Yes, I have many stories I could tell as I’ve been a bartender at the Beach Bar at Clark Lake since May, 1986. However, I’ll tell my own Clark Lake story.
It was not just any day in May, it was Thursday of Memorial Day weekend that I received a call from Tom Collins regarding my application for bartender, when he asked, “Can you start tomorrow?” As the Fates, which I wholeheartedly trust, would have it, I had requested the weekend off from my current bartender position to travel to Pentwater with my dear friend, Fritzi Johns. I now had to break the news to her, yet I knew she would somehow survive without me at her beloved Pentwater. Fritzi and I became fast friends years earlier (due to the secret she shared with me) at the young age of 16, both working at Jacobson’s. I was a salesgirl, so was my best friend, Tina Mroz. Fritzi and other friends of ours worked at Jacobson’s Courtland Room. Fritzi’s sister, Mary, worked at Jacobson’s Central Office. I only mention this because, we are all still close friends and spent many hours enjoying the fun atmosphere of the Beach Bar at the legal drinking age of 18! Fritzi’s secret was that she lied on her application and began working at age 15, yet she possessed all the restaurant confidence due to helping her grandparents in their restaurant, The Regent Cafe, as a little girl. Who would’ve guessed that Fritzi, Mary and I would become housemates when we rented a house on Utopia Drive at Clark Lake?
I remember asking them, “Do you think he’s cute?”, the first time that Dan Bush and Todd Negus dropped by our house to visit. They stated, “Which one? They’re both cute!” Five years later, Dan became my husband and we have two children. And I realize, now, what the Fates that I trusted, had planned for me, even though I thought my introduction to Todd and his working environment was so odd.
My first Beach Bar gig was Friday, Memorial Day weekend, 1986. Tom Collins introduced me to his wife, Peggy, who made the legendary Beach Bar soups and placed me at the Patio Bar to ease me into the lake scene. I wasn’t worried, as I grew up in Bonnymede, a new subdivision, owned by the Smith family (Mrs. Smith was my Second grade teacher at Ackerson Lake Elementary School of Napoleon Schools) off Moon Lake Road.
We had moved when I was in first grade, leaving behind, or so I thought, the influence a fun family whose oldest sisters were my babysitters, Sinead & Annette Breton, and their houseful of siblings, Tricia, Mo, and even their brother DannyBoy who played guitar and always sang the popular Four Seasons song to me, “Sherry Baby.”
Our new house was on a channel. I later met a Beach Bar patron, Chris Colton, (best friends of David Smith, Mrs. Smith’s son) who had used rowboats and man-power of sledgehammers to dredge out the channel where I learned to swim. The channel led to the Chain of Seven Lakes which my family would frequently venture, by boat, to The Sail Inn restaurant on Wolf Lake. Shrimp Baskets were the dinners consumed by my siblings and me while our parents enjoyed Frog Leg Baskets and “adult beverages.” We shivered on many boat rides home in the dark, maneuvering through the dangerous, pin-shearing area of dark tree trunks in the water, called “The Stumps” that could damage a boat motor, back to the Bonnymede channel and our house. I clung confidently to these memories as Tom Collins tried to prepare me for the Beach Bar and Clark Lake environment.
Todd Negus, “Pup”, was younger than me and had a bartender’s personality that patrons are drawn toward. I was already a trained bartender, so Todd simply had the duty to introduce me to the patrons and the Beach Bar staff, which is where my perception of “odd” begins.
He introduced me to the bartender, Linda, “This is my mom.”
He introduced me to a server, Nancy, “This is my aunt.”
He introduced me to a young server, Lisa, “This is my sister.”
He introduced me to Lisa’s young high school friends, Carrie Collins and Jodi Green.
He introduced me to the hostess, Tricia Breton, my childhood babysitter’s sister!
He introduced me to Bev Avis, a food preparer, whom I had known as the owner of Avis Orchards, where 3 generations of my family would go together to climb the ladders leaning on the trees and pick our own apples. Her son David graduated with my sister from Napoleon High School.
I felt like I was at his home rather than his place of employment. I felt home, rather than at my new place of employment.
I was attending Eastern Michigan University, Tom Collins’ alma mater. I frequently saw Ted Ligibel on campus, a Professor of Historical Preservation who was writing a book on the history of Clark Lake. I saw the passion Tom and Ted shared as information for this book was being gathered. I remained focused on my degree in Hydrogeology/Earth Science and Math. One time, Tom said, rubbing his chin, “Sounds like you’re setting yourself up to work for a bureaucracy.” I had been a teen during the influential ’70’s, listened to the Woodstock eight-track over and over, and knew I could be more satisfied with a non-traditional career. At that ponderous moment, the Clark Lake spirit seeped into my soul.
