I moved to the area 7 years ago. I was a Chicago Bears fan, didn’t have a taste for beer, and found myself in Green Bay.
I knew I had some work to do if I was going to make it.
When I arrived, the motivation to get to know a new area was quickly replaced by boredom. Maybe some of you transplants can relate. My initial few weeks here went something like this…
“Wow, we live in Green Bay!”
“Hmm, ok… I thought it would be bigger. I thought there would be more to do.”
“WHAT? It’s pronounced “de-PEERE”?!? (The 7 years of French I took were crying foul.)”
“I’m employed! Now I need to make some friends so I can figure out what the heck “booyah” is…and why they name every single snowstorm.”
“Ugh. I’m bored. This place isn’t very pretty. I really thought it would be bigger. How is this place the home of an NFL team?”
The good news is that there is a happy ending to this story. I have come to love the area, and appreciate all of its little quirks. If you’re still getting to know Northeast Wisconsin, read on to see how to unlock the best of the area that I now call home. (It’s really not as much like “Fargo” as you might think.)
1. Get to know your neighbors to understand the culture
My first examples of what life would be like here were from our neighbors. Our first rental was in Allouez, and to this day I still miss that neighborhood.
Big trees provided shade and character, beautiful songbirds, and squirrels for my dog to chase. Every neighbor was not only willing to lend a hand – they actually wanted to help.
Those trees were the very reason that we initially met many of our neighbors on the block. A huge rainstorm knocked some large branches off of one of those beautiful trees, and they landed right onto our neighbor’s home. About 5 minutes after it happened, my husband and I went outside to survey the damage. We saw a group of about 7 people picking up small branches and sawing larger ones, and they were all checking to see if everyone was ok. Two of those people were old ladies in their PAJAMAS, not missing a beat. I watched in surprise from my front porch as a small smile crept onto my face. I had never experienced neighbors like this before.
They also hosted a block party every summer. (The party always featured booyah, so never fear – I eventually learned about it.) One of them even proudly cooked it in his driveway in a repurposed dryer drum. (Yes, a dryer drum.) While I never really got excited about booyah, I did love the fact that they shut down the street for a night to connect with everyone.
These fine folks also helped me dig out my tiny 1999 Saturn during my first Tundra snowstorm (While I was wearing heels and dress pants, mind you). They also invited my husband to golf with them multiple times, and rallied around a fellow neighbor who was dying of cancer. Right before he passed away, we all gathered outside in the snow to shiver together under a fireworks display in support of him (his favorite holiday was the 4th of July, and he wasn’t going to see another one).
These folks embodied a culture that I was slowly becoming a part of myself: hardy, resourceful, and full of heart. This is the culture of northeast Wisconsin!
Embrace it, Newbies! You don’t have to love brats or cheese curds, but maybe you can get to know the people who love them. (For what it’s worth, I’m not afraid to say that I think fresh cheese curds are a bunch of hype. However, if you put a pile of fried cheese curds in front of me, I will devour them all.)
2. Attend a Packers game at Lambeau Field
Now before my fellow Bears fans start calling me a traitor, I’m only promoting this single act because it truly shows you a side of the area that you simply will not see outside of the stadium.
If you want to feel the heartbeat of Green Bay, go to an actual game. You will see strangers become friends and shirtless old men in below-zero temperatures.
Hearing a crowd of 80,000 yelling at the same time is something you just need to feel in your chest. There is so much history there – it’s almost as if you can hear the Packers heroes of the past yelling with everyone. When I first went, I felt as if I was visiting Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. Lambeau Field is a “must” for football, just as Wrigley is for baseball. You just have to go there, no matter what team you root for.
Out of the four games I have attended at Lambeau, I did get the chance to see the fabled rivalry between the Pack and my Monsters of the Midway. Unfortunately, Chicago didn’t bring home the “W” on that day, but a loss only fuels you more for the next game!
I wore my orange handkerchief and Bears shirt proudly, in a sea of green and gold.
3. Join one of the many area charity races
If you are new to the area, getting over stigmas is simply something you must do. Not everyone in Green Bay sits on their couch and watches their life go by while gnawing on a block of cheese, as some might believe.
There is a huge group of people that are in the racing community. They are health conscious and genuinely just love the high of crossing the finish line. It’s like nothing else. It’s almost like an underground kind of club – you have to seek it out. But once you do, you will be welcomed with open arms (and shin splints).
Training runs actually helped me to learn where the heck I was going in Green Bay. If you’re new to the area, nothing helps you learn the grid better than when you are constantly praying for the next street sign to come.
