Questions & Answers with community faces
Megan (Slade) Garza (34) comes from a long line of Benzie County characters. Her maternal grandmother, Judie (McPherson) Campbell had been raised in Elberta and graduated from Benzie Central High School in 1960; in 1964, she married Robert ‘Bob’ Campbell, who had been raised in Plymouth but who had long ties to the Frankfort area through his family’s Crystal Lake summer home and his grandfather, Willam “Chief” Campbell, who had been a chief on one of the Ann Arbor car ferries. Throughout their marriage, the Campbells owned many businesses, including The Cool Spot, the Frankfort Arctic Cat dealership, Campbell Construction & Masonry, and The Crystal Rose, which was co-owned by Garza’s mother, Christa Campbell. Moreover, Bob Campbell was part of the Benzie running club, volunteered with the Port City Run, and spent many years helping the Frankfort High School track and field team. Garza fondly remembers her grandfather cheering her on at her own sporting events, as well as his support for her brothers, Kevin and Kyle Slade, plus—later in life—Garza’s eldest son, Carter.
Having spent her entire life here, surrounded by a supportive and community-minded family, Garza graduated from Frankfort High School in 2004. She started working at Crystal Mountain that fall, and quickly moved from a part-time position in the tickets and rental area to a team leader. When the snow melted that next spring, Garza followed her then-manager, Mike Cote, to the resort’s golf shop. She continued to work in Crystal’s ski and golf sectors—swapping every season—for the next six years, when she accepted a position in the conference services department, starting as an administrative assistant and quickly being promoted to group golf and ski manager. Then Garza became the catering manager, meaning that she coordinated weddings and social events at the resort, and this is where she believes that her career really began to grow.
However, her young family was also starting to grow, and the “events” sector was not conducive to her son’s Saturday morning football games, for instance. So, in 2016, Garza began a position in accounts receivable for The Maples, the county-owned nonprofit Medicare and Medicaid nursing facility located in Frankfort. Since 2018, Garza has been the director of human resources (HR) for The Maples.
Also that year, she married Andrew Garza, a 2004 graduate of Benzie Central High School. They had known each other for years through mutual friends but did not start dating until the fall of 2014. She says that Andrew also had to win over the heart of her then-seven-year old son, Carter, which he did quite quickly. The couple welcomed another son, Logan, into their family in February of 2017.
After high school, Garza studied accounting for a time at Northwestern Michigan College, where she actually plans to return next year to complete her degree. Garza will be eligible for Futures for Frontliners, the nation’s first program offering tuition-free college to an estimated 625,000 Michigan residents who provided essential, frontline services during the COVID-19 “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders between April and June of last year. Announced in September 2020, the program was inspired by the G.I. Bill, which provided college degrees to those serving their country during World War II. Already, during the summer of 2020, Garza completed the Nursing Home Administrators program through Ferris State University, and she is currently studying to take her licensure exam.
When it comes to her community, Garza is proud to serve in this place that has meant so much to her family for nearly a century. Perhaps quite serendipitously, the year that Garza’s grandparents, the Campbells, were married is the same year that the idea for a county-run investment in Benzie’s elderly care began: The Maples, where Garza now works, dates back to 1964. The idea, and the building, have grown over the years to provide “care beyond compare”: in June 2017, a new 78-bed facility was erected to provide long-term and rehabilitative therapy care and skilled nursing services. The Maples currently has 135 employees to ensure that care is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, The Maples team includes physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language therapists, and their assistants.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with Garza the same week that The Maples offered its first “contact” visit since the facility shut down exactly one year and one day before.
The Betsie Current: Tell us about your career trajectory a bit. What made you end up in the health field? What do you enjoy about this line of work?
