This Town Builds Its Promise


Up near the top knuckle of the pinkie finger on the Michigan mitten is a fishing town called Baldwin, which is home to fewer than 1,200 people.

Baldwin’s economic success is seasonal, as tourists come to town in the summer to try to catch trout, salmon and bass. Full-time employment is limited and — before 2009 — a small fraction of the town’s students were earning college degrees.

But a local resident named Rich Simonson — who left Baldwin in the late 1960s to become a key player in Michigan politics before returning home to retire — concocted a plan to crowd source tuition money so all the town’s students could go to college. The pitch was simple — if you care about the town, invest in it.

The initial hope was to raise $140,000. They topped that. Now the Baldwin Promise — with the exception of its fishing — is perhaps the town’s greatest identity. Nearly every student heads off to college after what Alana Semuels of The Atlantic calls “a raucous assembly each spring” where students reveal to the school which colleges they have chosen to attend. They get $5,000 a year for four years.

They have signs that read “College begins with Kindergarten” and second-grade teacher Sue Moore says, “I think the kids are more aware of their opportunities now. Before, they didn’t know what to expect after high school. Now they know.”

Simonson passed away in 2012. Not surprisingly, his obituary included a request for donations to the Baldwin Promise.

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