I was born in Texas, where my parents had moved after my mother had an attack of bursitis in her shoulder. Her doctor suggested she get out of the humidity, so my parents purchased a dairy farm, near family, in east Texas and were farmers during World War II.
When I was five, we moved to the Saint Johns area, to my grandmothers’ farm outside of town. To keep me busy during the summers my parents sent me with other farm kids to vacation Bible school at a Church of God congregation. It ran all summer, and that was my introduction to religion.
My father worked as our county’s Civil Defense Director, which every county had at the time—managing fall-out shelters and air-raid drills and other realities of the Cold War. Part of my father’s job was to supply these shelters with 55-gallon drums full of emergency supplies: food rations, medical supplies, and Geiger counters to show radiation levels. Everything was military olive green. There were gas masks too.
My father taught a lot of night classes, mostly medical self-help courses. He would teach basic first aid in schools during the day for 50-60 kids at a time. Then evenings he’d teach community education classes, from basic first aid to emergency childbirth to disaster preparedness. My mother worked as a cashier at Kroger’s and had a highly varied schedule. Some shifts started at 6am and some at 4pm. Whenever she worked late and my dad had a class to teach, he took me with him.
In the summers, the county would run preparedness drills for large-scale emergencies. We would set up different stations at the courthouse, with different people assigned different tasks to practice. My father would receive a scenario from the federal government with a script to guide the training. Various county officials and Sheriff’s Department personnel would participate in these trainings, working through a scenario like a military attack or a prison break—sometimes a nuclear attack. Participants rotated though roles, somebody keeping track of maps, others working the radios to communicate with emergency personnel. I was always a runner. The radio folks would get a message from the script that needed to go to the map folks or some other coordinator. The radio person would rip the message off a pad and I would grab it and take it to the station that needed it. It was pretty cool, but it made for an intense day.
I graduated from Saint Johns high school and started working and taking classes at Lansing Community College. I got a job with the US Department of Agriculture in East Lansing as a drafter for the USDA Soil Conservation Service. After about a year, I transferred to the Berrien County field office and began working with farmers on drainage issues, primarily helping them understand the value of crop rotation to alleviate runoff and prevent flooding.
We designed drain-tile systems, grass waterways, piping systems—any waterway to drain a field while preventing erosion and helping water infiltrate the soil. I would design and lay out the project with the farmers’ help, then inspect the construction.
This is where I met Julie. She had just graduated from college and was working for the Farmers Home Administration, a sister agency in the USDA. Her training had been in Grand Haven, and she had taken a position in Saint Joseph—we met there in 1978.
Julie’s goal was always to have her own apple orchard. She worked for the USDA for less than two years, then got a job with the Federal Land Bank, in Ann Arbor, making farm and rural housing loans. I started looking for jobs at different engineering companies, eventually landing one as a surveyor’s assistant, and moved to Dexter.
We got married in 1980 here at Saint James. In preparation for the marriage, I received Christian education and was baptized and confirmed as an adult. I’ve been a member ever since. The love for singing came to me late in life, but in the last 20 years, making music in this community has become a big part of my life.
Julie convinced me to go back to school early in our relationship. I had started a drafting tech curriculum at Lake Michigan College on the west side of the state. When we saw that Eastern had a CAD major, I was able to transfer some of my credits, kept working full time and going to school part time, and finally got my bachelors 21 years after I graduated high school.
I worked for civil engineering firms for around 22 years before I started working in Brighton for the Michigan Department of Transportation. I work in Operations and Traffic Safety, performing tasks like construction inspection, signing plans and evaluation, and safety reviews.
My life began as part of my parents’ brief detour to Texas, but I’ve been fortunate to grow roots —many of the apple variety—here in Dexter with Julie and with the good people of Saint James.