While they’re not yet completely divested of Ypsilanti, Kelley Weger and Bethany Schultz are well on their way to being former residents of this town we’re all so fond of. What follows is their official exit interview.
MARK: What were the circumstances around your first coming to Ypsilanti?
KELLY: I came to town for the first time to go dancing at a smoke-free venue – Electronic Saturdays – at the Keystone Underground, the bar that was in the Kresge building, below what is now Bona Sera Café.
MARK: How about you, Bethany?
BETHANY: I moved to Ypsilanti in either 1992 or 1994. I’ve lived downtown, south of Michigan Avenue, and in Depot Town. Even back then I liked the vibe of Ypsi better than that of Ann Arbor. I resented comments like, “You only live in Ypsi because it’s cheaper.” That was never true. I’ve never been gay-bashed or called a “dyke” in Ypsi, and I have been in Ann Arbor. I haven’t had to “fight back” in Ypsi for who I am, ever. Ypsilanti is more diverse and accepting than most places I’ve lived or visited.
MARK: Did you meet one another in Ypsilanti?
KELLY: Yes. I met my soulmate dancing that first night I came to Ypsi. It was December 5th, 2009. She was organizing the DJs, and we were introduced by a mutual friend. Bethany and I were fast friends, long-lost best friends, until I finally realized that I was head over heels in love with her. Her love totally surprised me. Within months of meeting her, I left my ‘normal life’ behind, including my house and my husband in Saline, and moved to Ypsi.
MARK: I had no idea that scandalous stuff like that was happening in the Keystone Underground.
BETHANY: I loved the DJ cooperative we had going at Keystone… I started that project after TC’s closed. The S/He-bang! series, which had been at TC’s, needed a new home, and Dave Curtis, who then owned J. Neil’s Mongolian Barbecue, on the ground floor of the Kresge building, offered us the Keystone space in the basement… Dave usually supported my ideas. The first year of the Washington Street concert series now known as DAYfest, he was pretty much our sole financial supporter. When I started that, my vision was to see people from all walks of life dancing together in the street, and I’m glad to see that it’s continued to grow in that direction. I think it’s changing people’s perceptions about Ypsilanti.
Back to Keystone… On Wednesdays we did the S/He-Bang! for a bit longer, but it was becoming more of a happy hour. So, I turned my attention toward trying to make something happen there on Saturday nights, with the local dance crowd. And that’s when the DJ Co-op came into being. It included Kenyatta & Ayinde (who had been bounced from their Tap Room gig), Sean Ike (of 3rd Coast Kings fame), DJ 45, Dannyboy and myself. We decided to call it Electric Saturdays, or E-Saturdays, because the one thing we all had in common, we thought, was that we made the dancefloor feel electric. I think some may have also seen a bit of a drug reference there too, but I prefer to keep it clean.
Anyway, one fateful Saturday night, this amazing woman walked into my life and when she touched my wrist it was electric! I knew we were soulmates and the rest is our-story. (I like “our-story” better than “history.”)
It didn’t take long for word to get out that the place was hopping. We’d max-out about about 80 or 90. More often, though, we were lucky to reach 50. Weather was bad. We had no signage. And there was competition. Everywhere else, people could stay inside and drink, smoke and dance. And our target audience of non-smokers was small. It was so nice to see gay boys out and enjoying themselves within walking distance of their homes, though. Enjoying a martini in Ypsi! As it unfolded, more and more people learned about the space, and, within about six months, Keystone was featuring live music 4 to 6 nights a week, as it’s more of a draw. So, one day, they cancelled E-Saturday with no notice. And that was the final straw. It was the 40th birthday of one of the DJs. People were coming in from far away, and they yanked the space from us, giving it to the band Dragon Wagon. It was an unfortunate end to a good idea… Dannyboy does Halcyon Sundays at the Corner Brewery now, but that’s more downtempo and chill. Not the same vibe, but good in a different way.
MARK: Where are you now moving, and why?
KELLY: After circling around jobs from Ann Arbor to Detroit, I began searching for a better job in sustainability. I was offered a dream job in Indianapolis, and my wife selflessly pushed me to accept the opportunity.
MARK: What will you be doing in your new job?
KELLY: My title will be, “Lead Project Specialist – Sustainability.” Basically, I’ll be using my experience as an architect and program manager for energy efficiency programs in Michigan to work with Indiana businesses. But, instead of just focusing on energy, I’ll get to tackle the bigger topic of sustainability. I learned years ago that my passion is actually educating others and raising awareness on sustainability, and now I get to coach business owners and CEOs on how to plan, implement, and create positive change for their triple bottom line. It’s one of my dream jobs!
KELLY: Without a doubt! Ypsilanti is the first place I’ve truly felt at home. I only lived here 3 ½ years, but I’m going to miss it dearly.
MARK: How about you, Bethany… What will you be doing in Indianapolis?
