The Definition of a Yooper

Yoopers are brilliant & resilient. We’re focused, ambitious, connected, hardy and harmonious. We celebrate our leisure, endlessly refine our unrivaled work-ethic, and above all else, resist any attempt to be assigned a simpler definition. Yoopers are so wonderfully unique that our individual qualities from one to the next will nearly induce whiplash, but all the while, we’re alarmingly proud of our similarities:

Yoopers are ready for a winter storm almost every day of the year.

Yoopers fearlessly embrace their connection to nature.

We pour our art & creativity into our communities. We shop local. We lead expeditions. We create new jobs in our fresh and innovative businesses, we swim, surf and skate the frozen shores of Lake Superior for fun. We’re brilliantly curious and complex; but in all the right ways. Simply, Yoopers are ready for what’s coming next. Even now, we’re refining those new, provocative ideas with more calculated precision than we’ve ever done before. We’re up and moving, but more importantly, we’re hopeful.

With all that being said, we also believe that Yoopers like being a little unknown & mysterious, it’s no secret that we’re routinely left off of national maps, which we won’t go to the trouble of referencing here (there are many such occurrences). While it’s good fun to stir up a bit of a ruckus to defend our spot on those maps, our efforts to establish our strong and unique national foothold will not be left uncharted. We must acknowledge, however, that emerging right alongside that growing presence is an increasingly long list of questions. From an onlooker’s perspective, we certainly raise a few curious eyebrows, and while we revel in the surrounding mystery, at the end of the day, it’s our inclusivity that we celebrate most.

So…what exactly is the meaning of a ‘Yooper’? What is our connection with nature? What is a native Yooper’s culture, and, most importantly, what’s with da yooper accent, eh? All of those burning questions, and more, we aim to have answered for you here. Do proceed with caution, though, we’ve been known to induce some mildly addictive changes in lifestyle.

What is a Yooper?

The first thing you should know about Yoopers, is that we’re always in motion. There’s a noticeable rhythm and a subtle, ambitious predictability that we all share, but like we mentioned earlier, we’re also immeasurably different. And so, you may be shocked to learn that it’s our belief that defining Yoopers (with any amount of real accuracy) is largely a futile effort. Our similarities may be strong, but it’s within our individuality where you’ll find us truly noteworthy. Simply, we believe that Yoopers are best represented, best identified, by our actions & by our initiative. So, with that in mind, we’re going to wield a rather unconventional approach and get things started by introducing you to one of our own; Steve Parks.

Steve’s a local, textbook Yooper who famously weathered a 12-year long, self-motivated commitment of his own making, in order to officially secure the term ‘Yooper’ (for the first time ever) as a new word beginning in the 2014 publication of the Merriam Webster Dictionary. Working today as a practicing lawyer in the Escanaba 94th District Court, Parks’ motivations throughout this long-winded endeavor could be arguably simplified down to his own reputation as a Yooper. After being unable to successfully play the word in a frustrating Scrabble game with a friend back in 2002, he took it upon himself to correct, what was to him, an obvious publishing error on behalf of the entirety of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His efforts not only granted a decisive victory for Yoopers everywhere, but also garnered some national attention. The feat was not only digitally trending on Facebook, but had also caught the attention of New York City’s Ben Zimmer, who wrote on Parks’ efforts in an article for The Wall Street Journal.

While it’s good fun to draw attention to the Yoopers that catch some hints of fame, it’s important to note that Parks’ situation, interestingly, is not all that unique. Not every Michigander is attempting to make revisions to published dictionaries, of course, but you could find equivalent efforts brewing beneath each and every one of us. While we do excitedly boast the sizable Parks-esque accomplishments as they come, it’s important to us as Yoopers to not just be a budding list of national headlines. Our core mission, whether our day-to-day efforts continue to strengthen our national presence or not, is to ensure that considerable substance can always be found at our foundations. These are the standards that will always push the narrative of our real story, and why today’s efforts to define ourselves within this text has taken on an immersive quality. Although Steve Parks was ultimately successful in his endeavor, we feel that the short, single-sentence ‘Yooper definition’ that’s been assigned to us doesn’t quite grasp the essence of what it means to be a true Yooper. So although you may be looking for a simpler definition here, we hope that you’ll appreciate our efforts to steep your understanding of Yoopers with some deserving potency.

What is Yooper culture?

Most of us would argue that our truest definitions, our yooper-ness, so to speak, will always lie in how we choose to wield our individual qualities through our communities and in our culture. But what exactly is the Yooper culture? It’s certainly distinctive (even when compared to some pockets of Lower Michigan), but it didn’t just happen.

