More than 9,000 Spartans graduated earlier this month, marking the end of their time as students at Michigan State. Although there are many inspiring stories from the Class of 2021, John Huetteman’s journey stands out above the rest. Huetteman is a veteran, a former mayor of Grosse Pointe Shores, a successful businessman and a Broad College graduate at the age of 75.
“Every single person I worked with at MSU was very taken by my story and wanted to do everything they could to help make it happen,” Huetteman said. “It’s a wonderful thing to have people that care as much as they do at a university so large … and so I say, ‘Hooray for MSU.’”
Huetteman has just earned his bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing, an accomplishment nearly 60 years in the making. He began his journey as a Spartan in 1964, but two terms before graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Infantry and attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning. He became a second lieutenant for two years of active duty and then served 13 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, retiring at the rank of captain.
At that point, he was ready to return to the banks of the Red Cedar, but he wound up taking over the family business as a third-generation food broker. “I unexpectedly stepped into my dad’s business as he was retiring, and for the next 30 to 35 years, I grew it from just myself as the only employee to 290 people,” he said.
As a successful food broker, Huetteman worked between manufacturers, food service distributors and food chains, representing big-name clients like Nestlé and R.J. Reynolds. He built upon his grandfather’s and father’s strong connections in Detroit and expanded his business across the Midwest, relying on fellow Spartans along the way.
“In the late ’90s, I was working with Nestlé to try to place frozen food products into the college dorms. It just so happened that the executive vice president of Nestlé at the time was an MSU alumnus and we overlapped during the same time I was there,” Huetteman said. “We were able to have a really successful partnership through our MSU connections.”
Through his business endeavors, Huetteman forged a relationship with MSU’s then president Peter MacPherson. The two worked together not only to expand food services on campus but also to increase the university’s reach in Southeastern Michigan by founding MSU’s Detroit Area Development Council. It was MacPherson who ultimately encouraged Huetteman to return as a student and finish his degree.
“At the time, President MacPherson invited me to the president’s box for the MSU vs. U of M ‘Cold War’ hockey game in 2001,” Huetteman said. “We were chatting on the side about our success of the developments, and I admitted that I never graduated from MSU. He was very gracious and introduced me to Dr. Shannon Brecheisen — she’s my hero. She really helped me put things in place to complete my degree.”
In between selling his family business and transitioning to an executive role with Acosta, the largest food broker in the world, Huetteman was taking online classes with the help of Shannon Brecheisen, assistant dean of undergraduate academic services in the Broad College. When Huetteman retired and moved to South Carolina in 2014, Brecheisen also helped him continue to make progress and take courses at the University of South Carolina that could transfer to MSU.
“When I first met John, I was moved by his story and his drive to finish his degree,” Brecheisen said. “The process was a collection of hurdles — equivalent courses, transfer credits, hurricanes and now a pandemic. John worked through each one and continued to make steady progress, one class at a time.
“I looked forward to an email from John at the end of each semester with an update on his successful completion of yet another course,” she continued. “I am proud of John and truly appreciate being part of his story. John’s achievements both academic and personal truly define a Spartan.”
This year — amid the pandemic — Huetteman embarked on his final six credits and enrolled in a supply chain course taught by John Spink, fixed-term faculty in the Department of Supply Chain Management. Huetteman enjoyed learning the definitions and terminology for the work he had been doing for years, but he realized that the role of the food broker, an integral part of the food supply chain, was missing from the coursework.
Spink shared, “It was very inspiring for me — in a completely novel way — to have a student like John in my class. He has so much experience that he could contribute to my knowledge on almost any class topic. Also, he provided a lot of feedback that our content was hitting the target. Over time, I found that he not only had tremendous love for MSU and enthusiasm for learning but that his insight could help make me a better teacher.”
Huetteman added, “I ended up working with Dr. Spink on an independent study for my final three credits, and we collaborated to revise the course to include the food broker piece. I wrote a chapter for the course, created a number of videos, and I hope to give in-person presentations and share career opportunities in the future.”
“There is a lot of value from the story of his background, leaving MSU after being drafted into the Army, years of successful work and becoming a CEO before returning to MSU,” Spink said. “While we are all busy in our day-to-day lives, John’s story and experience help put the bigger picture in perspective.”
Huetteman shared how he is “so pleased in having the opportunity to pay forward to the students after all MSU has done for me to get [my degree] accomplished.”
As for what he has planned next, Huetteman is ready to enjoy retirement with his wife — a Spartan alumna — and spend time with their two daughters (one an alumna of MSU and the other of Notre Dame) and grandchildren. He encourages others to pursue their degree no matter the circumstances and to go forth with that knowledge to make a difference.
“I urge any student to do their very best and get a college degree because that not only helps you gain a step ahead, but you also need a degree to do more for the world with that knowledge and backing,” he said.
Huetteman serves as an inspiration for aspiring graduates everywhere, proving that where there is a will, there is a way — especially with a Spartan’s Will.