Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.
Will you be my friend? Marshall Willem 120512 SPEAKINGOUT 1 Capital City Weekly Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Story last updated at 12/5/2012 - 2:12 pm

Will you be my friend? Marshall Willem

Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.

I first noticed Marshall Willems last fall. In fact, he's kind of the reason I started this column; I wanted an excuse to figure out a bit of his story. He was working at The Rookery Café in downtown Juneau, and was sporting a mild Mohawk. Not just sporting it, but doing it justice; an undeniably accomplished feat.

But I'm pretty sure Willems could get away with a full spectrum of hair styles as he doesn't really fit into any particular stereotype, unless being generally happy and positive counts.

Willems is 28, and grew up in Burnsville, Minn., with an older sister and a younger brother.

"My family is awesome. We're all very connected," he said. "I grew up on a cul-de-sac. Everybody should have a cul-de-sac; it's perfect for forts in the winter and King of the Hill and biking around. All sorts of shenanigans."

Besides goofing around, Willems was a voracious reader.

"I probably spent a good amount of my (youth) up in trees, eating apples, reading books," he said. "I would just perch myself up in a tree and have a couple of apples in my pocket, watch the neighborhood and read my book."

Another interest of his that was cultured at early age is music.

"My parents are both musicians, and my siblings. I was so saturated in it," he said.

But he added that he didn't become serious about playing music until he picked up a guitar when he was 15.

Willems and his siblings were home-schooled through high school, after which he attended school to become an air traffic controller.

"Midway through that degree, I stopped," he said.

Willems had received a scholarship to the Visible Music College in Memphis, an opportunity he couldn't let pass.

"I went there with my brother; he's like my best friend," he said.

He studied guitar while his brother studied the bass. The school, a music and ministry college, (Willems' father was a pastor, and religion, he said, was "very foundational" for him), has apparently gained notoriety since the Willems brothers' one year of attendance.

"It used to be an old barbecue space," he said. "It was in a dungy strip mall. Now it's like in this phenomenal building downtown. It has state of the art sound rooms."

The experience, he noted, was a "pivotal point in my life."

Willems returned to Minneapolis to finish his aviation studies.

"With air traffic control, its like looking 10 steps ahead," he said. "It's like organic math. You have to be on top of everything." He snapped his fingers quickly and repeatedly. "What's happening here? What's happening there?"

In the summer of 2011, Willems moved to Juneau to work in the flight tower. Initially he was assigned to Anchorage, a city he thought he'd thrive a bit more in.

"I was very involved with dance, music and arts and culture," he said. "I love going to swing dancing stuff. That was a huge part of my life back home."

But Juneau grew on him, and after he and the Federal Aviation Administration parted ways at the end of the summer, Willems wanted to stick around.

"I fell in love with it," he said. "The proximity of nature around you, the mountains. I walk this way," he pointed towards Gastineau Channel, "And I'm on the beach. A couple of hours that way," he pointed behind himself, towards Mt. Juneau, "And I'm on top of a mountain. I love it all."

So he signed on at The Rookery. And went with a Mohawk.

For the last 10 months he explained that he's been working doing various "boat jobs." For February through April that meant sailing a boat from St. Petersburg, Fla. to Mazatlan, Mexico, an approximate 5,000-mile trip. He worked on a salmon tender for three months this past summer.

"Then I did some shrimping, then I did some crabbing," he said. "It's always nice coming back, soaking up music, people and dancing."

But, he reasoned, "I definitely like working out there too. I want to get into boat work and the fishing industry, either moving sail boats or spending weeks or months at a time fishing some sort of creature or another."

For now, though, he's back at The Rookery.

"It has this Mr. Rogers feel," he said. "Knowing people and being connected. It's really pleasant

Willems describes himself as easy going.

"I can get along with anyone and feel comfortable anywhere," he said.

Regarding pet peeves: "Really none. If you ever see me lose my cool it's because inanimate objects don't work they way they were created to work. But if I see people intentionally trying to hurt other people, that would piss me off pretty dang quick."

So yeah, basically he's the generally happy and positive type.

He sees himself working in the fishing industry in upcoming years.

"You work your butt off, then you have time for yourself, whether that's going to be relationships or music, or one relationship, or traveling around," he said, pointing out that he definitely would want to spend at least one month back in Minnesota each year.

He is returning for the holidays, something he's pretty excited about. He has a new niece he's never met, and hasn't seen his parents in more than a year; a period he admitted was just too long for his taste.

"I have a really strong family," he said.

Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at amanda.compton@capweek.com.