95.3 / 88.5 FM Grand Rapids and 95.3 FM Muskegon
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
A series of POWERFUL PODCASTS by WOMEN, about WOMEN. Women’s strength has shaped the world in which we live in all possible aspects, the likes of government, education, health, science, business, spirituality, arts, culture and MORE. NPR-WGVU Public Media’s POWERFUL WOMEN: LET’S TALK podcast is a series of interviews with diverse women who are trailblazers who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live. Hear them tell their stories in their own words.This podcast will be released in the summer of 2020 which corresponds to the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote in the United States. This release will also parallel PBS national programming celebrating this historic event.POWERFUL WOMEN: LET’S TALK is hosted and produced by NPR-WGVU Public Media’s own team of powerful women, Shelley Irwin and Jennifer Moss.

Powerful Women Let's Talk - 047: Cindi Poll

Cindi Poll
Cindi Poll

Cindi Poll began working at the University Club of Grand Rapids in 1988, the first woman General Manager of a large private club in West Michigan and beyond. Her leadership has kept the Club alive during a pandemic plus she has a wonderful backstory, including a fun fact of being named after Cinderella. Cindi shares her highlights.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


Intro: Produced by women about women powerful women Let us talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live.


Shelly Irwin: Cindy Paul began working at the university Club Grand Rapids in 1988, the first woman general manager of a large private club in West Michigan and beyond. Their leadership has kept the club alive during a pandemic. Plus, she has a wonderful backstory, including a fun fact of well, she was named after Cinderella. So, Cindy Paul, welcome to this edition of powerful women Let us talk.

Cindi Poll: I am happy to be here.

Shelly Irwin: Can we start calling you Cinderella at this point your life.

Cindi Poll: No, probably not, although I do have a necklace from my granddaughter Claire. It is a glass slipper that I wear for good luck.

Shelly Irwin: stand by on that backstory part.

Cindi Poll: and the name of our boat is Cindy Ellen. So it looks like Cinderella.

Shelly Irwin: All right. there will be more to come with that fast fact. But we are here with you, Cindy Paul, you the 4th of 10 kids. And of course, that is not quite the middle. So, what your personality based on 4 out of 10.

Cindi Poll: Well, the first 6 children in the family were all born within believe is 8 years. So somewhat of a middle child for a while and there was a 5-year gap in and along came my brother Scott, the only other sibling that was light haired and blue eyed and I thought, oh, my gosh, I am not adopted so she had 4 after that. So yeah, it was. I like being in a big family. I always wanted a big family 6 as matter of fact, back then you talk and you know, was born in the early 50's. That is all you knew. You are going to get married out of high school and have children. I love those younger siblings and mostly I loved helping my mom out because she was just you can only imagine one baby after another and the laundry and everything we had, my maternal grandmother was very helpful. She had 6 children herself and really stretch herself with her grandkids and but was there for us. That is why we were able to go to a nice Catholic school. Cause she paid our tuition and pay for uniforms and winter coats and all of that stuff. She was a saint. She was she is a wonderful Grandma. Yeah. And we it was it was great having a big family even we did not have much at all, of course, but that was way it was back then lot of big families lived across the street in Lincoln Park, though, which is a godsend. I wish the parks went back to that time when there was arts and crafts all kinds of sports. We play ball we learned how to play tennis. There was, of course, the pool there and I can take the little kids over to the park and for all day and get them out of my mother's hair and I was on the softball league there that is how I became very athletic. And I still am to this day at my age, I should not be doing some of the things I am doing.

Shelly Irwin: I will Stop you right there and say yes you should. Let me stay with your early years before.

Obviously, we get into the years that are upon you. Now when we first introduced to the service industry. Was there. Mister Burger here?

Cindi Poll: Yes, there was my girlfriend worked there and I was not quite 15 and she says that is OK back then. You know, did not have to show a Social Security card or anything. And I was hard worker. I loved it. It was right by Union High school. So, I could when I got to school can walk over there and work. And Pete Christopoulos was a mentor.  was very kind. Lot of people said always said he is mean and it is like, no, he is not. If you work hard. You know, I liked it was different. I was not into hamburgers but learn to like them had the best onion rings.

