The 'Humans of Belle Isle' is a documentary project produced by fellow photographer, writer and seeker of curiosities Peter Walle and myself.
We explored Belle Isle State Park, in Detroit, Michigan, looking to discover and document the personalities and stories of those who spend their time on the island. Situated on the Detroit River evenly between Canada and the United States, this sub-1000 acre island is home to many destinations, attractions and events.
Below is a selection of my contributions to the 'Humans of Belle Isle' project.
The Antique Racing Boat Show
Dave Bush is no stranger to boats, nor is he a stranger to Belle Isle. Growing up locally, he would build and sail model boats on the small ponds and lakes on Belle Isle. As his relationships with boats deepened, he would still stay close to Belle Isle with his growing passions.
Growing up around older family members who would own, work on and race classic wooden race boats, it was only a matter of time until Bush himself got into that specific realm of motor crafts. Now he is a proud member of the Antique Outboard Motor Club, and also takes credit with also getting his son into this hobby as well.
July 15, 2017 was the first time Bush had ever come to Belle Isle as part of the Antique Racing Boat show. After having a great experience bringing his boat and attending the event, as well as reliving some memories of his past, he guarantees his return.
Leaning against the hull of his 1950’s-era wooden race boat, he expounded further on his feelings for the island,
“I am just so proud of where this island has come from and where it is going. It makes me so happy.” said Bush.
The Belle Isle Kite Festival
The four men stood in a line, spaced a handful of feet apart. In each hand they held a thin, curved metal rod with soft grips. Sunglasses on, and 2-way radios in their ears, they were staring intently about 100 feet above the ground. The metal handles they were holding had wire-thin cord extending out 150 feet connecting to each of their kites which were dancing around the sky. They stood on the main field outside the Belle Isle Casino practicing during the 1st ever Belle Isle Kite Festival, on July 16, 2017.
This was Team Sky-FX--- Brett Marchel, Michael Diehl, Vern Balodis and Roger Tompkins. They are a kite flying team who had been practicing and performing together for just about two years.
Their style of kite flying, to the uninitiated, was a mixture of synchronization, crazy speeds and sudden twists and dives. They were entirely in tune with one another’s movements. The radios in their ears were connected to one member who would call out directions and maneuvers for the others to follow. The level of comfort and confidence they have is certainly noticeable, often flying their 93-inch long kites in wide circles around one another’s kites, wrapping their lines around each other’s kites, but then with a sharp flick of a wrist, the kites circle back around and all are completely free.
They came to the Kite Festival not knowing what to expect, but say they were quite happy with the turnout of attendance. With other kite teams joining the festival, new crowds curious to try flying kites, everyone was spreading the word and good spirits of the world of kite flying and its culture.
Being a team that practices anywhere from large fields, to local parks, to frozen lakes, they appreciate the day’s events happening on Belle Isle. For this kite team, the Belle Isle Kite Festival has taken what had historically been a practice field on Belle Isle, to becoming a stage to exhibit their teamwork and talents.
David Brostek is a creative.
Working as a carpenter and artist, he is always designing and bringing something new into existence. One day he decided he wanted something bigger.
Something different. Something for himself. And definitely something he’s never done before.
“I just wanted to do a big art piece”, Brostek simply stated.
After coming across a large supply of old recycled computer parts, the idea came to him. Taking the large variety of electronics he had amassed, he then went out and took a step nobody could have guessed- he bought a car.
The next move in his grand idea took him one year to complete.
He began to painstakingly arrange and glue different types of computer electronics all over his new car, a 1991 Ford Escort. He would painstakingly trim out every section he wanted to use with metal shears and then glue them to the car, always careful to make sure there was interesting elements and transitions wherever you looked on the car.
“You never know how many different types of color green there are until you do a project like this.” Said Brostek, referring to the immense variety of colored computer parts he was working with.
He took care to organize how he laid out the parts. He’ll be quick to tell you he’s not at all a computer guy. He would rather organize his layout based off of how he thought the parts would visually work together, what they could represent and look like as a hole. It became a new world for him. He’d point to some sections, saying how they could look like a city from high above, or how small round fan blade could be imagined a sports arena in a city.
