“Mr. Dexter” Paul Cousins Retirement Leaves a Space Hard to Fill

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“Mr. Dexter” Paul Cousins. Photo courtesy of Dexter Chamber of Commerce.

Say the words “Mr. Dexter,” and many people will immediately know you are referring to Paul Cousins. Much of what Dexter is today is the result of Paul’s efforts over many years. His years of service were recently recognized by the city with a proclamation.

“Paul is a tremendous man and a tremendous contribution to our community,” said Mayor Shawn Keough after reading the proclamation at the Oct 24 city council meeting.

“WHEREAS, Council Member Cousins was first elected to serve the Village of Dexter in March 1992 until March 1998 as a Trustee, and served again as Village Trustee from March 2004 to November 2014, and once again as a City Council Member from November 2017 to November 2022…”

That second paragraph of the proclamation describing Paul’s council terms only skims the surface of Paul’s involvement in Dexter. Looking back at the initiatives that have fashioned Dexter into the desirable city it is today, it is difficult to find one that Paul hasn’t been a part of. There hardly has been an open house, ribbon-cutting, informational meeting, dinner, panel discussion, or event that Paul hasn’t attended.

From the garden to the plate. Paul has been involved in Dexter’s Community Garden raising produce for Faith in Action’s food pantry. Here he is cooking up a meal for a Dexter Rotary charitable event. Photo by Quaila Riddle.

The city’s proclamation describes his action to create the Arts, Culture, and Heritage Committee and the development of First Street Park. Also listed are Paul’s involvement with the Street/Sidewalk/Alley Committee, Board of Review, 5 Healthy Towns, Huron River Watershed Council, WAVE, Dexter Chamber of Commerce, and the Big 400. And these are just a few.

Paul and his late wife, Pat, immersed themselves in the community right from the start. The Cousins came to Dexter in 1963 when Paul landed a job teaching high school biology, which he did inside the classroom for ten years and then another ten years outside in the school’s outdoor lab for environmental studies. From the beginning, Paul and Pat had what he describes as “a love affair with the community.”

“Pat got involved with various things, such as the library,” Paul explained in a phone call. “She loved the people here. It just ended up being a great relationship between the community and us.”

When asked about Paul, Paul’s love for the people here is the first thing Mayor Keough mentions.

“He cares about people,” said Mayor Keough in a phone call. “He goes out of his way to ask about people and find out how they are. He is phenomenal with names. I don’t think he has ever forgotten a name in the almost 20 years I’ve known him.”

Paul retired from teaching in 1983, and those of us who’ve been around long enough can remember Cousins’ Heritage Inn, which he opened the following year.

Look who shows up with a shovel when it comes time to plant trees near the new high school sports fields. Photo by Quaila Riddle.

“Pat and I always liked good food, and with her culinary experience at the hospital, we decided to open a restaurant on Main Street,” says Paul. “A number of people in the community didn’t think we had a prayer, but we survived and ran it quite successfully for 18 years.”

Many of us can remember Paul showing up to a meeting with fresh blueberry muffins, brownies, or more exotic treats from the Inn’s kitchen. Paul sold the restaurant in 2002, and it was renamed “Terry B’s.” A few years ago, it was sold again. We now know it as “The Filmore,” which is where Dexter Rotary holds its weekly breakfast, which Paul is a founding member of.

Mayor Keough met Paul in 2004 when they were both running for village council. Standing beyond the 100-foot line in Wylie’s parking lot on a cold March day as voters walked in and out of the poll, Keough got a good introduction with the man he would work closely with and sometimes fight with for almost two decades about what’s best for Dexter.

“Paul has brought a passion to just about every day I’ve known him,” said Keough. “He is always sincere in his thought. He certainly has strong opinions on certain things. You never left a conversation with him not understanding where he stood or how much he cared for the Dexter community.”

The preservation of Gordon Hall is one example of Paul’s ardent drive.

“He was super passionate about preserving Gordon Hall, said Keough. “He and others formed a group to raise all that money to purchase it from the University of Michigan. I was 33 years old then and had never witnessed an effort like that to preserve something that was so very historically important. I learned from it.”

Gordon Hall wasn’t the only land Paul set his sights on restoring. Always an environmentalist at heart, Paul is the Huron River Watershed Council’s (HRWC) longest-standing board member, serving since 1968.

The HRWC credits Paul’s vision and leadership as spearheading the removal of Dexter’s Mill Pond Dam in 2008. The removal restored a stagnate village pond to more than 200 miles of free-flowing stream habitat for brown trout, beavers, muskrats, herons, and other wildlife. The pond area has since been rejuvenated into Dexter’s popular Mill Creek Park, becoming a focal point for area trails. The HRWC awarded Paul its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.

Executive Director Rebecca Esselman presents Paul with HRWC’s Lifetime Achievment Award. “Paul’s contributions to improvements we’ve seen in the Huron River cannot be quantified. He approaches every task with heart, tenacity and a smile. It makes him amazingly effective and such a gift to work with.” Photo courtesy of HRWC.

A few years after the dam removal, Paul set his sights on cityhood for the Village of Dexter. At the time, the Village of Dexter was split between Webster and Scio townships, governed by two different municipalities.

“Paul felt that we should be a city and was part of the group that strongly supported that push because of what it would do to bring us together as a community,” said Keough.

Dexter became a city in 2014. Next on the list—a new fire station. The current one was built in the 1950s. Anyone following along knows Paul has been an ardent advocate for the construction of a new public safety facility for Dexter. On Nov 8, Dexter voters will, at last, get the chance to decide on a proposed public safety millage that, if passed, will achieve just that.

When asked what has driven him with such passion all these years, Paul succinctly replied, “I had a mind to get involved because you have to stand up for what you think is right.”

Mayor Keough notes, “If Paul likes something, his passion for it comes right to the surface, and his enthusiasm is contagious.”

As he closes out his public service career, Paul’s advice for those carrying the torch from here is, “They have to realize what's best for the community as a whole and not as a small minority of people that feel they have the right answer.”

And now, while Paul’s ubiquitous presence at city meetings and community events may lessen and be missed, it will undoubtedly be felt for generations to come by people who never knew him but benefit from the impact of his work.

“NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Dexter City Council does hereby proclaim its thanks and appreciation to Paul Cousins for his extraordinary years of service to the citizens of Dexter.”

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