By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- Barb VanderMolen was 11-years-old when the Mackinac Bridge was built and remembers thinking she would never see it.
Born and raised in Wayne County, the daughter of a Teamsters truck driver who worked every Saturday, and a mother who didn’t drive, the family had no disposable income and she never traveled.
She was a junior in college before she ever saw Lake Michigan.
It wasn’t until she married a man employed by a farmer’s association and moved to Eaton County that she developed wanderlust. Now the 69-year-old has traveled to every county in Michigan and written a book, “Discovering Michigan County by County,” which she will discuss during a free presentation from 6-7 p.m., April 19, at the library, 304 South St., Ortonville. The book will also be available for sale.
“It’s a fun and entertaining program—people who hear it really, really enjoy it,” said VanderMolen. “If you love Michigan, you will love this book, even if you are an armchair traveler— it’s a good book for people who don’t travel anymore, too.”
The book was nine years in the making, and VanderMolen’s travel guide was first published in 2012 and republished in 2014.
She estimates she put 5,000 to 6,000 hour into writing the book that has 83 chapters, one one each county in the state. The chapters are further broken down into alphabetical categories, from A for agriculture to Z for zoos and animal places.
“That is how we tell the story— with 90 references per chapter to pull it all together,” said VanderMolen. “There is no other book or website where you can find all this information at your fingertips.”Her inspiration for the book came after she was a guide for bus tours in Lansing during the 1990s. The job gave her practice in research. When the bus tour business crashed following the decline in traveling after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, she found her new vocation— writing the book. She made sure she made a stop in all counties she had not yet visited. She laughs as she says her favorite county is any county with water.
“The thing about Michigan is it has so much variety in nature,” VanderMolen said. “Michigan has many microclimates. You have the sand dunes, you’ve got your forests, a variety of trees, lakes… One of the highlights of the state is the agriculture, Michigan is second only to California in the number of agricultural products, with 200 commercially grown commodities.”
In the book, she notes that Oakland is the wealthiest county in the state and also number one in the sale price of horses.
VanderMolen enjoys driving through small towns. Tuesday will be her first visit to Ortonville.
To register for the free library program, “Discovering Michigan County by County,” call 248-627-1461 or visit www.brandonlibrary.org. For more information on the book, visit DiscoverMichiganCountyByCounty.com.