determined to make a difference as the first time I met her 3 decades earlier. 

Chris Holman

Chris Holman, a business and public policy icon in Michigan professional life has intertwined with Paula Cunningham for three decades and currently serves as her board president says, “Paula  has a blend of honorable service and the ability to get things done, a unique combination in today’s world.”

A Healthy Senior Michigan

AARP continues in our long fight to ensure that any health care reforms protect older Americans and their families. The biggest problem in health care continues to be that costs are out of control –especially for older Americans. That’s why AARP is working to ensure any new health care reforms reduce the cost of prescription drugs and stop insurance companies from overcharging older Americans.

AARP is a nonpartisan organization and works with both parties to ensure that any new health care legislation:

  • Cracks down on insurance companies’ overcharging of older Americans just because of their age.
  • Lowers prescription drug costs.
  • Prevents increases to older Americans out-of-pocket costs for health care.
  • Prevents insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, or limiting coverage if you get sick.
  • Improves access to services so seniors and people with disabilities can live in their homes and communities, keeping them out of costly institutional care.
  • Cracks down on waste, fraud and abuse, and inefficiencies in the system.

AARP continues to be a strong advocate for Michigan’s version of Obamacare; the “Healthy Michigan” program, which serves 160,000 Michiganders age 50-64; make use of new health care access opportunities through telehealth;  increase state funding of in-home senior services for older adults;  increase staffing  levels for Adult Protective Services; keep utilities affordable and support for veterans’ programs.

Check out AARP for ways you can get involved. It is a powerful organization on the national and state scene and Paula Cunningham has added a booster engine to its purpose and focus.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of nearly 38 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse. We advocate for individuals in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a wide range of products, travel, and services.  A trusted source for lifestyle tips, news and educational information, AARP produces AARP The Magazine, the world’s largest circulation magazine; AARP Bulletin; www.aarp.org; AARP TV & Radio; AARP Books; and AARP en Español, a Spanish-language website addressing the interests and needs of Hispanics. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates.  The AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.

There are advantages that come with an AARP membership that can be found here:


Tom Watkins is an AARP member (how I went from being the youngest one in the room to the “senior” in the room is beyond me) and served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director. He is a business and educational consultant in the US and China.He can be emailed at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88


November 22, 2017 · Filed under Tom Watkins



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