Danialle Karmanos The Modern Day Superwoman

Story by Chuck Bennett
Photo cred: Lisa Siesser

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Cause I am a Superwoman
Yes I am
Yes she is
Even when I'm a mess
I still put on a vest
With an S on my chest
Oh yes
I'm a Superwoman
-Alicia Keys, Superwoman

When you talk to family and friends about Danialle Karmanos you hear the word “very” very often. Very hard working. Very funny. Very fearless. Very positive.

When you talk to her, you quickly realize she would rather celebrate others then talk about herself. She is curious, fun, and deeply interested in the world around her.

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The wife of business tycoon, Peter Karmanos, and mother to their four boys, Danialle is hard to pinpoint by typical titles. She is an activist, philanthropist, social entrepreneur, journalist, room-mom, beekeeper, and the best friend anyone could ask for. In other words: She’s a superwoman.

But don’t tell her that because she’ll quickly include countless women that she sees as superwomen -from stay-at-home moms to CEOs. She has an effortless and dynamic ability to make connections and recognize the best in people.

But superwomen don’t just fall out of the sky.

Born in Detroit and raised mostly by a single mother who was working and going to school, Danialle had a humble upbringing. “When I was very young, we were on food stamps and lived in a two bedroom flat above my grandparents, but I don’t remember being poor,” she recalls. “My mom would take us on ‘adventures’ in Detroit. We'd get twenty-five-cent pepperoni rolls from Capri Bakery (they were an extra ten cents with cheese) and go exploring to places like Belle Isle or the DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts).” And even though she herself had little, Danialle was always looking for ways help others. “I remember telling my mom when I was eight or nine years old that I wanted to help people, I always knew my purpose was to serve,” she says earnestly.

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Like many people, though, her life path wasn’t linear. Quite the opposite, actually—her post-college resume has serious range and accolades. “At 22, I was writing and producing a daily worldwide newscast for Chrysler. In my 20s, I traveled around the world creating videos for the big three” Danialle recalls “The funny thing is I didn’t particularly care about cars; I just really loved writing and producing. I’d have written about a paper bag if someone gave me the chance. I was also volunteering with programs supporting women and children”.

It’s this fierce determination she’s known and loved for in her social life, too. “She is brave, energetic, and creative, with a huge heart,” says Stacy Squibbs, one of Danialle’s best friends since middle school. “She loves justice, and she doesn’t back down from a challenge—never has,” Squibbs goes on. “It’s why she executes so broadly and flawlessly in her life as an amazing wife and mother, as well as an extremely generous philanthropist. She’s the same loyal, generous, and life-loving person that I met 35 years ago. I am lucky to have her.”

There have been many times people have serendipitously crossed Danialle’s path, changing the course of her life for good—but none as significant as her chance encounter with a highly respected corporate mogul named Peter Karmanos, Jr.

“We literally bumped into each other on the street.” explains Peter (known fondly as Pete to his friends). “We went to the same hairdresser, which is ironic since I’m bald.” At the time, Peter had already been married twice and didn’t think he would walk down the aisle again. “Then I bumped into Danialle and, well, I decided I might not be unmarried for the rest of my life after all. I knew that right away.”

It was a real case of love at first sight. And the feeling was mutual.

“I told him where I worked, but I didn’t give him my phone number,” Danialle recounts. “I walked away, called my childhood best friend, and told her, ‘I have to say this out loud. I just met the man I’m going to marry.’ Then I headed to Mexico for a video shoot. He tracked me down and left five voicemails at my office before I returned his call”.

Their first meeting, or date if you will, was lunch at Bacco. “I’d flown home the night before,” says Danialle. “I was tired. I was hungry. And Pete said he knew he loved me at that lunch because he had never seen a girl eat so much.”

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From there, it was full speed ahead with no looking back. “I went from my tiny little townhouse that I loved,” she recalls, “to moving in with him into this huge house that I now had to decorate—or rather, find decorators for. And that was all so foreign to me. Before, if I wanted to paint a wall, I painted the wall myself. If I needed a table, I went to Pier One or Hudsons warehouse sale—and by the way, I loved going to Pier One. But I was suddenly hiring people to do those things for me.

“It was very unnerving,” she admits. “But I was grounded in the fact that I love Pete with my everything.”

And the couple has faced every big transition this way -- together. Even the decision to have children, given their thirty-year age difference. “Pete and I were driving down the road one day and I said, ‘You know Pete, you’re my soulmate—but you’re in a different phase of your life, and if kids aren’t in the cards for us....’ and I’m pouring my heart out and mid-sentence Pete says, ‘No, no, we’re having lots of kids. And in the next breath we’re picking baby names”. Fast forward and the two tag-team to never miss a practice or event. “The five of them are my favorite people” she says.

Enter four of the coolest, most well-rounded boys you’ll ever meet: the twins, Socrates and Leonides (11), Spiros (10), and Kai (8). “When we had Kai, who was 11 pounds at birth, Pete and I looked at each other in the delivery room and agreed that our family was complete,” says Danialle. Typical Karmanos family activities include lots of hockey, karate, paddle boarding, skiing, cooking, boxing, knitting, and meditating, sometimes all in one weekend. Last summer, they bought an RV and the family took a two week tour of the UP. “I do all the driving” Danialle laughs.

