When Swiss expat Michele Anliker worked at Disneyland years ago, she never thought that the Main Street USA attraction would amount to anything more than an amusing caricature of small town America.
Instead of being relegated to a quaint memory from her past, that Disney fantasy would be recalled in conversation with a friend after visiting Dexter and later talking about the impression that the experience made on her.
“We were on our way to Pinckney to see a play, driving through downtown Dexter,” Michele said. “We didn’t know we were going to pass through it. When we did, it was just so reminiscent of the classic American small town with the buildings, the street lamps and how well everything was taken care of.”
Coming to America
Michele and her husband, Thomas, had dreamed of coming to the United States for years leading up to their marriage a year ago. Thomas works for Güdel Inc., which has a U.S. subsidiary in Ann Arbor. The newlywed couple requested a transfer to any American company satellite and wound up in Washtenaw County by chance.
“At first we wanted to live somewhere with a warmer climate like the Carolinas, but we like the seasons here — I’m a visual person, so the first time it snowed here and the town and all of the houses and the roofs were blanketed in snow was very special,” Michele said. “In Switzerland, it snows and melts right away.”
Once Michele arrived at her home in Dexter last Sept. 1, she began to delve further into the town beyond the superficial appeal. She began to interact with the people and began having that familiar experience of being recognized and greeted while walking along the sidewalk downtown — a rare commodity in America, but not in Dexter.
“Dexter feels alive — It represents everything that I love about America,” Michele said. Her first experiences in Dexter revolve around The Encore Musical Theatre Company, where she volunteers as a photographer and videographer.
“The Encore is easily my favorite business in Dexter so far,” Michele said. “I really like the theater, although I was never involved in theater in Switzerland. I’m a big supporter. I have a friend there who is an actress. They involved me so fast, it’s amazing. I’ve created a trailer for a show, taken pictures at rehearsals and took the pictures of people with Santa at the theater.”
Michele is an aspiring photographer who hopes to go professional in the coming years.
Back in Switzerland, she was a teacher with a background in communication sciences and communication for education. She studied at Pädagogische Hochschule Bern for teacher training and went on to work as a primary school teacher in grades K-6 at the International School of Solothurn in Solothurn, Switzerland. Anliker grew up in Kirchberg, in the Swiss canton of Bern.
Small town magic
She’s met a lot of people in Dexter, but one person in particular stands out from the rest. An employee of Hackney Ace Hardware named Bob made the first and biggest impact on her and has exemplified what’s so great about Dexter.
“The first time I went to Ace’s, he was there and he was very proud of showing us the store — it was really fun,” Michele recalled. “We run into him all the time now.”
After meeting Bob, one of Michele’s first handful of encounters with him was at an area bus stop.
“He was sitting in the bus and I got to talk to him for a bit,” she said. They had encountered each other at the bus stop once prior, during which they both failed to catch it before it took off without them. In Switzerland, buses arrive at stops every 15 minutes. As an American who is used to how American public transportation functions, Bob was amused and the two had jovial conversation about that and other cultural differences.
Before parting ways after the bus arrived at their stop, Michele invited Bob to her housewarming party as a polite gesture, not expecting him to actually show up.
“I told him he could drop by if he wants to, and he actually came,” Michele said. “I was shocked because people in Switzerland would not do that.”
The Anlikers and Bob are now fast friends.
“It’s funny, because he was raised here in Dexter and moved to Washington at one point,” Michele said. “He said that when he retired, he planned to go to New Mexico, but when he retired and went on his way there he stopped here in Dexter to visit his sister, and he just ended up staying.”
Still more to see
Michele says she’s most interested in seeing Gordon Hall and learning about the history of Judge Samuel Dexter, as well as some of the more exciting back story behind the 19th century home, such as the possibility that it was one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War and the waning days of American slavery.
“Another thing that I love about Dexter is the Border-to-Border Trail,” she said. “We didn’t know that there was a trail until we went to the library and saw this boardwalk. You should have seen our faces when we went under the bridge and found ourselves on this enormous trail.”
Michele says she’s eager for the weather to turn warm again in three or four months so she can bike and jog along the trail on a beautiful spring day.
“I love the idea that I can get on a bike and go on this trail miles and miles without any cars,” Michele said. “It’s obviously an enormous project, and that it’s just so people can walk on it is really neat.”