Letter to the Editor—Finding home in Calhoun County

Lucy+Blair

Photo courtesy of Lucy Blair MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME-NMU alumna Lucy Blair has found community and joy integrating into Calhoun County, MI.

Lucy Blair

When I read Ashley Beronja’s recent opinion column about her experience moving from Battle Creek to Marquette, I couldn’t help feeling like I was living a weird act II of Ashley’s story, as someone whose home went from being Marquette to living in Calhoun County, where Ashley grew up.
 
Like Ashley, I hadn’t been to the Upper Peninsula until I moved for college and then Marquette became my home. I came to Northern in 2008 and immediately felt more at home than I did in my hometown in Metro Detroit. The community at Northern welcomed me, I grew a family working for this student newspaper, and I was hooked on Marquette. After earning both my bachelor’s and master’s, I stayed still, working for a short time in three NMU offices before moving downstate.
 
Work is important to me. I’ve always been the sort of person to hunt for fulfilling work, and that led me to this job that would give me room to be myself while also affecting change in a community. I am the communications manager for Calhoun County Government, where I develop communications projects and even strategies for county government offices ranging from administration to health department to road department to sheriff. I’ve said it’s “Parks and Rec” on steroids because we’re similar in size to Pawnee but we’re talking about offices that are dealing with serious, human problems. The range of personalities is so real, though.
 
This is what I love about my job: as a communications professional for the county government, I’m in a unique position to learn about what everyone’s doing and, if I can, tell the stories about this place and the people who live here. I take that responsibility seriously, but I’m a transplant. I didn’t grow up in Calhoun County as Ashley did. Instead, I’m a two-and-a-half-years observer, actively involved in and aware of county governance, and soaking up what makes this county what it is.

Calhoun is the 17th largest county in Michigan, and in it are three cities—Battle Creek, Marshall and Albion. Plus, we have a sizable rural population. Each city has its own history and communities that call it home; cereal reigns in a passive way while other industries now try to find footholds. I own a little house in Marshall, which is the county seat, and I enjoy sitting on two city committees. The Marshall mayor was helpful when I accidentally left my wallet at a local bakery over the summer, so I’m in it—living the benefits of being in a small town. 

Like any place, Calhoun isn’t perfect. Battle Creek and the whole county have some crime, which Ashley talked about, mentioning bomb threats in high school. Calhoun crime is part of my job description, as Public Information Officer for the Sheriff’s Office. Since the start of COVID-19, I also love watching Calhoun County court’s arraignments live-streamed on YouTube. So I’m certainly aware of the charges coming from the Battle Creek PD and County Sheriff’s Office. While it’s not the sort of violence that makes me uncomfortable to visit any part of Battle Creek, I appreciate hearing the opinion of someone who went to school here and experienced it herself, recently.

There is a wave of hometown pride for Battle Creek growing on Instagram by younger people than me who share their perspective on this place and who want to contribute to making Battle Creek better. An emerging BC streetwear brand shares photos of Kellogg’s community events from the 90s that are hilarious to me, and completely different than present-day Battle Creek. It’s different. Our community develops and changes, and I think that’s something I love about Battle Creek. It adapts. It’s spunky and scrappy.

I lived in Marquette long enough to see its flaws, too. I lived in Metro Detroit, which wasn’t for me. I had a two-year spat in Grand Rapids, which didn’t work out. Surprisingly even to me, Calhoun has become where I’m calling home now, happily. I think its size has similar benefits to what I loved about the size of Northern: Calhoun is large enough to have real people problems that the county government can address, but it’s small enough that I’m able to have a handle on how things happen. I know who to work with. I think counties like Kent or Wayne are so big, it takes a different set of skills to wrap your head around how to problem solve there.

My freshman year RA, who later became a very close friend, grew up in Battle Creek like Ashley, and I remember similar stories about her experience with her hometown. I don’t think it’s uncommon or unreasonable to have fatigue with the place you were forced to grow up. You know its flaws acutely because you lived it. However, since I moved initially across the street from where she grew up, my former RA-friend has remarked that the stories I’ve told helps her see her hometown differently.

That’s to say, with certain ingredients, you can make a place your home no matter its flaws. Maybe it takes someone else’s perspective to see it as a less dismal place, or maybe it’s part of your story as a place you once lived but wouldn’t move back to. That’s how I feel about Metro Detroit. Calhoun has welcomed me and I’m grateful for it.

Lucy Blair, former North Wind editor-in-chief 2010-2011

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This piece is a letter to the editor, written by a reader of the North Wind in response to North Wind content. It expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the North Wind. The North Wind reserves the right to avoid publishing letters that do not meet the North Wind’s publication standards. To submit a letter to the editor contact the opinion editor at [email protected] with the subject North Wind Letter.