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A few words with Geoge Weeks

Sandra Serra Bradshaw - September 15th, 2005
For those who follow state politics, George Weeks is an old friend. Weeks has been writing a political column in the Detroit News since the mid-’80s, which is syndicated in a number of newspapers in Northern Michigan. But his roots in political writing go back as far as the 1950s.
Always interested in reporting an “Up North” spin, Weeks has a side interest related to the region in the form of his reissued and updated book on the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

NE: When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
Weeks: Journalism, I guess, was in my genes. My father was a city editor of the Record-Eagle-before he joined, as secretary of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, with editor Jay Smith in starting the National Cherry Festival. In Traverse City, I started an Elmwood Grade School publication for patrol boys, co-founded with Jim Hall the Junior High Watchbird, and was an editor of the Traverse City Central High Black & Gold and the school’s yearbook, The Pines. I also worked on the State News at Michigan State University, where I majored in journalism. So it’s not as though I stumbled into daily journalism.

NE: How and when did you get started as a political columnist?
Weeks: In the 1950s, as Lansing Bureau Chief for United Press International, I wrote UPI’s weekly “Michigan Politics” column, as well as its weekly “Michigan Outdoors” column. I had an early interest in conservation/environmental issues and my political writings have taken periodic looks at how politicians, particularly Michigan governors, address them.
As former African Affairs correspondent, and then foreign editor in UPI’s Washington Bureau, I developed an interest in how such issues impact on American politics.

NE: How many papers is your column in?
Weeks: As political columnist for The Detroit News, my column is in the paper Tuesday and Thursday, and in the combined News-Free Press Sunday edition. My Sunday column also is syndicated by Superior Features of Elk Rapids for the Traverse City Record-Eagle and four Upper Peninsula papers. I’m always interested in an Up North political spin.

NE: How do you get your information?
Weeks: By attending events across the state; interviewing politicians at all levels-and those burrowed in their bureaucracies; drawing on files compiled over the decades and assorted publications.
I have near my desk all the Michigan Manuals dating back to the 1800s, and maintain a library on ex-governors/presidents. And let’s face it, press releases from politicians are part of it -- not only offering the initial information on their proposals but also being starting points for getting reaction. Reaction, mine and the other side, is a big part of what I do.
Print political journalists -- who originate much of the fodder that gets picked up by the AP and is spun out on local TV -- must, on the other hand, acknowledge that much of what we put in print is generated by the weekend TV network shows, including Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press” NBC show. Last Sunday, for example, I recorded Michigan Sen. Carl Levin for the eighth time this year on a national TV show, when he appeared on CNN as ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. It provided a large portion of a column I did on Levin as Democratic point man on Iraq.
At the state level, there’s Tim Skubick’s “Off the Record” show on Michigan public TV. And wise is the politician who appears on Ron Jolly’s WTCM show, a political showcase for northern Michigan.

NE: What’s your assessment of the current political situation in Michigan?
Weeks: It’s in flux. But the polls of today are not good indicators of what will happen more than a year from now on reelection bids of Governor Granholm and Senator Stabenow. It’s been many a decade since the challengers were so evident -- businessman Dick Devos as Republican nominee for governor and the Rev. Keith Butler, a former Detroit councilman, as the challenger of Stabenow. There currently are Republican primary hopefuls in each race. Nary a moderate in the bunch.

NE: What do you expect in the next state election?
Weeks: Glad you asked for expectation -- not prediction. At this very, very early stage, I’d expect status quo -- retention of Granholm, Stabenow, a GOP-ruled Legislature, and the 9-6 Republican edge in our congressional delegation based on the way the GOP-ruled Legislature carved up the congressional districts. Should the popular 1st District U.S. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, ever step aside or be tapped for a statewide office, his district that includes all of the U.P. and so much of northern Michigan could go Republican, given how it was mapped by GOP lawmakers in Lansing.

NE: Will the Democratic Party stage a comeback anytime soon?
Weeks: Probably not in the Legislature, Supreme Court and congressional delegation. But the Big Three of Michigan politics are Democrats -- Granholm, Stabenow and Carl Levin -- who is, after all, Michigan’s longest serving U.S. senator, surpassing the late, great Republican Arthur Vandenberg.

NE: Why are you attracted to political writing?
Weeks: Boring as it may be to, and ignored by many readers, so goes politics, so goes government and its impact on our lives.
I fancied myself early on as a sportswriter, and to this day I turn first to the sports pages. My first memorable interview as a reporter was with legendary Michigan State University coach Biggie Munn. After that intimidating experience, subsequent interviews with presidents, premiers, prime ministers and one emperor were a breeze.

