Making Change One Step at a Time

Eleanor Brockway in front of her home in Central Neighborhood, Traverse City

Eleanor Brockway walks daily, and it’s by design.

Making Change One Step at a Time

Winter Walk Wednesday or not, when the temperatures hover around zero, it can take a little extra motivation to get out and walk. That’s why Norte supports the buddy system, whether by walking with an old friend or by reaching out to someone who offers–like a Norte staff member. We all need a little extra encouragement sometimes. 

Although walking for recreation is fairly common, choosing a lifestyle that promotes a walk by design is gaining momentum. When Eleanor Brockway, a Munson Medical Center nurse, moved to Traverse City she intentionally shifted her residence and her daily activities to support a walkable way of life year-round.  

Eleanor wasn’t always able to live a car-lite lifestyle. When Eleanor and her husband, Blaine, first moved to the area, they lived in Interlochen. They owned two cars, and walking for anything other than recreation was nearly impossible. That changed in 2018 when they moved to Traverse City, less than a mile from the hospital. 

“We are a one-car family now that we live in town. That was by design and I’m digging it,” she said. “This is a dream that I thought would never come true—being able to walk to work and have one car instead of two. I thought it was an unattainable dream.”

Quote: I'm pinching myself. I can't believe this is my life now. 

She didn’t think she could ever live close enough to walk to work because of the reputation that Traverse City is prohibitively expensive. However, once she and Blaine found a fixer-upper and redistributed their budget, they realized that her dream home in a walkable community was attainable after all.

“Getting rid of one car changed our whole view. It changed our budget and everything,” Eleanor explained. In 2020, the American Automobile Association calculated the real annual cost of vehicle ownership at $7,114, almost 6-10 months of mortgage payments. “I’m pinching myself. I can’t believe this is my life now.” 

Moving to Traverse City’s Central Neighborhood wasn’t all she did to get down to one car and more trips on foot. Upon moving to town, Eleanor switched banks, doctors, and other regular destinations. “I changed everything that I had to do, to something that I didn’t have to rely on a car,” she said. “If you’re not scared of change, it’s thrilling. I got excited. I can do everything without a car.”

The benefits of incorporating walking into a daily routine are robust. Walking reduces stress, improves overall physical and mental health while reducing pollution. Walking also connects us physically and socially to our community, often leading to a deeper appreciation for it and a desire to spark positive change

Eleanor certainly embodies this commitment to her community and is an alumnus of the 2020 Advocate Academy. She recognizes that Traverse City and the surrounding townships have a ways to go before everyone can make the changes she’s made. 

“I feel lucky because I know it isn’t possible for everybody,” she said. “Hopefully, we can become a more affordable place to live. I hope I can be part of that solution. I don’t know what those solutions are, but I’m willing to see what I can bring to the table.”

Reflecting on her Advocate Academy experience, she found the experience refreshing and found solidarity with other Academy members devoted to bettering the community. “Sometimes you forget that people care about this too. This is a group effort,” she said. “I found the whole thing so helpful to visualize start to finish what it takes to implement change.”


Let us know who you’re walking with this winter, on Winter Walk Wednesdays or any other day. If you’re looking for someone to match your strides, consider inviting someone at Norte. Our staff is ready. Reach out. Let’s walk together—safely and responsibly, of course. 


Safe and Responsible


Walking and Talking With Lee Elston

Lee Elston smiling at the Grand Traverse Civic Center

Although we’re recognized for our work getting kids on bikes, Norte is a firm believer in the power of walking. When we walk, we take critical steps towards both individual health and community health. When we walk, we see things differently within ourselves and in the community around us. Recently, I walked with someone who embodies the commitment to walking to stay active and connected.

Lee Elston walks 120 miles a month, mainly with her neighbors, friends, and, occasionally, new folks who come along like me. We walked a two-lapper at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. At a healthy 3.6 mph pace, we walked and talked about winter, health, Blue Zones, community, and tango.

“I’ve been walking for nine months. I go every day. Now my friend wants me to walk with her once a week. It has really brought on a lot of walking, talking with my friends,” said Lee. “If you’re on a treadmill, you’re just by yourself, and that’s just more isolation.”

