The next Q&A in our interview series with local characters having an impact on their Benzie communities features Ingemar Johansson, who is president of the Honor Area Restoration Project (HARP) and is known throughout Northern Michigan as a member of Song of the Lakes. Check out HARP’s website at RestoreHonor.org.
Current: What’s new with HARP this summer? What’s next on your plate?
Johansson: We are working on two things primarily. Firstly, to see that the owner, currently the County, takes the Question Mark building down and replaces it with something that will add value to the community and that people in the area wish to see developed. Some ideas floating around include for someone to develop a storefront with rental units/condos on top, an office building, a green space or a parking lot.
Secondly we would like to see a park be created just west of the village on the 52 acres along the east/north bank of Platte River. This site is a pristine area that would create access to the river and that could be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. The potential is unlimited. It could fit an accessible fishing dock, a picnic area, a gazebo, a small concert venue, a green space, a visitor center, etc.
Both of these pursuits fit into the big picture of what our community members expressed at the 2011 Envision Honor forum at Platte River Elementary School. This is what drives HARP to continue our efforts to revitalize the area.
We have made a commitment to strive to be non-political, volunteer-based, transparent, community driven, and positive in all of our actions. This commitment is sometimes challenging for progress in the short term since it entails combating fear of change in a gentle way. We believe, however, that it is essential for long-term success since trust is earned over time and engagement of the community at large is based on trust. We’re in it for the long term.
Current: If all the chips fell into place, how would Honor be transformed? How might the town look?
Johansson: As was expressed at the 2011 Envision Honor event, we would have an improved streetscape and a downtown that would make existing businesses thrive as well as attract new entrepreneurs to establish themselves in the area. Also, access to the river would be improved, new recreation facilities established, the community would become more walkable and bike-able, and Honor would be the gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Those are the priorities that our community has expressed.
Current: If Honor were revitalized, what impact might that have on the rest of Benzie County?
Johansson: Like any successful economic development efforts, it would benefit the entire county and beyond. Honor is located in the center of the county. It was once the hub of activity of the county and it could be so again.
Current: Are there particular communities you hope to emulate in the effort to restore Honor?
Johansson: HARP board member Beverly Holbrook moved 28 years ago from Dundee, Mich. Dundee was a pretty little village with a town square but (the need for) shopping and work sent many to the bigger cities of Monroe and Toledo, Ohio. When Beverly left, the last store getting ready to close was the town bar. The one thing in Dundee’s favor though was that US-23 ran along the outskirts and M-50 ran right through town, not unlike US-31 in Honor. Cabella’s decided to camp out by US-31 and the townspeople got their act together and paid for help. They went through the process we went through, and today Dundee is thriving and beautiful. All the stores are occupied and the streetscape is welcoming and homey. People love to visit this lovely berg.
Current: What are the most unique questions you’ve gotten about HARP and its mission?
Johansson: The first predictable question that meets us is “when is the Question Mark building coming down?” It is amazing how infamous it is and what a tough time it is to get it down due to legalities and such. But the community will make it happen. We predict it will happen this year.
Current: What are you most excited about this coming summer in Benzie County?
Johansson: The summer itself is exciting following the hard and long winter that we had. There is nothing in the world as precious as a summer in Benzie and Leelanau counties. We have so much to offer with the great people living here, the beaches, the rivers, the dunes, and everything that surrounds us. There is a reason why people drive long distances to stay for a short time. And Honor is right in the middle of it. We have so much potential with our area. It’s up to all of us to stick to the vision that has been expressed and make it come true one step at a time.
Current: Ingemar: you’re known far and wide for your music as a member of Song of the Lakes. How has Benzie County influenced the band’s music over the years?
Johansson: Our band was born in Frankfort in the early 1980s and we have sung the praises of Benzie County ever since. Many, if not most, of our songs are inspired by Lake Michigan, the beaches and dunes and the overall beauty of the area. I really believe that we have made an impact on tens of thousands of people in Michigan and beyond and their awareness of the region in general and Benzie County in particular. As a matter of fact, we have closed our shows with our original song “Benzie Rover” since the beginning of the band. To this day, people of all ages come up to us and want to share their stories of how they have associated the area with our music.