Help Bridge chronicle the challenges facing rural Michigan

In recent weeks, Bridge Magazine has launched a series exploring the hardship facing many rural communities in Michigan, including the articles here and here that you’re reading today.

The statistics are sobering, with many rural communities struggling with moribund economies, mediocre schools and searing poverty, as well as difficulty accessing basic services like medical specialists, public transportation and broadband internet access. Compounding these challenges is a decline in political clout in Lansing, as more people move to metropolitan areas.

Bridge wants your help in chronicling the ills, and joys, of rural life across the state:

  • Send us stories or anecdotes about your counties and communities, so we can share them with Bridge and MLive readers.
  • Tell us about programs that are working, or not working, in rural regions.
  • Share examples of rural Michigan’s waning political influence in Lansing.
  • Name issues impacting rural communities that you believe remain uncovered, or undercovered, by the media.
  • Tell us what political, business or civic leaders can do to create jobs in these areas, and make them attractive places for young people.

Bridge intends to revisit critical issues impacting rural Michigan throughout this year and beyond. Your suggestions and insight will be invaluable to our reporting.

Send your thoughts to David Zeman, editor, at Or you can reach out to anyone on the Bridge or Center for Michigan team.

Thanks for reading, and for your continued contribution to improving Michigan’s future.

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Tue, 08/12/2014 - 7:45am
Obviously the best educated folks in Michigan are home schoolers, they get no schooling at all. Next are the Amish who go to one room school houses taught by their 18 year old aunt for 7 years. They come out speaking English and two dialects of German, have 8 kids by the time they are 30 when they run a quarter of a million dollar a year business. They do numbers in their heads, and provide excellent self insurance for health, fire, disasters among themselves. My wife and I hike and bike in an area with about 100 Amish farms. The population is very young. There is nothing more impressive than having 40 16-20 year old men dressed in black, wearing heavy shoes and cloths suspenders come out of one farm and walk along with us over to the next door farm to attend a wedding. We have seen at least one barn and two new houses go up this last season among the 35 or so farms that we regularly see. And the rest of rural Michigan molders away; houses are not maintained and when the resident dies, are abandoned. Even Feed and Grains are dying out in a small town that we frequent near GR. We should not wax nostalgic over these trends. The Amish famously eschew governmental interference prosper, and the few remaining Englishers already subsisting on food stamps, overeat, and neglect taking their free insulin. No salvation.
John Ceez
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 9:52am
Interesting. Since you are obviously connected to the internet in order to comment on this article, you eschew the Amish lifestyle you so admire. While many aspects of the Amish lifestyle are admirable and worthy of imitation, you would not be enjoying quite a few of our amenities if we all adopted it. They are an insular community that functions on a very low economic level, which in turn depends upon being near a more robust economy in order to survive. Rural West Michigan's problems aren't going to be solved by their mass conversion nor by abandoning them of any government assistance.
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 1:14pm
Thank you for pointing out the obvious. I am old enough to remember when the REA brought electricity to rural areas. It put an end to those nasty trips to the winter outhouse. I recall my grandmother marveling at the way electric light brightened the house.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 8:19am
Erwin Haas August 12, 2014 at 7:45 am Hello Erwin, Thanks for speaking up for Homeschools! Yeah! My son was home-schooled and he sent me this comment from his Facebook page, as a sort of Birthday Card. My birthday was the 12th. 'Yesterday was my fathers birthday. I forgot to call him. This man did an incredible job raising me. He would bring me to his work and show me all the tools of his trade. He showed me how to stand up for your family and how to have patience with children. How amazing the world is and anything is within your reach. While other kids first computer was an Atari 2600 mine was an IBM main frame. I once shutdown his companies brand new Multi-million dollar CAD-CAM system for a week. [The CAD Manager thanked me for exposing a glitch he could fix before the system went fully operation for 27 Engineers.] He took full responsibility for it at work and still brought me back in. I became fully trained on a mold injection lab before most kids take up baseball. [I got him and his brother a contract with my company for $30 to use these skills to build a part, a fit-check part, for the French Aerospatiale ATR-42 commercial aircraft. That they used to develop the engine placement of that aircraft. When my son first met their Engineers, he said, 'Enchante' and they complimented him on his 'perfect French.'] I had helped tear down and rebuild a car engine by the time I was 11. I was able to do a brake job on the family car by myself by the time I was 15. I have many incredible memories and many abilities that I would not have if not for him. He has done many many amazing things. Thank You Dad. I love you. Sorry I didn't call yesterday.' -Leon
