‘Yooper spirit’ saves 4-H bus trip

By Michigan State

University Extension

MARQUETTE — Michigan 4-H takes youth to Washington, D.C. every year for positive youth development programming, teaching teens citizenship and leadership skills. When Liana Pepin, Marquette County’s 4-H staff person, took on the role of coordinating this program she anticipated behavior challenges, navigation trials, and even health and wellness issues with the group, but she never would have foreseen the problem she encountered the night before the trip began.

On June 23, Pepin contacted the bus company to touch base and make sure everything was set for the early morning departure from the Pavilion at Michigan State University. The bus company informed her that it did not have a group going to Washington, D.C. the next day and and didn’t have the capacity to help.

Fighting back panic, Pepin began calling every bus company in the Lansing/ Detroit area to see if anyone would be willing to take on this trip.

“It’s impossible,” one company said.

Reaching out to co-workers for help, she expanded her search for a charter, and began looking into renting vans and searching for available flights and Amtrak runs.

Around 10 p.m., Pepin crossed her fingers and hoped that someone would answer the phone, that the last bus company on her list would be able to save the trip.

Surprised and delighted, she heard, “Checker Transport. This is Morgan.”

Pepin told the dispatcher, “Thank you so much for answering the phone. I would like to tell you my predicament and I am hoping you can help me.”

Checker Transport is based out of Marquette, which is at least six hours from East Lansing and the reason why Pepin did not contact the company sooner.

Morgan provided Pepin with the email addresses for Ian Macfarlane, the operations and schedule manager, and Rick Peterson, the general manager, explaining that they would need detailed information to see if the trip would be possible.

“I will contact them directly as well so they know to check their email,” Morgan said.

Pepin immediately sent the information to both managers and waited. After close to an hour, Pepin received an email from Checker saying it had drivers and a bus to make the trip. A bus driver had just taken a bus full of National Guard troops to Gaylord, reducing the distance down to 2¢ hours.

The second driver, who was heading back to Marquette the next day, agreed to meet the bus in Youngstown, Ohio to take the group to its destination and all around the D.C. area for the week.

“With about nine hours to go before our departure time, this was nothing short of a miracle,” Pepin said.

She added, “When the bus rolled up the next morning, it was a beautiful sight to behold, with Northern Michigan University’s Wildcat Willey plastered in the side of it.”

It only took a few moments for the driver, named Jeff, to reveal that he lives down the road from Pepin. The second driver, Ed, also lives only a few miles down the road from her. It began to feel less of a magical occurrence and more like a neighbor-helping-neighbor situation.

“That’s the way we do things in the U.P., helping each other out when things get tough,” Pepin said.

She could not have been more grateful for this “Yooper spirit” than she was experiencing.

Ed had never driven a bus in Washington, D.C. before, but he was willing to do his best and that was all the travelers could ask for, maneuvering the bus with incredible skill through crowded, narrow streets. He took direction from Eve, the program assistant assigned to the Michigan delegation, who had incredible working knowledge of the D.C. road system and the locations of all the monuments.

“It was all for the kids. I would do it again in a heartbeat, too,” he said.

The group was able to tour the D.C. area for the entire week. It spent time visiting monuments, learning about the history and the symbolism of the structures, touring the Capitol, visiting Arlington National Cemetery and watching the changing of the guard.

The teens reported being excited about meeting amazing new friends, learning a lot about the u.S. and gaining new skills in leadership and citizenship, and sharing what they learned back in their counties. This is truly an adventure of a lifetime for these youth and it creates a ripple effect in their communities.

“None of this could have happened if it wasn’t for Checker Transport of Marquette — the staff who answered the phone at 10 p.m., the managers who jumped into action to help a fellow Yooper, and the drivers who were willing to go above and beyond,” Pepin said.


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