My college-aged daughter and son, Shelby and Bronson, can now repeat history, being summer employees of the Beach Bar by introducing their Mom, Uncle Jeff and even their recently retired firefighter Dad in the same way that Todd did! What’s so odd about that? Did I mention that Dan was the best man and Shelby and Bronson were the flower girl and ring bearer at the wedding of Tom and Peggy’s son, John to Jodi Green? The Beach Bar and Clark Lake became our environment in which we raised our family.
My good friend Fritzi began working as the manager of the Beach Bar when my kids were young, and once I was telling Tom and Fritzi of taking my kids to Disney World with my friend Tina, who now lived in Cocoa Beach. Fritzi said that she had never been to Disney World and Tom insisted that she take the week off and travel with me. “Sheri, you have to take Fritzi to Disney World.” Has anybody’s employer ever told them that? Off we went to the “happiest place on Earth”, two Moms with two kids each in two double strollers and Fritzi!
Good times mix with hard times, as we all had to accept the passing of Tom Collins.
I had grown to deal with grief as my grandparents had all passed, which had encouraged my family to move back “home” to Michigan after moving to Fort Myers, Florida where my siblings and I attended Ft. Myers schools for a couple of years. Then in 1976, my father died suddenly and unexpectedly, age 43, in 1976. When Tom died, my Mom mentioned that she knew I had always considered him a bit of a father figure. My Mom died in 1999. Our kids were young when she passed and my focus was them. Living two-and a-half miles from our raft docked at Ocean Beach Properties, many hours were spent swimming and rafting, which turned into boating, skiing, wake-boarding. Lake-inspired interests grew as the kids grew. I bartended only part-time so that Dan could watch the kids when home from his 24-hour firefighter position in Westland. When the kids were in middle school and my volunteer hours at the elementary schools waned, (I often joked, like the nursery rhyme, Mary’s Little Lamb…I followed my kids to school one day…), I returned to EMU for my Teacher Certification. Although I knew I could never leave my bartending position, I enjoy substitute teaching at the nearby schools.
Once again, sadness settled at Clark Lake as Fritzi and dear friend, Greg Hill, passed away, May and June 2007.
This time, I had no distractions to deal with my grief. I had been a runner on the girl’s track team with Kim Miller at Napoleon High School, both school record holders! Kim in the 100-yard dash at 12.1 seconds; and me, in the mile at 5:49.1. I enjoyed distance running, but there was no girls’ cross country team. The following fall (1975) I was a high school junior. A sophomore female runner, Suzie, and I asked to join the Boy’s Cross Country team. Title IX had just passed; yet, there was much confusion over the mixing of genders on the same sports teams. The cross-country coach, Keith Schultz allowed us to run. The boys on the team welcomed us as equals, practicing before and after school. The school administrators, the girl’s track coach and our teachers, Bob & Helene McComb, supported us. This turned into an historical event, becoming a two-day story in the Jackson Citizen Patriot. Police officers arrived at a meet against Michigan Center at Lakeland Hills Golf Course and prevented Suzie and I from competing in the race! We had to stand on the sidelines and cheer for our teammates rather than run as equals with them.
Those memories flooded back to me, and my (Napoleon H.S.) Pirate heart, filled with grief, compelled me to run, not run away—but run.
My legs were sore one day as I bartended with Megan Mickels. She admitted her legs were also sore as she had begun training, with her college roommate, for the Detroit Half-Marathon in October, 2007. I registered. Megan and I trained together that summer. The experience in Detroit brought back the feelings of the friendships I had experienced years earlier from being on the Track and Cross Country teams. Megan and I vowed to return to Detroit in 2008 so I could run a marathon “before the age of fifty!” Megan had to return to college. Yet, the next summer we trained together, running around Clark Lake through the woods–quickly through people’s yards, past tennis courts and even cut through the fence of the Yacht Club, shoulder-to-shoulder. We became very close friends despite our twenty-six year age difference.
In Megan’s absence, I trained with a male friend of mine, David VanHoof, who was on summer leave from the U.S. Marine Corps. His strict Marine training became useful when I shared a personal goal with only him that I wanted to qualify for Boston running my first marathon. He scoffed at what he called my “very lofty goal”. And I finally had to share my secret goal with my husband as Dave and I were spending many hours together!
Detroit 2008, Megan and Kristy Allen, my dear friend who quickly became committed to running with us, ran the Half-Marathon. So did my teenage daughter, Shelby and her friend, Olivia Cornelle. I ran my first marathon, with Dave running with me to keep me on pace, and BQ’D (Boston Qualified) with a time of 3:59:19. I needed 4:00:00! 41 seconds to spare! My husband came right from Westland in his firefighter uniform and was at the finish line.
