A very special guy
Getting to know Cromwell's Michael Jobe
by Lynne Gilfus | April 23, 2002
Michael Jobe lives a very normal life. He goes to his classes at Cromwell-Wright School every weekday. Two days a week, he works at the Wright Place Café for an hour or two. He goes bowling every Wednesday. He loves Shania Twain, and enjoys listening to Faith Hill, Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks. He is polite, happy and very sociable. Everyone who meets him is impressed with his manners and his sense of humor. Michael is truly a Very Special Guy.
Michael is also a middle child. He has an older sister, Tammy, and a younger sister, Ashley. His parents, Wayne and Sue, are active in the lives of all three of their children, with sports, music, drama, school - whatever one is involved in, all are eventually involved in. When the family is all together at home, a visitor would be hard-pressed to be in a bad mood. It would be more likely that the visitor would leave with sore ribs from laughing and joking around.
Sue and Wayne Jobe were married in 1980, and welcomed their first child, Tammy, a year later. They were delighted when their second child, Michael, was born on February 12, 1983.
"I was born on Abe Lincoln's birthday," Michael said proudly. When Michael was 2-1/2 months old, he caught a cold, which progressed to pneumonia. Sue and Wayne rushed him to the hospital in Cloquet, where Sue took up residence until Michael could be taken home again. While they were there, Michael underwent a series of tests to determine the type and the cause of the pneumonia. One of the tests revealed what one doctor thought was a tumor, and Sue was distraught.
"Wayne was at work, and I had to wait alone for the final results. Those were some of the longest, scariest hours I've ever spent," Sue said. "They took Michael away for an x-ray, and I was really alone."
Thankfully, the x-ray showed no evidence of a tumor. Michael "just" had pneumonia and would recover quickly and well. Sue and Wayne took Michael home and rejoiced at their good fortune. Then, during the follow-up at the doctor's office afterward, the doctor expressed concerns that Michael was developing at a slower than normal pace. He recommended that Michael be tested for Downs Syndrome, and Sue's reaction was the same as most parents with a brand-new baby son.
"I felt like he had hit me in the head with a 2" x 4". 'No way did my son have Downs Syndrome,'" Sue related. "'How could anyone tell this early? At 2-1/2 months old? No way.'"
So the Jobes took Michael home, and decided to wait to have the tests done until Michael was older and his developmental rate was more evident. After a year of watching Michael make very slow progress, Sue and Wayne decided it was time for the tests to be done. When the diagnosis was positive, the family drew together and shifted gears a bit to decide on Michael's special needs for the immediate future and for the long term.
"We wanted him to be as independent as possible," Wayne said. "I think he's succeeded very well."
The Jobes do not treat Downs Syndrome as a crisis. In fact, they have never really treated it at all. They have reared their son as they did their daughters, by finding the best situations for him at school, with medical care and with his social life. Michael, not Downs Syndrome, was the focus of their care.
"Our community in Cromwell has played a very special role in making Michael's life what it is," said Sue. "Michael is warmly received and respected by everyone. We are very grateful for that."
Michael started his schooling in Cloquet because, at the time, there was no program for special needs at the Cromwell-Wright school. Six years ago, Principal Joan Bloemendaal-Gruett and Superintendent Herb Hilinski decided it was time to start a program for students with mental impairments at their home school. Their search for the right teacher led them to Julie Miller.
When she applied for the position, Julie was living in Wisconsin. Not knowing much about the area, she thought she was applying for a position near the Twin Cities area. While she was waiting to hear about the job in Cromwell, Julie accepted a position in Bloomington at a group home. Shortly after she had settled in, Julie received a call from Joan asking if she would come for an interview.
"That's when I found out where Cromwell was," Julie relates. "When I drove through Moose Lake, I remember hoping that Cromwell would be bigger. I was a city person at the time." Julie adds, "When I saw the sign 'Cromwell, Population 200', I almost turned around and cancelled the interview."
Sometime during the interview with Joan and Herb, she changed her mind about living in a rural community. She was being offered the opportunity to start a new program from scratch for a community who would support her efforts. It was a dream job.
"Both Joan and Herb were so excited about the program, it was infectious. I said 'Yes' and made the second move in less than a year. I made the right choice," she said.
The Jobes were also pleased with Julie's choice, and Michael became one of Julie's first students. His curriculum is designed specifically for him, as are the curricula for all of Julie's other students.
"We have students of all ages, grades K through 12, and all have mental impairments or cognitive disorders. That's what qualifies them for the program," Julie said.
Michael is required to attend some regular classes, as well as classes with Julie. His classes include partial participation in Senior Choir and physical education. His classes with Julie include instruction in basic functional skills such as counting money, recognition of various store logos, understanding types of stores and what they sell, and using words that are functional for independence.
