Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 2, 2012

Terry Wooten: Small town help

My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.

-- Robert Burns

Your hometown stays with you like the marrow in your bones. I hail from the highlands of northern lower Michigan. It's a rolling land of plains, artesian wells and trees populated with more wild animals than people. That's where the poet in me grew up.

I attended Marion Public Schools when the little town was thriving. World War II had ended 22 years before I graduated. The kids in my class hadn't been alive that long and didn't remember. The veterans weren't talking about it.

Main Street was lined with a menagerie of stores all doing a decent business. Forty years later, other than the bank, two bars and Fleming's Clothing, most businesses have closed or shifted south of town on M-66.

The privately owned newspaper is now struggling along in the back room of an insurance office. The family owned pharmacy is gone. Recently, a big-box pharmacy store bought the Marion and McBain drugstores and closed them.

Ellsworth, the site of my latest Elders Project, is a lot like my hometown and many others. Huge corporations are swallowing small-town, rural America. The odds are against the real people, but they cover each other's backs the best they can.

The dream of Katie Sowers and her husband was to move to Ellsworth. In 1974 they bought the restaurant, and made it a family business. They bought their meat from local farmers, and other groceries came from the local store. Their best customer was one of the finest human beings I ever met. Sometimes it really does take a community.

Katie Sowers


Ellsworth is a close-knit community.

Folks gossip like any small town,

but people here hold together.

If there's a problem

people come together.

I love this community!

I'm proud to be a part of it!

Katie Sowers

Post Office Box 1

Bill was one of our best customers.

He was a very intelligent man

with a lot to offer the community.

Bill could tell you so much.

He loved Ellsworth

and knew all about it.

Bill wanted to be there for you.

He was a great man,

but he had this problem.

We had opposite experiences

with his manic depression.

Sometimes he'd walk around town

giving his money away.

We sold

candy and cigarettes at the front counter.

One day Bill came in

and stole it right in front of us.

He cleaned us out,

and took it all home.

Then of course he took his medicine

and realized what he'd done.

He brought the merchandise all back

and sincerely apologized.

Bill borrowed our phone

because he'd ripped his out of the wall

at home.

He called the telephone company

to complain

that his phone wasn't working.

The phone company wouldn't do anything,

so he ripped ours out.

You knew he wasn't right.

Extremely sensitive people

can have extreme mood swings.

We never reported him.

I loved that man!

Katie Sowers

The IRS Auction

We sold the restaurant five times

and kept getting it back.

Nobody realized how much work was involved.

The fifth time we sold it to a gal

who did a lot of illegal things.

She took taxes from her employees,

but never paid her taxes.

The IRS stepped in

and closed the doors.

They scheduled an auction

to sell the building.

But we owned the contract

and weren't guilty.

The IRS held the auction anyway

to sell off

anything that was loose.

Two local businessmen knew

the circumstances.

They got everybody to stop bidding.

They bought everything

and sold it back to us

so we could reopen.

The local people came to our defense.

To have the community stand behind us

was one of the neatest things

to ever happen in my life.

The government lady in charge of the auction

stormed up and shook her finger at me.

"You planned this!"

"I did not."

We had nothing to do with it.

The restaurant was closed almost a year

which was bad for business.

People had to have a place to go.

That's why the Front Porch Café is now

owned by the community.

Poet bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 28 years. He is the creator of Stone Circle. Learn more about him at

Text Only
Recent History Articles

Historical Photo of the Week

News From 100 Years Ago