Gary Tomlin, 65, hasn’t gone very far in the last 45 years; he still lives at the same address in Holly as he did when he first moved to town in 1974. Retired from General Motors, he and his wife, Sharon, have two sons, 42 and 44; three grandchildren, 27, 18 and 21, and one great-granddaughter, 3.
Now that you’re retired, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend most of my time fighting with my dogs, sharpening blades of all kinds, helping our kids out, giving people a hard time and trying to get my naps in. I love turkey hunting and fishing when I can. I like to go to Saginaw Bay and be in my boat with my kids and family.
How did you meet your wife, Sharon?
I met Sharon when I was fresh out of the Marine Corps in 1970. Basically, our parents introduced us. We got married in 1972 and in ’74, she saw an ad in the paper for a home in Holly. Never heard of it. We didn’t even know where Holly was. The third time we came to Holly we had friends with us to see the house. While we were sitting at the DQ (Dairy Queen), a tornado went down parts of Grange Hall Road. It was pretty scary. We moved to Holly when our son, Lee, was 4 weeks old.
What is it that you like about Holly?
We wanted to raise our kids in a small town. Then we built a new home here in front of the old house and tore down the old one in 1984 instead of moving out of town. We liked our location and liked the railroad behind us. We were both raised around trains being close to home and we liked it. We’re still here because we like the town and the people, plus my kids and family are here.
Since you live nearby, what do you know about the Barnum & Bailey house in Holly?
Barnum built the house for his brother, Bailey. Rumor says there was an elephant buried in the back yard. And I saw concrete pillars that were buried on the old piano factory property and they had big rings attached. Rumor says that Barnum and Bailey kept their elephants chained there. That’s all I know. The Barnum house was sold to the Bates family. She was a teacher here and owned this house for many, many years. It became known as the Bates house.
You were a Boy Scout leader also. Tell us about that.
When the kids were young, they were in Boy Scouts. Sharon was den leader and council member. They reached the Webelo years at age 10, and I became a Webelo leader for four years. We enjoyed a lot of camping and learning during those years, including camping in storms, tornado warnings, wind — we had it all, all in between classes for scouts and working.
When did you become a firefighter?
I joined the fire department in 1989. I became a firefighter and did lots more schooling to become a lieutenant and safety officer. I remember the large fire for the diesel place in town and tornado runs, medicals, car-train, personal injuries and on and on during my 22 years of service. I left NOCFA (North Oakland County Fire Authority) when we started the village of Holly Fire Department. I helped get it started. As a safety officer, my main responsibility was taking care of all my firefighters and keeping them safe. I was also responsible for the health and safety of the fire hall.
Firefighting became a tradition in your family. How so?
My youngest joined the village of Holly Fire Department for a few years. My oldest son joined NOCFA. He was there many years.
What’s the farthest you have traveled away from home?
We don’t travel a lot. The farthest I’ve been is Oregon, California and Louisiana. I did a lot of traveling with my grandparents when I was a child.
We like going to our property in Kalkaska.
What’s on your bucket list?
I’d like to visit Lake Shasta in California, where Merle Haggard spent a lot of his time. He’s my all time favorite singer. I’d also like to go to the Outback, you know in Australia. And to do this I need to hit the lottery…my main bucket list.
What is something about you that most people probably don’t know?
There’s nothing people don’t about me. I am just a boring person.