This year, Michael's physical education classes included weight lifting. Did Michael enjoy it?
"I'm fabulous," he quipped, giving us a muscle-man pose.
While most of the classes take place in Julie's new classroom, Michael and the other students who are able, do spend time with the rest of the student body in regular classrooms. Anticipating this, Principal Joan Bloemendaal-Gruett took steps to make the "inclusion" for the special students a positive experience for everyone.
"Mrs. Bloemendaal visited every class and told everyone about what to expect," offered Michael's sister, Tammy. "She told all of us about what the special students needed from us, too. It eased everyone's mind."
One of Tammy's concerns was that Michael would be picked on or teased, but there has only been one incident in six years that required his sisters' intervention - and both are ready to take up the cause and fly to Michael's defense whenever necessary.
Younger sister, Ashley, enjoys having Michael around where she knows he's treated well. Anticipating her graduation in 2003, Ashley feels a responsibility to make sure that Michael can carry on when she's away at college. One of her concerns was that Michael might not have a date for his junior prom next year.
"So, I decided that Michael should go to my junior prom and show everybody just how much fun he is," said Ashley. "He's my date this year, and my boyfriend, John, will just have to understand."
"I'm wearing a tux," Michael said with pride. "I love to dance."
Unlike many children with Downs Syndrome, Michael has no other health problems. Since the pneumonia as an infant, he has suffered no other major illnesses. He was small for his age until he had his tonsils removed. Then he started growing - and eating with gusto. He loves good food, and, in fact, recently used his earnings from the Wright Place Café to take his family out to dinner.
"It was Michael's idea - he wanted to pay the bill himself," Wayne said.
What is Michael's life like outside of school? "Organized" would be the appropriate term. His room is a good example of that.
"My room is neat. Mom's room is a pig sty," Michael quipped, shaking his head. Sue blushed a bit, and admitted that her room wasn't as neat as Michael's. After seeing his room, one could safely say that NO ONE'S room is as neat as Michael's. Every item in his room has a place, and everything is in its place - without exception. It's part of Michael's independence.
"He cleans and picks up his room himself. It's part of his routine," said Sue. "Interrupt his routine, and he's crabby." Michael nodded and agreed. And on the wall is a HUGE poster of Shania Twain. His Mom and sisters were teasing him about his obsession with "Shania", and Michael admitted "She's beautiful. I love her."
When the teasing went farther than Michael wanted, he turned to his Mom and said, "Number four, Mom, number four. You, too, Mom." The entire family burst into laughter, and I was totally lost.
When she could finally get her breath to speak, Sue explained, "Michael is talking about one of Shania's CDs. Song number four is…"
"'Don't Be Stupid'", said Michael, jumping in to finish Sue's statement. He later pulled out the CD and proved it - song number four was "Don't Be Stupid." I couldn't help thinking that I wish I could be that fast on my feet with comebacks.
Another part of Michael's routine is his favorite movie, "The Tenth Kingdom". It's a five-hour movie, and he knows it by heart. Because he likes the movie so well, he wants to watch it all of the time.
"We got tired of watching it time after time, so we compromised. Michael picks one day a month to watch it, and plans his entire day around it," said Sue.
"Saturday's the day!" Michael said with excitement.
His daily schedule is also critical to his routine, and he talked about it after dinner.
"6:15, shower. 7:00, watch something on t.v.," he related. "I know all the shows."
"We don't need a 'TV Guide' here," his dad said. "Michael has the programming memorized!"
"T.V. would be better with satellite, Dad," Michael interjected. Again, everyone burst out laughing. Satellite television is apparently a controversial subject at the Jobes'. Well, about as controversial as a subject can be with such a happy, warm family.
Last year, Michael was the MC for "Cabaret", the school play. He treated us to a few of his lines. "The ladies are beautiful. The orchestra is beautiful. Abiento. Auf weidersein," he recited, giving us a neat bow at the end.
"He's a ham!" said Sue. "He loves to perform."
Everyone, obviously, enjoys seeing him perform, too. That goes beyond his family and extends to the entire community. Mention Michael's name, and everyone has a warm, happy story to tell about meeting him or seeing him. "This community is what made Michael's acceptance by everyone possible. It wouldn't have happened this way anywhere else," Sue stated. "We are grateful."
After meeting the Jobes, and talking with Michael, it's difficult to say who is more grateful - the Jobe family for the community's support or the community for being able to share in Michael's life. I, for one, am thankful for having met such a remarkable young man and remarkable family. It's quite a treat to see Michael and get the high five because he recognizes me now.
Thanks, Sue, Wayne, Tammy, Ashley and Michael for letting us take part.
This article first appeared in the April 23, 2002 issue of the Voyageur Press.