A Mentor’s Legacy Remembered for what Makes the UP Special
“Rural Voices” shares cultural, educational, economic and artistic views of people who have lived and thrived in the Upper Peninsula. Each of our authors in Rural Voices may be living here in the U.P. or living someplace around the globe, but the U.P. is an important part of who they are and what their beliefs and values are today. Rural Voices wants to share the voices of our neighbors and friends about life and experiences in the UP.
Looking back on my formative years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I often come back to a handful of memories: Lake Superior, family, friends, the great outdoors, and, of course, pasties.
I feel such gratitude for the life I had and opportunities I was afforded growing up in such a place. I loved it so much that I stayed for college, developing lifelong friends in the process.
This may sound like a familiar story to some, but for me, I believe it’s what led me on a path to gain the confidence to take on any challenge that life would eventually throw my way. More importantly, I believe that the most precious resource of the U.P. is not the abundant natural resources–it’s the people.
Throughout my career, I have advocated for Registered Nurses. Currently, I am a Political Organizer with the Minnesota Nurses Association. Prior to that, I was based in Lansing, Michigan doing similar work for the Michigan Nurses Association.
My job requires me to interact with many folks I’ve never met before. In the decade I’ve spent working in the world of unions and politics I’ve had to lean on my conversational skills, which are key to building relationships and trust in my field.
Much of that skill set was nurtured in the U.P.–absorbing the region’s wholesome values, and making them my own. I had a lot of good mentors growing up, and I’d like to highlight one person who meant a lot to my personal development.
Rock Getz was my first boss. Rock was a co-owner of Getz’s Department Store and hired me at the young age of 14. Under his stewardship, I was given opportunities that would not have been presented to me in a major metropolitan area.
To my surprise, he put me on the men’s sales floor right away. Getz’s was a very family-oriented business that featured full-service men’s, women’s, denim, and alterations departments. While on the sales floor, I quickly learned to love working on commission and would eagerly check the sales book before each shift.
I was not only passionate about selling, but also developed a knack for setting up displays and rearranging the sales floor.
Rock was a people person. If he saw you, he would stop what he was doing to come and greet you. He had the gift of being a good listener.
Despite owning a multimillion-dollar business, he would always give his undivided attention and treat you as if you were the only person in the world that mattered. With these qualities, it seemed that everyone wanted to chat with Rock when they came into the store.
He quickly came to appreciate my passion for sales and began to personally mentor me. As our relationship progressed, he would seek out my opinion on inventory. He would also use my input on moving displays and where to place merchandise.
Over time, that led to more opportunities including doing some buying for the store. At one point he asked that I accompany him and his wife Carol on a buying trip to Deerfield, Illinois. As you might expect, I was very excited about the trip and the ability to see the future products that we’d potentially carry in the store.
Rock was someone you couldn’t miss. He was tall with unmistakable curly hair, big glasses, and a beard. When we walked the show floor, almost all the vendors knew him on a first name basis and wanted to chat with him–even if they knew he had no intention to carry their line of products.
Rock was meticulous about following the latest fashions and checking in with sales reps. Our appointments moved fast but Rock looked to me throughout the day to select the best merchandise for the store. We wrote several orders onsite, and by the end of the weekend we had the entire lineup for the next season locked in.
Rock allowed me to continue the process by empowering me to introduce new lines and writing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise orders, essentially entrusting me with direction of the department. Looking back on it, I’m sure that some of the sales reps may have been a bit surprised by a person my age being given such autonomy.
I gained a lot of confidence seeing what would sell throughout the coming months and years.
The store continued to adapt to the changing retail environment and became one of the region’s first businesses to embrace e-commerce. The development of Getzs.com provided me additional experiences such as photo shoots, promoting products to feature online, fielding customer sales and service calls, fulfilling orders, and shipping products to our customers around the country.
Getzs.com became such a success story that President Obama used it as an example when touting the benefits of broadband internet in our remote region during a campaign speech in Marquette. It was a day that Rock and his entire team at Getz’s would never forget.
Sadly, Rock recently lost his ongoing battle with cancer. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Getz family decided to have an outdoor funeral with masks and social distancing. Although I had been working from home and limiting my travel, I knew I had to drive the 7 hours to attend.
Being there, I was genuinely overcome with emotion. I thought back to all the time Rock took to make me a better person by instilling in me all of his authentic leadership qualities.
I felt immense gratitude for both growing up in Marquette and the chances it afforded me in life. I can’t imagine growing up in a place that didn’t have places like Getz’s or a mentor like Rock Getz.
He had a tremendous impact on my life and taught me values that I carry with me to this day. Through Rock’s example I was able to gain a skill set that most teens did not have. I know I wouldn’t have had those opportunities at a big box store in a large city.
Marquette and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will always be home. I’m convinced that it gave me the tools necessary to succeed anywhere I go in life.
Life’s characters–folks like Rock–will always hold a special place in my heart as I continue to navigate life’s journey.
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