Karen Nielsen’s life lesson: Ludington was home

May 3, 2014
Karen at her Ludington home.

Karen at her Ludington home.

Coming Home.

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 – Inspired by the teachers she had growing up in Ludington, Karen Nielsen decided that her passion was to become a teacher, even if it took her away from her hometown. Graduating from Ludington High School in 1966, Karen left for Central Michigan University to pursue a degree in teaching with an emphasis in social studies, history and government. Completing her student teaching in Scottville, She then graduated in 1970 and was offered a teaching position in Shelby, which came on the same day as an offer for a Developmental Fund Fellowship that would pay for her entire Master’s degree. Struggling to decide which opportunity to take, she decided to pursue her Master’s degree.

“I really didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I finally decided to go back to school.”

Karen returned to Central Michigan University and received her Master’s degree in 1972.

Moving back to Ludington after grad school, she worked different jobs around town because there weren’t any available teaching positions in the area at that time. In 1973, she received a position with Harper Creek Community Schools, located in Battle Creek, where she taught high school social studies courses for seven years and then became the district’s social studies curriculum coordinator for one year.

After eight years with Harper Creek, she received some not-so-pleasant news.

“I got laid off the day before school started,” she says. “That was during the fall of 1981.”

It didn’t take Karen long to find a new position and by October of 1981 she had accepted a teaching job in Houston, Texas.

“I really liked the school I was at,” she says. “I really hated Texas. I always knew if Harper Creek called, I’d come back.”

In 1985, Harper Creek did call and Karen moved back to Michigan and continued to teach until she retired from her high school teaching career in 2007.

“I didn’t think twice about coming back to Harper Creek or to Michigan,” she says. “I was always home during the summers to help out my grandmother, Tecla Palm.”

Karen’s grandparents purchased the home on Filer Street in 1929. Karen was raised by her grandmother and aunt and when he grandmother passed away, she left Karen her home on Filer Street in Ludington, where Karen resides today. She says she has so many memories of coming home every summer and working on the home while living downstate.

“My grandma left the house to me,” she says. “I decided after she passed away to take the next 13 years to do projects at the house so it was ready for my retirement.”

Three weeks before Karen moved back to Ludington and into the home she had been prepping over the last 13 years, she received a phone call from Central Michigan University asking her if she would be interested in teaching a few courses for the social studies department and to supervise students completing their student teaching in social studies content areas.

“I made up my mind to retire and then I got a call from the department chair at CMU,” she says. “He asked me, ‘Karen a job has opened up, do you want it?’”

She accepted the position and returned to teaching, but this time at the university level. She would spend part of the week in Mount Pleasant staying with her aunt and uncle who had a home there and then she would return to Ludington on her days she didn’t need to be at the university.

Retiring from that position two years ago, Karen says she enjoyed teaching at Central Michigan University, but was missing something.

“I liked the job,” she says. “I really missed teaching the content. I really enjoyed teaching American Government. That was what I loved.”

Knowing she wasn’t going to do anything else and joking that once you get into teaching and education, you never really get out, Karen saw a posting for a part time teaching job at West Shore Community College and she applied and got the position. She currently is wrapping up her third semester at West Shore, teaching American Government.

“I really like the mix of students there,” she says. “We have the Advanced Placement high school students, older students who want to be there and a lot of college aged students who are very inquisitive and ask a lot of questions. I really think they want to know what’s really going on and where to find more information.”

With her home and career back in the Ludington area, Karen says she knew at some point in time she would always be back in the area.

“I knew I wanted to come back,” she says. “There’s really a sense of community here.”

She remembers while teaching at Harper Creek, she would come home for entire summers and her co-workers would always question why she would be gone for the entire break.

“They would always ask, ‘Why are you going home for the whole summer?’” she says. “When my friends from down there would come up they would say, ‘Now we understand.’”

Karen really credits, not only her family who raised her, but the teachers she had growing up to helping her become the person she is today.

“My teachers took a real interest in me,” she says. “Because of the way they were here helped me to become the teacher I was. They encouraged me in different ways.”

To Karen, Ludington will always be her home, even though she has lived and traveled all over the world. She stays active in the community, serving on the Ludington Mass Transit Authority board, involving herself in politics and trying to give back any way she can. She says that she really feels a sense of responsibility to give back to the Ludington area. She also tries to enjoy all that the area has to offer when she’s not involving herself in other responsibilities.

“I love winters with my dog out at the State Park and taking him to Buttersville and letting him run in the summer,” she says. “If you want to get out and do nature type things, there are so many to do here. This is home and this will always be home.”

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