I broke in my running shoes with the Bellin and the Cellcom Half Marathon, but there are MANY other races in the surrounding area of all types of distances. In fact, there are running clubs and weekly meet-ups at local bars for runners, and even running clubs for kids! (Check out Girls on the Run in Appleton, Neenah, Oshkosh, Darboy and Chilton). During the summer and fall, there is a race going on almost every single weekend if you look hard enough.
From Door County to Oshkosh, this area provides diverse opportunities for running, biking, and swimming (or all 3 if you’re that kind of crazy).
Not only do you get to push your body and receive a physical benefit, you make friends and also get to see some pretty beautiful courses along the way. I’m already planning my next race now that my daughter is getting out of the newborn stage. One of my personal goals is to participate in a race in Door County in the fall – I know I won’t be disappointed by the views!
Running across the many finish lines that I did (in my PK “pre-kids” days) gave me something in common with everyone here in Wisconsin. We had all accomplished the same goal together. We bonded. You can, too.
4. If you live in Green Bay, crossing the bridge won’t kill you
Unless it’s the Leo Frigo bridge – then you might be taking your chances.
For all of you who actually live in Green Bay, this one is easy: CROSS THE FOX RIVER! If you live on the East side, check out the West side, and vice versa. Ignore that voice in your head that says, “It’s too far away”. As my husband always says, “You can get anywhere in Green Bay in ten minutes.” While that might be stretching the truth just a teensy bit, the point of his statement rings true.
The good news for people living anywhere in the area is that many of the best events and attractions are downtown – right in the middle of everything.
Some of my favorites in downtown Green Bay include: listening to performances and taking sunset walks on the CityDeck, perusing the many area Farmers’ Markets, finding great local eats through Taste on Broadway, and visiting the Neville Public Museum.
5. Go beyond Green Bay
Remember Newbies, Green Bay doesn’t stand alone (before I moved here, that was my perception). Some of its greatest partners are its surrounding cities. It is always worth it to try a new experience instead of just gnawing on that block of cheese I mentioned earlier (even if you like it)!
Some examples: One of my favorite memories from my time here includes an anniversary sunrise kayaking trip in Egg Harbor that I took with my husband. Seeing wildlife in the morning and capping off the trip with the view of one of the famous Lake Michigan shipwrecks was something you just couldn’t get in Green Bay! Also, this fall, my husband and I plan on taking our kids to one of the Barkhausen night hikes.
Before I became a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom), I was blessed to be employed by a company rooted in Appleton, and within a position that required a lot of travel in NEW and beyond. Initially, I wasn’t sure how I would handle all that time on the road, but I soon discovered what a treasure we have in the many small communities around here. We are all within a short drive’s reach of fantastic businesses and natural beauty. Getting to know landmarks and businesses outside of Green Bay lets you see the whole picture of what NEW has to offer.
I don’t know what I would do without having discovered some of the great restaurants, trails, and artistic venues in Appleton, parks in Kaukauna, creative and fun festivals (and footraces, too) in New London, and beautiful family farms in the Howard-Suamico area. Did you know that there is more than one zoo in the area if you head north of Green Bay? (I’m not talking about Door County here.)
6. If you have them, use your children to your advantage
For those of us who already have kids, we know the truth: this area is simply a great place to raise a family.
Not only is having children a great way to get to know people (most folks just can’t resist a chubby baby), but it opens your eyes to the strong pro-family atmosphere.
I have been surprised at the number of worthwhile activities that I have come across are either free or low-cost. Even our own Mayor has created a city-wide holiday just for kids (Kids Day – June 25th). Many restaurants, businesses, pools and other summer activities open up for free for the entire day.
Our parks department employs “parkees” at 36 different Green Bay parks, and these individuals host daily activities as well as an annual parade each summer. Combine that with a Children’s Museum, many area splashpads, a Railroad Museum, a Botanical Garden which boasts an incredible Children’s Garden (I kept expecting to find a gnome, fairy, or the door to Narnia), and there is never a lack of something to do!
Over time, I quickly learned that instead of fighting the culture I didn’t quite fit with, I might as well learn about it and adapt. I will always be a proud Hoosier (who still insists that she doesn’t have an accent), but I can learn to love the ‘Sconnies, too.
One of the biggest things about Green Bay that quickly caught my attention was the fact that the people here are community-minded. Many just brush it off and think that it’s the Packers who join everyone together. While there is some merit to that, I also think it’s because the people here truly love the area. They invest themselves into making it the best that they possibly can, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for them.
In the 7 years I have lived here, I am still a proud Bears fan, found my taste for beer following my 2nd pregnancy (and thanks to Titletown’s great selection – hello Johnny Blood Red). While Fort Wayne, IN will always be home, I am proud to live in Northeast Wisconsin.
Now, back to your regularly-scheduled cheese gnawing.