As my brother, sister, and I work on a project for our Mom’s 60th birthday (see link above for more information on what we are doing), I can’t help but think about role models. It is clear from the letters we’ve received so far that my Mom left a lasting impression on at least a few of her students. Those letters, preparing for student teaching in the fall, all combined with working with my parents and brother on a daily basis at the canoe livery make it clear that I am once and for all right where I need to be.
I do not remember a time when I did want to be like my Grandpa B. and my Dad when I grew up. I loved my Mom dearly, but I never wanted to be “just” a teacher (how awful this sounds now). In the case of my little sister, that is all she ever wanted to be. In fact, I admired her for her determination and having the sense of self to know what she wanted to do with her life from the time she was born. I just knew that I needed to create. I’m not sure when I made the connection between business and creativity, but I did. I watched as my parents grew their business throughout my childhood. I watched as Grandpa B. grew his during the same time period. The funny thing is that as much as I admired both Grandpa and my Dad, they had vastly different visions for their businesses.
Neither my Dad or Grandpa started their respective businesses. My parents purchased Russell Canoe Livery from my Grandma Reid, my Dad’s mom. In the case of my Grandpa, he took over his grandfather’s business with his younger brother. After my Dad lost his father to cancer, he and Grandma Reid kept the business running. When my parents married in 1977, they purchased the canoe livery too. I saw the early sacrifices they made to grow their business, and even though no one expressly said so, I always believed that my Dad was more concerned with creating a business around our family’s lifestyle than business itself. During the summer business came first, but there always seemed to be time to make memories of our own as a family.
Grandpa, on the other hand, truly loved the convenience store business. During summer time trips to the UP (the Upper Peninsula for those not from Michigan), we would stop at his convenience stores to see how things were going. He constantly sought to expand his business and enter into new business ventures. My Dad sought to innovate at the canoe livery as well, and did so successfully; however, he never had an interest to expand into new business opportunities. As I later managed one of Grandpa’s convenience stores for a short time, I learned so much from both men.
Only fairly recently did I fully appreciate my Mom’s role in the success of the canoe livery. As I have taken on more of her responsibilities, I have a new respect for all of those summers she worked while other teachers took much needed time off. She continues to be the glue that makes everything work. Late in her teaching career the superintendent at the time asked her why she never pursued her Master’s degree (she ended up with the equivalent). She simply stated that she was too busy spending her summers building a business. I include that here because it illustrates just how under appreciated my Mom’s contributions to the family business can be at times. There is no doubt that my Mom had a successful 32 year teaching career. I argue that her nearly 40 year career as a co-owner of a family business is just as successful. She worries about how our Crystal Creek Campground will run without her. As a future owner, I worry as well. Our Crystal Creek customers love her, and I can’t imagine Crystal Creek without her.
The funny thing is that I am largely following in her footsteps. Not Dad’s. Not Grandpa B.’s. Those men taught me so much about business and impacted my career in thousands of ways, but it is my Mom’s example I will follow. I plan to teach and spend my summer’s continuing to build Russell Canoe Livery with my brother. If I am half as successful as my Mom as both teacher and small business owner, I will do well.