Ingrid Sheldon

Ingrid Sheldon
Mayor of Ann Arbor, 1993-2000; Chair, Board of Trustees, Ann Arbor Summer Festival

Tottered on: 3 April 2006
Temperature: 36 F
Ceiling: overcast
Ground: wet
Wind: SW at 28mph

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TT with HD: Ingrid Sheldon

HD: Is this going to work for you?

IS: Yeah. Now let me see ... fulcrum, I'm trying to remember my physics to get this really going.

HD: So you're saying that this gentle pace we've got going right now is not adequate?

IS: You're doing all the work, though!

HD: Okay, well, it doesn't feel like I am, though.

IS: Oh, good.

HD: Now you said in an email that you'd been practicing with your grandsons?

IS: Oh yeah, down at Larchmont Park.

HD: Larchmont?

IS: Larchmont Drive or Street or whatever, but there's park.

HD: With teeter totters?!

IS: Weelll, a teeter-totter device. But more for pre-schoolers. Needless to say, I sit with my knees up by my chin. And try bounce it enough to give the little ones a good ride.

HD: So it's nothing like this, though?

IS: No, this is pretty fancy.

HD: I was a little alarmed when you wrote that you'd been practicing, because I was worried that maybe, I did, in fact, not have a monopoly in the city after all.

IS: I'm sure they've all been taken out. So you must have put a reinforcement ...?

HD: Yes, there's an I-Beam reinforcement.

IS: Now what do you do in the real world?

HD: What do I do in the real world?

IS: Take people teeter tottering?

HD: Actually, to be honest, I have dedicated myself fullt-time to teeter tottering for the time being.

IS: What do you wish you were doing besides teeter tottering?

HD: You know, if I could make this actually turn a profit, I would be quite content to teeter totter my life away.

IS: Ha! You have to pay the bills somehow.

HD: I wanted to read you something and get your reaction to it: "Benjamin Franklin opined that all there was for certain was 'death and taxes.' I would suggest that in today's world, the phrase should read, 'death, taxes, and change.' I have experienced only 58 years of change in Ann Arbor ... We are no longer a sleepy little town that hosted a ho-hum midwest public university. We are the host city to the University of Michigan, a world-class university, a university for the world."

IS: That sounds familiar!

HD: Does it?

IS: Where did you find that?

HD: I found it in a book called Ann Arbor (W)rites: A Community Memoir. And, of course, you wrote that.

IS: I did!

HD: And what I was struck by was your focus on change. Because right now it seems like there's a community-wide discussion going on about the change that is inevitable, how much of it we want to embrace, if we want to see a lot of development in the city with high density and real-city type amenities, or do we want to keep it closer to the sleepy little midwestern town. So I'm wondering what your take is on that current community discussion.

IS: Just as a coincidence as I'm driving here down Plymouth Road, in a rush, I stopped at the bank and now waiting at the light, I'm going, My Glory! Diehl Auto Parts is gone?! How did they manage that?

HD: What was the name?

IS: Diehl Auto Parts, which had been in Ann Arbor Township. It was difficult, when we were re-aligning Plymouth Road, to get around them, because they needed to have access to the right of way in a different way, but it had been there forever. It was an auto junkyard. It had always been envisioned that someday it would become a part of the city and it would be re-developed. No successful community has an auto junkyard in its midst!! But, you know, I always thought they provided a useful purpose. So, change. I think probably with the environment that we're in right now, there is a more acceptance of greater density in our downtown and it's just a matter of finding enough people that are willing to exchange different life styles. When Borders bought Walden Books, that was probably the very first start, where downtown environments, real urban settings, became successful. People were developing the second floors of Main Street buildings, and people were buying them. People were transferred here, in part, from Connecticut on the east coast. So living in an upstairs flat made lots of sense to them.

HD: Right, it was familiar to them.

IS: Versus myself, who grew up on two acres north of, outside Ann Arbor now.

HD: You describe yourself as growing up basically in the country, in this memoir you wrote for Ann Arbor (W)rites.

IS: Right, in the country. Warren and Nixon Roads, which is one mile from the city limits. Not even a mile, it's a half mile from the city limits. And I could make it from my doorstep to the Kroger store at Maiden Lane and Broadway in five minutes flat. Quite fast.