NE: What is your book about?
Weeks: It is about a magnificent natural splendor from the Ice Age to the Space Age, sculptured by glaciers and honed by wind and water, and now singled out by the National Park Service as “truly one of one of America’s treasurers.” It is about the legends, lore and first people of what is now the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and its ghost towns, lighthouses and shipwrecks. Among the more than 50 new images in this edition is a highly unique 1997 picture taken by Suttons Bay astronaut Jerry Linenger aboard the Russian Space Station Mir, showing the Sleeping Bear Dunes as a white speck along Lake Michigan at the base of the Leelanau Peninsula.

NE: What have been your most important projects?
Weeks: Obviously, since 1984, my three-a-week column for The Detroit News would rank as most important. Also important, at least to me, if not to readers: my Sleeping Bear books, as well as one I did on “Stewards of the State: The Governors of Michigan,” and other books such as one on the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

SIDEBAR

Sleeping Bear Yesterday & Today
A political writer eyes the jewel of Northern Michigan
Almost everyone will agree Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is stunningly beautiful. “Sleeping Bear really stands out in space,” ex-astronaut Jack Lousma remarked back in 1988 in awe of recalling his space expedition of more than a birds-eye-view of the lakeshore.
“Sleeping Bear Yesterday & Today” was originally published in 1990 and written by George Weeks, the Detroit News political columnist and author of several books. This revised edition includes 50 new historical images making over 200 photos in the book. Photographers include the late Fred Dickinson, who captured the history of Glen Arbor, and his daughter, Grace Dickinson, who takes after her father in producing wonderful images of the Sleeping Bear area.
Other photos include those of shipwrecks shot by staff from the Northwest Michigan Maritime Museum, The Cottage Book Shop, George Weeks’, the National Lakeshore Park Service, the Warnes of the dune climb (recall the days when dune buggies were allowed riding down the white sands of the lakeshore), Maritime Heritage Alliance President Richard Brauer and many others. The photos alone are worth the book, but couple that with Weeks quintessential knowledge through his many years of research of an area he clearly loves so much, and the book is a gem for all who appreciate the area.
Filled with information, Weeks traces the formation of the region from the distant past to the present day.
With Weeks’ eloquent writing style and keen sense of intuition, “Sleeping Bear Yesterday & Today” covers all the area’s fascinating historical and geographical information and lore of the land, including the early Native Americans, the first settlers and present day features and recreational offerings within the park.
Read about shipwrecks such as the Free Trader, thought to be the first schooner wrecked in the Manitou Passage and lost in 1836.
Estimates vary as to how many shipwrecks have occurred in this sometimes dangerous passage. “Most shipwreck charts and books are written from hearsay,” observes local historian and author Steve Harold in the book. “Firsthand accounts make fascinating reading but everyone’s memory fades with the passage of time. Consequently, there is little accurate information about wrecks.”
Lighthouses of the area are also contained within its pages. Four lighthouses remain in operation, including Grand Traverse Lighthouse at the northern tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, North Manitou Shoal Light “the Crib,” South Manitou Island Lighthouse and Point Betsie Lighthouse. Weeks touches on the men who manned them in life-saving work for sailors passing by in rough seas.
The final chapter covers the geology, vistas and trails of the Lakeshore. Weeks writes that the region is an extremely young landscape having been formed only 11,000 to 20,000 years ago. He adds that geologically, Sleeping Bear is “extremely young. On an earth that is three to four billion years old, Sleeping Bear was formed as recently as yesterday.”
Of the Lakeshore’s historic Glen Haven, now included in the National Register of Historic Places, Weeks writes that this turn-of-the-century lumbering town is most likely the best preserved example of the heyday of frontier wooding stations and steamboat stops on the Great Lakes, “or at least on the eastern side of Lake Michigan.”
Weeks also covers the life of lakeside settler David Henry Day, writing that he was “a prince among pioneers.” When Day died in 1828 at age 76, newspapers said of him, “Michigan has lost the King David of the North.” An accomplished man, his life shaped Northern Michigan’s history in lumbering, shipping, forestry, road-building and even cherries.
“When Mr. Weeks redid the book, he made sure to include photos of the Glen Haven General Store, formally known as the D. H. Day Store, that newly reopened in 2002,” said Betty Welch, unit manager for Eastern National (which supplies items for sale in National Parks).
“The book is selling at a fast clip,” she continued stating that they already reordered several times and that it’s only mid-summer.

“Sleeping Bear Yesterday & Today” is published by the University of Michigan Press and Petoskey Publishing Company. Available at bookstores and many gift shops at $27.95.

 
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