Faces In The Crowd Jon Lucas

By Aaron Michell
Correspondent

Jon Lucas was born and raised on the Lucas Farm, on Lucas Road, just south of the Village of Lucas. But he’s more than just a Lucas guy. Although he grew up a small-town farmer he has become a world traveler, gaining new perspective with every adventure. Chances are, if you can find yourself a globe and spin it and stop it with your finger, Jon Lucas has been there. Speaking of which, he departs for his next adventure on November 2nd, so if you happen to see him around be sure to ask about his upcoming trip.
Most locals, however, simply know Jon as Mr. Lucas, the guidance counselor – a title he held at McBain High School for over twenty years. Others might know him as Mr. Lucas, the social studies teacher – a title he held at Marion High School throughout the ‘70s. Chances are, you know who he is, you just might not know where he is. Which is fitting, because sometimes he’s out of the country. Other times he’s in Gaylord with his son Ryan and his grandchildren Logan, Emily, and Conner. Still other times you might find him out kayaking down the Muskegon or driving around in his Jaguar – he is a car guy after all. Fortunately for us, we were able to track him down at his home in downtown Marion. We talked about where he’s been, where he’s going, and everything in-between. We talked about all the things that make Mr. Lucas more than just another face in the crowd.

Jon Lucas

Jon Lucas

Marion Press: So you grew up in Highland Township?
Jon: I was raised on a farm. My father was a farmer and my mother was a housewife. One of four children, I was second to the oldest. We grew up – at the time it was called Lucas Road, now it’s called 100th Avenue – we grew up on Lucas Farm, south of the Village of Lucas, all of which is named for the family.
I was always proud of that, you know. It was a typical small-farm upbringing: haying, milking cows, feeding calves, all that kind of stuff. I went to elementary, middle and high school at McBain High School. This was a long time ago. 1966. 51 years ago.

MP: What were things like in the ‘60s going to McBain High School?
Jon: Well, it was a small, conservative, rural school. I enjoyed school – that’s why I became a teacher. Because I really liked school and I did not like farming. If there was a choice between going to school and staying home and helping my father farm, I chose to go to school. He didn’t always choose that, but I did. And usually at the end of the day he’d wished that he had.
So, it was pretty conservative. It was pretty quiet [at McBain High School]. There was no football team. There were no dances. It was very conservative, very religious-oriented. I liked it; I liked school. I did well in school and I went off to college and I decided to be a teacher. I graduated from Western Michigan University and at the university that’s when the tumultuous ‘60s happened: Vietnam, all the killings, Martin Luther King, RFK.
So, I was still basically a small-town farm boy, however it was really easy to get caught up – I mean, there were bombings on campus at Western Michigan University, and cops would come with shields – I got tear-gassed one time, but I was no radical. But I got tear-gassed once. And I remember running as the police charged, and we heard we could take refuge in a church. It was crazy. It was like cops and robbers. And for a small-town farm kid, it was like, “oh my God, this is fun!”
But [at Western] I sort of began to doubt authority; I sort of became a skeptic. I think I developed an acceptance for a sort of counter-culture thing, back then. Then I graduated from Western and I ended up getting a job at Marion High School.

MP: What was that like?
Jon: Oh, I liked it. I liked it quite well – it was fun. It was the first time I really had any money, at all. And I could buy a nice car – I got a ’69 GTO convertible – it was a really hot car. (Greg) Mikulich was a good friend, and (Joe and Renee) Tolgo’s were good friends, and the Walrad’s and Partica’s. We had a good time.
So, I got the job at Marion, and I was there for 6 years. I taught a combination of things, but mostly social studies. That’s when I started traveling. I never traveled much – I was a farm kid and the first time I left the state of Michigan was on the senior class trip. So, I was really – I was a social studies major; I loved history, I loved geography – those were my majors in college, so I was just chafing to get out, you know. So, I started traveling. Then I had a chance to teach English in Taiwan for just a few months. So, I quit my job in Marion and instead of going to Canada or Mexico, I go to Taiwan – first country outside the border. That was a great, great experience for me. I liked it so well that I decided not to come home right away. But I had some money – I’m pretty good at saving money. Everybody always says, “How’d you get money to do all of this?” And I say, “Well, I’m Dutch.” And they’re noted for saving money and I still do!
So, I had a backpack and I took off from Taiwan and I went around the Orient and I went to Austrailia and I went to New Zealand, and I ended up come home through Paris. It was a real… for me it was a real life changing experience, you know. No longer was I a farm boy from McBain or a college student or a teacher at Marion. I had really seen the world, and I’d really experienced some different cultures. And I had met some really cool people.
That first [Taiwan] trip was about 6 months. But I spent a lot of time in Marion and I wanted to be close to my son, and we’re still close. I try to be a pretty active grandfather. I try to go up there [Gaylord] weekly and ride bike with them. They’re beginning to get too good. I taught Conner how to ride bike, and I was instrumental in helping Logan and Emily learn how to ride bike – I didn’t teach them, but I helped them – but now I’ll go up there and ride bike and I’m huffing and puffing because I can’t keep up. And downhill skiing, they’re great little skiers. I’m an adequate skier. And in the pool, they can swim circles around me. Waterskiing, wakeboarding: they’re doing all these tricks. But it’s nice to see them progress and do well. It’s nice to see them surpassing their grandpa. They’re good kids. It means a lot to me.
After I got back [from teaching and traveling overseas], I got a job with human services in Clare County. Eventually I became a children’s protective services worker. Which was an important job, but it was a difficult job. You run into some really ugly situations.
At the time, McBain’s high school counselor was retiring and the new principal was one of my former teachers and he asked if I’d be interested. And I thought, that’s a job I could really get into. So, I quit the human services and became a counselor for twenty years up in McBain.