BETHANY: Networking and making stuff happen, like I’ve done in Ypsi…
The simple answer is, I don’t honestly know yet. I’m still fleshing it out, but I’ve always wanted to own my own space to create community around vegetarian and vegan food. I think that whatever I’ll be doing, I’ll be advocating on behalf of better food and nutrition. I have this nutrition curriculum “farm to table” concept that I was never was able to bring to fruition at Summers Knoll, the school in Ann Arbor that I’d been working at. I’ve been working most recently with Swaroop Bhojani at Hut-K-Chaat on a non-profit about nutrition, and the concept that we need to start with kids.
I will probably start off with nutrition counseling and education, and see where that takes me. Unfortunately, Indianapolis is a bit of a food desert, so, if I can find the space, I may blaze the trail for food carts and more farmers’ markets. The one they have is on Wednesdays, during the day. I still have a lot of homework and research to do… Sorry to ramble on… Let’s just say the future is not in clear focus yet.
MARK: All I know about Indianapolis is that there’s a Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library there. I interviewed the woman who runs it a few years ago and she seemed cool… Other than suggesting that you go and check it out, I don’t really have any good advice for you… Are there things you’re looking forward to? Have you done a lot of research?
KELLY: Research? Ha! You should hang out with us more often. Research is what we do. We research in our sleep. Research, planning, and organization is like flirting for us! Before I took the position, Bethany & I read everything about the city to see if we could stand to live there. We analyzed stats on farmers markets, food co-ops, vegetarian restaurants (there are none), cultural centers, biking, mass transit, LGBT community support, racial diversity, economic diversity, multi-use zoning, rivers and lakes, cost of living, LEED buildings, sustainability movement, and more. We knew what we were getting into.
BETHANY: YAY! You know about the Vonnegut museum. There’s also an art museum, a museum of contemporary art, and a Native American museum…There are also random art installations throughout the city. This past Labor Day, we saw organized muralists taking back walls in Fountain Square, which is the area we’ll be moving to.
On paper the, stats are similar to Austin. Indy is the 12th largest city in the US! There are several distinct neighborhoods, and we’ve fallen in love with Fountain Square. The enthusiasm for community is strong there. It’s similar to Ypsi in that regard.
MARK: What will you miss the most about living in Ypsi?
KELLY: The community! I love that people here are passionate, creative, entrepreneurial, and helpful. It’s heartbreaking to leave so many great friends.
BETHANY: I’d echo what Kelly said. I’ll miss all the support and passion of Ypsilanti. And I’ll build on what she said by adding the diverse food options that we enjoy in Ypsi. If we mention to an owner, “Hey, you should try offering something more vegetarian friendly,” it’s taken to heart. I love that we can walk into several places like Wurst, Bona Sera, Cafe Ollie, Corner Brewery, and Dalat and have a “choice of protein.” I think this comes from education, and we already have our new favorite place in Fountain Square, PURE Eatery, which offers dishes featuring tofu.
MARK: You’re presently trying to sell your house in Ypsi. I’m wondering what that experience has been like? Are you finding that people interested in living downtown?
KELLY: We just listed it about three weeks ago, but we had a great turnout at the Ypsilanti Open House, and have already had a few serious inquiries. I think that younger generations are far more interested in urban living, and car-free lifestyles, and our house is within walking distance of everything. If you love local, sustainable living, you can’t go wrong in downtown Ypsi.
BETHANY: It’s been great! We’ve received so many positive responses about how nice our home is.
MARK: What kinds of questions are you hearing from people considering moving here?
KELLY: We’ve actually hosted a number of people visiting Ypsi, and they typically ask about the mass transit options, local restaurants and bars, and walkability.
MARK: Tell us about your neighborhood in Ypsi, and why you chose to buy a home where you did?
KELLY: We used to live on Ainsworth, which is just a few more blocks away, but, in the dead of winter, it was far enough away from stuff to discourage us from walking to dinner on occasion. Since walkability is so important to us, and we like to bike or ride the bus to Ann Arbor, the spot where we bought our house, which is near the AATA station, was perfect for us. We LOVE our location, just a block or two from the bus station, library, post office, and lots of shops and restaurants. We also walk to the park, the food co-op, and Depot Town. When I get home from work on Friday, I park my car and walk everywhere until Monday morning.
BETHANY: I can only add, “It’s walkable to EVERYthing!”
MARK: Is it just that I happen to know a ton of lesbians, or is Ypsilanti the most sapphic city in America?
KELLY: Ha! There do seem to be a lot of us here, huh? I know that we’ve recruited some friends to buy in this area, because we feel safe here. It’s a very open community, where I feel completely comfortable and embraced. People in Ypsi seem to appreciate when two people are in love, regardless of gender. Besides, somebody has to balance out all the testosterone in our water tower.
BETHANY: I have never walked in fear in Ypsi. Ever. People want to live where they feel safe.