Like many other areas of the world, our culture has strong ties to our unique climate & natural environment. Most of our day-to-day activities, local businesses, and recreational habits have developed from how we’ve chosen to harness the wonderfully dynamic elements of Northern Michigan, and it is our collaborative efforts to continuously celebrate & incorporate these aspects of our region into our ongoing momentum that makes us proudest to call this our home. At the very center of that effort, exists our own local community right here in Marquette. Although we weren’t a founding city in Upper Michigan, our rampant foundations (tethered to the discovery of iron ore in the area) quickly made Marquette a desirable spot for economic opportunity and, in turn, it became one of the most crucial cultural hotspots in Michigan statewide.

Over time, that cultural potency has cultivated a tethered community of U.P. leaders, humanitarians & idealists. Pulsating throughout the greater peninsula, you’ll find numerous examples of these impeccable traits hard at work: we’re famously apologetic in the face of minor inconvenience, we’re quick to encourage & embolden our front-line workers through initiatives like ‘Yooper Strong’ amidst the looming pandemic, our unique, agriculturally diverse state is brought to even greater heights by numerous farmer’s markets & annual festivals, like our: Blueberry Fest, Fish Fest and (for those with a sweet tooth) our Mackinac Island Fudge Fest!

These potent cultural standards, mixed with that nature-infused Yooper lifestyle have not only become some of the most attractive aspects to visitors of our region, but they’ve also left an identifiable, fundamental conviction in our born and raised Yoopers (as well as our growing number of UP transplants). Our efforts to pour our hearts, souls and entire livelihoods straight back into our area is amplified only by our resounding capacity for empathy, and our collective eagerness to carve a joined path forwards for the coming generations of families throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will always be paramount to that achievement. You see, we envision a bright future for Marquette and beyond that will boast, yet sacrifice none of the outstanding ideals & qualities that Yoopers have always brought to the forefront of their endeavors, and readily invite you to share in that infusive, forever evolving culture.

Why are Yoopers so welcoming?

While we’re quick to chase away corrupt and disastrous morals, we’re even faster to invite the freshest of acquaintances to our neck of the woods. The reason why, is because we’re eager to show the world who we are and what we can do. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to receive that invitation, you’ll know full well the benefits of being included in our continuously expanding family, even if only for a brief visit. It is our collective aim to humbly welcome our neighbors and to endlessly celebrate the differences that aid to strengthen us. Yoopers may reside in a naturally isolating cut of land, but that will never deter our efforts to grow & support our collected, brimming potential. We’ve tapped into something quite delicate & extraordinary here, and are eager to share that with as many of our new friends as possible, so while there is much to be proud of as a Yooper, we’re proudest of our inclusivity for that precise reason.

What’s with that Yooper dialect?

If your rampant curiosity ever brings you within throwing distance of our region, one of the first things you’ll notice about the Midwesterners here is our accent. It’s been written about, televised and extensively studied. For that reason alone, it’s often most people’s first introduction to our culture. While we may not recognize its absurdity, it’d be cruel to dismiss just how much attention it gets. Thankfully, our regional dialect has a history! If it didn’t, it could very well be chalked up to be some hilarious byproduct of our isolated lifestyles.

While Upper Michigan has quite a bit of French & Native American history within the early trading days in Northern America, it’s also been home to a large number of Finnish immigrants, and has had some Swedish, Slovak, Cornish, Hungarian and Italian cultural influences also. This helps to explain why the Yooper accent is often confused for some Canadian dialects, but it’s important to make note of just how potent ours can be. Where other parts of the United States can be easily passed through or visited, Upper Michigan’s unique geographic location (nestled between a number of The Great Lakes, and only attached to the Lower Peninsula mitten by a single bridge) often leaves it ignored as an option for general relocation. Many Michiganders live out their entire lives here, and while the accent has indeed changed over the years, it’s never lost its potency. Even if you’re just briefly in the area as one of our students, you’re sure to quietly pick it up.

In Closing

Yoopers are amusingly self-made also. We pride ourselves on our ingenuity & abilities to co-create, but one of our greatest examples of self-making, in fact, lies within the word ‘Yooper’ itself. Long before it was immortalized in the Merriam Webster Dictionary by Parks, the residents of Northern Michigan took it upon themselves to vote via one of our local newspapers, all the way back in 1979, to playfully solidify the word ‘Yooper’ as the deserving nickname for those living north of the Mackinac Bridge. Rather than wait for a nickname to formulate over time, as they often do, we ourselves took advantage of the earliest opportunity to engage with the local community in what would evolve to be a historic way. Our continued efforts to embody that drive, focus & attention back into our local areas is reminiscent of our established history, however absolutely essential to our journeying forwards.

A Yooper’s innate call to adventure will often carry them far, both in and out of our great state. And when they return home from their expeditions, even remotely, we’ll excitedly see, involve and incorporate those fresh perspectives straight back into our regional fold. Here in Marquette, we count ourselves lucky to be able to work right alongside those actionable, hard-working Yoopers in what is indeed the epicenter of Upper Michigan development & innovation, every single day.

Upper Michigan is brilliant, and so too are you. Make It Marquette.