As the president at The Watermark Center in Muskegon, Sarah Rooks does everything from taking out the garbage to making multimillion dollar decisions, like one of the company's first projects–breaking ground on a million square foot urban development property–the former Shaw Walker Building. Watermark is constantly developing the old into new. The Watermark Lofts houses fifty-three condominiums, and Watermark 920 is a chic showroom for concerts to dance parties to intimate affairs.
"It's been so exciting being a part of creating something. It's not like just going to work, we actually get to create something, and it's been very rewarding and very cool," Sarah says.
But Sarah's favorite part of waking up and clocking in every morning is the impact her work has on her beloved community. As a self-proclaimed fourth generation "Muskegonite," Sarah says she couldn't imagine being anywhere else, and through her work, she is able to breathe new and exciting life into every corner of her hometown.
"I love my hometown, and I just want to see it continue to grow. I've seen it continually progress from when I was a kid, and why not? If you have the talent and the resources, why not do something with it?"
Sarah is an ATHENA Award nominee and was named one of the 40 Under 40 in 2011 by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. She was recently named a Muskegon County Woman of Accomplishment. Sarah is works with the Greater Muskegon Woman's Club and Adopt a Classroom through Muskegon Public Schools. She's had a hand in chairing festivals and "anything else that comes around." But when she's not giving back to her community, she's pouring her passion into her family. While her dedication and work ethic is influencing the greater Muskegon area, it's making an impact at home as well. With an 18-year-old and a 9-year-old, she's got eyes on her all the time. But as a mom, Sarah knows how to be a role model and parent, and have fun at the same time.
"I think that there's a very fine line you just can't cross. You have to be firm but friendly, but you're not their friend. You lead by example. You still have to be a mom. They're still counting on you to be a mom, someone to pick them up when they're down, to show them what's right and what's wrong," she says.
But even though some rules are rigid, Sarah doesn't always play the mom card. When her daughter was 16 years old, they joined the local roller derby league.
"It was totally like Whip It," she says.
Even though the team broke up last year, the girls still strap on their skates and hit the roller rink in town. One-on-one time gives Sarah the opportunity to instill local values into her kids like she had growing up.
"I think there is a sense of pride. I couldn't be more proud of where I live," she says.
Even though Sarah plays a leading role in her company and at home, she knows the secret to sanity is taking some personal time. She rides her bike to work everyday for twenty-five solid minutes of quiet time to think, not to mention preserve the environment. The rest of her serenity comes from her other half.
"I have a really good partner, a good husband. He's my best friend," she says. "He's got my back and knows it's crazy being married to somebody who could do well with a dose of Ritalin or a tranquilizer."
Sarah is living the dream and one of the best parts of her movie-like life is living in paradise, aka Muskegon.
Written by: Erika Fifelski is the West Michigan Woman magazine editorial coordinator. She was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. Erika enjoys gardening, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses. Photos: Frederick Reineke