One Family’s Story: Kathi Terry Remembers Downtown Living in East Lansing
She has lots of city and school memorabilia. And countless family photos. She also has a collection of her mother’s handwritten notes that document the nuances of an East Lansing gone by.
Notes written by Lelle Childs, Kathi Terry’s mother. Terry said that her mother loved to write about the history of her family and where they lived.
Kathi Terry has lived in East Lansing most of her life, and first crossed the City limits from Lansing as a newborn back in 1948. After graduating from East Lansing High School in 1966, she went to college in Grand Rapids and met her husband. Instead of staying in Michigan, they relocated down south before he was called to serve and later died in the Vietnam War.
“I moved back to East Lansing to live in Mom and Dad’s house when he went to Vietnam,” she said of coming home. “I decided to heal after he died by buying a horse and riding out in Mason. That’s when I met Mark. He had a horse, too, and things just went from there.”
Today, Kathi makes her home with Mark—her husband of 45 years. They live about two miles west of the 300 block of M.A.C. Avenue where she grew up with her parents, Lelle and Randy Robertson. Her maternal grandparents—Harold A. and Ethel Childs—lived across the street in a small bungalow. Kathi’s paternal grandparents weren’t far away either. Jim and Eddie Robertson lived a short walk across town and kitty-corner to Bailey School on Haslett Street - now known as Collingwood Drive.
“Like me, most of my parents and grandparents were East Lansing High School graduates,” said Kathi. “And I have all their yearbooks.”
All around busy town
Today, the two houses at 343 and 338 M.A.C. are still in Kathi’s family. Although the homes have transitioned to rentals, Kathi said she and Mark take care to preserve the historic charm that adds to neighborhood streets.
An aerial view of 343 M.A.C. Ave., circa 19-teens. .
Albums and boxes full of pictures also preserve the memories of the 1950s and 1960s Kathi readily recalls through conversation. Referencing black-and-white photos, she talks about days of walking to and from Bailey Elementary with her sisters Jamie and Laurie. She also recalls coming home for lunch to eat her mom’s beloved grilled cheese sandwiches on the porch with her classmates.
“Our front porch was always a gathering place for kids,” she said. “We were friends with all our neighbors.”
Kathi said she, Jamie and Laurie always had places to play or find simple adventures in the neighborhood, at parks or on campus. They would ride bikes to the cow barns at the outer edge of MSU to help out with the animals, then eat sack lunches under a huge weeping willow tree. Sometimes, if their mother gave them a dime or two, they would buy ice cream from the MSU Dairy Store to share with the workers at the barn.
“Mom and Dad always talked to the guys and made sure it was OK and we weren’t being a pain,” she said. “Sometimes we would sweep the aisle and brush the calves.”
Weather didn’t impede Kathi and her sisters from visiting friends and family. She remembers an ice storm in the ‘60s that closed schools and coated sidewalks and trees. Donning their warmest coats and sweaters, she and her sisters put on their ice skates and skated down the residential streets to see their grandparents or friends.
“It was easy to get around,” she remarked. “Mom never had a driver’s license. We would walk just about everywhere.”
Old town style
Growing up on M.A.C. Avenue meant Kathi and her sisters were never more than a couple blocks from their favorite places for candy and treats. She remembers a small market in an alley off Linden Street where she bought bubblegum on the way home from school. A grocery store also occupied the space where El Azteco now sits facing Albert Avenue, complete with a butcher shop. (The grocery was located on Ann Street.)
Grand River offered equal excitement for pre-teens. The Lucon—one of the city’s two movie theatres—sat just east of the current building that houses the Jackson Zone. Movies ran most every day of the week, and admission was 25 cents. She and her friends didn’t go to the smaller State Theatre on Abbot Road across from the current day Beggar’s Banquet. Movies there, she said, were generally for an older crowd.
“We were under 10, and we went with friends to see John Wayne and other westerns, as well as cartoons and newsreels,” she said of the movie house that later became The Campus Theatre. “I remember walking in and seeing the red carpet and concessions.”
Kathi Terry (on trike), big sister Jamie and younger sister Laurie play on the sidewalk in front of their family home at 338 M.A.C. Ave., sometime in the mid-1950s.
Kathi and her sisters relished the shopping on Grand River. Her family bought most birthday, wedding and special occasion gifts at Liebermann’s. She found, too, she could make the most of her allowance for other small gifts and novelties at a dime store a block or so away.
As a teen, Kathi had the chance to work in a couple stores herself. She did window displays at long narrow shop called The Sportsmeister. She also worked at Spartan Sports and Hobbies, and at Jacobson’s main and furniture stores.
“We had our favorite stores and we knew most of the people who worked in them,” she said “Sometimes, we would go over after school and the owners would let us stand in the windows and pretend to be mannequins. It was so much fun.”
Reason to stay
Today, Kathi’s home is filled with pictures of her grandparents and parents to remind her of the reasons she stayed rooted in her hometown. Her grandfather Childs was an architect who designed the Orchard Street Pumphouse and several other structures in Greater Lansing, including the Reuter House—now The English Inn in Eaton Rapids. He also left a sports legacy as a former football star, serving as the captain of the Michigan Agricultural College Aggies in 1902. Her grandmother Childs was equally active in the community, helping to found the East Lansing Library, originally located in the People’s Church.
Kathi has grown children and grandchildren who live nearby. One son, Luke, had a house next door on Michigan Avenue with his family for seven years. Her oldest sister resides in the city, too. She still keeps in touch and gets together with a group of friends who all graduated from East Lansing High School in 1966 and stayed close to home.
While developments and high rises are shaping a new landscape, Kathi said she’s accepting of change. She’s hopeful some of the “old stuff” will remain intact, and that a smaller-town flair still attracts people who want to live and raise families in East Lansing neighborhoods.
“I’ve just been here forever,” she said. “I’m comfortable with that and know where things are. Things have changed a lot, but for the most part, you still get that same East Lansing feeling. Regardless of who you are and what you do, you just kind-of fit in when you live here.”
Note: This article was corrected with regard to the location of the theaters, to note that the grocery store fronted on Ann Street, and to removr the incorrect statement that Harold Childs designed the house at 343 MAC.
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