Joan Kelley, a 1972 Northern Michigan University alumna who is part of a four generation Wildcat family, recently traveled to Mackinac Island for the NMU Arts and Athletics Showcase. While she wasn't able to stay for very long, Kelley still found it nice to reconnect with the school that generated such fond memories.
“We were only there for about an hour and a half or so, so we didn't participate in much,” Kelley said. “We go to [Mackinac Island] all the time anyway because my sister and I both work for Sheplers. I actually processed the NMU soccer team through my window and my sister and I got a picture with Wildcat Willy while we were working. It's just fun to just touch base with a part of your past and your history, you know? It's nice to feel a little bit of what was home for a number of years.”
Kelley and her sister, Karen Baker Valot (‘75), went to Northern to get an education and follow the footsteps of her mother Alice Baker, a 1938 graduate of NMU who obtained a degree in teaching. Baker initially took classes that were part of an off-campus program in Stambaugh, a former city in Iron County. However, after a year or two of off-campus learning, Baker decided to move to Marquette and finish her degree.
“She was kind of a trendsetter,” said Karen Valot. “She was the only one in her family that got to go to college. That was a big deal. They were from a family that didn't have much, and it was during the Great Depression. So, the fact that she went there and then struck out on her own at a time when a lot of women didn't do anything like that was a big deal. She was respected by her students, too. Every once in a while. I'll still have someone say, ‘Oh, I had your mom.'”
This started the tradition of Baker's children and grandchildren going to NMU. What started with Kelley and Valot going to NMU to become teachers was passed onto their children, Alicia Valot Powers (BS ‘08, MS ‘20), Shawn Kelley (‘00), and Rebecca Kelley Valot (‘98) who all went to NMU for their education as well; the girls even got degrees to become teachers. This fall, two more people from the Baker family are enrolled. Jaron Valot has joined the theater and dance program and Noah Valot is studying for a business degree.
“We're very excited that [Jaron and Noah] have made that choice and they are continuing in that tradition,” Kelley said. “I know my mother, bless her heart, would be absolutely thrilled. Northern was an important place to her, and she was very proud of her accomplishments because of the education she got there.
"We've all kind of felt the same way. We love Marquette, and now we have an excuse to visit more often. By the way, collectively we have six grandkids and I know the next one in line can't wait to go and visit his brothers. So, I see more possibilities, that's for sure.”