Megan, Kristy and I became ever closer. The idea blossomed to share our love of running around Clark Lake and our camaraderie of traveling together, by creating a running club! We had no name and no idea of who would be our members, but we were giggly and motivated!
The motivation stemmed from the completion of the Clark Lake Spirit Trail, a vision of Tom Collins. The Spirit Trail committee remained focused on his legacy for the lake path to inspire a sense of community!
One day, as we were running toward the wooded area at the end of Lakeview Road off Ocean Beach Road, a few men were just finishing smoothing the concrete of that portion of the trail. They nodded at the new path and said, “It’s done. You can run on it.” We asked if we were the first, and they said “A couple kids on bikes came through, but you’re the first runners.” The Spirit Trail, to us, felt like a trail in a fairy tale.
A morning that Megan had to work, I ran alone, and was focused on our new running club. As I ran down the hill in front of the park, its name whispered into my ears, Soul to Sole. The next moment, Megan drove up and slowed down as I ran next to her car toward the Beach Bar. When she heard Soul to Sole, she got chills as we agreed on the name of our running club, with Megan, Kristy and I as co-founders. We wanted to be a co-ed motivational running club and challenged a male childhood friend of Megan’s to run with us. We ran with him shoulder-sandwiched between us around the lake. He finished, as he couldn’t let his ego, or the blisters on his feet that he later admitted to, allow him to slow down. Dan Omo! Dan became not only our first male runner but an officer of Soul2Sole running club.
Soul2Sole tech shirts were ordered in our “alcohlete” color of Lambrusco and grey, with the diamond-shaped s2s logo.
Our membership grew and training continued for the Jackson running series that includes Run Clark Lake. Carrie Collins returned home for the First Blessing of the Clark Lake Spirit Trail performed by Pastor Frank with a beautiful musical service by the members of the Clark Lake Community Church. The Blessing of the Trail has become an annual ceremony. I trained for Boston 2009 and re-qualified there for Boston 2010, and I returned to run Boston in April, 2010. All four officers of Soul2Sole registered and ran the Chicago Marathon 10-10-10, a World Marathon Major. One month later, I ran the New York City Marathon to complete the set of the three U.S.A. World Marathon Majors. Another serendipitous event allowed me to remain in London for 19 days beyond the 8 days spent with high school English students, two being my son and Riley Boyers, Tricia (Breton) Boyers’ son. (Notice how Tricia has never left my side.) I was able to enter the London Marathon, 2012, as a charity runner for the Whizz-Kidz. Mary Johns, who became employed as the Beach Bar officer manager, created flyers for my fund-raising obligation to raise 1600 British pounds ($2400) for the Whizz-Kidz charity. Mary, also encouraged me to register for the Berlin Marathon held on September 30, 2012, to complete the set of the five World Marathon Majors, to validate my dedication to running and as a promotional tool for the future of Soul2Sole running club. My friend Tina, Carrie Collins and her childhood friend, Amy Hutt, traveled with me to Berlin.
I returned to the USA feeling proud and ordered my Five Star Finisher’s Certificate signed by the race directors of the Five WMM. Then I became terribly upset and deflated. While continuing to check for my name to be listed on the WMM website, a bold red statement appeared: “Tokyo Marathon 2013 has been added as the 6th World Marathon Major”! My personal marathon fund was depleted and I simply could not afford the $2500 it would cost for a trip to Tokyo through Marathon Tours. To make a long story a bit shorter, the Clark Lake community, the restaurants surrounding the Spirit Trail, and Brooklyn businesses, sponsored a Progressive Dinner for 50 guests. The Progressive Dinner, using the Tokyo Marathon motto, “The Day We Unite”, was Mary’s brilliant idea which raised the funds needed to send me as a Clark Lake ambassador to Tokyo, February 2013. I became the first American female to cross the finish line in Tokyo to complete the Six World Marathon Majors with a time of 4:14:18. Cindy Bishop, of Merritt Island, Florida, whom I met in Tokyo as we both traveled with Marathon Tours, finished as the second American female, 4:57:12. The Six Star WMM Finisher List continues to grow. Currently Cindy & I are the only two USA female runners of four females in the world to complete the 6 WMM. There are four USA male runners and only twenty-six runners in the world on this list!
As I continue my new quest of the Seven Continents Marathon Club, and Soul2Sole’s 50-States Marathon Club, the best reward is returning home to the Beach Bar, the Clark Lake community, and mostly to cherish the fact that our Soul2Sole running club started locally and grew to be global. It was born right here and thrives with the SPIRIT OF CLARK LAKE!