Small-Town Michigan: Stories from Rosalie’s Roadhouse

Written by Jennifer Leonard

For those Hillsdalians who hail from cities and first-ring suburbs, adapting to life in small-town Michigan can be an unexpectedly rich experience. I have spent my whole life just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and there is no greater shill for Minnesota than me. I cannot count the number of Minnesota-themed mugs, stickers, sayings, and stories I share with my friends on a weekly basis. Knowing how much I love Minnesota and the city slicker life, it came as a surprise to me just how much I’ve come to appreciate life in the countryside, here in Hillsdale.

Where I come from, people are “Minnesota-nice.” Everyone is holding doors for each other, shoveling each other’s sidewalks, making small talk with the clerk at the store, or sharing a cooler of drinks at the football game. But somehow, someway, the small-town ethos of Hillsdale has matched, if not exceeded, the Minnesota-nice I love so much. Two examples of the exceptional friendliness of small-town life come to mind, both of which took place at Rosalie’s Roadhouse, better known as Rosalie’s, a local restaurant located in Jonesville, Michigan, just ten minute from campus.

Rosalie’s sits at the end of the main drag in Jonesville. Built of charming red brick and strewn with Italian-style string lights, it provides a welcoming atmosphere for neighborhood diners and students alike. Inside, collections of Americana line the walls, and golden light draws diners into a cozy atmosphere. Friends meet for drinks, families go out for burgers, and students enjoy a night off campus in the contented din of the dining room.

My date and I hilariously over-dressed for our dinner at Rosalie’s. Part of small-town life is the joy of making your own fun, after all. The waitresses indulged in our fun by giving me a vase in which to put my little bouquet of red flowers. Careful not to scuff my high heels, I sidled up to the high-top table and considered which grilled cheese sandwich I wanted. At the end of the dinner, my date asked if we could have our bill. 

“No you cannot,” the waitress responded. Then she leaned in and said, “that couple over there has taken care of it.”

We looked across the three high-top tables separating us, and saw a kind older couple. The husband gave my date a wink. 

“Thank you,” we said. The husband waved his hand dismissively.

“We are celebrating our fortieth anniversary,” he said, looking at his wife. “You remind us of ourselves when we were young.”

We laughed and thanked them both. We talked for a while, and they gave us their advice for a happy relationship, “Stay close to God,” he said. “That’s the key.”

A Hillsdale student and her mother sat at one of the other adjacent tables. “But no pressure! Maybe this is only your first date,” the mother said with a laugh. 

Soon we found ourselves finishing a piece of pie and talking to four new friends, tucked away in the warm glow of Rosalie’s. I would not be surprised if I ran into them again another time, and I have a feeling we would pick up right where we left off. 

I returned to Rosalie’s about a week ago. It was overflowing with diners both inside and outside on their lovely patio, from which you can watch a late-August sunset or look down the main Jonesville drag.  An older gentleman was sitting adjacent to my table. He had a glass of white wine and an appetizer. He sat there for a while, until my friend and I had a break in the conversation, and then he leaned over and asked if we were students at “the College.”

He introduced himself as a member of the Hillsdale College Board of Trustees. He explained to us that he had been one of the members of the board to keep Hillsdale independent of federal funding. I was humbled to hear how much work and stress he had endured for the sake of Hillsdale students just like me, long before I ever set foot on campus. I thanked him for his work and asked how he had become a member of the Board of Trustees.

He described his humble beginnings working on a farm in southern Michigan, where he “learned the meaning of hard work,” and his time in college. He told us about becoming an airplane pilot and how he met his wife. He got a job in Hillsdale, and explained his plans to get married as soon as he could afford to take care of his wife. Here was a true Michigan man who had worked on a farm and built a successful career, and had done so much for our college. 

We talked for so long, it took awhile for him to notice that the waitress had come by with his bag of boxed-up food. “Oh, I’m taking this back to my wife,” he said. We thanked him and wished him so-long. 

But in a restaurant like Rosalie’s and in a small community like Hillsdale, a “so-long” between friends is often not very long at all.

Jennifer Leonard, ’24, is a student writer for Hillsdale’s Student Stories blog and an editor at The Forum. She enjoys studying English, pressing flowers, and dreaming about writing her Great American Novel.

Published in October 2021