The dream of living in vibrant Traverse City
is no longer just a twinkle in the eye for
some recent newcomers, six of whom share their story of how and why they chose to
come north from all over the world.
By Kandace chapple
Moved from the Cayman Islands
Call her crazy, but Shannon Wilcox willingly left the Caribbean to move here.
"My husband and I were working in the Cayman Islands," said Wilcox, who relocated about a year ago and is the client services and communications manager for Safety Net. "Traverse City seemed to be a perfect fit for us."
The couple, who have a four-year-old, decided that island living wasn't ideal for raising a family. They settled on Traverse City after vetting its arts, sports, and eco-friendly environment.
"Traverse City is definitely more advanced than some cities," she said. "The people have been so friendly, its natural surroundings are incredible, and we like the fact that it's got culture and a progressive business environment."
After living abroad for seven years in a place others dream of vacationing, Wilcox said that there are similarities between the Cayman Islands and Traverse City.
"Both places share a focus on tourism; both are absolutely beautiful," said the Erie, Pa. native. "And yes, I do miss the warm weather, but I will say the Caymans have a long way to go in terms of being environmentally friendly."
To make the leap, the Wilcoxes, who both worked in media, saved and planned for it.
"I don't think it's difficult to do once you've made the decision," she said. "We have been really happy here."
She's happy now, but the first winter in northern Michigan was shocking to Marina Call, a southern California native who had lived most of her adult life in Rome, Italy and Spain.
"It was a big, long, drawn-out discussion," said her husband Warren about the proposed move from her professorial position at a Spanish university to Traverse City by way of Beulah. "That first winter was a shock to her."
The couple met in Rome as students and decided to move stateside when they started their family. Warren, a Beulah native, took his bride from southern Europe's vibrant, sun-drenched hustle to a quiet house with a wood-burning stove in a town of 342 people.
"I still refer to this as 'the tundra'," said Marina, a novelist and now mother of two who laughs at those first few months in Michigan. "When we first moved here, I didn't even own a good winter coat and boots. It was good character building and has given me great writing material."
The Calls have since relocated to Traverse City's Central Neighborhood, an area that hints of European living with its walkability, access to the arts, and cozy interaction with neighbors, a bonus Marina said she didn't expect.
"I have grown so fond of this area and see why Warren has such good values and is such a good person," she said. "When we met, I knew I had found the love of my life and would have moved to Antarctica to be with him."
Marina says she has made peace with "the tundra" by taking time in January to visit with her mother and brother, both of whom live about four hours south of Barcelona, Spain. It's a respite for her from the gray weather and a chance to connect with her European roots, she said.
"I told Warren, 'If we live in Michigan, at the end of the world, then we have to go visit my family,'" said the novelist, who in addition to speaking Italian, Spanish, and English is learning Russian. "Fortunately for me, my loving husband agreed."
Moved from Grand Blanc, Michigan
In May 2011, Tom Krause fulfilled the dream of a lifetime.
Decades before his move to Traverse City, he had come here on a high school field trip as a freshman, setting him on a trajectory that landed him exactly where he envisioned he'd be.
"I absolutely fell in love with this place the minute we got here," said Krause, owner of Krause Realty Solutions. "I literally got goosebumps when we first pulled into town on the bus."
Krause was so hungry for the northern lifestyle, he subscribed to both the Record-Eagle and Traverse Magazine all through college and beyond. Post-college, he started his own real estate business and worked in Fenton, never taking his eyes off the prize, however.
A chance to be closer to his seven-year-old son prompted him to close up shop downstate and begin anew up north. He jumped into Traverse City's networking scene immediately, joining Rotary, volunteering each weekend at new events, and even ringing the bell for the Salvation Army this past December.
He also bought and renovated an old gas station at the corner of Munson Avenue and Eighth Street.
"I love to find the ugliest buildings in town and see what I can make of it," he said. "It makes for a nicer welcome into Traverse City."
Since his move here, Krause said he's never looked back.
"Honestly, this is the most loving community I've ever seen, with all of the natural beauty of top of it," said Krause, who is active in North Pointe church in addition to his extensive volunteer work. "I've got everything I could ever ask for."
When Meaghan Jameson flew from Tampa, Fla. to Traverse City last January, it was most likely against a huge wave of Michiganders arriving in her home town to soak up the sun.
