12 August 2013

'Yooper Day' celebrates life in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Story originally appeared on the Detroit News.

Marquette— Yoopers yoonite.

This weekend is a celebration of everything that makes those who live above the Mighty Mac unique: Delicious pasties, cozy flannel, can’t-miss-it blaze orange and those warm Stormy Kromer hats even President Barack Obama got when he visited this northern city a few years back.

“There’s no doubt the Upper Peninsula is someplace special,” Yooper Day founder Sonny Melvin said. “This is a celebration of the people who make it that way.”

Yoopers from across the country have been talking about the celebration. Some, like Seattle resident Laura Doyle, mentioned on social media sites how she plans to head back to the U.P. and is building her trip around the celebration.

“It’s great to hear about so many people doing that,” Melvin said. “We really want this to turn into an event where you plan on coming home to see those friends and members of your family you haven’t seen in awhile.”

Melvin said the one thing Yooper Day won’t be celebrating is the “goofy” image that has become associated with the people of the Upper Peninsula. There won’t be any “Escanaba in da Moonlight” type references or caricatures being portrayed by the organizers.

“We want this to be something everyone is proud of,” he said. “Think of it as a Fourth of July celebration, but just for Yoopers.”

The celebration of the essence of being a Yooper is being widely anticipated by many. Lina Blair, who moved to Marquette to attend Northern Michigan University and then settled down in the city, said the event celebrates everything she loves about the region.

“Of course the Upper Peninsula and the word ‘Yooper’ mean different things to everyone, but I think what stands out most to me is the sense of ‘getting through it together’ that people in the U.P. feel,” she said.

While Blair embraces the lifestyle, is she really a true Yooper? For some, the only way to claim the title is to have been born in the Upper Peninsula. Even those who moved to the area as children don’t qualify.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t be accepted.

“There is an ‘honorary’ status,” said Matthew Luttenberger, who lives in Marquette.

Some disagree. To them it’s entirely feasible that being a Yooper is less of a birthright and more of a way of life. There’s no need to be an honorary Yooper if you earn it, or simply live the lifestyle.

“I think it’s a point of pride that people have to claim being born a Yooper, but I also think it’s something you can become if you have the personality traits,” said Lauren VanHamme, who moved to Houghton in September 2012 with her then-boyfriend and decided to stay. She described those who live in the U.P. as laid-back, kind, welcoming and genuine.

Not everyone thinks it has anything to do with a special lifestyle or a birthright. It is, quite simply, the name for a group of people who live in a particular location.

“It means living ‘above the bridge,’” said Rachel Esterline Perkins, who lives in Midland. She’s made the trek multiple times throughout the years to visit family in Escanaba. “The silence (of the Upper Peninsula) is unique — it is so quiet and peaceful.”

Some Yoopers may not be able to attend the event, but Melvin said they have been showing their support nonetheless. He said orders for official Yooper Day apparel, made by Ishpeming’s Jeremy Symons and his company, Yooper Shirts, have been shipping across the country.

Dan Helmer, assistant prosecuting attorney in downstate Kent County on the state’s west side, won’t be able to make it home for the event this year. Next year may be a different story, however — a sentiment shared by many displaced Yoopers.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Helmer said.

“I’m proud to be a Yooper and tell anyone I can about it whenever I get a chance. While I sometimes don’t want the word to get out that the U.P. is such a great place, it’s a great opportunity to bring people in to experience what makes it so great, and have the locals celebrate it, too.”

Marquette will host the first of what Melvin hopes is many yet-to-come Yooper Days. The event is expected to move from city to city each year, bringing with it the dollars from those coming to celebrate.

“We’ve already been approached by several other cities asking what they have to do to become the host next year,” Melvin said.

The idea came to Melvin after he moved to Chicago to open an advertising firm. After living there for awhile, he came to realize just how much he missed the Upper Peninsula.

“You really take it for granted when you live here, but once you move away you quickly realize what a special place it is,” he said.

Melvin said he’s hoping for a great turnout as well as some wonderful Upper Peninsula weather, though he did say he wouldn’t be surprised if a few flakes came down just for the sake of Mother Nature and Heikki Lunta, the Finnish snow god character, getting in on the celebration.

“I guess a little snow would be the perfect way to help celebrate the first-ever Yooper Day,” he said.

Snow in August would be unique for sure, just like so much else about the Upper Peninsula that can’t be duplicated elsewhere.

For instance, “pasties,” said Scott Weber, who was born and raised in the U.P. but now lives in Kentucky.

“Swear to God, you can’t find them anywhere else. Trust me, I’ve looked and I’ve tasted.”

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