Mike and Caryl Burke met in a U-M physics class in 1971. Sparks flew, and they were married at what was then Mike’s mom’s house on Baker Rd. two years later.
After his mom’s death in 1984, they bought the house and have lived there ever since. Their three daughters “all grew up there,” Caryl recalls by email. “Back then, there weren’t any truck stops at the expressway and there was a LOT less traffic.”
Before settling in Dexter, their career paths hopscotched across the state. A 1974 U-M grad with a degree in zoology, Caryl worked in a biochemistry lab there while working on her master’s degree in biology. Meanwhile, Mike explored many options: U-M undergrad, EMU pre-engineering, U-M pharmacy school, driver-mechanic at Chrysler Proving Grounds, then back to U-M to finish a degree in nutrition (“my fallback if medical school didn’t work”).
Medical school worked. A degree from MSU’s College of Human Medicine led to a residency in Grand Rapids and a first job in an ER in Ionia before he joined an occupational health medicine clinic at St. Joe’s.
When Caryl discovered she was expecting, she switched to part-time work in data management and medical writing, first for Parke-Davis and then Pfizer. Caryn was born in 1985, Lyssa in 1987, and Sarah in 1990.
As they grew, Caryl’s job grew; she eventually managed an international staff of medical writers. “I became the at-home parent when Caryl traveled. I loved those years with the girls,” Mike says. “Dexter is a really great place to raise children.”
The couple retired in 2013, and despite all the changes over the years, Caryl writes, theirs remains “an interesting and lovely neighborhood. We love having the old Sloan barn down the road where Lotus [Gardenscapes] is. It really seems to set the tone as you enter the historic town of Dexter”—though, she adds, “I suppose the lovely fields across the road from there will one day become a sub.”
When the Dexter Area Historical Society acquired Gordon Hall, Caryl casually mentioned that she would be willing to help if needed. President “Bev Hill got my name, and my future was set,” she says, laughing. “We work hard to keep the society relevant.” Fifteen years ago, she learned that the Dexter Rotary Club “is a wonderful way to do service projects in your community.” She now supervises its youth exchange program.
They’re members of Dexter United Methodist Church, where Caryl sings in the choir and Mike sings and strums the bass guitar for Sunday services. He’s also in a band, Stevie D & the Wannabes. “We mostly play for benefits,” he says. “Good people having fun, without the pressure of needing to make money.”
They believe that the couple that plays together stays together. “We each have our own interests, but we come together for others, so we always have something to talk about,” Mike says, grinning at his wife.
Motorcycles are a shared passion: Mike has won vintage races, and as a couple, they’ve logged hundreds of thousands of miles on bikes. At first, Caryl rode behind him, but she soon decided that she wanted a ride of her own.
“One secret to a happy life is staying interested and involved in the world around us,” she says. “We love Dexter: the quaint downtown, the B2B Trail, the old-timers who know so much history and the interesting newcomers. Dexter has a wonderful vibrant, welcoming, exciting community with such a strong sense of its history. This is a great place to plant your roots.”