From the sounds of it, Lee is anything but isolated. From volunteering at Interlochen Arts Academy, teaching part-time at Northwestern Michigan College, and participating in the local tango scene, she’s regularly out there in the community. “If your community is where you gather, my community is on the tango dance floor,” she said.

Unfortunately, many of her community connections aren’t up and running during the pandemic, including dance. Last May, Lee realized she needed something to keep her active and connected to a community. Thinking it was odd that none of her neighbors knew each other, she asked a neighbor if she could join her walk one day. As they walked more, their circle of friends grew. “Then we started meeting people and walking, and we started connecting with people. We now know the neighborhood,” she said.

Quote, what is good for your heart, is good for your brain

Lee believes in the power of walking side by side. It provides an opportunity to discuss each other’s lives and check-in with each other. It brings people together, even if they are quite different in many ways. Walking together with her neighbors, she’s discovering commonalities. For Lee, that’s adding intentionality in her life that aligns with the communal benefits she sees in the Blue Zones concept.

Blue Zones are regions where people tend to live much longer and be much healthier than people in other places in the world. In addition to moderate, regular exercise, community engagement is a common trait of Blue Zones. After 30 years as a nurse at Munson, when Lee retired, she found herself asking how she can do more to connect with her neighbors.

“I’m into communal living, where people can take care of each other as they age,” offered Lee. “It’s a way to combat loneliness.”

She’s also into winter walking, out in the cold and snow. Lee moved to Northern Michigan from Miami Beach for a job at Munson. After a rough first year settling in, learning what a snowmobile is and how to make a fire, Lee is now happy putting on her boots for a winter walk.

“I don’t like hot weather. This is my jam right here. There’s nothing wrong with this weather,” she said as we walked into a slight breeze at the Civic Center. “You just have to get out. Yeah, it is cold. But I don’t feel cold.”

Lee recently was inspired by an interview with neurosurgeon and author Sanjay Gupta. He’s making the rounds interviewing for his latest book, Keep Sharp: How To Build a Better Brain at Any Age.

“What is good for your heart is good for your brain. So what we are doing now, exercising, it’s also good for your brain,” she said, paraphrasing Gupta. “I think these are going to be my words for a little bit. If you’re doing something good for your heart, your brain is definitely going to benefit.”

“Us oldsters are concerned about our brains. Nobody wants to get Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

Lee’s has advice for people who think of walking as a chore: start with small goals and gradually increase your distance and pace. “I try to take the task out of it. I want walking to be enjoyable. I think when you walk with someone, it takes the task out of it,” said Lee.

That’s something Norte can get behind—walking together and keeping it fun, like Lee.

Let us know who you’re walking with this winter, on Winter Walk Wednesdays, or any other day. If you’re looking for someone to match your strides, consider inviting someone at Norte. Our staff is ready. Reach out. Let’s walk together—safely and responsibly, of course. 


Safe and Responsible


Jim and the Three Lapper

Norte’s Executive Director describes the joy of walking and talking with friends and mentors at the Grand Traverse Civic Center.

I have a hard time sitting still. Always have. In first grade, my teacher once tied me to my chair because I wouldn’t stay at my desk. Pacing in the back of the class calmed my brain and helped me learn. 38 years later, I’m still pacing. I’m still learning.

Instead of pacing at school, I now walk at work. Fortunately, one of my offices is outside at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center, one of our Grand Traverse’s finest parks. The nearly one-mile path is my new favorite place to mull things over—one step at a time. Since the pandemic arrived in northern Michigan last March, I’ve walked nearly 100 laps at the Civic Center.

Occasionally these are solitary endeavors, but more often — while masked and distanced — they’re with others; friends, colleagues, advisors, and partners to plan, strategize, problem-solve, and develop ideas.

Most of these meetings are what I call “one lapper.” These are 20-minute jaunts that are just enough time for most subjects. Sometimes, if we need more time to flush out a more convoluted agenda item, we’ll have a “two lapper.”

And then there’s the “three lap’er.” These one-hour walks are limited, and I save them for the deep dives into complex problems. They offer plenty of time and fresh air to reflect, inquire, struggle, and imagine enduring solutions that get to the root cause — again, one step at a time.

