Lansing’s got talent: The ones that got away (and came back)

Meet four residents of the Greater Lansing area who followed their passions outside of the Mitten state only to be led home where it all started. Though they all have different experiences and backgrounds, they left to pursue other opportunities, and all four returned to raise their families and make an impact in mid-Michigan. Here are their stories:
Working nine to five by day, farming by night
Born and raised in East Lansing, Kate Spinillo spent most of her life in Michigan. But it wasn’t until she moved to Lyons, Colorado that she realized what a diverse area she left behind, in both population and industry.
“We have an incredible confluence of businesses and lives here, between the Capitol, MSU and other schools, the hospitals, museums, not to mention the bars, restaurants and shops that surround it all,” says Spinillo. “Where else can you go to one neighborhood for a farmers market, another for a music festival, then another for some locally-made brews and cocktails?”
By day, Spinillo works a nine to five job as a publishing manager at Baker Publishing Co. But at the end of the day, her work isn’t done. She and her husband, Christian, spend their evenings and weekends on Ham Sweet Farm in Williamston, Michigan, their home and business where they build shelters and fences, raise pigs, harvest crops and more.
“For me, the balance of a desk job in a climate-controlled office with regular hours and predictable days off plays nicely against the complete lack of predictability a farm has,” says Spinillo. “We’re lucky to live in an area rich with small farms.”
Far enough from the city to raise high-quality meat in a sustainable and humane manner, but close enough to keep the business community-based, the farm now provides meat to 25 local families through a Meat CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture initiative.
“People see what we’re doing and want to support us,” Spinillo says. “We are honored to be a part of the Greater Lansing community and to provide meat to so many.”
Broadcasting Lansing talent
A long time Michigan resident, Susi Elkins defines what it means to make a meaningful impact in her community. She grew up in Fenton and graduated with a degree from Michigan State University in broadcasting.
“I was visiting my friend at MSU and met a bunch of her co-workers from WKAR at Crunchy’s,” Elkins said. “After they joked that I should transfer to MSU so I could work at the station, that’s exactly what I did. I started work at WKAR as a production assistant.”
While growing up, her plan was to move to Chicago to live and work in the windy city. After working at ChicagoLand Television News, she realized how much she missed the beauty and rhythm of MSU’s campus and the connections she made in the Lansing community.
“I love Lansing because it’s a community that allows me to be myself while offering tremendous opportunities,” Elkins says. “I’ve been able to pursue my dream of having a challenging and rewarding career, while raising a family in a small-town atmosphere that is actually quite sophisticated and diverse in perspective.”
As the current general manager and interim director of broadcasting at WKAR, Elkins is celebrating 20 years at the station doing work that is truly fulfilling.
“We’ve worked hard to have a positive impact on the children and families we serve,” says Elkins. “I’m really proud of our strong tradition in creating local content as a vehicle for outreach and research on early childhood development.”
Returning home for family and community
“I’ve lived in other states and cities, and people in this area just have a solid backbone, a work ethic that you just don’t find anywhere else,” says Nathaniel Keusch, the retail manager of food and nutrition at Sparrow Hospital. “I want my children to have that ‘thing’ that many have in this region – that community-driven work ethic.”
After leaving the Lansing area to pursue a career in – shocker – Chicago, and working at the largest independently-owned restaurant company in the U.S. called Lettuce Entertain You, Keusch found he and his wife far from family and missing that strong sense of community.
After having their first child, they made the move back to the place he considers home and the only place Keusch wants to raise his child – Lansing.
“I think there’s opportunity here,” says Keusch. “I love the fact that I’m again close to northern Michigan and the water that I grew up fishing on. Lansing is stepping up its game and I want to be a part of it.”
Though only a week into his position at Sparrow, he’s already looking forward to getting involved in the community, planning to leverage Sparrow’s community partnerships to find his place in the city.
Bringing talent home
After growing up on the west side of Lansing and moving to Savannah, Georgia for college, David Schupbach was well on his way to pursuing a career in 3-D animation and visual effects. With an offer to intern in California that could have put his work on the big screen, Schupbach discovered that what he really wanted to do was bring his talent home.
“Lansing is filled with some of the hardest-working, kindest and most innovative people I have ever known,” Schupbach says. “When I first returned, I was given the opportunity to prove my skills on the pages of the Lansing State Journal and teach at Lansing Community College. I felt like I was really making an impact in my city.”
Today, Schupbach uses his position in the Michigan’s capitol to make an impact across the state, leveraging social media and other digital mediums to help Michigan residents. Twelve years after starting as a graphic artist for the Michigan House of Representatives, Schupbach now serves as the director of digital outreach at the Michigan State Senate.
“My team and I work one-on-one with political leaders to push ideas as far as they can go, advocate for those who don’t otherwise have a voice and identify new opportunities to help people,” says Schupbach. “I’ve learned how I can use a combination of web, design, video, animation and humor to focus less on politics and more on sharing the message.”


Allie McLary is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains. 

Photos © Dave Trumpie 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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