The boys are remarkably intelligent (all four are straight-A students) and generous (they have their own charitable foundation named Karmanos Kids). They understand the importance of giving back. Their supermom makes certain of that. “Empathy for others is the greatest quality I can give them. I expect them to be kind and treat people respectfully”.

As for her own charity work? Danialle’s commitments and contributions to her community are, in a word: impressive. The list of her charitable roles reads like a novel: founder of Kids Work It Out, The Cuddlers, and the Karmanos Center for Natural Childbirth; founding board member at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; and trustee at Detroit Country Day School, College for Creative Studies, and Michigan Opera Theater, just to name a few.

This month she is launching a program for expectant mothers with the March of Dimes.

Danialle credits her spirituality as her foundation and life force. Every day she meditates in her closet, sitting on a pink pillow surrounded by sage, flickering candles, and the Bible, to take time to be still. “It grounds me. It centers me,” she explains. “It’s my offering to the universe, and my time of prayer.” Danialle even completed a Divinity program at Harvard University to satisfy her curious nature and discover ways to be better. “I have always been disciplined, but it comes from a deep desire to want to do good work,” she continues.

“I believe that you bloom where you’re planted, and I ask God to send me where I’m needed.” Time and again that takes her to a place to support moms and children.

Her “Kids Work It Out” program, a non-profit dedicated to fighting childhood obesity by introducing inner-city children to yoga, is now 16 years old. “I didn’t know anything about starting a charity,” she says. “I’m not an educator. I’m not a psychologist. I just knew I wanted to help kids. At that time, people laughed at me for advocating for mental wellness in kids.”

Well, good thing this superwoman is motivated by naysayers. Danialle diligently powered forward—and now Kids Work It Out is a major success story: Over 20,000 kids from Detroit have completed the 10-week course. Her other project, The Cuddlers, a volunteer-based program at the Children's Hospital of Michigan that cuddles and comforts hospitalized infants, is also quite inspirational.

“I remember having a simple conversation with Danialle about me being a “cuddler” after her son had emergency surgery,” says Luanne Thomas Ewald, the COO of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “Within a matter of weeks, she had organized and executed a Cuddlers Program in Detroit. No detail was spared. Whatever she puts her mind to, it is implemented with grace and grit and love. I am proud to be her friend and to watch her make a true and impactful difference in the lives of children and mothers in our community.”

Because of COVID-19, the Cuddlers are currently unable to enter hospitals and snuggle babies. Instead, they suit up in PPE and read children’s stories loaded up on iPads. They’ve also embraced the senior community.

“I started feeling very heavy-hearted for seniors during quarantine,” Danialle adds. “Many of them are so lonely because they can’t see their families. It’s heartbreaking. So the Cuddlers started making care packages, working with Meals on Wheels to have them delivered.”

And then there’s the Karmanos Center for Natural Childbirth, which Danialle stayed on board to develop even after she and Pete wrote the check to fund it. She delivered four children naturally and was frustrated by the lack of support and resources available to her. “All women deserve the best resources for their delivery, whether its drugs, no drugs or C-section. I just happened to experience the lack of support for women who wanted a natural birth and felt we could do better.”

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She remembers being shown inspiration boards of how natural birth centers look around the country and knew immediately what they would not be doing at the Karmanos Center. She returned with her own plans. “No mauve or seafoam-colored walls,” she jokes. “I actually brought in pictures of our house. We used some of the same fabrics and textures because we wanted people to feel like we were inviting them into our home.” She also insisted the doctors, nurses and midwives were offered the best resources and training in the country. The result? A first class, nurturing staff working in beautifully appointed luxury suites stocked with all the necessary medical equipment tucked neatly away so the patient doesn’t have to see it. Each new mom receives a journal and a note from Danialle.

“When Danialle makes a commitment to something, she sticks to it,” says Pete. “She works extremely hard and takes it to heart. When I have things that I need to accomplish, she is my go-to. She doesn’t get in the way, but she will always give 100% to supporting me. She supports what I need even if it sometimes interferes with her plans.”

Perhaps most refreshingly, Danialle is also super normal.

“She made a major gift to our school and signed the pledge form in crayon because, on that day, she was sitting on the floor shelving books in the school library” recalls Nikki London, Chief Development Officer at Detroit Country Day “She signed, then went back to shelving. She’s completely unaffected in that way”.

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Hank Winchester, the Consumer Investigative reporter at WDIV and friend for over 15 years remembers, “I told her the kids at Thurgood Marshall elementary needed a new gym and she showed up in overalls ready to paint the walls. It was classic DK. She’s very enthusiastic and very, very funny but, most of all, she cares deeply about supporting women and children”.

A self-described “homebody with tendencies toward adventure and fun” she loves Lifetime movies and wakes up at 5:15am to work out six days a week at 6:00am with her son, Socrates, who is an amateur kickboxer. She drives a vintage Bronco and enjoys embarrassing her boys in carline by singing—loudly and badly—1980s love ballads, getting most of the words wrong.

Danialle is a soldier for service and never complains. I can personally attest to her brilliance, loyalty, and quality of living. It is rare that I can write about someone’s good nature based purely on experience. We’ve been dear friends for over fifteen years. She is indeed a superwife, unquestionably a supermom, and I’m proud to proclaim her a modern-day Superwoman, too.