By Carolynn Lee
Lots of new folks are coming to Sheboygan these days – for work, to raise families, and because the city has got a bit of a buzz about it. This is a community in flux, and I think what comes next is going to be exciting. Change is good.
The city is changing because it has so much going for it. When I moved to town, I was able to buy my first house, because the real estate market is diverse and affordable. I found a couple of local watering holes where I get the best Norm-from-Cheers treatment when I walk in. I became a loyal customer at unique, locally-owned restaurants and shops like Urbane, Paradigm Coffee & Music, and Olivada; the variety and quality of local businesses in Sheboygan is frankly astounding.
I have found both personal fulfillment and professional value in plugging into community organizations like Sheboygan Performing Arts and Ignite Sheboygan. I literally cannot attend every festival, event, film, workshop, and show I want to see. Then there’s my fish fry list; I’ve been here more than four years and there are still at least 10 places I’ve been told I need to try the fish fry. (I’m from Iowa- we don’t do Friday fish fry and old fashioneds. It’s my favorite thing about Wisconsin!)
I am officially a Bookworm Gardens SuperFan. I’ve been in the room for once-in-a-lifetime performances by Yo-Yo Ma and Audra McDonald in Kohler. I try not to let a day go by without stopping for a minute to appreciate our amazing inland ocean, just beyond my window.
Basically, I’m convinced if you’re bored in Sheboygan, you simply aren’t paying attention. My to-do list just keeps growing!
Of course, it can be hard to meet people when you’re new in town, in any town. And the culture here is uniquely insular in many ways. I get that. One of the most common laments I’ve heard from folks who are transplants to Sheboygan is that it’s kind of hard to feel at home here, if you’re not from here. Also: it’s really cold for a good portion of the year, and some of us hibernate a bit.
But here’s the wonderful flip side of that coin – I have found that this community is capable of fostering deep relationships and sustaining diverse interests. In a town this size, making one friend can mean automatic access to a tight-knit group of like-minded folks. Whether you plug into the arts scene, the food scene, the surfing scene, the educational scene, the religious community scene, or any other scene – you will meet smart, interesting, kind people with whom you can find common ground.
The population skews older, whiter, and more conservative than many young professionals or non-Midwestern folks might be used to. Sure, but there is much broader diversity (of all kinds) in Sheboygan than the stereotypes would lead you to believe, and there are more transplants who have decided to stay than you might realize.
So, I’ve grown to love this city as my adopted home, and because I want even more transplants like me to fall in love with Sheboygan, I also want us to challenge ourselves to always get better at welcoming them. Folks who may not match the usual profile of a white, Christian, German, straight, Sheboygan native. City folk, people of color, LGBTQ folks, religious minorities and Atheists, immigrants, DINKs (dual-income, no kids), progressives, creatives, (Iowans), and transplants of all kinds bring with them experiences and perspectives that can enrich our beloved lakeshore community. And we can do the same for them. I want Sheboygan to be known far and wide as an open-hearted city. Sheboygan is for everyone! Let’s all commit ourselves to making that a reality for more lucky transplants like me.
Carolynn Lee is the program director for the Kohler Foundation.