Cassopolis native Karen Smoots says she starts her days the way any mother would.

The 42-year-old, now residing in Portage, Michigan, gets up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and prepares lunch for her two sons, 15-year-old Collin and 12-year-old Nolan. She then drives her children to school, dropping them off and making sure to tell them she loves them.

From there, she heads back home, grabs her coffee, and gets to work filling orders and dealing with her small business. She breaks to pick up her children from school before she finishes up her work, then heads out again to take her one of her sons to a football game or extracurricular activity.

“Every day is a juggle. I juggle work, I juggle family, I juggle extra-curriculars,” she says. “I juggle everything that needs to get done, but I’m just an average mom. I feel like I don’t do anything special.”

Though she says what she does is what any mother would do, Karen has two awards that say she goes above and beyond.

Karen was the recipient of the 2018 Michigan Mother of the Year and National Mother of the Year awards. The National Mother of the Year award is presented by American Mothers, Inc. Representatives of the organization say Karen was chosen for the award due to innovation as an inventor and her volunteer work teaching students business innovation at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

With the award, Karen was able to donate the accompanying Golden Rule Grant to the 525 Foundation, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of alcohol and prescription drug misuse and abuse.

“This whole Mother of the Year thing is crazy. I’m just a mom. I wear jeans. Sometimes I don’t get dressed until noon if I’m working on a big project,” Karen says. “I feel like I don’t do anything outside of the norm of what I should be doing, which is getting up every day and making sure my kids have everything they need to be successful that day.”

As a mother, business owner and entrepreneur, Karen calls her life a juggling act, and though she doesn’t believe she is a better mother than anyone else, she says she is grateful for the recognition and the experience of being named National Mother of the Year.

The journey to becoming National Mother of the Year began when Karen was nominated for Michigan Mother of the Year by an anonymous source. From there, Karen attended the National Mother of the Year convention in Washington, D.C. last May. While there, Karen was able to interact with and learn from other women who had been named Mother of the Year in their own states. When it was finally announced that Karen had been named National Mother of the Year, she says she could not believe it.

“I got to meet so many moms who were doing phenomenal things in other states,” she says. “I thought that I was unworthy of being there, but once the other women started telling me that I was doing good things in Michigan, I started to believe that I did belong there. … It was a humbling, incredible experience.”

Though Karen loved the Mother of the Year experience, nothing holds a candle to the simple experience of being a mom, she says.

“Ultimately, I did the Mother of the Year to set a good example, even if it is just for the two boys who live under my roof,” Karen says. “I want them to see their mom as a strong self-disciplined business owner. Maybe I’m not the best PTO mom and maybe I’m not the best at other things, but I just want them to grow up to be respectable young men.”

Karen says she can’t choose just one thing to love about being a mother. She believes that being there for her children is one thing that brings her joy and fulfillment.

“I feel very lucky that my schedule and job allow me to be present and not miss a football game, to not miss a wrestling meet, a band concert or a phone call when they forgot something at home,” she says. “Those moments mean so much to me. I love that.”

Her love of motherhood is present even in her small business, Green Glove Dryer, an invention used to keep children’s gloves dry in the winter. What started out as an invention for personal necessity, grew in less than five years into a Family Choice Award-winning business that has reached a partnership with Consumer’s Energy to place 50,000 Green Glove Dryers, now with anti-microbial protection, in Michigan schools.

With her business, Karen says she is proud not only to be one of the 10 percent of patent holders who are female, but also to be able to help solve a problem for other mothers.

“I want to show girls that want to be inventors that I’m a 42-year-old mom that could do it, so if I can do it, they can do it,” she says. “I also think it would be really cool if when my boys get older they are most proud that I’m an innovator. That I have a patent. I want to show them what a strong woman looks like.”

Going into the future, Karen says she not only plans to continue to grow her business and make lives easier for other moms, but — more importantly — continue to raise her boys and be the best mom she can be.

“The best thing about winning Mother of the Year is that after it is all over, you go right back to what you were doing. You go right back to being a mom,” she says. “My kids are always my number one priority. I’m always a mom first.”

Photos by Mark Bugnaski