Megan Garza: Over more than a decade, Crystal Mountain gave me some great colleagues to learn from and some amazing mentors—Kristin Kiteley, of Gordon Food Service and formerly food and beverage director of Crystal Mountain; Mike Cote, former director of skier services at Crystal Mountain; and Brad Dean, former golf director at Crystal Mountain and now of Bradleys of Interlochen. I truly loved my position at Crystal, where I ended as catering manager, but it wasn’t exactly a family-friendly position, being that most of my events were in the evenings or on weekends. I was missing family time. There were only going to be so many Saturday morning Pop Warner football games, and they weren’t something that I wanted to miss. When I accepted the position as accounts receivable with The Maples, I am not really sure if I knew what exactly I was getting myself into. Numbers I understood, which made the job appealing to me. But healthcare was not something that I had ever considered as a career. I grew up in family businesses, with my mom and my grandparents, and working in hospitality. Customer service is what I knew. It didn’t take me long to figure out that healthcare is no different; it was still customer service, just in a different setting. This job required the same skills that I had already mastered in my previous positions: great communication skills, compassion for what I am doing, and a need to succeed. With that in mind, I was and continue to be eager to learn how to better serve our residents and staff.
Current: You are a great example of someone who did not follow a “traditional” education path to get to your career now. Why do you think that path worked for you?
Garza: To be honest, I feel that, in some careers, on-the-job training—actually doing the work, day in and day out—will teach more than a textbook ever will. I also have always been a firm believer that proving yourself will get you a lot further than a lengthy resume, and I feel like I have earned every promotion I have ever received. I am dedicated, dependable, trustworthy, and compassionate; that matters. It shows my integrity: no matter what the task, I always want to succeed. I am quick to admit a mistake, can take constructive criticism well, always eager to learn a new task, and take pride in everything I do. For me, these traits have always been noticed by my superiors and, in turn, have pushed me to the next level. Likewise with my position at The Maples. After I started in accounts receivable, it didn’t take long for my boss, Karen Fetly, finance director, and our administrator, Kathy Dube, to see my work ethic and start to push me into more of an administrative role, eventually becoming human resource director and now pursuing a license in Nursing Home Administration. I’ve also had a really unique experience at The Maples with my boss, Kathy Dube: she has 40 years of experience as a nursing home administrator, and her experience isn’t something that I could have learned from a classroom. She has allowed me to sit right next to her and learn “on the job.” She has been mentoring me for about two years now; something that really helped me when taking the administrator course. Everything they touched on were things that I had already encountered in real-life situations. Adding her knowledge and my compassion for this community, I am sure I can succeed. The people in our building are my people. The residents are family members of my friends and family, they are people I have known my entire life. The staff are people I’ve grown up with; they know my family, our kids go to school together, we see each other at Friday night football games. I want what is best for all of them and am dedicated to serving them the very best way that I am able to.
Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you?
Garza: Well, that’s the great part of my job. There really is no “typical” day. I spend my days working on employee needs, whether it be behind the scenes with employee benefits and payroll or one-on-one with the employees themselves. We have this great “open door” policy in our handbook giving everyone a chance to have their voices heard, no matter what the reason. The “open door,” that’s me! I help with onboarding all new employees and getting them set up with our amazing benefits. I am also part of our marketing team: I work a lot with our social media and am currently working with another employee on building our new web page. I also sit on our safety committee, COVID-19 preparedness team, and water management team. I also still continue to dabble, if you will, in our A/R department. During my time in accounts receivable, I put a lot of time into learning as much as I could about Medicare and Medicaid, the application process for Medicaid, and I created a working relationship with our local DHHS [Department of Human Health Services]. With this knowledge, I have been able to help a lot of our residents and their families with the application process, which takes some stress off of them. Admitting your loved one into long-term care is a hard enough situation as it is—I want to make sure I can help where I can. Another great thing about my position is that it’s not always “all work and no play.” I love that I am able to get out on the floor and just talk to our employees. I am known to show up with goodies and just chat; it might be bagels on a Saturday morning, chips and salsa at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, or Papano’s pizza at midnight. I just want them to know that I see each and every one of them for who they are. They matter to me. I love hearing stories about babies that are growing up, trips they are taking, grandbabies, and wedding planning.