When 2006 came to close as a year, so did he project. Over 1,500 pieces came together on his car. No longer was is a ’91 Ford Escort, now it was ‘CAR-PUTER’, and it was immediately something Brostek took pride in. He loves driving it around town, in parades and talking about it with curious people. He keeps it in his garage and only drives it around on nice days. Only twice in the eleven years of driving it has he been caught in a rain shower.
For him the enjoyment is how much curiosity and enjoyment it can inspire. He loves how the variety of parts on his car look in the sunlight, the small moving pieces, how there is always something different to look at.
The Golf Mentor
She grew up playing golf. She caddied in high school. Her passions for the game of golf were very clear. Her drive was so much so that she was awarded the Evans Scholarship, making her the first female recipient in the state of Michigan.
This golf-centered scholarship allowed her the opportunity to attend Michigan State University.
Jane Curtis’s gratitude for the opportunities afforded to her are still present today. Still an avid golfer and supporter of the sport, Curtis is a very active member in the Michigan Women’s Golf Association. She also volunteers regularly working with children.
For her to become involved on Belle Isle teaching children the game of golf just seemed to make sense. She has been volunteering and working with kids on the island for over five years.
Curtis (in the green shirt and blue shoes) is one of several volunteers who works with children on Belle Isle to help improve their understanding and capabilities surrounding golf.
“I wanted to help further the game of golf with girls”, Curtis said.
To help teach kids the game of golf, something they might otherwise never have a chance to learn about, and help them be active outdoors, and support Belle Isle and the golf facilities are all constant motivation for Curtis.
“The game of golf gave me a lot of opportunities in life, and I want to help other have positive opportunities in life as well”, said Curtis.
The Golf Ambassador
She had the passion to do the job, and the experience to back it up.
With 10 years working with children’s golf programs, as well as being a long-standing member in the Michigan Women’s Golf Association, topped off with being an avid player of the game of golf for 43 years--- Francine Pegues is just the person to run the Belle Isle Golf Range.
A 9-acre golf facility, located on Lakeside Drive the Northern end of Belle Isle, hosts a driving range, 9-hole short course and putting and chipping greens. It’s just across the street from the Belle Isle Nature Center, down the road from the yacht club and next to the Blue Heron Lagoon.
When she decided to make a bid to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to operate the golf facilities, she was unsure at first how things would end up. But then she found out she was successful in winning the bid, and now, three years ago, and hasn’t looked back on that decision once.
Under her guidance, the golf center has become more than simply a range--- a variety of five different ‘golf and skill’ programs have grown and become regularly attended, and attendance has grown. From children’s clinics with a LPGA Pro leading the instructions, to hosting employer group outings, to holding social golfing events like ‘wine and wedges’. For Pegues, golf is about inclusivity and absolutely anyone being able to participate.
Positive change is also something being noticed at her golf center. “We find the golf community which once was in the past, is once again returning to the island.” And since their first year, she reports, “the golf community is growing by leaps and bounds.”
It has become a labor of love for Pegues. She is on Belle Isle at her golf center 7 days a week. She wants to ensure a high quality of both customer service and top quality facilities. Since opening, the facility has worked through a substantial amount of golf balls. Clients have eagerly, albeit, expensively, swung over 32,400 balls into oblivion. For her, it’s a worthwhile part of doing business. She wants, “to make sure if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”
The progress she has made thus far is only just the beginning. She wants to keep growing her customer base, and continue to be a stop for both locals and visitors alike on Belle Isle.
“Our patrons are as diverse as anywhere you will find on the island”, said Pugeus.
Landon Kohtz, from Wayland, Michigan, travelled to Detroit, Michigan to attend the 1st annual Belle Isle Kite Festival which was held July 17th, 2017 at Belle Isle State Park on the Detroit River.
Kohtz brought with him one of his many handmade kites. One of his kites, which he designed and sewed himself, the blue and white kite seen below, is over 80 feet long and needed to be anchored around a large tree once fully flown due to the immense pull the kite created from the constant winds.