first came to Big Rapids in 1999 to begin classes in the Printing
Program at Ferris State University. I graduated with a Bachelor’s
degree and headed out West in 2004. I came back to the university in
2006 to pursue a degree in graphic design and started working for
University Advancement and Marketing’s creative team. I have been
in Big Rapids ever since.
Having been a part of the Ferris community for more than a decade,
I’ve met a lot of individuals who I am happy to call friends. Many of them
are alumni who have moved away. They have families and great careers
now, as do I. I try my best to keep in touch with them, but it’s getting
harder as time and distance seem to push us farther apart. When we
do get a chance to talk, one of the first questions they always ask is,
“What’s new in Big Rapids?”
That question will be the focal point of this new column. Let us
pause for a moment to consider how Big Rapids might have looked
100 years ago, in 1913. I have seen the photos. It was impressive
for a small logging community in the middle of Michigan’s farm and
In future editions of this column, I hope to share some of those photos
and interviews with surviving members of the class of 1913.
But, for now, we will travel back to my first year at Ferris in Big Rapids,
1999. Then, we find a cozy college town where students and residents
get their groceries at Carter’s, Denny’s Village Market or Denny’s Valu-
Land. They might get a bite to eat at Woody’s, Casey McNabb’s or
Ponderosa, or perhaps make the drive south to Ruddy Dux if they were
going out on the town. After dinner, they could enjoy cocktails at The
Hideaway under Casey McNabb’s, The River Rock, Rudy’s or maybe
The Scoreboard. These people of 1999 could later stop in for some
bowling at East Gate Lanes.
Do you remember those fine places of dining, drinking, bowling and
grocery-getting? Do you remember Southland Pharmacy and Total
Gas Station? Your memory is the only place where any of these fine
establishments still exist. Some have been demolished; a few stand
vacant, but most have been transformed into something new. For
example: Total Gas became a Citgo, which later sold to Ferris and
now stands a lovely “Green Space” (an area of green grass and well-
maintained flora on the corner of State Street and Perry Avenue).
While we are on the subject of the Ferris campus, let us dig a little
deeper. In 1999, Optometry students went to classes in the Pennock
Building, which has been replaced with the state-of-the-art Michigan
College of Optometry Building. People could visit the Timme Library
to do research for a paper, read a book or maybe meet a group of
classmates to work on a project for a class—not anymore. This building
was renovated and reintroduced as Timme Center for Student Services
in 2002. The university now boasts the Ferris Library for Information,
Technology and Education, which opened in 2001.
Did you ever live in a dorm on the South side of campus? Maybe you
stayed in Brophy or McNerney Hall? Perhaps you once lived in Miller
or Merrill. I lived in Travis Hall during my first year at Ferris. Probably like
you, I ate at The Rock Café often. Prior to 2009 The Rock was just an
average eating facility, the food was sometimes questionable, but I’d be
lying if I said that I never got my fill there.
In 2009, The Rock was renovated into a grand dining facility with
many different cuisine and diet options. I always look forward to
eating there now.
While we are reminiscing about university dining facilities and
dormitories of yesteryear, let us take a brief moment to celebrate the
fallen: The Pug, Center Ice, Mascar Grille, Westview Dining, Carlisle
and Masselink halls. We will miss you.
Recently, a significant renovation to the Rankin Center has begun.
Lamentably, the Dome Room too, is now just a memory. In its place will
stand a new University Center where members of the Ferris community
will make new memories for years to come.
Big Rapids has changed a lot since 1999. Ferris has, too. There will
be many more changes to come. It’s interesting to watch a place like
this evolve around me and to witness people’s reactions to what is
happening around them. I have found, in my life, that it’s best to roll
with the changes. Embrace them. Change is good.
Please read the list included with this article to see more of the changing
places in Big Rapids. You might find that one of your favorite old
hangouts is gone or that one of your new favorite places is now here.