Questions & Answers with community faces
When Jack Gyr first moved to Benzie County in the late 1970s, he lived in a 100-square-foot tiny house in a field of wildflowers that overlooked Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan. That was before Gyr started his family or his printing business, appropriately titled Field Crafts, which has morphed from a one-man system of screen prints featuring his original artistic designs to a 12-person shop of local and national custom printing for businesses like Art’s Tavern, Cherry Republic, and Stormcloud Brewing Company.
Field Crafts later moved out of the field and into its first office building at the top of the hill in Benzonia, in a space that is now occupied by the Roadhouse, and the office recently moved down the hill next to the Cherry Bowl Drive-in Theatre in Honor. For nearly 40 years, Gyr has been a positive leader in the Benzie County business community. With some creative thinking, Field Crafts has been able to thrive year-round, even in the slower fall and winter seasons that plague many a Northern Michigan business.
In the winter, Jack can be found participating in the Polar Plunge into South Bar Lake in Empire. In the summer, you’ll find him running in the Crystal Lake Team Marathon, a popular annual team run around the lake — starting and ending in Beulah — that consists of four 5-mile intervals and one 6.2-mile stint. The 34th annual marathon takes place on Saturday, August 9, and Gyr has missed only two of them since the first. (Oh, and the T-shirts that they hand out at registration: those are all from Field Crafts and have been since the beginning!) You’ll see the tall and lanky Gyr at the starting line, high-fiving other runners and motivating his team with his telltale, jocular “Hey-oooooo!” Typical members of Gyr’s team range from a brother or two from out of town, a cousin, a high school friend, a local friend or two, and maybe one or both of his sons, Leland and Emery, if they are home for the weekend. The Snails Pace Trotters always have a good time, though 60-year-old Gyr admits that now it’s more metaphorical than literal, like in the days of their youth.
We talked to Gyr about why he loves running around the lake each year.
Betsie Current: What’s unique about the Crystal Lake Team Marathon? What excites you about this annual event?
Jack Gyr: “Fun” and “good energy” are at the heart of this race. There’s always lots of energy around a race day, and this is a gathering and community of teams of runners, adding to that sense of camaraderie. There’s more talking, sharing, and partying because it’s a team event. There’s planning and preparation with team members and incentive to tell stories of each leg of the race, each person’s part. It’s a blast… Part of what I think is so great about this run, too, is that people can decide on a whim to participate. They just say, “Yeah, sure, I can run five miles.” And they do.
Current: Since you’ve run the race almost every year it’s been around, any favorite memories?
Gyr: There are always laughs and dunks in the lake after a run. Friend Bruce Gerhart started this race in 1980. I helped him with it the first year, and he ran on our team the second year, though he was so involved in the logistics that he didn’t show up at the last exchange for his part of the race. So I started running his spot and — half a mile down the stretch — he came racing up in a car, jumped out, and started running. I’d say a favorite part is all the friends over the years who have participated in this foolishness and love it. My cousin, Andy Cary, has driven up from Ohio for 32 years, and another long-term teammate is Don Theodore, who has run it 20 years. We’ve had teammates from Switzerland, British Columbia, Washington, D.C., Wisconsin, and other states.
Current: What’s the toughest leg of the race? How about the easiest?
Gyr: The most competitive leg is the first one because everybody starts at the same time, it’s hilly, and everyone gets to watch the runners. So they’re in the spotlight. The second leg has actually the most hills, so ranks as the most difficult. But I’d say it’s a favorite of mine because it has variety. An outstanding performance was watching Dathan Ritzenhein (top-ranked U.S. runner at the time) run the hilly first five miles in 23:40! Amazing!
Current: Has your team, the Snails Pace Trotters, ever won any medals?
Gyr: Sure, back when we were young hotshots and a few in recent years, too. We won last year. Don Theodore called me and said, “Jack, I read in the paper that we won a medal. We came in first in our age group.” I said, “You’re kidding me!” “No, we really came in first,” Don told me. “But we also came in last. We were the only ones in our age group. I choose to think we came in first, though.”
Current: You’re known for jumping in Lake Michigan, whether the water’s warm or cold. When was your first swim this year? How late do you expect to swim this fall or winter?
Gyr: This year has been wimpy for me. My first jump in the lake was in April. Usually it’s in February with the mad polar-dippers in Empire (about 50 dippers and 80 onlookers, usually). I’ll jump in sometime in October.
Current: Benzie loves its outdoor recreation and sporting events. In your estimation, how do these events build community?
Gyr: There’s the local community and the transient tourist community, and I think the two mingle and jingle well, especially with the Team Marathon. It’s a melting pot of not only runners but spectators and all the merchants who support their ravenous appetites. There are usually 600 runners and a good mix of locals, out-of-towners, serious athletes, and party runners.
Current: What’s new over at Field Crafts, in its (relatively) new location near the Cherry Bowl Drive-in?
Gyr: We’ve got the best team ever over at Field Crafts with a real seasoned crew. The challenge, of course, is to carry the business on through the autumn and winter. That’s where our patented BookWear® “book” comes in. We sell it to 650 colleges around the country and to many hospitals and corporate customers for marketing, recruiting, and communications. The budgets of many of those customers got hit with the economy, but it seems to be coming back. We work very hard to market and exhibit BookWear® to 24 national conferences a year all over the country.
Current: You’ve been a business owner in Benzie for decades. “What are the biggest challenges and rewards of working and living here?”
Gyr: I’ve run Field Crafts for 37 years, and it has run me. It goes both ways. It takes a hardy and creative stock of people to live in rural Northern Michigan. Many people make their own jobs, and that demands a constant creativity. I travel a lot to exhibit at trade shows, and I love coming home to this area and the great community of people!