Yooper at heart

GWINN – Chris Adams was raised with the understanding that if he wanted something bad enough, he had to be willing to work for it. He took this concept to heart, spending over half of his life working in lower Michigan so that he could eventually settle in the Upper Peninsula.

“There was always a draw back here,” he said. “Even from my earliest years, this is where I wanted to live.”

Adams’ mother was a Gwinn resident and was one of 14 children. His father’s family was from Imlay City and they were victims of the Great Depression. He was able to find work in the U.P., where he met his future wife.

“She took a train downstate, and they got married in a little church in Imlay City,” Adams said. “Then they really spent the rest of their lives trying to get a week off or a month off to come back up here. And they bought this little piece of land here (on Johnson Lake) for about $300.”

He said that his mother’s family bought a shack and carted it out to Gwinn and his life was forever changed as a result.

“This is where I played my baseball, and learned how to swim,” he said. “I knew I had to live here.”

After graduating from high school in Imlay City, Adams went on to college. He took courses at Ferris State University, Central Michigan University, Northern Michigan University and Michigan State University, eventually earning his bachelor’s degree.

Adams, 72, continued his education, receiving a master’s degree in teaching and special education, as well as an educational specialist degree. While in college, he began teaching, moving from school to school for six years until finally settling in at Alma Public School as the elementary school’s principal.

He spent the next 30 years there, but he said his desire to return to the U.P. never faded. Adams now lives on the same plot of land his parents purchased in the mid-1940’s, on Johnson Lake in Gwinn.

“I could have worked longer years, but I never wanted to,” he said. “It wasn’t because I didn’t want to do a better job. It was because I really wanted a month or so up here. I was one of those people. We would always take the boat across the straits, and I always felt better when we got on this side of them.”

He added that it wasn’t as if lower Michigan was a bad place to live, it just didn’t give him the same sense of peace and belonging that the U.P. did.

“I’m enthusiastic about really the whole U.P., but these are my roots,” he said. “In this part of the world, and it’s still true, people want to know about you. And they don’t do it because they want to dismiss you; they do it because they genuinely want to know about you.”

He also said that it’s often the small and often unnoticed things that happen in communities like the ones in the U.P. that make it such a wonderful place to live.

“A lot of people put their shopping carts back in the rack, or open a door for a gal,” he said. “If you get sick, people come and help you. If your driveway is full of snow, people are willing to come and plow it for you. These things happen all the time here.”

During his time below the bridge, Adams met his wife, Donna, who was originally from the Grand Rapids area.

“She also fell in love with this place, thank God,” he said.

Justin Marietti can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 245.