‘A difficult choice to make’
Why one man left the Alpena he loves
TRAVERSE CITY — Some 25 years ago, when the Rev. Jack Conklin worked for the Boys and Girls Club on River Street, Alpena was a different place.
The development on the M-32 corridor didn’t exist. Businesses held a tight rein on competition, and the region’s leaders were resistant to growth.
A change at his job left Conklin without employment, and he couldn’t find a job in Alpena. At least not one that would support his family.
When a position in another Boys and Girls Club materialized in the Traverse City area, Conklin and his family moved away from the Sunrise Side.
“I had a mortgage in Alpena that I was paying less on than it would cost me to rent a place in Traverse City,” he said. Despite the cost difference and his love for the peacefulness of the Alpena area, Conklin moved to Traverse City “because, well, they offered me a job.”
Several years’ work with the youth of Traverse City led to a call into the pastoral ministry, and Conklin now serves as circuit pastor to four congregations in the Grand Traverse Bay area.
Now a visitor instead of a resident, Conklin, 67, has kept an eye on the changes in his former hometown.
He sympathizes with the young adults who feel they need to leave to work. As it is now, Alpena still doesn’t offer the wide variety of better-paying jobs that can be found elsewhere.
“It’s a difficult choice to make such a dramatic change in your life from what you’re used to, here in a place other people come to for vacations,” Conklin said. “But, at some point in your life, you may have to move someplace else for employment. And I think that’s unfortunate, because Alpena has so much to offer.”
Living in Alpena as a young man, Conklin saw the world outside the city as more exciting than what he could find where he lived. That perspective has changed, now that he lives closer to the action he once sought.
“When I was raising my kids in Alpena, everybody came to the Grand Traverse Mall to shop. I don’t think since I’ve moved to Traverse City I’ve been in that mall more than three or four times,” Conklin said.
While he takes advantage of Traverse City’s medical services and retail shopping not available in Alpena’s corner of the state, Conklin doesn’t see either city as superior to the other.
“(In Traverse City) they want to be an urban center, they want to be a cultural center, they want to be a tourist mecca,” he said. “And that’s OK for some folks.”
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, though.
A self-proclaimed introvert, Conklin is more comfortable with the slower pace of life Alpena has to offer than with the bustle of Traverse City’s busy streets.
Alpena’s surroundings offer an advantage not found on the west side of the mitten, according to Conklin. As the city grows — if it grows — it has room to expand, both within the not-too-crowded city and outward.
Traverse City, by contrast, has almost reached the limits of how far it can expand.
“Traverse City is kind of running out of places to grow,” Conklin said. “It just keeps growing, but, because of the geography of the city, it’s becoming harder and harder and harder, so property expenses are getting more and more expensive all the time.”
While Traverse City is known for its natural beauty, with high hills offering gorgeous vistas of Grand Traverse Bay, Alpena has its own remarkable beauty, Conklin said, “a whole different kind of beautiful.”
He added: “I think Alpena has an opportunity to really build on what it is,” including the development of the underwater sanctuary and the Michigan Brown Trout Festival.
When tempted to compare itself to the larger city across the state, Alpena would be wise to give itself credit for being who and what it is, rather than trying to be something else, Conklin advised.
“I think that we could really take advantage of not being Traverse City, you know?” he said.
While he misses the gentler pace of life in Alpena, Conklin wouldn’t speak poorly of his current home, either.
“It’s a wonderful city,” he said. “I enjoy Traverse City, I just tend to be a more quiet-spirited person.”
For cities, such as Alpena, contemplating whether and how they wish to be different in the future, change for the better and staying the same are both possible, Conklin said.
“I just don’t think they are mutually exclusive,” he said.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.