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 10:18am
For a good article on what we DON'T KNOW about the effects of homeschooling I recommend you read excerpt: "A second generalization that emerges from many studies on academic achievement is that homeschooling does not have much of an effect at all on student achievement once family background variables are controlled for."
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 1:38pm
Thank you all for the above. It's well to remember Ben Franklin's evaluation of Harvard Grads; that they were unable to earn a living by using their wits. Schooling is not education, it's more like potty training a two year old. I think that my original point was that governments have already ruined the lives of the rural poor and if only we'd let country folks do more for themselves (as the Amish are determined to do), they will become less of a burden to their political keepers.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 9:02am
Jim August 12, 2014 at 10:18 am I understand you are taking about 'academic' tests that were designed for and intended to measure the success of public education towards their own 'academic' benchmarks, not against success in the real world. It other words, those tests themselves measure a certain amount of 'self interest.' Would you say this is true? The founder of Domino's Pizza went back to school after becoming a Billionaire. He said in one class that if he had learned such things before going into business he would have failed. Do you have some studies that compares the success of home-schoolers to publicly schooled people after they enter the real world? When my home schooled son attended a community college course for a specific credential, the students and even the professor asked him 'What University did you graduate from?' He answered, 'The School of Hard Knocks.' Then he admitted he was Home Schooled by his mom. For that matter, do you have any, or have access to any, studies that measure the success of only publicly schooled people after they enter the real world?
Sarah Redmond
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 6:18pm
Marquette Food Co-op is making great gains in creating food hubs coordinating food production in Upper Michigan. We have a growing number of young farmers who are using hoop houses to extend seasons. Roan Buntz of Rock River Farm is a prime example of what can and is happening. Natasha Lantz is the go-to person at Mqt. Food Co-op for the food hub. Add to that the MSU farm in Chatham with their organic educational program. Ashley McFarland is the director. Ashley McFarland (906) 439-5176 Good things happening in Upper MI
Rev, Karen Blatt
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 6:48pm
To the bridge, I invite you to Beaverton, Michigan and toe Gladwin County. I invite you to meet with Bob Balzer of Michigan Works and the Gladwin County EDC. I invite you to meet with these educators: Susan Wooden, Supt. of the Beaverton Rural schools, Rick Seebeck of the Gladwin Community Schools, Sheryl Presler of the Clare-Gladwin RESD. And I invite you to come and sit in on a Gladwin County Human Services Coordinating Board mtg. (Third Tuesday of every month, United Way building in Gladwin, Michigan. And come to a County Commissioners' mtg -second Tuesday at 9 a.m.=Gladwin, Mi. Come and lean about a county with a poverty rate of 20% that refuses to say, "woe is me; woe is me" even as it has to deal with a state legislature and governor more committed to and tied to policies that often assume only business matters in human endeavors. We look forward to welcoming you. Rev.Karen Blatt
Sun, 08/17/2014 - 1:59pm
Rev. Blatt, I am intrigued and encouraged by your post. I want to learn more. Would you be so kind as to email me your phone contact information so that I can reach you??
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 2:26pm
I noticed your Commentary request to: ‘Name issues impacting rural communities that you believe remain uncovered, or under-covered, by the media.’ 1.‘Why Johnny Can’t Work.’ I can submit a Commentary on this if you wish. 2.‘Purpose: Why every student must have a purpose for study.’ A key here is the purpose should be from the viewpoint of ‘the student’, NOT the Teacher only. When I talk to teachers about this, the first thing out of their minds is how they talk about ‘this,’ the purposes they have all day, instead of the purposes the students might work out. They miss this key point utterly. I talked to two eighth-grade students about their reason for studying. It took a half hour, but finally I found their reason for study was because their mom would yell at them if they did not get a ‘C’. So they worked just hard enough to get a ‘C’. It had nothing to do with anything a teacher ever said. It has to be from the viewpoint of the student, the employee or the individual. The underlying principle is that, ‘Life must have a purpose to live.’ Without purpose it will die. I knew a man in his 90’s, when he had accidentally received a wrong prescription, he felt and acted suicidal. He said, ‘If a person cannot do what he wants to do, there is no reason for living.’ He said this in a way, that may be one of the saddest things the family ever heard. He was not making an idle comment, he was saying a final goodbye to life. My wife recognized this was not his usual frame of mind, suspected a drug reaction, and quickly asked some friends what to do, then she asked him about things he loved to do as a child. He said a few, but finally he got to ‘horses’. He loved horses and loved working with them on the farm. His mood and tone improved. She kept him talking about ‘horses’ till he was feeling like living again and that dose of bad meds was evidently out of his system. She also talked to the nurse, got the bad meds stopped, and a proper prescription for him. She kept him alive through possibly the hardest moments of his life. His grandson had a similar experience a couple of years earlier, no one helped him. Do not mistake my meaning, I am not saying a drug killed the boy or nearly killed this man, I'm saying one needs a purpose. I'm saying rural Michigan, might need a higher purpose, to thrive better. Now in the world of work, the employee gets paid and wants to be paid, so that is at least that much of a purpose. But from the employer’s point of view, he knows that an employee in that frame of mind will leave if someone offers him any amount of increase from what the employee is getting. But what if the employee has no personal reason for working at that location, and does not even like the work. Now all another employer has to offer is something an employee would rather do, and the employee will leave for no apparent reason, to go to a new job that pays the same. It often happens, that an employee will leave a job at higher pay, to go to a job with lower pay, where he likes the work better. I have known people from industry to go to teaching like this. They like to teach, or at least they thought they might like it better. They have more of a personal reason to do this new work. You hear of a high level white collar worker, city life, going to the simpler life, rural life. There is a personal reason, purpose, why this happens. Now, is there another underlying principle at work here worth knowing in all this? There is the idea of ‘A Basic Purpose.’ If I knew someone’s basic purpose, and could employ them doing just that at great pay, how difficult would it be for another employer to hire them away? Not likely, I think. Now if you had an employee and someone made them such an offer, how difficult would it be to keep them? You would not, I think. ‘Money’ is not the basic motivation. ‘Purpose’ is. How could we motivate an individual in poverty or homeless, to strive to work harder? We could get him or her to work out a higher purpose and stand by them to see they do it. How could we motivate an individual in a rural area to go to work in the city, how might we motivate agricultural people to work in an industrial society? Probably not by the quality of life there. See Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle.’ I applied for a job in a big city and everything seemed fine, until he found out where I am from. I told him if he comes here he should bring money. He absolutely could not conceive anyone leaving where I was, to go to where he was. He could not continue the interview process, it ended right at that exact point. Would you like a Commentary on ‘Purpose’? 3.‘The 80:20 Rule.’ The owner of the prestigious Space Company, Schaeffer Magnetics, told me he only hired people on the basis of his, ’80:20 Rule.’ He believed, ’80 percent of the employees in a typical company do only 20 percent of the work. 20 percent of the employees, or The 20 Percenters, actually do 80 percent of the work. Why had he sought me out and why did he hire me? He thought I was a ’20 Percenter.’ Based on the fact that he had built his company from the ground up for 20 years and dominated all of its activities. I expect he thought of himself as a '20 Percenter', I expect he was more than that. What I did for his company as a manager, was to teach each of his Engineers, to be ’20 Percenters’ and then managed them to eliminate his backlog in Engineering. In six months the backlog that he could not change, got done. What if we taught people in Rural Michigan to be 20 Percenters? Or, what if schools in Michigan taught them to be one of the 80 Percenters that only do 20 percent of the work, and they could find no work, or owners of companies could find no work for them to do? How well might such a person with these very low expectations do as the owner or manager of a company? Last fall I put together a little course called, 'Applying Knowledge' and taught it to some Robotics students at a local high school. All these students were very sharp. But one asked a lot of questions. His teacher asked why that student had taken so long to do the course. The teacher understood he was the brightest student in the school and could already apply everything already. But the real reason that student took longer, was that he asked the most questions.... We need students, employees, businessmen and business leaders in Michigan that know what the 80:20 Rule is and know how to use it fully. This is ‘Know-How.’ This is Wisdom. Rural Michigan can be transformed with such ‘Know-How.’ I have written 10 Standards that rural areas might use in education and business. Or not, as the case may be.