Traverse City Record-Eagle

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August 15, 2009

Leland offers Sebelius respite from D.C.

LELAND -- The two-story cottage sits amid trees at the end of a winding gravel road, some distance from the M-22 highway.

It was a quiet morning, and warm, the early daylight coloring the western shore of Lake Leelanau a soft shade of silver. The house smelled cozy, like bacon.

Kathleen Sebelius was on her cell phone. She clutched it a few minutes later when she stepped onto a deck overlooking the lake, dressed simply in a collared tank top and sandals.

"This is a family house," she said in an interview last week. "It feels like coming home."

Summer vacation for Sebelius has always included a stay at the family home in Leland, a tiny Leelanau County village nestled between two sizable lakes. Her grandfather built it decades ago, making her children the fourth generation to frequent the region.

She grew up in Cincinnati, the daughter of John J. Gilligan, a former Ohio governor. The family home in Leland serves as a treasured gathering place for family and friends.

But this year, her annual trip is her first as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, having been sworn in as a member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet in April. And although she has vacationed here before while serving in politics -- most recently as the twice-elected governor of Kansas -- never has her position been as high ranking or high profile.

"She'd be the first to admit that her job is 24/7," said Bob Schlueter, deputy director of the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Michigan and a longtime family friend. "She hasn't been secretary very long, but she's been coming to Leland her whole life."

As the vitriol escalates around Obama's sweeping health care restructuring plan, Sebelius is championing bipartisan cooperation and an end to the protesting she believes threatens to delay needed reform.

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