In this article
Kind enough to invite us inside of their home here in Marquette to film and converse, we fear we may have taken slight advantage of Carrie and Wally’s hospitality during our time with them. As they spoke with us over their dining room table, you see, we couldn’t help but take notice of the clearly intentional items with which they chose to decorate their home; many of which resulted in curious questions from our team. Tastefully decorating their spaces, from floor-to-ceiling in practically every room we saw, there were family pictures (of course)… but also hand-crafted art, fishing tackle, old downhill skis, curious bits of metal, and other unassuming oddities that seemed to be screaming some larger story of incredible adventure for the family. It was clear to us that within each object existed an intimate, shared significance for not just Carrie and Wally, but for their children and perhaps their closest friends as well. We don’t mean to suggest that their home is in any way cluttered – that would be far from the truth, to be clear – but rather… somehow, fueled. In the few short hours we spent with Carrie and Wally in & around their home, we simply left feeling as though our time with them was something of an adventure within itself;
So… tread lightly.
Some Place Special: From the Beginning
“I grew up in Hillsdale, Michigan”, Carrie began, “it’s a small farming community. I grew up on horses and canoeing around on creeks. I left there for a small community college in Traverse City for a year, transferred to the University of Michigan – and that’s where I met Wally”. Before diving head-first into the beginnings of her relationship with her husband, however, Carrie made sure to take some time to reflect on an equally impactful relationship she had with her late father, Neil. “My parents divorced when I was 7, and he never remarried. He was just always a person that embraced new things and adventure, I guess I would say. His career was in the travel trailer industry, so I spent much of my childhood going to sales events with him… he sold suspension systems primarily.” Remembering a game she used to play with him whenever they would travel together, she said that they would often “travel down the road and guess what suspension system people would have.” After noting a particular role that his recent passing has played in her ongoing passions & work (which we’ll talk about a bit further along in this article), Carrie pressed onwards with a few more details surrounding her early educational career; “I had intended on becoming a child psychologist”, she said, “after a year in college, I decided I wanted to shift to teaching early childhood.” Transitioning her studies at that stage, as she mentioned earlier, from Traverse City to the University of Michigan – Carrie ultimately received her degree in Early Education, adding that she had supported that degree with a strong, maintained interest in psychology.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in Marquette”, Wally explained about his own upbringing, “I knew it was a special place, even as a child.” Currently exploring his recent retirement from work as an Orthopedic Surgeon, Wally continues to maintain a notable, respected presence in Marquette for his ongoing service & support throughout our local communities. Reminding us of his unique specialization in Sports Medicine, Wally joked with us on several occasions during our time together about the number of knees (among other commonly injured joints) that he’s had a hand in repairing over the years for Marquette’s most adventurous citizens. He credits the origins of his interest in the medicinal field to the lasting impact his childhood experiences had on him; “I grew up in a medical family and knew the challenges and privileges of living in a small community practicing medicine”, he explained, going on to describe just how common it was for his family’s past & current patients alike to stop them in the middle of the aisle in the grocery store, just to provide exciting updates on how their health had improved since they’d seen them last. Most professionals who already sink hours upon hours into their field on any given day, you might correctly assume would view these kinds of ‘off the clock’ run-ins as a mild annoyance – but not for Wally. Growing up witnessing all sorts of encounters like these within his hometown, Wally developed an astonishingly natural, impenetrable sense of fulfillment & pride from exactly these kinds of situations. Eloquently commenting on those earliest days of his childhood, Wally simply closed his thoughts by saying; “…for a long period of time, I saw the privileges of being a part of people’s families”.
Rolling onwards, we turned our attention away from their respective upbringings and angled the interview back towards their education, Wally surprised us by leaping straight into the topic we were after; how they first met, perhaps seizing the opportunity to explain the earliest known intersection of their historic relationship from his own perspective. Describing for us (in almost comical disbelief) a curiously coincidental rooming situation from when he first arrived on-campus at the University of Michigan, he simply admitted; “One of my great fortunes in life was rooming blindly with Carrie’s best friends from high school”. Chuckling at the absurdity of such a fatefully nonchalant housing decision, it would seem that odds were stacked in their relationship’s favor from the very beginning. From the moment their paths first crossed, it’s clear that the two have been quite tethered to one another ever since. Every decision made, from this point onwards, would be made as a pair – and their first order of business? Crafting their careers.