Shelly Irwin: wow probably still does. Obviously, there's been a journey to land yourself in a private club business in management's. But before again, we bring it to today's world. what other young experiences shaped you perhaps to where you are, and I am going to lead. The question there was a significant incidents incident in the South, and you went through as a child

Cindi: in South Carolina. I move downtown right after I graduated high school with a girlfriend from high school and took some classes when it can cause is, you know, nearby and I do not. But I also worked a full-time job in sometimes still continue to go to Mister Berger and work for him. We knew we needed. But I had the summer off. I would not call a long-term boyfriend, but a boyfriend that had been with for a couple years. We broke up and she invited me down to South Carolina to because she is by herself a lot and her husband was in the Marines, and she has come on down and I will get you a job. You can stay here and save your money to go back home and starting classes again. But the evening I got there. I was awakened by somebody banging on the side of the outdoor walls saying is anybody in there. And I immediately gasp for air. The place was on fire.

Shelly Irwin: This is actually at a place you were staying?

Cindi: yes, my girlfriend's place and her husband was apparently smoking. And with the ash tray on the side of the couch and he must have knocked it over and smolder and. So I hadn't even unpacked my bags and brought all these beautiful clothes down from working at Gantos because I was that it was the Belle of the ball right nice shoes Cinderella. And yeah, it was a horrible fire burned down to nothing came back. The next day to everything was just burned to know nothing.

Shelly Irwin: your own personal things

Cindi: everything I had, ironically, I was I have always had a bleeding heart for minorities to this day. I am just very diverse I do not put people in boxes and me um a black woman was the one that saved my life. And I always think about is this might payback for sticking up for the black students at Union High School during the riots because I did, I lost friends from it, but it is okay. I am I do not I regret the way I am. I am what I am.

Shelly Irwin: Yes, good. We got Much more to talk about. That is why you are a powerful woman. How did you get to land in the private club business?

Cindi:  A part-time job. I always had a full-time job and a part-time restaurant job because that is where could afford to eat. And I was asked by a friend to. You should come to the Peninsular club and work. And I was there for about 3 months, and they asked me if I wanted to be the dining room manager on the 3rd floor. The 3rd floor was an all-male strictly male. The whole club was strictly male for membership which I thought was and even at the time.

Shelly Irwin: But this is the 80’s, correct?

Cindi: This is the 70s started working there in 73. I think. Yeah, I love the weddings and I just loved all the pomp and circumstance and setting the tables perfectly talking to these pillars of the community that were members of that that everybody knew their names in the city. And I stayed there for about a year and a half. The only reason I left was I married. And then when I was pregnant enough was feeling sick. I had to walk away.

Shelly Irwin: thank you for that admission. The smell of coffee. Just disgusted me I was about 5 months pregnant and yeah. And I always liked it, but I really want to be a gym teacher. I worked at Comstock Park for a while, but with special ed. But yeah. And with having more and more children and we moved out to Rockford. Eventually I found myself at blightfield Country Club and what I wanted to be an event planner there, but they started me out as a wait person and then it was a lead wait person. And then I was an event planner.

Shelly Irwin: pay Your dues.

Cindi: yeah. I think the best managers in any business started from the bottom in particular, the restaurant business, private club. So, I enjoyed most. I only worked a couple of public restaurants and to know the people that you are talking to and helping them with their events, their permits, their bar mitzvah, wedding receptions. It just makes you feel so good when everything works out perfectly.

Shelly Irwin: true service so bringing you back. To the first woman general manager of a large private club in West Michigan. The university Club. How have you seen the transformation of bringing women into membership. What is that done for you personally and for the community.

Cindi: The university club was the first club. I worked where women were allowed to join. I was happily amazed at that, and they were even women on the board which was unbelievable. We immediately when they hired me in 1998. They never told me that they are going to give it 6 months and they were going to close the doors. They hired me in August and by the end of December, we had it. They said it was the first profit they had in 6 years. I can just continue to build it. Build relationships, women. More women started to join more women were on the board. In fact, I think we have more women on the board. Now then men, which is why we say we have a good board. Women will take on tasks and actually jump in and do them to the best of their ability. Just as I did. I had to work twice as hard as a woman, especially in Dallas. When I worked in glen eagles Country Club as the only woman manager there and the there was a lot of chauvinism going on. Just put it that way. What made me decide to leave. Mostly was the disparages in salaries, not so much for myself. But there are a lot of Hispanics working there and they wanted me too pay them. Half of what white people were. And I just would not do it. I I did not see why they were great workers. I am still like that today. Let us give everybody a chance. You are no, different. I certainly was not born to wealth. I'm no different from any of them.

