Charms of rural Michigan lure local back from across the pond

Trading a life in bustling, urban London for a quieter one down a dirt road in rural Millbrook Township, Michigan, might sound like a tough trade for some.

And though it didn’t come without some discussion and debate, it was a decision that Guy Stickler feels quite at peace with.

In fact, Stickler, 39, was not only a native of the Millbrook area, but he literally was also born in the home that he now raises his family in with his wife, Veronica.

How, then, did he end up in London? Well, that story has a little to do with exploration and a lot to do with love.

Stickler attended Chippewa Hills High School and graduated in 2001. From there, he headed directly to Ferris State University to study surveying and engineering.

Five years later he earned his Bachelor of Science in surveying and engineering and was ready to head out into the world for his career, starting with Colorado in the summer of 2006.

Now, by this point, he had already met the woman who would one day be his wife, but things were platonic.

Stickler says, “She was a foreign exchange student at Chippewa Hills. I originally met her in 2000 at the start of my senior year. We were just friends, and then she made a return visit in 2002. We spent time together again as friends.”

While Stickler was working for a company in Holland, Michigan, in 2008, Veronica, whose family was German but living in Norway at the time, returned to Michigan to attend the wedding of a mutual friend. At that point, the two started their relationship, and Stickler began to consider how they could make the long-distance romance work.

“So, part of my proposal to convince her that it would maybe work was that we could live in England or somewhere in between each of our families,” Stickler explains.

By 2011, the two were engaged and had wedding plans set; Stickler moved to London where his then-fiancé had been transferred to by Hewlett-Packard and bided his time until his work visa was approved.

For the next year-and-a-half, Stickler worked as a land surveyor and enjoyed much of what London had to offer, with the help of his wife. The two had great jobs, easy access to public transportation, a strong group of friends, and seemingly unlimited options for nightlife and dining. They traveled regularly to places like Norway, Germany, Italy, France, and England.

However, as the discussion turned to when and where to have kids, the couple had a big decision to make. “We were on the fence with England having more paid maternity and paternity leave options, but then also not having family be there. Or we could move back to the U.S. and be closer to the family but having to both start new jobs and not knowing what that would look like,” says Stickler.

That said, the two didn’t feel pressured to make an immediate decision, until one day when an opportunity landed in Stickler’s lap.

“I was trying to finish my licensure process to become a licensed surveyor in Michigan while I was in England. Part of that was looking online to make sure I had all of the prerequisites I needed, and during that I came across a job posting for the position at Rowe here in Mt. Pleasant…It was a really good fit for where I was at in my career. There were opportunities to grow in the company….at that point we decided that I would apply for the position.”

This act set the events of the next ten years in motion for the Sticklers. Guy was offered the job by the survey and engineering firm, Rowe Professional Services Company (Rowe PSC), and returned to the area late in 2012, while Veronica stayed behind to wrap up their affairs before joining him in March of 2013. Fortunately, her employer, Price Waterhouse Cooper, was able to transfer her to a position in the U.S. as well.

With employment in place, Stickler says that everything else just fell into place. His father and two sisters, Jessie and Rachel, were still living in the area, as well as some of their extended family. 

“We liked the idea of growing up with cousins around all the time and that built-in support group. I knew that was something I really enjoyed growing up.”

Even better, Jessie was about to relocate, leaving the family home available for Guy and Veronica to start their own family in. The remote 40-acre property was extremely appealing to the man who had grown up hunting, fishing, and enjoying active pursuits.

Stickler says, “Being outside definitely drew me back to the area. Knowing I could have that ability and that it was something I wanted my kids to experience. That experience can be harder to find than having the opportunity to be in an urban setting. It’s easier to provide people with the opportunity to be in an urban setting than to do the reverse.”

Since acquiring the land, Stickler has dug a three-and-a-half-acre pond and stocked fish, planted food plots, and practiced habitat management.

Stickler takes great pride in taking care of the land he grew up on. “I really like the property management part of it. It’s easy to find validation in that by having a healthy population of wild game. It’s confirmation that you’re doing a good job. We see cranes, herons, geese, ducks, kingfishers, rabbits, and a lot of small game.”

His two children, Oliver, 7, and Josephine, 5, enjoy the ability to get outdoors right alongside their father. Whether sitting next to him while hunting, jumping in a boat and holding a rod, or digging into the soil to plant for the upcoming hunting season, the children are involved in many aspects of outdoor life.

Life certainly isn’t all outdoor leisure activities, however. An important part of Stickler’s life is his decade-long career with Rowe PSC. After many years of more hands-on work, Stickler transitioned to the management side of the company when he took a position as a Survey Project Manager about a year ago.

“I am currently managing 3 field crews and managing all of our clients…We get to do all types of land surveying here. If people want to divide a lot or know where their limits are, or if they have a lot on a lake and want to know where their property corners are, we do that. We do surveying and mapping for the Department of Transportation. We do municipal projects and some for major utilities like Consumers Energy, DTE, and Michcon. We do a little bit of everything.”

If that weren’t enough, Stickler is also the Board of Education President for the Chippewa Hills School District, the same district his children now attend.

While the Stickler family certainly finds much to do on their own property, they also enjoy entertainment and activities throughout the region. The Sticklers are members at the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum and the Midland Center for the Arts; they are also active in the Wheatland Music Organization, the group that puts on the annual Wheatland Music Festival.

With half of their extended family still in Europe, the Sticklers make visits across the Atlantic yearly, and Guy says that he encourages all young people to get out there and experience another culture before settling in.

Stickler says, “To come back and bring those experiences back with them is a huge advantage to any community. It broadens people’s ideas of what’s possible and helps them to understand that often change is good, and it brings improvement and progression.”