HD: You know, the Democrats have a resolution on the agenda for their next city meeting calling for a limit to building heights of four stories.

IS: Oh really?! I've basically have tried to cut the umbilical cord.

HD: You don't really follow city politics any more?

IS: Oh, I follow it, but I have to keep my blood pressure down. And you don't want to think about being in others' shoes. So the Democrats, four stories?! Who's sponsoring that?

HD: I don't know who's sponsoring the resolution, but there's an online blog called ArborUpdate, and they post items of interest of that sort, and that was one of this morning's posts. You know, it's not like a resolution that the Democrats have passed and it's only a proposed Party resolution, it's not a Council resolution or anything,

IS: So it's coming from the Democratic Party?

HD: Yeah, and it seems like the Democratic Party, or at least there's an element of the city Democratic Party that's trying to establish the Democrats as the anti-development party. I'm sure they would not embrace that description, I'm sure they'd prefer the 'moderate'-development party as contrasted with some 'let's-go-gangbusters-with-development' party. Do you have any idea who might be running for the Republican side?

IS: There won't be anybody.

HD: Wow. Okay.

IS: But I'm remote from that. I mean, the demographics have shifted so severely that it just wouldn't be worth it. That was the hope of Dave DeVarti and Tom Wieder, to always have a Democratic majority on Council. I just slowed them down a bit! With the past election, you're at the bottom of the ticket, people vote straight ticket, even though they don't have the slightest idea who's running at the bottom of the ticket. You can be a moderate Republican, but still feel comfortable being a Democrat, as far as city elections are concerned. So I tell people, if they're really interested in running for elections, unless they have a big 'R' emblazoned on their chest, then run as an independent or run as a Democrat in the Democratic primary.

HD: Well, back to this book, Ann Arbor (W)rites. The reason I even knew about it is, that I looked it up on Wikipedia, are you familiar with that?

IS: Hmm?

HD: It's an online, collaboratively built encyclopedia. And you have an entry.

IS: Oh really?!

HD: Yeah, and the nice thing is, that if you think the description of you there is not quite accurate, or perhaps not thorough enough, then you can actually go and edit it yourself.

IS: Oh!

HD: It's quite a remarkable enterprise, this Wikipedia. But anyway, this book is mentioned in your entry. This was around 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, when I was online looking you up. And I thought I really should get myself a copy of that book and have a look at what Ingrid wrote about herself, so that I don't ask her the same stuff that she's already written about. So I thought, Well, maybe the public library has it, but I wonder if they're open this time on a Sunday? So I went to their website just to check their hours. Then I noticed their card-catalogue is online, so I was able to look up the book on their card-catalog system, confirm that, yes, they owned the book and that it was available, not checked out, at the main branch. So I walked 10 minutes downtown, didn't have a library card ...

IS: ... you're kidding me!

HD: Er, no, but going through the process was quick and easy. And long-story-short, from start to finish, from the time I looked you up on Wikipedia until I had the book in my hand: maybe 20 minutes.

IS: Neat! That's what's special about living in downtown. And that's why, I imagine that even though people are calling for greater density, there's this kind of special-ness about the Old West Side and the near neighborhoods, that I wonder: Do you really want more clutter in your lives?! Don't they like their lives just the way they are?!

HD: Well, it's funny, because on my way back home with book in hand, I passed a neighbor of mine ...

IS: ... now were you biking or walking?

HD: I was walking yesterday. Because it's a short enough, that by the time I get in and out of my cycling gear, it's probably close to the same. But I told my neighbor, who was raking leaves out of this flower garden, the same story, and his response was, Well, yeah, that's life in a small town for you.

IS: Where had he come from?!

HD: It's interesting that you would ask. I challenged him, I said, Have you ever lived in a small town?! Cuz that ain't gonna happen in a small town! It turns out that his partner is from Manhattan. And he said she's constantly reminding him what a small town Ann Arbor is. So I said, Hey that's life in a medium-sized city!

IS: Yeah, that's what we are really, I think, in the greater scheme of things. Dave DeVarti [SGI publications] puts out an annual publication, and one of my first writing assignments was to write a welcome. So I think the first line was, 'We're big and small at the same time.' And you can satisfy all of your emotional needs: whatever need you have, we have it here. And that's what makes us special. Every year, he'd say, Do you want to change this? And I'd read it, and maybe change a punctuation mark, but ahh, it's still the same!