Shelly Irwin: Did you pass that along to your grown children.

Cindi: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Shelly Irwin: Who have worked in the business

Cindi: who have worked in the business. Wonderful when my kids were of age to work.

And I would tell they say when I want this pair of blue jeans. It is only $80. Mom. Well we are going to come to the club and we're going to see how much you have to work to get to $80 and they worked every time home. And maybe I'll just get this $30 blue jeans and they went from there and work their way up at the club been they have fantastic work ethic from watching their mom work like a dog is in some cases.

Shelly Irwin: And you admit you like to work,

Cindi: yes, any employee of theirs that has met me has given me kudos for my kids work ethic. Can I think we they don't learn in school. Parents need to teach that just like manners in Saint James and in probably most parochial schools, they do teach you that. But employees and employers are not going to we as parents need to teach work ethic in not looking down at people and doing your very best.

Shelly Irwin: I am sure your employees see your work ethic. And hopefully this bill to hopefully will make that work in their lives.  Let me have a little fun with you. You mentioned Dallas, what your story with South fork ranch.

Cindi: not much of a story other than the fact that it I would drive by it every day going to work. And it is just a fascinating thing for me. Phil Donahue came to town and was at the South fork ranch. I was able to go to that. That was that was so cool. I was like in love with him. He was just before his time. Right. So yeah, they would film Dallas at the Country club that was brand new. It was the who is who of Dallas that belonged. It was definitely steps up from where I had worked before, even though the prior to clubs are exceptional and they would come in and let us Sunday's an off time and in film is it was beautiful. It was a beautiful course. The beautiful nothing like I have ever been in before I was promoted there a couple different times which drew jealousy from some of the male managers and they would make comments. And back then. You just took you just had to sometimes cry in my way home. I hold it I am going to give them the give them any chance to think. I am just I am not strong, but yeah, Dallas was different. I was I was happy to go home, though. He was just there for 3 years

Shelly Irwin: home in west Michigan.

Cindi: Yes.

Shelly Irwin:  One more fact understand you can throw a mean football?

Cindi: Heck Yeah, thin I still can.  Yeah. And that all my grandchildren and kids are athletic too

Shelly Irwin: and lastly. There must be some balance. You married early made a successful career happened along the way. What's your secret to that success,

Cindi: I guess is it is not a secret. It is.  It is more you need to speak up. You do not just continue to work and come home and work if you do not have a willing partner or teach your kids how to clean and how to take care of themselves. You. You are going have trouble succeeding. I never intended to work like I have. I just I was going to have 6 kids and say home and flip houses but if.  You have a strong side  and womanly side. I suppose in you, you need to know. How to act I guess to not take advantage of you. The fact that you are a woman. But also you need to manage like a man. Somebody asked me one time. Actually it was a women's group said how do you call your style of management. And I said you know I used to think I manage like a mom but I've been doing this for so long that I think some of the staff probably think I manage like a mother.  You can delete that

Shelly Irwin: we are going to keep it in. We know you are obviously I a stellar manager because we know that you failed retirement. We'll just leave it at What's your message to  Well, the woman who does look it up. To you and want to be where you are, which piece of advice

Cindi: do not overdo yourself ask a lot of questions ask for help when you need it. Find a good model and model yourself after that becoming to people. Be strong when you reprimanding. But Be kind, compliment, and a team player. I have always been a team player. Sometimes people will say my staff will say, you yelled at me think of me as a coach. I am just correcting you. You can become a better team player. Do what you can do whenever you can do it. Follow your dreams the best you can. But just know that it's never going to be a Cinderella story in the end

Shelly Irwin: bet you have ended many conversations with that. Well, I know you back to where you mentioned you want to be a gym teacher. Hey, you are coaching all the time just in different field.

Cindi: Exactly

Shelly Irwin: Cindy Paul, thank you very much for your leadership again. The first woman general manager of a large private club University club of Grand Rapids. Thank you for conversation today.

Cindi: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.

Shelly Irwin: And thank you for listening to powerful women let us talk I am Shelly Irwin:


Outro: Produced by women about women these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women. Let us talk get additional interviews at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe powerful women. Let us talk is produced by WGVU at the Myer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed on this program. Do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters for Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The WGVU Morning Show, a newsmagazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. features a wide variety of local and national newsmakers, plus special features.
Related Content