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When we think of our communities, we’re also looking towards the very people that make them what they are. When incredible people come together… amazing things can happen, especially here in Marquette. Our People of Marquette are tethered – in more ways than we can count – to not only each other, but also to you. Because you see, they’re not just people… they are Marquette. They represent so much more than just themselves; they represent the change they want to see in the place they choose to call home. The things that make them different are what brings such immense strength to our region, but those qualities are also what makes them so unmistakingly similar. Their ideas, passions, empathy and love for their neighbors and their communities are forever changing the landscape of what’s possible for our future here in Marquette, and so we’re thrilled to introduce you to the next – in a growing line – of our incredible People of Marquette; Jacquie Medina & Vanessa Wight. Partners in life, as well as in their desire to bring warmth, sustainable living & a simple, yet potent love of the earth to their neighbors & friends, Jacquie & Vanessa have learned much – and traveled far – in order to share with you their vision for what’s possible in Marquette.
The Adventure Begins
Originally hailing from a small farm town in southwest Chicago, Jacquie displayed a passion for the outdoors very early on. “I was the first to go to school [in my family], I looked for an outdoors program, and that’s how I ended up at [Northern Michigan University]”, Jacquie said about her introduction to the Marquette area. “I headed west for a couple of years [after graduating], studied coach psychology, and coached volleyball for a while”. As is the case with many students who find themselves in Marquette, the town wasn’t quite finished with Jacquie just yet. It pulled her back from her western travels for an adjunct adventure program at Northern Michigan University in the ’90s. “My old professor called me and asked if I was interested in the job, so I came up and did 4 years [of teaching]”, Jacquie said. Loving her early teaching experiences, and wanting to be able to do the job full-time, Jacquie traveled back out west to Colorado to pursue her master’s degree, which is a common requirement for teaching in universities in the United States. “I stayed 15 years out west, taught at a couple of universities for about 5 years…and that’s when I met Ness”. Originally from Northern California, Vanessa herself grew up similarly surrounded by opportunities to get outdoors and into the earth, quickly falling in love with those enriching experiences. Following high school, she pursued a degree in outdoor resources management, all the while supporting herself as an organic farmer for 6 years in Chico, California. “During that time I met Jacquie…we had a great friendship and explored a lot of northern California together”, Vanessa had to say about the beginnings of their relationship.
Skiing and white water canoeing were just a few of the activities Jacquie and Vanessa enjoyed together while living out west, but their adventurous lifestyle changed in an incredible way when the couple decided that they wanted to experience even more. “As a family, we decided to quit our jobs and give away half of everything we owned. We put the rest in storage and traveled for a year” Jacquie proudly stated. Canyon, their son, “was young enough to put in the car and just go”, Vanessa made sure to say about their then 5-year-old & perfect travel companion. Wanting to be a park ranger at the time, and just finishing her 2nd season of work in that field, Vanessa had been yearning for more time together as a family. The prospect of traveling came serendipitously for her. “Being a seasonal park employee wasn’t conducive to having a family, I wanted to be with them”, she said. “That year was really incredible”, Jacquie then emphasized, “we traveled and took turns picking where we were going to go”.
Along the way, they jointly began developing interests in sustainable living, and so the family took up every opportunity they could to educate themselves on sustainable, healthy living during their travels. “There was a lot of overlap about what we wanted to do; living off the earth, living sustainably & being the most sustainable we can… we strive for that even today”, Vanessa made sure to say. “We were living out of our car, tenting and living in intentional communities”, Jacquie continued, “we ended up in Joseph, Oregon in the mountains and with an incredible small ranching community”. Commenting about the family’s time in Oregon, Vanessa took a moment to reflect, before adding that their move to Joseph “was very valuable to me…[it] taught me a lot about cooking, that journey was pretty sacred”.
Making it Marquette
Back when Jacquie was still attending NMU as an undergrad before she traveled out west for the first time, one of her professors asked her what she wanted to do for a living. “I want your job”, Jacquie recalled humorously responding with “She said to get some experience, get your doctorate and call me in 20 years”. Coincidentally, this is the same professor who called and asked Jacquie about her initial adjunct position at NMU, clearly believing that she had the potential within the department. Little did Jacquie know her small bit of undergraduate humor would eventually come full circle for her family. “When we were traveling across the country, we were always looking for the place we wanted to live next”, Vanessa recalled about their year spent traveling. Not yet ever seeing Marquette herself, Vanessa remembered Jacquie frequently saying during their trip that “Marquette is the one place east of the Rockies where I would want to live as a family.” As fate would have it, the couple soon learned of a certain job opening at Northern Michigan University.
“I think we’re ready for something new”, Vanessa recalled saying to Jacquie after she was contacted about the job, “we’re ready for some stability”. Living in the mountains at the time, the family playfully recalled a whole separate adventure just trying to get to Marquette after Jacquie accepted the appointment for her interview – “it was a blizzard, we took this epic journey to get to the airport, we slept in our cars”, Vanessa joked before giving some serious thought to what she was going to say next, “… when we got [to Marquette], we felt so at home. It made me excited about the potential of Jacquie being offered the job. I remember walking out here in Presque Isle in a pair of old wooden snowshoes – I was out by myself during Jacquie’s interview – I’m standing out in one of the bluffs, there’s these huge ice formations… I felt like I was in a whole other place… it was beautiful.”
