Wakefield Township supervisor prepares to pass torch

By P.J. GLISSON news@yourdailyglobe.com

WAKEFIELD – John Cox and Mandy Lake were both born in Wakefield, and they each left the region to pursue higher education and the jobs that went with it. Both of them, however, returned and it appears they are here to stay. Cox is the supervisor of Wakefield Township and Lake is the township clerk who will assume the top job directly after the November election. She is the only person running for the role. In a recent interview at the township hall, the incoming and outgoing leaders shared some of their history and their vision with the Daily Globe. Born in 1948, Cox said he grew up while moving back and forth between the city and township of Wakefield. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Northern Michigan University, Cox went on to get a master’s degree plus 20 post-graduate credits in school administration from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He began his career by teaching auto repair for 12 years between the Michigan towns of Warren and Oxford, both near Detroit. He then continued for another 13 years at Oxford, first as the assistant principal and vocational education director, and then as the assistant superintendent. “I retired at 50,” he said, adding that he then returned here in 1999 to build a new house in Wakefield Township, where he now has a panoramic view of endless trees, along with access to snowmobile and ORV trails. His influence with the township grew gradually. He worked as a consultant and contractor and helped with grants for its industrial park. “The township board kind of liked me for that,” he recalled. He also was asked to serve on the election board. Then, in 2006, Ken Drier – the man who at that time was supervisor, as well as Cox’s friend – died. Not long afterward, members of the township’s Board of Trustees asked Cox to assume the final two years of Drier’s term. Cox ended up running for three additional four-year terms. Having now served in his role for 14 years, with a history of having lived in both townships and cities, Cox has one adamant conclusion: He prefers townships. “You’re a more free American, I think, when you’re in a township,” he said, explaining that there are fewer rules along with “more person-to-person contact.” He particularly likes Wakefield Township. “The people in this township were great,” he said of his time in charge. “As a whole, they’re just wonderful people. It starts there.” He also spoke highly of “every single board member” with whom he’s worked. “We usually had 5- 0 votes,” he said, noting their simpatico relationship. He added that township planners “step up to the plate,” and also spoke highly of township employees in general. “We haven’t had to fire anybody or discipline anybody,” he said. Moreover, he said local folks in general – when presented with a problem – tend to fix it. Although maintaining roads is always a challenge, he said “it’s been a pleasure” to work with the Gogebic County Road Commission. He also values good relations with representatives from other cities and townships in the county. His love of townships even resulted in him chairing the Gogebic County Chapter of the Michigan Townships Association. “When you’re a new kid on the block, those folks will help you,” he assured. Cox recalled a number of accomplishments that he and fellow officials worked on during his time as supervisor. The township hall has been remodeled, the zoning ordinance has been reviewed more than once, and a first-ever master plan is nearly official. He said he and Lake also worked on much needed signage. “It was a disaster,” he said. “The fire department was driving around in circles looking for addresses.” Better internet service also was a priority. “Mandy and I have both pushed really hard for that,” said Cox, noting that a new internet tower should be complete before the end of the year. Lake expects “quite a few” township kids to benefit from the new service, but she also sees internet access as a continuing battle. “Hopefully, we can keep moving on that, especially now with home schooling,” she said. She also hopes that, after several false starts, copper mining eventually will find a place in the township. After returning to this region in 2006, Lake has been the township clerk since 2012, and she also runs township elections. Lake earned her bachelor’s degree in diagnostic genetics from NMU and then worked for the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for four years. After returning here, she helped her husband, Chris Lake, with his selfemployment in road building, contracting and excavating. “I did all of his books and paperwork,” she said. In addition, they opened a greenhouse called Lake’s Flower Cabin, while they also continue to raise their two children, Joey, 10, and Samy, 7. Lake said she was raised in the city of Wakefield, whereas her husband grew up in the township. “He calls me a city girl because I grew up in town,” she said, laughing. Now, however, she takes her presence in the township every bit as seriously as Cox does. “I’d never leave here,” she said. According to the new master plan, the township has more than 300 residents and 350 households (some are part time), and Cox believes the numbers will grow as city folk seek safer places. “Every year, I go around and look at every single house,” he said. The aim, he noted, is to study each site and determine “what’s not right.” Lake said she looks forward to working with a township team that will include new faces but also continuing strength. She said that Jennifer Ahonen, who is the only person running for Lake’s position as township clerk, will be “fantastic,” and Cox noted that Lake will be present to answer her questions, just as he will remain available to Lake. “He’s going to be getting all kinds of phone calls,” she assured.