Still, that didn't stop the Florida native from coming, visiting, and eventually staying for good.
"Traverse City is fantastic," said the recent University of Florida graduate. "I'm here doing a job in exactly the field I studied to be in. I love it."
Jameson had come to Traverse City in response to an internship opportunity with Events North, a corporate and social meeting and event management services company. That internship morphed into a job offer a few weeks later, and now Jameson is Events North's event manager.
Right after she moved, the 20-something tapped into the Traverse City community, planning events for Father Fred, joining the Chamber of Commerce's Young Professionals group, going to business after hours parties, and getting active with a growing group of girlfriends.
"At first it was hard to make friends, but now I've got a group that I'm close to," said Jameson, whose parents are originally from Michigan and own a vacation home in Interlochen. "But I really miss my family; besides the weather, it's been the hardest thing to adjust to."
To help with homesickness, Jameson takes a walk "with" her mom every day, chatting on cellphones in their respective cities. To help with the colder climate, she layers … a lot.
"When I first got here, one of the first things I did was get a huge Lands End sweater that went to my knees," she said. "Besides my down coat and hat, which I wear everywhere, I always layer two or three pairs of tights. I don't mind though; it's all so new and exciting to me."
Moved from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina
After driving Michigan's perimeter with her fiancé, Sara Franz knew relocating from North Carolina's beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains would be easy.
"We started in Benton Harbor and drove all the way around," said the mother of four and stepmother of two. "I was in heaven; I knew I could live here."
Moving with four school-age children and her husband's two sons on board to visit for weeks at a time could have been a challenge for even the bravest of moms. Franz takes the life change all in stride.
"The kids are at West and are thriving; there are just so many more options than what we had in North Carolina," said the part-time yoga teacher. "There's an open-mindedness here that really appeals to all of us."
As far as working goes, Franz's husband Jake has kept his hydroponic indoor gardening and alternative energy business in North Carolina, doing most of the work online. Sara has kept her yoga studio there open, with the hope to eventually form a partnership with the other teachers still working there.
In addition to their businesses, they still have homes in North Carolina, which they are currently renting out. Ideally, Sara said they would like to sell one and keep the other as a vacation spot.
"It's kind of crazy, but it's been working so far," she said. "You can do so much online."
Oddly enough, northern Michigan's notorious winter weather has been a plus for the family, which had to deal with an unsavory combination of mud, treacherous ice, and slush in the southern mountains.
"With two dogs and the kids, it was a total mess," she said. "We like the permanent snow a lot better, but the only bummer is kids have had a lot fewer snow days than we had in North Carolina, where they once shut the schools down for an entire month."
The move has been so positive for the Franzes, they are hoping to bring more family here. In addition to the possibility of Jake Franz's two sons moving here, Sara is trying to talk her parents into buying a home downtown.
"We're so happy here and it's been a great move for our family," she said. "Now it's time to get everyone else here, too."
Raising a glass in San Francisco is one thing; raising a family there is quite another.
When Kyna Getsinger and her husband Rob Himburg thought about settling down in their adopted Californian hometown, the math was daunting.
"If you want to own a house there, you have to be ready to spend a lot of money," said Getsinger, whose last job there was working as a grant writer for a private school specializing in dyslexia. "Just a one bedroom apartment with no garage or parking was $850,000. It's crazy out there."
Although they adored San Francisco, the Detroit-area natives knew it was time to come home. A visit to Getsinger's parents' bayside cottage in Traverse City and a job offer for Himburg at The Leelanau School as its director of education clinched the decision.
It was hardly an easy one to make, though.
"Honestly, San Francisco was the hardest place to leave; it's such an amazing city," said Getsinger, now a mother of two preschoolers. "And even though Traverse City was so appealing and reminded us of San Francisco, I was completely miserable here at first."
While her husband got busy with his new job in Glen Arbor, Getsinger wrestled with loneliness.
"It had such an impact on me, being lonely," she said. "It was a huge testament to how important community is."
The eventual arrival of her son and daughter, as well as her venture into teaching yoga part-time, turned her solitude into a sense of belonging again.
"After a while, everywhere you go you begin seeing people you know," she said. "It makes people feel good to be recognized and is a huge part of why this place is so special."