Current: How has your work changed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Northern Michigan last March?
Garza: Goodness, where do I start!? Well, we added masks to our everyday lives. COVID-19 in our setting has required us, as a team, to be consistently ready for change, be diligent in predicting what may be coming in the future, and adapting to our new, “new.” We made the hard decision to close our facility a week before Governor Whitmer mandated it. We actually just hit the one-year anniversary of our shutdown, which was March 13, 2020. In my position, it really created barriers; I have always considered myself to be our employees’ “escape,” and at a time when they needed it the most, we couldn’t make the face-to-face contact. I tried to show my support in other ways. We did a dress-up week, which included a superhero day, where our administrative team dressed as our direct care workers. That was special. We have hosted a number of different meals for the staff, usually from local businesses, including East Shore Market, Papano’s Pizza, and donuts from Crescent Bakery. We had the Oscar Mayer WienerMobile stop by. We had “hero” t-shirts created by Field Crafts in Honor. All of this was on top of all of the community support that we received. But the changes, for me, were minimal compared to what our staff went through. We started weekly COVID-19 testing in July, moving to twice weekly testing in September. We have created entrances and exits for certain households, in order to avoid employees crossing paths; we converted a resident room inside every household into an employee break room, which offered a place for employees to unmask, take a breath, hydrate, and eat; we have changed the way that our staff clock in and out of work to avoid congregating near time clocks. We built our own COVID-19 unit in the remodeled part of our old building. We have gone from wearing surgical masks to cloth masks, back to surgical masks, to cloth and surgical masks, to N95 masks and surgical masks. And within saying all of that, it is nothing compared to what our residents have gone through this past year—being secluded from their families has taken a toll on all of us to watch.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What is next? Have you had any collaborations?
Garza: I think the first word that comes to mind when thinking about how we grew as a facility during this extremely difficult time is “pride.” I am so proud of every single one of our employees at The Maples. I am proud to be part of such an amazing team. This pandemic brought fear, anger, confusion—our staff stepped up, masked up, and continued providing the care that they pride themselves on. I think we already feel like we are one giant family with our residents, but when we actually became the only family that they saw, day in and day out, I saw our team flourish, and it was beautiful. We created our own Fourth of July parade, had baseball games in the parking lot and squirt-gun fights; the residents created art projects and had an art show in the lobby; we had bonfires and roasted marshmallows and gardened in raised beds, created by one of our residents. And we took lots and lots of pictures to keep in touch with our residents’ families. I think it is also important to mention that the community support undoubtedly helped us to get through the hardest times. I think it was mid-spring during the shutdown, and Frankfort Fire Chief Aaron [Garrett] reached out one Sunday afternoon. He asked that I get as many staff and residents to the windows as I could around 6 p.m. I had an idea what was about to go down, but none of the staff did. So, there we were, standing outside or at windows, and we could start to hear sirens. Then a parade of what felt like 75 cars drove by, honking and flashing their lights; some had signs and some were yelling, supporting us. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house; I can’t even begin to try to explain the way that it made us feel. When the world around us shut down, we kept going for our residents. So, I mean it when I say that we appreciated every letter and card, the donuts and cupcakes, the chocolates and handmade cloth masks, all of it. I can’t thank you all enough. As for the future, I think we continue the baby steps to moving toward getting back to our normal lives. One of the things that stands out most about our facility is our incredible activities department; they have been absolutely amazing during this pandemic. Everyone is ready to get back out into the community—for lunch dates and casino trips, for bike rides and fishing trips. I think that what is coming out of this pandemic is a strong Maples team; together we are going to continue to build our facility and provide “care beyond compare.” It also gives us the opportunity to get back on track with completing the remodel of our old building. Even though we were provided this beautiful new building where our residents reside, the inner workings of the building are still more than 50 years old. We have an original walk-in cooler, which needs to be replaced; we are still using the original boiler system; we need to replace all the windows and the roof in the older part of the building, as well as landscaping around the entire facility. I am hopeful that, with the pandemic slowing down and the start of better communication between the Benzie County Board of Commissioners and our team, we will be able to complete these projects. I think the issue with the roof that delayed the move into the new building about three years ago created a divide and miscommunication; with that behind us and the eagerness to move forward by both parties, I think we will be able to give the voters of Benzie County exactly what they voted for when the 2010 millage passed to expand, renovate, equip, and make capital improvements for The Maples.
