“I had a meeting with Dan Gilbert the second day (of my internship) — I think we were talking about one of his developments — and he calls me out and says, ‘You’re the girl whose family owns Dutch Girl!’ And I was like, ‘Yes, sir, that’s me.’ And he stole my notebook and he stole my pen and started making a map, and he was like, ‘This is your doughnut shop, this is where my dad’s bar was and we used to go over there all the time!’ He called me Doughnut Girl all summer.”
Though she may be “Doughnut Girl” to Detroit billionaire and philanthropist Dan Gilbert, most people know the Ross School of Business sophomore as Arrie Timmer — an enthusiastic and entrepreneurial spirit who is looking to do big things in and for the city of Detroit.
As Gilbert noted, Timmer’s family owns Dutch Girl Donuts, a Detroit doughnut staple. Her grandparents opened the shop when they moved here in 1946, and it’s been in the family ever since. As Timmer grew up, Dutch Girl shaped her childhood.
“On Fridays, my dad would have me go with him downtown to the store and work until midnight, and then I would sleep in the back room,” she said. “I had a sleeping bag and I would sleep on top of flour sacks. It wasn’t anything special — I was 10 and it was just cleaning — but it was cool to have a job, and have responsibilities.”
Timmer also credits the shop with bringing her closer to the city. Many of Dutch Girl’s employees have worked there since before she was born, and growing up with them allowed her to see the city through their eyes.
It was a love for her family business and for Detroit that brought Timmer to the Business School. She’s seen the good that business can do, and is determined to use it as a way to change people’s lives for the better.
“Growing up with entrepreneurs as family members, it gave me a lot of respect for business, and the ways they can be used to support communities and drive change and growth in cities,” she said. “I’ve seen how our family business, even though it’s small, has changed other people’s lives.”
And, of course, because entrepreneurship seems to flow through Timmer’s veins, she is helping to grow and start several projects at Michigan that aren’t directly related to Detroit, too. As a survivor of sexual assault, she helped to expand the Panhellenic Peer Education Program last year, which teaches girls in Greek life about issues of sexual violence and fosters a community of support among them. She also is working to start a magazine with her friends next fall that will publish the writing and artwork of college-aged women.
“I was just tired of having old men say, ‘Your work is not good enough to be published,’ ” she said.
Between her school work and extracurricular projects and helping out at Dutch Girl — the whole family still goes back to work Fat Tuesday every year — Timmer found time last summer to put her passions to work as an intern for Rock Ventures, Dan Gilbert’s Detroit-based firm that is helping to revitalize the city in enormous ways.
Though some people criticize the way Gilbert is working in the city, Timmer sings his praises.
“He’s very passionate about what he does and he’s very passionate about making a difference. People think of him as this monarch who’s taking over the city and isn’t doing it mindfully, but he has teams and teams of people who make sure that his work is mindful of the city’s existing residents and mindful of what will bring people into the city.”
As an intern, she worked on projects such as Rehabbed and Ready, which works in partnership with the Detroit Land Bank to remodel houses and resell them to Detroit citizens, and Build Institute, which supports and educates young entrepreneurs in Southwest Detroit.
“I’ve wanted to work for (Gilbert) since I was in high school,” Timmer said. “I came in to last summer thinking that I just wanted to be involved in some way, and now I think my main goal at the University of Michigan and in my career is to develop myself into being the best asset for Detroit as possible … so I can be dropped into anything and make myself as useful as possible.”
In her future, Timmer said, she can see herself taking over Dutch Girl — though she’s nervous about living up to the standard her parents and grandparents have set. Whatever she ends up doing, she knows her path will lead her back to Detroit at some point, and she’s eager to make a difference in any way she can.
As for this summer, Timmer’s plans are still in the air, but she’s looking for projects that will allow her to get even more hands-on in the city. And, of course, she’ll be working at the doughnut shop.
See the 7 other students of the year here.