A Life of Adventure: From the West to the East
“I ended up in the University of Michigan realizing that I wanted some future in sports medicine”, Wally continued, catching us up to Carrie’s timeline. “There was a bit of concern about spending 15 years of education before I could get a job”, he went on, doing his best to explain the long list of academic requirements, certifications & testing required to even be qualified to practice medicine in his desired field. “When I made the decision to apply for medical school, I had either the insight, courage, or silliness to defer it for a year”, he joked about that particular educational ‘checkpoint’, saying “I knew that there might be other places out in the world where we could start raising a family”.
“I taught at the preschool in Ann Arbor”, Carrie chimed in, explaining more about the kind of work she was doing around the time of her graduation, “after working there for a year, they had asked if I could run the center while the Director took a sabbatical. I did that and loved it… I really enjoyed [that job] and found that I loved that ‘admin’ side almost as much as the teaching – which shocked me… [it was] kind of a long process of trying to decide if I wanted to get out of teaching, and that was about the point where we decided to go to California”.
“We decided not to stay in residency in Ann Arbor, we deferred the University of Michigan Medical School, loaded up an 800 Honda, and headed west.” Wally began, clarifying their reasoning for deciding to defer his acceptance into Medical School, “My father went through his undergrad in 3 years, so at first he was concerned about this cavalier approach to life”, Wally went on, adding that “it allowed Carrie and I to explore our country, but also our relationship. Six weeks later we ended up in Northern California… we saw some beautiful areas; water, mountains… we lived in Los Angeles for a year.” Eventually making their way back to Ann Arbor so that Wally could settle into another busy chapter within his education, Carrie brought along with her a firmer decision on the kind of work she wanted to do within her career. After working a handful of various part-time jobs for a short while after their return, Carrie landed a job with a business that was helping people, a boutique investment banking firm. She explained that her career was something that she would never compromise on again, she was thrilled to have found a role that really suited her. “I got that job because of my writing skills”, she declared, “I wrote business plans for them, learned how to read a financial statement… it was really on-the-ground training”. Carrie would stay with that company up through Wally’s additional 4 years of Medical School in Ann Arbor, eventually moving on from her position as the ever-adventurous couple transitioned into the next chapter of Wally’s medical training; his residency – in Rochester, New York.
“We felt like we were ready to embrace the world”, Wally recalled about those adventurous years early on in their relationship, “we certainly knew that we had a solid relationship, we handled challenges together – we can reflect on that now being established in Marquette… we’re fortunate enough to have friends and family here [in town], but we were happy traveling around with only 10 dollars in our wallet. So, we navigated those challenging times with happiness and joy for each day”. Almost forgetting to mention that they had actually married in Ann Arbor before their move to upstate New York, Wally took a few moments to attempt to describe what it’s been like to live within the ‘husband and wife’ roles inside of their various communities over the years, ultimately saying that Marquette, in particular, has been “magical”. Getting just slightly ahead of themselves in terms of their timeline, Carrie ‘closed the book’, so to speak, on their chapter in Rochester by commenting on the work she ended up doing for the University of Rochester. “I ended up working at the university, writing again”, she said… adding a certain emphasis to the recurring medium through which she worked. “This time, I was writing grants and proposals for all the different professors and departments that needed fundraising”, she went on, saying she eventually “moved from that position to the [University of Rochester’s] Pediatric Department. We were raising money for pediatric needs. That was the job I had a hard time leaving to come to Marquette”.
Midwest Bound: Coming Home
“We tried not to come to Marquette in the beginning”, Carrie joked about their inevitable move from New York to Michigan, “… but I felt very at home here. It fed my soul in a way that other places didn’t.” “It was 1995 when we ended up here”, Wally continued, “we were fortunate that we both had really good jobs in upstate New York, so the professional opportunities [here] were really solid”. “What we find so valuable about Marquette is the sense of community and raising a family”, he went on, “one of the biggest catalysts [for the move] was trying to have a child. Being pregnant with our first child [in Rochester], was the first catalyst to really consider Marquette. We had no idea how important that ultimately was to our happiness.”
