Finding family, faith in the future at Interlochen

Michael and Joan Jackson are tireless Interlochen cheerleaders. They have a deep appreciation for its educational standards, its family-like atmosphere, and the global impact of Interlochen’s mission.

Both have deep ties to the institution. Joan worked at Interlochen in the late 1960s; she was a single mom, and she and her daughter—a camper—spent a lot of time together on campus during the summer.

“I would say that the majority of our days were spent at Interlochen for a number of years,” she said. “That made it such an important part of our lives … besides the fact that I was really taken under everyone’s wing there. I just found such a family for both my daughter and me at Interlochen.”

She and Mike—who originally knew each other as college students at the University of Michigan—reconnected at Interlochen, and found a shared love for the institution.

Mike had moved around the world for his work, eventually ending up in Northern Michigan, but his first connection with Interlochen occurred at a very early age.

“I became knowledgeable about Interlochen as a very young person, because of my uncle,” he said. “His name was John Minnema, and he was one of the earliest employees that Joseph Maddy hired in the late 1920s to work for him at Interlochen. He was a music teacher out of Elmhurst, Illinois, and came to Interlochen to work for Joe Maddy as a music teacher, but also was the first development director … he was the fundraiser for Interlochen in its initial days.”

Mike’s parents, then based in Grand Rapids, would visit Mr. Minnema, and eventually rented a cottage on Long Lake.

When Mike returned to the area later in life, he served on Interlochen’s board of trustees, and is now the chairman of the board of trustee advisers; Joan was a summer employee for two years, has volunteered, was on the alumni board for a number of years, and now supports Interlochen’s mission through philanthropy.

Joan says her early experience at Interlochen is also a big part of the reason she continues to support it.

“I probably have a more emotional experience (with Interlochen),” she said. “My husband and I both have different ways we came here—I think for Mike, his wanting to donate and spend time … has to do with carrying on a family tradition. Whereas mine … since I was single so soon after moving up here, the family feeling at Interlochen, the way that they welcomed my daughter and I in … emotionally I have the feeling that I want to help and donate because of how it affected my daughter’s life. It changed your life, being at Interlochen.”

Joan spoke of the changes she saw in her daughter, Robin, during her time at Interlochen.

“I think something really important was the diversity of the young people that were going to Interlochen,” she said. “(Robin) would not have had the experience of meeting young people from other countries, from other backgrounds, from other states; living in cabins with them and interacting with them in the orchestra. … I think that that made her more aware and made her more accepting. So that as she got older and moved more into the real world, she had a very open mind.”

Mike sees much the same virtue in one of his daily pleasures: Listening to Interlochen Public Radio. He is a major supporter of IPR, appearing regularly in fund drives for the stations, recording testimonials and more. Both he and Joan feel strongly that IPR’s news and classical stations are important to the community in terms of its local programming, as well as the broader perspective offered by some of the national programs featured on air.

“I think if you’ve lived in other places around the country and around the world as I have, it’s often difficult to find good classical music on the radio,” he said. “I truly enjoy IPR, and I have it on all the time at home—I’ve been retired for 15 years now and it’s pretty much all day at our house.”

While the Jackson household definitely appreciates classical music, the news and programs on IPR’s news station are also something he enjoys.

“You get a very global look, if you will, at what’s happening in the world,” Mike Jackson said. “I find that extremely valuable.”

Combined, it’s a one-two punch of mission-driven content that bridges the globe and brings people together, and that’s a big reason why the Jacksons support it. Michael Jackson added:

“I think it broadens a person that makes them think  about the world. Classical music can be either relaxing or stimulating, and the hosts help you learn a lot about the history of music, composers and musicians and so forth. And you get a broader viewpoint of the news through news that you don’t get (from other news outlets) that’s challenging to people, that really makes them think … You may have a bias on an issue and all of a sudden something comes along on NPR that makes you think, ‘Oh gosh, maybe I didn’t think about that viewpoint.’ It also brings stories about things you may never have heard about from around the world. Or even little things that just jog your mind and make you say ‘wow, I didn’t know about that.’ I think that’s good for people.”

That message of global perspective is something that Mike Jackson has himself seen in action.

“I see and read and hear about people that are doctors, nurses, teachers … business executives, who went to Interlochen and their lives are just broader,” he said. “They continue that attention for the arts by helping in their communities wherever they may be. And it’s a global audience of people that care about that. I remember visiting the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, and going outside on the lawn and seeing a young man there with an Interlochen sweatshirt, going up and trying to speak to him—and of course he only spoke Russian, but here was this connection! We knew what we were talking about. It’s a worldly group—people know about Interlochen throughout the world. And that knowledge just makes this place a better place to be.”