Even Mickey Mouse couldn’t keep Sarah Genson from moving back

April 26, 2014
Sarah Genson

Sarah Genson

Many people have traveled the world and have had life experiences that their hometowns could never offer them, but many of those people are choosing to leave those grand ventures behind to move back to their roots in search of a slower paced lifestyle. Mason County Press’ Kate Krieger meets up with some of these individuals who have decided to return home and is telling their personal stories in the series “Coming Home.”

If you want to learn more about the opportunities there are here at home, check out Talent Connect Ludington on Friday, May 9 at The Mitten Bar in downtown Ludington. See more details here.

By Kate Krieger. MCP Correspondent.

LUDINGTON – Landing her dream job couldn’t even keep Ludington native Sarah Genson, 31, away from returning and establishing some roots in her hometown. The 2000 Ludington High School graduate headed off to Michigan State University to study zoology and wasn’t thinking about looking back.

During her college career, she received an internship at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Taking a semester off from her studies, Sarah worked down at Disney and realized many things about her life, one being that she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to be a zoo keeper after all.

“I was a junior in college and I couldn’t just switch my major,” she said. “I realized that what I wanted to do wasn’t to be a zoo keeper.”

Sarah’s time at Disney made her realize maybe her passions were more geared towards the customer service and guest relations avenue that Disney definitely knew a thing or two about.

Sarah returned to Michigan State to continue her degree. During the summer of 2004 she received another internship, this time at the Cincinnati Zoo, where she worked in animal keeping and education. She spent the majority of her time working with primates and she remembered working with one specific gorilla named Muke.

“I would go out and talk to the guests about the gorillas,” she says. “Muke would throw rocks at the guests and they would need to have an employee out there while she was out.”

Sarah did a data collection project on Muke, where she would collect information on the times when Muke would act out and then use the data results to find answers to why she was acting the way she was towards the zoo guests.

“They had moved her offspring to a different zoo,” Sarah says. “She would get a reaction from people by acting out and we had to make sure when the guests were around her that they remained quiet and didn’t antagonize her. The busier the zoo got, the more aggressive she would become.”

Finishing up her internship at the end of summer 2004, Sarah returned to Michigan State one last time and graduated that December with her zoology degree. She was also offered an advanced internship back at Walt Disney World and she decided to accept it and packed up her life and made the move back to Orlando. She worked as an educational presenter for the Animal Kingdom park for six months, working with mainly children and teaching them about the different wildlife that lived in the different land types that were represented around the park. She then received another internship, this time it was finally in guest relations, her dream.

“This is what I really wanted to do,” she says.

With her dream internship in her lap at Epcot Center, Sarah then received a phone call that would change her life forever. Her mother, Cindy had been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.

Sarah thought in the back of her mind that she shouldn’t take the internship and that she should move back to Ludington, but Cindy had different plans.

“It was my life’s dream,” Sarah says. “The cool thing was, it was her dream for me too. She wouldn’t have let me come home which made it easy for me to stay down there.”

Good luck continued to follow Sarah and she was finally offered her dream job, working full time for Epcot Center. She continued to work at Epcot for two more years, traveling back and forth to Ludington to visit family, friends and to be with her mom as much as she could. Cindy passed away in September 2006 and Sarah said that coming home still wasn’t really an option.

“My mom wouldn’t have allowed me to move home because of what happened,” she says. “I remember she even wanted to move down and work at Disney after she retired.”

Sarah says Disney gave her a great flexible schedule, so she could be with family and take the time to come back to Ludington. She says she remembers sitting at the Fourth of July parade along Ludington Avenue with her family, realizing that she wanted to come home.

“It was at that point where I thought that I really wanted to move back to Michigan,” she says. “I knew I had to come back here. I missed Lake Michigan and all the open space, especially growing up in Hamlin.”

She describes how she loved the spring and fall seasons and Florida really didn’t experience those seasons. When she first relocated south, she knew she was really going to miss living in Michigan.

She moved back home at the end of 2007 and Disney told her that she still would have a job waiting there for her for a period of time if she decided to come back; after the third week of being back in Michigan, Sarah knew she wasn’t returning to Disney.

“I originally thought I’d move home and stay in Ludington through the summer then look for a museum or zoo job somewhere in the Midwest,” she says.

That move never happened and by that February, Sarah was taking a photography class at West Shore Community College and decided to see if Todd and Brad Reed, owners of Todd and Brad Reed Photography, were hiring.

“I had been a fan of them since I was little,” she says. “I can remember talking to Brad that February and it was the first time someone I wasn’t really friends with knew my mom had passed away. It was super emotional for me. No one at Disney really knew, except for my close friends.

“Coming back here, everyone knew who my family was.”

Later on that spring, she finally gave her contact information to Brad at the gallery and she was later hired in March and became the gallery’s first full time employee, outside the immediate family. Sarah credits the Reed family as a large part in helping her make the transition back to Ludington go so smoothly.

“The whole family has really taken me in,” she says. “They are like a second family here. I go to most of their family gatherings and to most of the kid’s birthday parties.”

Sarah later became the manager at the gallery, a role she continues today. She bought a home in Ludington and established some real roots. She says her dad, Dennis, a retired Ludington Area Schools math teacher has been extremely helpful in the remodeling of her house.

“He probably won’t ever let me leave because of all the work he’s done to my house,” she says jokingly. “I love living here in a small town. I never thought I would say that.”


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