MP: I can imagine you’ve probably had an impact on a lot of students over the years.
Jon: In fact, today I went to buy these new shoes, and the clerk was one of my former students – she said, “Jon, you know, you really helped me – I’m not sure I could’ve made it through high school without you.” I said, “Really? Really? Well, I guess we did have to dance around some of those teachers didn’t we?!”
It is so nice to bump into former students. I’m surprised how often it happens. That has really given me a sense of purpose. I like to help people, and I think the idea of helping some of my former students was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, you know.
For twenty years I was a counselor in McBain. I retired in 2007. Before that, I was the area rep for exchange students. So, I would have all these exchange students come to Marion or McBain. Sometimes I felt sorry for them because they really wanted to go to California or New York or Florida and they ended up in Marion or McBain. So, I sometimes would organize these little trips. We’d go to Toronto or Chicago or Florida or the west coast. And because I did that, they would sometimes invite me to visit their countries and stay with them.
I went to Europe eleven times. Sometimes to visit exchange students, sometimes to visit relatives in the Netherlands.

Old photo as it appeared in 1976 Marion High School yearbook, where Jon taught social studies.  He later spent 20 years in McBain as their guidance counselor.

Old photo as it appeared in 1976 Marion High School yearbook, where Jon taught social studies. He later spent 20 years in McBain as their guidance counselor.

MP: That’s a lot of trips to Europe!
Jon: Yes. I really like Europe. I’ve visited some exchange students in South America. Every ten years I’d try to go on a major trip – not just a two-week trip somewhere.

MP: I’d call a two-week trip a major trip.
Jon: I was laid off from my human services job [in Clare] and so I went to Europe for three months – how did I do it for three months on a shoe-string budget? Well, I had a backpack. I flew one way into London, then I went to the Netherlands, of course! Family, family, family. I just watched my money carefully and I went to ten different countries. As it got colder in the fall and winter, I went to Greece and Italy and Spain and I met all kinds of people. You know how they talk about the grand tour of Europe – London, Paris, and all that? So, I did that, but it wasn’t really a tour, it was just kind of freelancing, with my little backpack, taking the bus. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. But that was before I started working with exchange students.

MP: What are some of your favorite spots?
Jon: I really like Switzerland. It’s absolutely breathtaking. I had three students from Switzerland and they went together and bought me a Swiss rail pass, which was very nice. So then I could be at Gedo’s on the farm: a 400 year old farmhouse with geraniums, and the cows are in the back of the house – it was just quintessential Swiss. Then I could go see Rollie, a student at the University of Lausanne on Lake Geneva in the French part; then I’d go stay with Phillip in Lucerne, and take the train to Berne or take the train to Zurich, or wherever. It’s a beautiful, beautiful country. It’s very, very regulated, but the cleanliness: you could eat off the streets. It’s so clean and there’s no garbage. It’s split between the French-speaking, the German-speaking and the Italian-speaking. Luckily, I was in all of those parts. It was just breathtaking.
I like the Netherlands too, of course, it’s in my ancestry. I like Ireland. I also took another grand tour of South Africa for four months in ’07.
My grandfather was Dutch and he really didn’t want to come to the United States, he wanted to go to South Africa. Anyway, he went to a carnival with his brother, and he got drunk, and he beat up a Dutch policeman. And so he came home and told his parents [along] with his brother, and they told him well, you know, you’ve always wanted to go to South Africa – maybe this is the time to go.

So, he did. But the first ship leaving for some reason was going to New York. And he was just a young guy; he was probably scared half out of his wits – he just beat up a Dutch policeman. So, he got on the ship and met my great-grandmother and her family on the ship. And they fell in love. I’ve always said, “They could make a movie out of this stuff.” And then they went to Grand Rapids, and eventually they came up and homesteaded the farm on 100th Avenue where I grew up. So that’s how he got here.





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One Response to Faces In The Crowd Jon Lucas

  1. Ginny Cox Reply

    October 13, 2017 at 12:45 am

    do you have an address for Philipp or an email address?

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