Muskegon professionals find success, happiness close to home

Muskegon is popular in the summer, bringing tourists to the area for annual festivals, an amusement park, and Muskegon parks and beaches. Once the summer tourists have gone, what does Muskegon have to offer?

Residents who live and work in the area do not deny their love and access to the water, but some have connections and favorite pastimes of their own that keep them attached to the city.

Here’s what four local professionals have to say about their hometown. 

Love the Big Lake

Martha Colburn
This is what Martha Colburn, 68, loves about Muskegon — her access to Lake Michigan
“I walk there, I meditate there, I write there, I worship the sun there, I kayak, and I enjoy every single season and mood of the Lakeshore,” she says.
Colburn, who works part time as a receptionist at Grand Valley State University’s Muskegon Innovation Hub, moved to the area from Indiana in ninth grade. Once she turned 21, she moved to New York but returned to Muskegon at age 35 to be closer to her aging parents.
Having worked in a variety of roles, from bartender and retail store manager to director of marketing and business owner, Colburn describes herself as people-oriented and a lover of Downtown Muskegon. “I believe in the people who live here, that we can become a diverse and caring community.”
Colburn accomplished a dream when she started her business, Wherehouse Studio, incorporating artistic events, creativity classes, and writing. She considered it her retirement career, but then the pandemic hit. She says she will not be deterred, however, adding, “COVID-19 cannot define me. There is much to do.”

Hometown success
Kiara Mccain
Kiara McCain, an inventory planner at Pratt & Whitney, considers herself an example of a professional who found success in building her career at home in Muskegon County. 

“I think, often, people think they need to move away from their hometown to succeed or find a good job,” the 39-year-old says.

Raised in Muskegon Heights, McCain cherishes being near most of her family and friends in the area. She also has favorite spots she frequents with her loved ones, including Bat’n Club Family Fun Center, Dockers Fish House, and the patio areas of the Delta Hotel by Marriott and Hank’s Tavern.

McCain also points out the beauty of summers in Muskegon County. “I also love being so close to the beach. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to go to the beach and watch the sunset.”

McCain, who is in graduate school at Western Michigan University to complete a master’s degree in organizational change leadership, says she’s also lucky to work so close to home, where she can use her daily lunchtime to visit the new — and spoiled — addition to her family: her puppy, Kash.

A spirit for success
Sarah Sass
Sarah Sass, a proud fourth-generation Muskegonite, adores her hometown and the community support found there. “I also love the work ethic of the town. Muskegonites aren't afraid of hard work.”
The owner of a property management company and The Coffee Factory, Sass says she is overwhelmed by the support she receives for the coffee shop, which provides healthy food options along with a variety of coffees and drinks.

An avid cyclist, Sass enjoys riding the bike trails in town, listing Mosquito Creek and the Owasippe Scout Reservation as her favorites. She also praises the Northside Sports Page in North Muskegon as a favorite stop for a burger after biking.

“What I love about Muskegon is that there is always so much to do. On any given weekend, we watch sports at the arena,” says Sass, 49. “We love to thrift, and there are plenty of places to do that.”
Sass also points out the ease of traveling to nearby destinations from Muskegon. “You could literally hop a ferry and head to Wisconsin, hop an airplane and head anywhere, travel just a little farther south and hop a train to Chicago, and go just a little farther north and go wine tasting.”

A close-knit community
Juwan Smith
Juwan Smith, 29, a student services specialist in the Office of the Registrar at Muskegon Community College, loves how close-knit and connected everyone is in the community. “Working with people you know in a different capacity is motivating, and you can hold people accountable if there is a need to.”

Smith has lived in the area for 23 years. Born in Detroit, he was raised in Muskegon. Like many, Smith enjoys the beach and the view of the water, as well as working out and running. He adds that he likes meeting new people while out on his runs, as well as enjoying seeing families having fun together on the beach and just being happy.

A member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Smith is very active in the community, also serving on the board of the Muskegon Young Black Professionals. “I also love attending community events because that’s how you stay current on things going on in the neighborhood.”
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Read more articles by Shanika P. Carter.