March 3, 2024

Second Wind

Whether leaving a dream job or enduring nightmarish job market, it’s never too late to start over.
By Ross Boissoneau | Aug. 28, 2021


Jon Zickert thought he had it made. 

He attended school for hospitality management, then almost immediately got a job with Marriott, eventually settling in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife.

But the Wisconsin native and his wife, originally from Reed City, wanted to be closer to friends and family.

Like others, they found themselves enthralled when they visited northern Michigan.

“Crystal Lake, Crystal Mountain, the dunes – that was where I wanted to live,” Zickert says.

After running the rooms division at Crystal Mountain for 12 years, restructuring led to a job loss, which forced him to decide how to best use the customer service skills he’d developed.

“When I had to make the change, my wife was a teacher at Benzie Central. I said, ‘You like it (here)? I love it. We’ll figure it out,’” he says. “I had to figure out what my new passion would be.”

Today Zickert is one of the top-selling agents for Real Estate One in Benzie County, a move that was not unusual for many in his field, he says.

“A lot of my Marriott management friends went into real estate,” he says. “You’re doing a lot of different things and not tied to a desk. In hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened.” 

Zickert says he enjoys the variety each day brings.

“It’s different every day. I talk to at least one new person every day,” he says. “I fell in love with the business.”

Zickert is not alone in his discovery that it’s never too late to start over.

From IPR Broadcaster to Methodist Minister
Traverse City native Linda Stephan says she was “beyond” happy at Interlochen Public Radio.

“I was working at my dream job,” Stephan says. “I came to my hometown to an incredibly well-run radio station. It was a brilliant place to land.”

As a reporter and host for the “All Things Considered” broadcast, Stephan enjoyed the range of skills she needed to run the technology and programming side. 

“I did a lot of different things, behind the scenes in tech and programming,” she says. “I was the interim GM – but we didn’t have a GM. I was hoping to never have to leave.”

Then life threw her a curve.

“A million things happened all at once,” she says.

Chief among them was a childhood friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. Her friend was an organ donor, and when she went to visit the family in the hospital, they asked her to stay and pray with them during the final surgery.

“I wanted to be available to people and realized I was useful in spaces like that,” Stephan says.

That launched her into a major life change. In 2015, she left her dream job and went to seminary in Atlanta. Less than two months ago, she was transferred from a Methodist church out of state back to her hometown. 

Stephan is now associate pastor at Central United Methodist Church, working with numerous departments and co-leading the worship services with Pastor Chris Lane. She also gets to work with former Interlochen colleagues Tom Bara and Michael Coonrod.

“The whole experience, there have been so many encouragers who never expected me to make this change, from parents and former co-workers,” says Stephan. “I just have to say thank you to the bishop (who transferred her.)” 

‘Slinging wine in northern Michigan’
For Gabe Marzonie, the change wasn’t so much in what he was doing. It’s where and who he was doing it for.

Marzonie spent 10 years working in Washington, D.C. as a speechwriter and also working in marketing for the Department of Homeland Security, which took different approach to press releases after 9/11, he says.

“After 9/11, if you’re going to talk to the public, you can’t do it in a press release,” he says. “Public relations tells people what’s happening; marketing changes behavior.”

One of the first and most visible results was the now-ubiquitous maxim, “If you see something, say something.” 

“That was mine,” he says proudly. “My team launched that.”

The Flushing native had vowed never to return to his home state, and even marrying a fellow Michigander hadn’t changed his mind.

Then came a visit to his wife’s parents, who had retired to Traverse City.

“I saw the water for the first time,” he says. “It was a perfect day, the water was teal – like the Caribbean, not the Michigan I know.”

These days, he gets to see the water every day when he drives from his home on Old Mission Peninsula to work at Leelanau Cellars in Omena, where he is director of marketing. 

“I never saw myself in northern Michigan slinging wine,” he says about his work at the 55th largest winery in the U.S.

Though he says he’s changed commodities, the same approach he developed at Homeland Security applies.

“I’m still changing minds,” he says. “We’ve gone from being available in five states to 27 in three years.”

And even though he never wanted to come back, it appears that now he never wants to leave his home state.

“I love it,” he says.


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