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A Local’s Thoughts on Marquette

Eager to move to the “City Without Limits,” a.k.a. Aberdeen, South Dakota, for my first post-baccalaureate job, I was equally impatient to leave nine months later. When I heard of a company vacancy in Marquette, Michigan I crossed my fingers, brushed off the corn and soybean pollen, and sent my transfer request flying.

Soon I was entertaining my new “Yooper” neighbors with stories of my previous life: reading while driving Dakota highways, dodging ringtail pheasants, keeping my skirt under control in the wild prairie wind, and the many acres of farmland I had driven by to get home to the U.P.

I didn’t linger long in Marquette during my first residential pass. Just long enough to work three years, meet my future husband, quit my job, pack up our truck, and head out on what would become a one-and-a-half-year adventure-filled camping odyssey.

We loved Marquette, but we wanted to see the world. We looked everywhere in the United States and Canada and found some cities we liked quite well, but never as well. No surprise, we settled here permanently thirty years ago and remain here to this day.

You could ask a dozen people why they like the area and get twelve different answers. But everyone would agree that, in part, “It’s the people.” Folks who have settled here tend be either born and raised Yoopers, or transplants that stay because of the myriad business and recreational opportunities available to them.

There are legions of local businesses, clubs, and organizations – formal and informal – designed around the pursuit of passion. Recreation is included in that list and most folks engage in several forms. At a minimum, some would say, it’s mandatory to survive the long winters.

That’s okay because recreating in the company of others is a sure way to make friends.

One summer, the local windsurfing crew was enjoying a northwest wind in the South Beach area. I watched the men in the group doing their wind-dance – an unproductive bustling of gear and wetsuits in an urgent attempt to get on the water as soon as possible. Laughing at their display, I methodically got myself ready. Several others were already on the water. As I was making my approach, a concerned-looking, older, barefoot gentleman approached me with a soggy shoe insert in his hand. He was worried this find of his might indicate Lake Superior foul play and wanted my opinion about what he should do.

I reached for the orthotic and examined it carefully. Peering closely, I could discern what looked like a name etched into the heel. Sure enough, it belonged to a friend of mine! Laughing, I described to my perplexed beach acquaintance that the owner was well-known for donning neoprene over his suit and tie so he could immediately head to the beach on his lunch-hour. There was no foul play involved, just haste.

I direct his attention to the scene unfolding before him. (Picture someone trying to get their pants off without removing their shoes and multiply that by ten people.) Nodding he says, “I see!”

Twenty-years pass and I run into him again. Somehow, he recognizes me and reminds me of our connection. It turns out, he and his wife eventually moved here to be close to their grandkids and have since become entrenched in local environmental and outdoor groups like The North Country Trail Hikers and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve. He mentions his son’s name and, sure enough, I know him and his wife and their daughter.

I’m not telling this story to claim that everyone in Marquette knows each other. We don’t – although I’m perplexed when I go to the grocery store and don’t see someone I recognize. It just doesn’t seem possible.

More, it’s to illustrate the subtle web that encompasses the population. The anomaly of knowing without knowing.

There’s a shared experience living here that you won’t find in larger cities. To some extent, I think it reflects the “sisu,” or grit, needed to make it through our long winters. There’s a vague resemblance to that family vacation where everything went wrong and it wasn’t that fun at the time but now everyone laughs at it and remembers if fondly? Still, more than a few insist winter is their favorite season. It’s wonderful to have actual snow to get out and play in. Hence, the popularity of the Upper Peninsula for snowmobiling, Nordic and alpine skiing, ski jumping, dog sled racing, etc.

Also, it’s an understated luxury to live here and have only a short drive to a ski hill, or a trail head, or the university. Unlike large cities, where you live in suburbia and spend hours on the weekend driving to the golf course or the beach, in Marquette you can go there after work. This immediate proximity to your recreational choices helps turn your passions into a lifestyle.

Maybe that’s why the city has been designated one of “America’s Most Livable Communities” and one of the “Best Small Cities in America” by Nerdwallet. It’s also a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists, a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation, ranked in the “Top 200 Towns for Sportsmen” by Outside Magazine, is one of the “Ten Winter Wonderlands for Retirement” by U.S. News and World Report, one of the “Ten Best Small Cities to Raise a Family” by Forbes, a winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Service, and many others.

There are so many reasons to “Say yah to da U.P., eh!” and to Marquette especially.

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