MARK: While we’re on the subject of “gay” stuff, the last few years have been pretty bad in Michigan, legislatively speaking. I’m curious to know if that factors into your decision to leave Michigan at all.
KELLY: Sadly, no. While I suspect that Michigan is on the verge of a bill to repeal the constitutional ban on gay marriage, we are moving to Indiana, which is debating a vote to do the same thing Michigan did 10 years ago. We will continue to fight for equal rights, and against paying the “Gay Tax.” At least we have the victory of federal marriage rights, and I no longer pay a tax penalty on a thousand heterosexual marriage perks. But, with 13- now 14- states offering equal rights, and more on the way, it’s only a matter of time before there are more midwest options to choose from and we can move somewhere that treats us fairly.
BETHANY: I am following a lot of groups in Indy on twitter, and I am secretly hoping for this initiative to go to the ballot, because I don’t think it will pass like it did in Michigan. I plan to be very active in the campaigns against it there. It’ll be a race, between Indiana and Michigan on this issue. I caught a soundbite about Snyder “looking at this issue” when DOMA was knocked down, but haven’t heard much since.
MARK: You mentioned before that you’re married. I’m curious as to how and when you did it?
BETHANY: We eloped to Buffalo, New York on 11.11.11, and took a mini-moon in Niagara Falls. It was going to be a quiet ceremony with just 2-3 friends. . . Well, one thing led to another, and we became the featured couple for same-sex destination weddings in Buffalo, just six months after it was legal in their state!
MARK: You share a single email address. What’s that like?
KELLY: Funny, I actually have five email addresses, each with a specific purpose – one personal, one professional, one work, one for facebook, and one joint. We set up the ‘bethanyandkelly’ account when we were planning our wedding. I rarely use it, but it’s set up to forward to my personal account, so I know what’s going on with shared matters. It works pretty well, actually.
BETHANY: LOL! I have my narrowed down to four plus this one: school, personal public, personal private, my new Bethanyschultz@outlook, and this one.
I’ll take the blame for having the joint email: It is really nice when we meet folks traveling to have it. We’re such a “WE-TEAM” that people remember it even if wine is involved! …It helps build connection if people can easily follow up with you. We love sharing ideas and conversation in the moment, but it is good to be able to follow-up and keep those genuine connections. We each have it forward to our personal emails, so either of us can respond.
MARK: Kelly, you were on the Ypsilanti Planning Commission, right?
MARK: What was that experience like?
KELLY: I loved it! For a newcomer, it was an amazing insight into how the city is growing and changing. I loved seeing how progressive the City is with advocating for safer streets, bike parking, rain gardens, and thoughtful, adaptive reuse. I got to share my knowledge as an Architect and LEED Accredited Professional, and felt that my skills were valued and well-received. That’s another thing I will miss about Ypsi – it’s easy to affect change, and make a difference in a town the size of Ypsilanti.
MARK: I’m curious as to what you both think your most significant contributions were while you were living here.
BETHANY: I just do what I can. I’ve sat on several Board of Directors, and I’d like to think I’ve made positive contributions to different organizations.
Ironically, of all things, it’s been emotional to sell my PA system. I loved loaning it out to non-profits and the underrepresented parts of our community over the years, so they could amplify their voices. I’m not sure if that’s a hat that I’ll wear in my new community or not. One of my DBA’s was “G-production,” which was solely for the purpose of doing sound cost-effectively. I’ve received some awards for my community ‘activism’ and I hope Ypsilanti is a little better for it. I like that, when I stepped away from a project, several people stepped in, which brings that much more diversity to the table. I think that’s one of the best things I’ve done for my community: recognize when it’s time to for my role to end. Some people in the community hang on because they’re afraid of change, to the detriment of growth and visions coming to fruition. It can be painful to watch.
KELLY: My most significant contribution? My wife. Mayor Schreiber calls her the “unofficial mayor of Ypsilanti.” Bethany is such a huge spokesperson for this community, and she’s had such an amazing positive influence over the years. She’s the first person to insist we go try a new restaurant and offer feedback. She’s a driver of change, and passionate, and oh-so-lovable! Nothing says “Welcome” quite like her beaming smile.
MARK: Advice for the new people who move into your home?
BETHANY: Enjoy this gem! It is an amazing home with great energy & close to everything!
In general I’d say get out and about. Volunteer doing something you love. Enjoy all the great things that Ypsilanti has to offer! Nightlife, local food scene, EMU, summertime Riverside park festivals, Depot town on Thursdays, the museums, the Riverside Art Center, and more! <3 KELLY: I agree with what Bethany said. If you’re new to Ypsi, just go for a walk, make eye contact with strangers, smile, and say “hello.” You’ll be surprised at how many great friends you will meet just by the simple act of reaching out. Your friendliness will be returned tenfold.
[If you enjoyed this, and want to know more about why people leave Ypsilanti, check out our Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview archive.]