Faces In the Crowd: Joey Roberts

September 13, 2018

By Aaron Michell

Joey Roberts is finishing up his first year as the Mayor of McBain.
And as Mayor of McBain, it’s Joey’s job to speak with a host of local people and organizations: from the council, to local businesses, to McBain Public and Christian schools, to local farmers and students.
But speaking with Joey, his laid-back southern accent doesn’t sound like most Missaukee County residents. It sounds more like a Knoxville, Tennessean accent, to be precise.
Joey, the son of Joe and Connie Roberts, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. He grew up playing baseball, where as a left-handed pitcher, he took his talents all the way to Cleveland State, pitching through college.
Over the years, Joey would always make his way up to Mount Pleasant, Michigan to visit his mom’s family. That’s where he would eventually meet his wife, Heidi VanDrie.
On September 13th, Joey and Heidi, along with their four kids – Sadie, Joey, Johnny, and Annie – will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.
We met with Joey recently at the McBain Fire Hall, where we talked about his family, his community, and his open-door policy as Mayor. So if anyone has anything to complain about this week, make sure to wish Joey a happy anniversary first. But we learned a lot in our brief conversation, and we found out that Joey Roberts is much more than just another face in the crowd.

Joey Roberts, mayor of McBain.

Joey Roberts, mayor of McBain.

Marion Press: How are things going in your first year as Mayor?
Joey: It’s actually went really well. We have a great city council. I’ve never done anything like this before – I was on the planning commission for a year – and when the former mayor decided he wasn’t going to run again, we had talked and he asked me if I’d be interested in running, so I ran. It’s gone really, really, well.

MP: That’s great. It seems like the McBain community is doing really well.
Joey: Yes, we are. We’ve got a couple big projects going: the sawmill is doing a big 34 million dollar renovation – they’re going to double production there, so we’ve added about 17 jobs there; Dollar General just went in north or town; the gas station on the corner is going to start next week – they’re going to tear all that out. The DEQ’s coming in to do some remediation work, and then we’ll have a new Sunoco gas station.

MP: What have been some of the big takeaways from your first year on the job? Being Mayor can’t be an easy job.
Joey: No, it’s not easy, but I enjoy it. I’ve always enjoyed politics, from high school on. It’s something that’s really interested me, for a while. Just the everyday workings of a city. McBain’s not huge, but we have a water department, DDA-TIFA, boards – just to see the inner workings; you don’t realize that until you’re in the job. So yeah, there’s a lot going on here for a smaller city.

MP: And I’m sure, if something goes wrong, or if someone’s not happy about something – it finds its way to you.
Joey: Oh yeah. The phone rings. Or the door knock. And I’ve had an open-door policy – if any of the residents want to talk, the door’s always open. That was one of the big things, when I took over. I want everyone to know that they’re welcome at meetings, they’re welcome to stop by; they can call me, they can e-mail me – whatever they want to do.

MP: Outside of being the Mayor, what keeps you busy?
Joey: My wife, Heidi [VanDrie], and I buy houses, fix them up and resell them. She graduated from Central [Michigan University] with an interior design degree. So she loves matching the paint colors and that kind of stuff. My parents, they do this is Knoxvillle, Tennessee – where I grew up.

MP: You do have a bit of an accent.
Joey: Yep, so I’ve been around it my whole life. This will be my third year doing it. The market’s doing awesome right now, so I hope that continues.

MP: And you met your wife while she was going to Central?
Joey: She was going to Central. My mom grew up in Mount Pleasant, so I have a lot of family in Mount Pleasant. I was up visiting my grandfather, he was declining in health, and we met. We met at Boomer’s actually – she was a cocktail waitress and I was a bouncer. We started dating and she moved to Tennessee when she graduated, and shortly after we got married and moved back. It will be eight years that we’ve been up here at the end of this month.

MP: What brought you back to McBain?
Joey: I really enjoyed the McBain area when we were dating; we’d come up and visit her family. And I got introduced to ice fishing, which I’d never heard of!

MP: Not in Tennessee!
Joey: Right, I didn’t know lakes could freeze! So we’d come up in the winter time and her stepdad would take me ice fishing. One day we were just talking and decided: let’s move. So we packed up and moved to McBain. We were looking to start a family. A smaller town was kind of what we both wanted to raise a family in, and this was just the perfect town to do that in.

L-R: Johnny, Heidi, Annie, Sadie, Joey, and Joey Jr.  

L-R: Johnny, Heidi, Annie, Sadie, Joey, and Joey Jr.  

MP: It really is. Have you gotten started raising your family?
Joey: Oh yes. I’ve got a daughter, Sadie, who just turned 7 in July. We’ve got twin boys, Joey and Johnny, who are 5 and a half, and a daughter, Annie, who was born in March.