“New York was an academic position”, Wally said in response to our honest question about whether or not it was risky to switch to an entirely new practice immediately following his residency in Rochester, “it’s a bit of a ‘warning flag’ when someone’s been through multiple practices, but now, with my perspective of 20+ years – I appreciate that I jumped in ‘95.” Wanting to clarify the differences between the work he did in Rochester vs. Marquette, Wally emphasized to us that his career was almost purely academic in New York. “I would facilitate resident’s education, and I enjoy education…that would ‘fill my cup’. It’s really a gift…but that’s something I took off the table in coming to Marquette.” Being an Orthopedic Surgeon coming to Marquette in the mid 90’s, Wally commented that many of the doctors in the area were generalists, meaning they dabbled in a little bit of everything. “I was interested in Sports Medicine”, he stressed, and given the exponential growth of Marquette’s outdoors scene – Wally was able to find fulfilling work doing some…very specific kinds of surgery. “Quite quickly, I was busy enough and that provided me that opportunity to narrow down my practice to just Sports Medicine with a focus on knee surgery. I was busy enough in the last 10 years or so just doing knee replacement surgery.”
Taking a short break from walking us through their careers, Carrie took advantage of an opportunity to discuss their children; “We have three daughters, we say they’re ‘mostly lovely’”, she laughed. “We decided to take the children out of school in March of 2009, I think”, Carrie mentioned while describing the events that eventually launched her writing career into an imaginative new direction. “We loaded up the camper”, she recalled, “we drove to Arizona…I took the camper and the children to Sedona and we stayed there for the rest of the month together”. Having already decided that she wanted to be pursue something more creative within the world of writing, Carrie took advantage of her shared time away from Marquette with her kids, saying she first got started by just “writing about what we did during the day”. Largely stemming from those first few stories she wrote during that singular family trip with her kids, came the beginnings of an incredibly passionate career as an author for children’s books. “When we came back from that trip, I realized I could do it…all I needed to do was learn the craft and how to get published”. “Every book is a small business”, she added, speaking to us now from her current perspective as a properly published author, “I don’t have any employees, but I do have an understanding of how to make a profit…when we came back from that trip [to Sedona], it was another 5 years before I was able to get a book purchased…and they bought a second companion book from the first one. It was another 3 years before my third book sold, and there’s another two books coming…it continues to be a journey”, she stated, obviously proud of the results of her hard work.
Adding to her success as a Children’s Author, Carrie also finds an incredible sense of pride in volunteering her time to The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. “Its sole purpose is to help people become children’s book writers or illustrators or translators. I’m in charge of the Michigan Chapter, we provide materials and ways that they can learn about the craft…in my role, we have a team of 12 lead volunteers, so I’m responsible for them staying on track.” Noting that her involvement within the non-profit is purely a volunteer role, she also talked about her separate consulting business, saying “it’s hard to get an agent, it has to be the right material at the right time…so I help people prepare their work and their platform for an agent.” Truly an admirable resource & investor within the larger Children’s Book community, she did also provide some insight (for those who may be curious) into what her own experience was like having her first book published; “There is no ‘red carpet’ that comes with your first book”, she kindly admitted, “but I guess I’ll say that there are ‘internal’ red carpet moments.” Lucky enough to have been allowed to see the inner workings of her home studio, we here at Make it Marquette can – at the very least – confirm that those ‘internal red carpet moments’ Carrie mentioned, might have something to do with the dozens, if not hundreds of hand-written notes we saw from Carrie’s young readers – thanking her for her stories.
Those uniquely intentional items & decor that we’d mentioned seeing throughout the Pearson’s home? For Carrie – spread along the walls of her home studio – whether they were taped, tacked, pinned, leaned, or framed…were many of those very same notes; colored drawings & largely-lettered signatures in all.
It’s like we said…‘fueled’.
“Tapping” into Marquette
“One of our experiences [in Marquette] that we get to appreciate regularly, is the development of the Blackrocks Brewery”, Wally began, saying that the original founders of the now-iconic local brewery had, at one point in their own journey, reached out to the Pearsons with a potential solution to an otherwise looming problem; “Andy had lost his employment in the area and was potentially leaving”, Wally explained, “Andy and Dave approached us and pitched a project that was only said would be a way to keep Andy in Marquette. So we said, ‘we’re all-in, no matter what it is’.” Soon thereafter, they learned that the budding brewmaster’s idea was to found one of Marquette’s first microbreweries – which, more or less, would come to help spawn a literal craze for the local brewery scene that continues to be seen throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula today. With barely a brew nor a building, the Pearsons delivered on their commitment to help support Marquette’s most crucial resource; its people. “Not only had it been successful in keeping Andy (and his family) in the area, but also 25 other employees”, Wally proudly stated, taking care to mention just how impactful every single one of those souls has been – and continues to be – within the larger Marquette community by way of just “riding the trails and buying ski passes…”, among other things. Eternally honored to have been involved in the multi-layered success of the brewery, Wally only had this left to say; “we’re better together in this community.”