My favorite three lappers recently have been with my friend Jim. Jim is one of my senior advisors. He’s wise. He’s also very generous with his wisdom, and I try my best to soak it up on our walks around the Civic Center.

Jim grew up on a lake near Cadillac and graduated from Michigan State University. He moved to the Traverse City area in the ‘80s and founded a successful media business. He likes to say, “why sit and talk when you can walk and talk.” I couldn’t agree more.

So walk and talk, we do. Our discussions about leadership and adaption ebb and flow with the Civic Center path’s gentle ups and downs.

The easy curves guide us into conversations about thinking differently and acting with a sense of urgency. As we nod hello to passersby, we talk about disrupting the status quo and changing the odds in favor of more — lots more — active-for-life kids in the Grand Traverse region. Around we go, always dreaming of a better tomorrow.

In this age of Zoom — and hearing once again, “you’re still on mute, Ty”— I’m grateful for these masked up face-to-face walks with Jim. I’m thankful for public parks like the Civic Center that provide a safe, comfortable place to walk and think year-round. I’m grateful I can walk freely and thrilled I’m no longer tied to my desk chair.

Want to walk a lap or three and dream of a happy, healthy, post-covid world? I’m in.

*This column appeared in the Record-Eagle on December 17.



To invite any of Norte’s staff for a walk, contact us and let’s walk together


Happy. Healthy. Strong.


[Video] Winter Walk Wednesday at the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA

[Video] Winter Walk With Jeanne and Luke in Downtown Traverse City

[Video] Winter Walk Wednesday in DC

Who’s Winter Walking? Jeanne Esch

Who’s Winter Walking? Jeanne Esch

As part of Winter Walk Wednesdays – a weekly celebration of people (big and small) walking to work, school or just for FUN! in Northern Michigan – we are highlighting several of our local Walk Champions.

Who Winter Walks In Northern Michigan is a story series that aims to create awareness for active, winter embracing, walk-tastic neighbors who walk more, winter more, connect more.

We see Jeanne Esch and her service dog, Luke, downtown all the time. We asked her to share her experience about getting around Traverse City during the winter.

Here’s her story:

Traverse City in the winter is beautiful, especially with snow. I enjoy being outdoors. I find the fresh air invigorating and a walk (or roll) near the water peaceful. I also need to be outdoors regardless of the weather. I also have a service dog who needs lots of exercise. Weather cannot stop us! The quiet of Traverse City in the snow is wonderful. The snow brings a special silence. I most enjoy taking the TART trail along the bay in winter. The summer busyness is gone. It is beautiful to watch the waves through the snow-covered trees.
I also enjoy going down 6th street in winter and the Central neighborhood in general. Here too, there is a lovely quiet in the winter.
Traverse City is also at its most challenging in the winter when there is snow. Wheelchair wheels get stuck in curb-cuts that are filled with snow. I’m often not able to take the sidewalks because I cannot access them via curb-cuts or there is too much snow on the sidewalks to allow a wheelchair to get through. I know the city is working on this. I believe as a city, we may have to be creative in finding solutions to such problems. (Anyone up to building a snowplow that attaches to the front of my wheelchair!)
I use the streets frequently in winter.  This makes friends nervous. Probably some drivers too. I’m sorry for that but it’s often the only way I can be out in winter weather to complete errands and walk my pup. I try to watch for cars and pull over so they can pass and not wonder which direction I’m going. To drivers, I thank you for your patience. Most people are very helpful and if my chair becomes stuck someone stops to help push it out. I’m very thankful for those people. For all people with challenges or with strollers – actually, for all people – it’s important that curb-cuts, bridges, and sidewalks are kept as shoveled as possible. After the plow goes through, I am most appreciative of those who take a shovel and clear a curb cut or remove a pile of snow left by the plows.
Making Traverse City walkable for all is a winter-long challenge. It’s worth the challenge to see the trees framing the Boardman River or the Bay after a fresh snowfall.
I’d ask everyone to try to make an extra effort to keep areas shoveled for those who need or want winter access to the city. It’s more difficult for others, those with canes and walkers than it is for me.