Current: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you are not working? What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes?
Garza: I am part of the Benzie County Collaborative Group; BEST Benzie County; and have sat on the board of the Frankfort Chamber Foundation, which recently dissolved; and I am part of the Traverse Area Human Resource Association. But right now, my social life revolves around my boys. Being a sports-driven family doesn’t leave us a whole lot of time for other hobbies, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Having two boys that are 10 years apart has proved difficult at times, but the bond between the boys is nothing less than amazing. Carter has always been very sports-driven, participating in basketball and football through Frankfort. We spend our summers at basketball three-on-three tournaments, and last year, before the shutdown, he tried out for and made a travel team based in Traverse City, so he traveled the state playing basketball tournaments. With things beginning to open up again, we are looking forward to getting back into watching him play. And Logan isn’t far behind: he was shooting basketballs from his walker before he could walk. Carter has given Logan his love for basketball, and Logan will forever be Carter’s biggest fan. One of the things that this pandemic has given us—that we didn’t have a lot of before—is time. Time to enjoy each other’s company, time to spend cooking together, playing games together, just being together. Carter and Logan’s bond grew deeper with that extra time. They have their own secret handshake and mastered Wii boxing together; we had full-on basketball games in our living room and Carter taught Logan how to slam dunk on our trampoline. Even through the hardest time, they continued to make memories and to laugh. That is the part of the pandemic that I want to remember when looking back on this past year.
Current: How have you seen Benzie County/Northern Michigan change since you grew up here? What are your hopes for the area in the future?
Garza: I am not sure that Benzie County has changed much; more that I have grown to appreciate it. I love where we live and love that this is where we have chosen to raise our boys. We have something special here in Benzie County.
Current: What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Garza: The most rewarding part of my job is supporting our staff, not only in the workplace but in life. Most recently, I am helping one of our staff members to earn her GED; I have three others that have recently enrolled in college classes—thank you to Governor Whitmer’s Futures for Frontliners program!—and two more that I am helping to research resources for first-time home buyers. Seeing them succeed means that I am succeeding.
Current: What could Northern Michigan do to attract more talented young people to this area? What else does Northern Michigan/Benzie County need?
Garza: Housing. I think that is our biggest obstacle when it comes to hiring. Our community offers so many pluses—good school systems, beautiful area that is not far from Traverse City—but no affordable housing. We have a lot of staff that commute from outside of Benzie County who would likely move here, if they could find housing.
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots?
Garza: Andrew and I love to sneak away for dinner; that’s our escape from reality. Dinner with friends at one of our local eateries is our social life. And after almost a year of very little restaurant life—we did a lot of local take out—we are ready to get back into the restaurants! It’s hard to point to a favorite, but I think I would say “our spot” would be The Manitou. The food is delicious, the drinks are refreshing, I love their M22 Mule, and the company is great. We also like to take the boys to some of our local hiking trails; they love the Arcadia Marsh, which offers a fun little walk and some fishing. We always try to attend Crystal Mountain’s Beer and Brat Festival; love to try new Michigan brews and have the opportunity to catch up with past coworkers and Crystal Mountain members.
Current: What does your perfect spring day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?
Garza: Perfect spring day—when it’s warm enough to cook out on the deck, watch the boys in the backyard, and have the day to relax and enjoy my family.
Visit “The Maples” on Facebook, or BenzieMaples.org to learn more. Call 231-399-6044 or email HR@BenzieMaples.org for more information.
Featured Photo Caption: Megan Garza is the director of human resources at The Maples, the county-owned nonprofit Medicare and Medicaid nursing facility that has been providing support since 1964. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.