MP: That’s a full team right there. What do they like to do?
Joey: The boys like to play ball – they’re big baseball fans. Sadie’s into gymnastics and singing. They love to be outdoors, they go camping all summer.

MP: I’m sure they probably get some of that from their parents.
Joey: I love to hunt and fish. October through December, that’s where you’ll find me, in the woods. The boys love to go hunting with me – Sadie, not quite, she doesn’t like to go yet, but we’re working on that. I played baseball growing up, college and everything.

MP: You must’ve been pretty good to play college baseball. Where did you play at?
Joey: Cleveland State, a community college in Cleveland, Tennessee. I was a pitcher, a left-handed pitcher. But yeah, we love being in the outdoors. Heidi grew up camping, her mom took them camping all summer.

MP: And what do you and Heidi enjoy doing as a family?
Joey: We like to travel. She likes to go to the bigger cities; Chicago is one of her favorite places. It’s actually our anniversary on September 13th.

MP: Oh, right on. This interview will go to print on September 13th. Happy Anniversary!
Joey: Great. Happy Anniversary, Heidi! So, we’re gonna go to Chicago and shop. And she loves the Cubs too, so I don’t have to pull her leg to go to the baseball games.

MP: Where did your love for the Cubs come from?
Joey: Well, growing up, you had WGN or TBS – those were your two sports channels for baseball. And all my friends were Braves fans [on TBS] so I just went for the Cubs. And their AA team moved right outside of Knoxville, so Heidi and I spent a lot of time at those games – that’s where I proposed to her, actually. So we spent a lot of time watching those guys move up from Knoxville to the major leagues.

MP: We’re all Tigers fans around here.
Joey: I’ve noticed!

MP: What is it about the community of McBain that brought you back, and made you want to devote most of your time to?
Joey: The biggest thing is probably the love in the community. You can basically walk up to anybody’s house and knock on the door, and they’ll give you what you need. It’s that type of community. That’s really one of the main reasons why I became mayor – to keep that bond for my kids. Because I think that’s a really important factor for a city. You just don’t see that a lot anymore. That’s probably the biggest thing that I enjoy.

MP: Did you ever farm growing up? Because you got put smack-dab in the heartland.
Joey: When Heidi and I were first married, we lived a mile from the University of Tennessee, so we were smack in the middle of the city. No tractors, no cows, no corn, nothing. But I’ve taken up gardening now, and we’ve got a 70×100 foot garden. We grow, and can, and freeze.

MP: What is the best advice that you’ve been given? Who have been some of your role models?
Joey: The best advice has been to, well, basically shut my mouth and listen. And to take a few minutes and not just blurt out what comes to mind, but to really listen to people. And my dad, Joe, has been a big mentor: from sports, to redoing houses, to political stuff. I still call him and ask for his opinion from the political side of things to the business side of things.

MP: What are some of the big differences moving from Knoxville to McBain?
Joey: …Traffic! Traffic’s a huge thing. I was used to driving on 10 lane interstates, so two-lane highways are a lot different. And crime is one of the noticeable changes too; we still have our issues, but nothing major. You can send your kids out into the big yard and play and don’t have to worry.

MP: What was it that drew you to politics, initially?
Joey: I don’t think there was one thing. I can remember, we’d come up to Mount Pleasant to visit my mom’s parents. And when I was 5 or 6 years old, I would always be reading the newspaper. And I can remember my grandma telling my mom: ‘He’s going to go into politics someday.’
So it’s really always just been something I’ve enjoyed, for as long as I can remember. It’s always been a passion.

MP: It seems like there’s a lot of divisiveness in politics right now, at least on a national level. Do things ever get heated here at the local level?
Joey: We have lively discussions, yes. You know, everybody has the city’s best interest at heart. We may not agree on how to get there, but – especially with this city council – we will talk things out to a point where when we walk out of these doors, we’re all good. And I think that’s important, as a local unit of government, to not hold grudges. We’ll have no votes, and people will express why they voted no, but it all centers around their love for this community.

MP: And as Mayor, you kind of have to be a cheerleader for your community.
Joey: Right, I am. That’s one of the main things – to promote McBain. To talk to people and tell them what’s great about McBain; why they should raise their family in McBain.

MP: So why should someone raise their family in McBain?
Joey: Schools. We have great schools. We’re working very hard with council and DDA-TIFA, on some more parks and recreation. We did an ice-skating rink this past winter down by the tennis courts. We’re trying to give the kids more to do. We’ve got a lot of kids in this city and we want to keep them here. The economy is picking up, and the city is well taken care of. It’s just a nice city to drive through. I think those are all pluses for our city.

CUTLINE: Article and photos attached.
Family photo L-R: Johnny, Heidi, Annie, Sadie, Joey, and Joey Jr.  

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