NEGAUNEE - Carol Kellow went through a bit of culture shock when she moved to the Upper Peninsula 33 years ago.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Kellow married a man from Calumet. After marrying, they moved to Republic in western Marquette County.
"I did not unpack for the first six months," Kellow said with a chuckle. "I didn't know if I was staying."
Carol Kellow, right, is retiring from her post as social worker at the Negaunee Senior Center. She’s working with her replacement, Kathleen Bengtson, left, for the month of April, to ease the transition. Kellow has been at the center since 1995. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
But stay she did and at the end of this month, she will be retiring from a career she never expected to have but loves dearly. Kellow will be saying farewell to the Negaunee Senior Center, where she has been a social worker for 16 years.
Does she miss the city life?
"Not anymore," Kellow said. "I love not having a neighbor right next to you. You can look across the street and not see anyone. I don't miss the sirens. I don't miss the traffic. I drive 25 miles to work every day and see less traffic than in a mile in Milwaukee."
Kellow was not intending to become a social worker when she went back to school in 1988.
"I was going to be a substance abuse counselor," she said. "That's an associate's degree. But instead, I got my bachelor's in social work."
Kellow started her job at the Negaunee Senior Center in March 1995.
"It was not where I wanted to be," she said. "But then I started working with the seniors and it was amazing having the opportunity to spend time with them.
"The stories they have, what they are able to share, that's truly amazing."
As she became acclimated to her job, Kellow became enamored with the work.
"I grew right along with them," she said. "I worked with them as they went from independence to needing some help to losing their driver's license. It's very hard for them to deal with these changes. So the support we can give and the resources we can use to replace things for them, that's the gift we give seniors for all they've done for us."
In the beginning, some seniors are reluctant to let Kellow provide assistance.
"Sometimes they don't want the services," she said. "But I am able to reassure them we're not trying to take over. We want to help them stay in their homes. Then they become more comfortable with us. They know we will not be in their faces every day."
Kellow said she will take with her many memories and some funny stories.
"There's an older gentleman who lives in Palmer. For various reasons, we have had to move him out of there twice, once to Negaunee and once to Ishpeming," she said. "Both times, before we knew it, he was back in Palmer. I tell him now I know where his feet should be and I tell him we won't try to move him again.
"He hitchhiked from Palmer to the hospital for some treatment and they asked him how he was going to get home," she said. "He told them 'Don't worry. Call Carol.' They did call and I got him a ride back to Palmer. And someone to check up on him."
Kellow has grown to respect the seniors' outlook on life.
"Seniors have a lot of strength," she said. "They can teach us how to start accepting things.
"When I first started, there was a woman who told me she was ready to die. I told her we weren't done with her yet, but she knew better. Most of the seniors know better. They know what they are doing."
For her own retirement, Kellow has made plans to enjoy her sons, Mike Laurin of Ishpeming, Andy Laurin of Menominee and Tony Laurin of Ishpeming and their offspring.
"I have 15 grandchildren so I will be spending time with them," she said. "Our family has a house on a lake in Wisconsin and the kids love it. So I will spend a lot of time there."
Traveling to North and South Dakota to do some family history research is another retirement goal.
"And reading, reading and reading," Kellow said. "I feel like I have gotten away from reading, working full time. It takes me so long to finish a book now. So I am looking forward to that."
As April progresses, Kellow will bid adieu to the many seniors she's come to know through the years.
"Definitely as I am saying my goodbyes, especially in the homes I visit regularly, I will be teary-eyed," she said. "I am going to miss them. I am going to miss the job.
"But I am not going to miss the drive every morning."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.