HD: So you've been working in the non-profit sector somewhat since you've left office? With the Summer Festival?

IS: I have always been a community volunteer kind of person ... and involved with community kind of projects. It's just that I keep doing it, or people who've been kind to you, ask you to do something and so you feel that you need to reciprocate.

HD: So have you been working with the Summer Festival over this past year?

IS: For the Summer Festival, I appointed myself as the Council rep to the Board in 1993. It was something we were always interested in, my husband and I. We decided to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary by ... You're doing all the work! You need to move closer! Or, I need to remember my physics ...

HD: It's working for me.

IS: Well, I'm having a good time! When I do this with my grandchildren, I ...

HD: ... just think of me as your overgrown grandson ...

IS: ... I do the work for them. So anyway, that's how we got involved in the Summer Festival. It was our 25th anniversary, so we bought tons of tickets. We became regular donors and it was just something that we enjoyed and loved and have friends that loved. So then I just kept on with the Board. I tend to be, or try to be, a contributing board member not one that just sort of sits there and shows up ...

HD: ... lends their name to it ...

IS: ... I go into my activities with sets of expectations. In this particular case I just kind of evolved to be the President and now Chair. My big project is rewriting the by-laws, because they're awfully unclear and they need more specificity.

HD: I noticed that Elvis Costello ...

IS: ... yeah! ...

HD: ... is coming to town. I don't have a real clear sense of the history of the Summer Festival, but to my mind anyway, that's one of the biggest names that's come to town for that in a while.

IS: Nooo, we've had some good names that have come over the course of time. But I think it's become more difficult to get some of these bigger names. They want larger venues, which we can't ... their shows are so expensively produced.

HD: So is that a show you hope to see, the Elvis Costello show?

IS: Well, unfortunately I will be at my Rotary Convention in Copenhagen.

HD: Oh, wow!

IS: So I'm going to miss the first week or so. I think I bought every show after that. My husband was putting the dates onto the calendar last night, going, Ingrid?! I said, I thought they all sounded intriguing!!

HD: Well, you mention your husband. From your 'memoir' it seemed like you met him in some sort of grocery store romance? Is that a fair description?

IS: Oh yeah.

HD: So you were a checker at the Kroger in Lower Town and he was a produce clerk?

IS: He was. He was doing his management training. He had just gotten his MBA from Michigan and as a part of his training, he was anticipating going into finance, they had work in the stores.

HD: So did this unfold ... was it the break room, where you first met, or?

IS: It was five o'clock rush. And these were the old columns of numbers, you know, we didn't have a nine-key or a ten-key. We had columns for one's and ten's and hundred's. I was noted for being very fast! And for packing square bags! I could ring up blind, and do the division 3-for-79 in my head, and you had to just do it. So anyway, I turned around one day, during the five o'clock rush, and there was this scrawny kid, packing round bags slowly. Ugh! So, of course, I had to assist him. But I realized he was youngish and I thought maybe I ought to pursue this guy, and find out more about him, before I totally blow him off! ... it was love in the produce aisle! ... and we started dating.

HD: So you say round bags and square bags? Square bags, being the proper technique ...?

IS: Of course.

HD: So when you go through a grocery line nowadays, do you find yourself involuntarily evaluating the quality of the bagging?

IS: Well. If you do ask for a paper bag, they have a difficult time packing it. They've completely gotten away from it. I used to, because I was very proud of my bag-packing expertise, here I'd have the kids with me, and with long lines, I'd have the kids guard the merchandise and I'd go and pack for people. Thinking I was helping us all out, you know. And believe it our not, there was this one woman who was highly infuriated that I was packing her groceries for her!

HD: So this was another customer standing in line?

IS: Right.

HD: And you at this point were just a grocery customer, you had no special status as a checker? Mmm, yeah, I can kind of understand why.

IS: She was just not totally aware of my background! Of course, my children were always deeply embarrassed.

HD: Well, that's part of childhood, part of growing up. Your parents embarrass you. Listen, it's going to dump rain on us. I looked at the radar online, and we're enjoying a very brief window here, where it's not pouring, so how about we call it a teeter totter and I'll snap your picture?

IS: Okay.