Fate is a curious thing when it comes to Marquette, time and time again amazing people come to do incredible things for our communities here in town… and somehow it’s almost as if they were chosen for it. Marquette knows what it needs to continue to thrive, so when Jacquie was officially offered her position at Northern in 2013, it was almost as if the town knew exactly how impactful the family would be to the area. “Marquette was always this exception”, Jacquie had to say, “when we were thinking about where we wanted to live, we had passion for the west because of the open spaces and mountainscapes…but [Marquette] always had this feel of an outdoor lifestyle”. They laughed while Jacquie finished saying that their family initially “came up with a 3-year plan, then it became a 5-year plan… and now we’re on our 9-year plan”.
Being the Change
The culmination of their experiences are what prepare Jacquie and Vanessa for every single day here in Marquette. They approach the problems they see around town with a genuine resolve to simply make things better for everyone. Soon after moving, Vanessa quickly became an influential & potent figure in the organic farming scene in Upper Michigan. She now helps manage Seeds & Spores Family Farm, a local organic farm where she’s been dedicating an astounding amount of time over the last 6 years. “Farming in Marquette has been a humbling experience. It’s a test of patience and endurance and you really gotta love it to do it here and I do. It’s my passion. I’m proud to be a farmer and I love the people I work with”, Vanessa said, “the community is what makes this place feel like home. At our wedding party, someone said “we are farmerly” – and that’s so true. That community to me is what makes this place touch my heart.”
Jacquie is far from idle in her local pursuits as well. In addition to her shared sustainable efforts at home with Vanessa & their son, she’s pouring her passion for teaching into her many responsibilities at NMU. As a professor, she leads several classes per academic year but is also an integral coordinator for the Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management Program at NMU. “I get to work with students to develop facilitation skills and work with people learning how to be guides, park rangers… I work with students and help them with their professional development. I get them help with internships. I have, and continue to teach, other classes that integrate arts into outdoors – including innovations. The thing I do the most is integrate experiential learning. I help them find their passion and have them pursue it”. Jacquie finds particular fulfillment in her Interpretation class that she teaches, saying “[the class] focuses on helping [students] develop skills, helping connect people emotionally to resources and experiences. Our students are helping [Marquette] visitors and residents experience things”.
Whenever possible, Jacquie integrates as many of her students as she can into the local happenings around Marquette. One such example of her efforts is the annual Fresh Coast Film Festival, a “documentary film festival celebrating the outdoor lifestyle, water-rich environment and resilient spirit of the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest” (freshcoastfilm.com). As a treasured collaborator for the event, Jacquie’s students lead several outdoor tours every morning throughout the week of the festival. In fact, this year all of the outdoor trips were included with any purchased festival pass, further incentivizing attendees to connect with the beauty & natural environment that’s found throughout the Marquette region. “It’s a lot of work, but the benefits and the joy you see in putting something together and working together with an audience…seeing them interact and take them out and share the natural environment with them, it’s so exciting. It’s real experience that [the students] are getting, but more importantly, it’s something in their education that they’ll remember.”
Plainly, when people come together, incredible things do happen. It’s fair to say that Jacquie & Vanessa are exactly the kind of community leaders Marquette thrives on, and we’re unbelievably pleased to have them so close at hand. Being such lively & well-traveled Yoopers, they’re incredibly sensitive to how the needs of the community change with the seasons – “one thing I love about the community of Marquette”, Vanessa commented, “In the winter you’ll go out into the woods and get stuck. Inevitably, a snowmobiler will ride by – I can’t tell you the number of times someone’s stopped to help me”, the Californian continued, just before displaying one of the purest of Yooper qualities; “I always carry sand in my car, I try to do the same thing”. “People look you in the eye, say hi and want to talk in the street”, Jacquie added in, “people are friendly, and because of that you feel connected right away, I feel really fortunate that we’ve developed really strong friendships… You can have conversations – there’s that quick momentum – you don’t have to work through that get to know you phase, it’s more like, “come on in!”.
You can experience that effortless friendliness yourself by getting involved within your community, just the same as Jacquie & Vanessa have. If you’d like to get to know more of the family’s continued work in the area, get started by taking part in one of Seeds & Spores Family Farm’s tours, or by marking your calendars for this coming summer’s pizza nights at the farm. Seeds & Spores stocks & helps to support local stores, restaurants & businesses with their fresh produce, so chances are you’ve already been indirectly supporting their organic efforts, but to make a more dedicated impact, we encourage you to stop by their table at the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market, or by ordering you next bag of fresh vegetables & meats through their online store. If you’re itching for something a little more scenic, consider attending one of the upcoming Fresh Coast Film Festival’s morning tours to help support Jacquie’s communal impact, but don’t forget to hike back to the festival in the afternoons to see some of this year’s most anticipated great lakes & midwest-inspired films.
Jacquie & Vanessa Make it Marquette. Will you?