Wanting to inject her own unique insight into the conversation of Marquette’s explosive growth over the years, Carrie chose to comment on how surreal the development of Marquette’s ‘immersive’ outdoors experiences have been. Remembering times when she would take her young children to places like Little Presque and “hardly see anybody there”, she said – “to be here in the beginning when lots of trail systems were being formed… and being a part of watching this community come alive… it’s fun to be a part of that growth.” Clearly thankful for where they ultimately chose to raise their children, Carrie cherishes “the value of openness” here in Marquette, saying – “having lived in spaces where there wasn’t that [openness]… coming here, it felt like you could breathe.”
More of What Matters
Within his recent retirement, Wally’s been reflecting on his past roles within education in medicine; something he hopes to return to in the coming years. “I kind of fully ‘fill my cup’ on my academic role in medicine. I enjoyed teaching, specifically residents. Teaching another human being about healthcare is powerful and impactful”, he said – mentioning that there may be a coming opportunity for him to revisit this passion from within certain programs being considered/developed within Northern Michigan University. Quietly crossing his fingers on that endeavor, for now, Wally has also taken up a notable involvement within the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN); “I feel a bit silly speaking about this because I’ve only been a board member for half a year”, he joked, “but it’s tremendous positive energy… and also a great example of how this community is together.” To our relief, Wally did in fact take a few moments to fully explain to us where a select number of the more intriguing pieces of their household decor originated from, by saying “I do have a little hobby shop in the basement. I enjoy working with my hands and creating structure – whether that’s knee replacement or working with wood”. Knowing fully well how that direct quote may read, please allow us a humorous moment to assure you that Wally is not performing any knee replacements… of any kind… in his hobby shop… in his basement (that we know of). Wondering if we’ll ever earn The Pearson’s forgiveness for that last bit there, we press onwards with the rest of Wally’s quote; “… I like taking elements – copper or wood or broken bottles – and creating something. It’s not necessarily woodworking, it’s creating objects out of raw materials.”
Finding something uniquely wholesome in how she is “the beneficiary, most of the time” in regards to Wally’s creative talents – Carrie has been similarly exploring a new kind of artistry within their home; painting. “I’m a very beginning watercolor painter”, she explained, “I started when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.” Following her earlier comments about her father’s unfortunate passing just over a year ago, she explained that this newfound exploration of 2-dimensional art, in particular, has become something of an escape for her in the months that followed her father’s deeply saddening diagnosis. Reflecting on the difficulties she and her family have faced from that moment and onwards, she described the hardship only as “a blow”, just before granting us some powerful insight into why she began experimenting with watercolors between her writing hours; “I felt like I wanted to try some creative outlet where I had a bit more creative control over the process”, she explained, saying – “it’s become art therapy in a way I never would have expected. I can be lost for hours…I’m really enjoying it.”
There & Back, Again (In Conclusion)
“My dad would say, ‘the most seductive mistress is work’”, Wally recalled while reflecting on his transition into retirement. “I retired a little before I wanted to, but I felt fortunate to be walking away from a practice that I felt was in very good hands. I also have this magical opportunity now to continue on with my mental and physical energy and continue to give back to the area. I hope to do that with Northern Michigan University within education, by nurturing Noquemanon Trail Network and to be a representative of an organization that’s achieved so much for the community.” “Our oldest is considering moving back to Marquette in the healthcare profession”, Carrie said while we wrapped up our interview. “We couldn’t be happier about that. We felt like we did something right in exposing them to this environment.” Quickly mentioning that their eldest daughter, Taylor, is – in fact – currently engaged (according to Wally, the proposal had actually taken place in Marquette, on a trail within the Noquemanon Trail Network – further adding to Wally’s growing attachments to the organization). “They will love it as married people”, she said, eloquently finishing with; “they’ll be assets to the community too.”
“I miss my practice very much”, Wally admitted…just before delivering the only line through the entire interview that we thought it appropriate to end this article with…