“Behind every successful man, is a strong woman,” the saying goes. In Gary Gee’s case, five strong women stand at his side: wife Kaye (Wilson) and daughters Kary Gee, Michele Gee, Lisa Gee-Cram and Amanda Gee-Cummings.
The family-run Gee Farms Nursery and Garden Center began more than 100 years ago in the mid-1800s as an apple orchard. Today it is widely recognized within the nursery business, with Gary Gee world renowned as an expert on conifers and deciduous trees and shrubs.
The depth of the business’s roots in the community and its degree of success are traceable, in large part, to the Gee women. All five lead successful lives and have taken divergent paths, yet one theme resonates among them: family first. Each in her own way is a proud alumni of Stockbridge Community Schools and an avid contributor to the local area. Each is dedicated to the betterment of the community and its students. Here are their stories:
Kaye (Wilson) Gee
Matriarch Kaye Gee, born in 1945 in Stockbridge to Mary Roberta and William Jennings Wilson, cites her mother as the biggest influence in her life. “She was a saint with never a bad word spoken,” Kaye recalls. Her family and the Gees were neighbors, and as kids, she and Gary were friends with each other’s siblings.
The two married and raised four intelligent, hardworking daughters. Meanwhile, they continued to run the family business, and Kaye took the time to attend Jackson Community College. There she received her nursing degree and went on to become jack of all trades, helping the family business during its ups and downs.
Kaye most enjoys her grandchildren, the pride and joy of her life. Watching them compete in sports, excel in academics, or simply put together puzzles reminds her that the simple things in life are important. She loves the small, considerate community of Stockbridge and how citizens look after each other, but she worries about the high level of corruption in politics. That being said, Kaye’s advice to young women is simple: Strive to do your very best, keep your values high, and follow your heart. But never forget to use your mind.
Eldest daughter Kary Gee, born December 1968, grew up on the farm and working it is in her blood. Kary credits her mother, Kaye, as “the biggest influence in my life.” Her mother, she says, was adamant that her daughters pursue higher education, so they could support themselves if the need arose.
“Mom taught me that the world isn’t fair,” Kary says, “so be honest, own up to your mistakes, and to hold yourself to a higher level of expectation.” In 2000, after ten years working full time and using her dental hygienist degree from Lansing Community College, Kary came back to manage the farm full time.
That was a pivotal, trying year because not only was Kary changing careers, she was also going through a divorce. Somehow, she managed to juggle responsibilities of parenting sons Koltin (Emily) and Kaleb Grammar while transitioning into her new profession. Throughout, she is pleased to say she never missed any of her sons’ academic or extracurricular activities.
Coming back into the family business and working with her parents and sisters has been very special, she said. The family is very close, so working with them is extremely gratifying.
A saying that Kary keeps close in mind is “traditions are the stories that families write together.” She believes women can leave their mark in male-dominated professions like the nursery business and advises young women to “listen and learn from people in your life that have life experiences.”
“Family can go right along with your career, and money does not define your life successes,” she said. “Be happy in your career, be kind and your life will be filled with riches beyond your imagination.”
Second daughter Michele, born in 1970, graduated SHS and with inspiration from her mom became a registered nurse. She currently works in Critical Care and says nursing has taught her to have patience, empathy, sympathy, humility, gratefulness and love.
“To be able to save someone’s life or to hold their hand while they are dying is a true honor,” she said. Michele advises young people to stay away from drugs, choose friends wisely, and think before they post.
“Pick the [friends who] care about you and only want what’s best for you,” she said. “Love with everything you have.” Michele implores young people to “do your homework, look at your sources, and use your own brain” before believing a post on social media.
Michele has two children, Mason, 20, and Madison, 18, both in college. She considers them her two greatest accomplishments. They are “self-motivated, smart, kind, beautiful inside and out,” she says, “and most importantly, they love their family and friends.”
About six years ago, she was diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the talus bone. In short, her ankle bone died. A year ago, after seeking second opinions, Michele underwent surgery for a total talus replacement. She still has pain, she says. Cognizant of the growing opioid crisis, she has found alternatives for pain relief.
Michele emphasizes that it is most important to “push on and keep going.” That spirit motivates her every May as the entire Gee family converges to help prepare the farm for its busy season.
“My parents have encouraged us and made it possible to come together often to eat, drink and laugh together,” she says. “This tradition we have passed on to all of our children and we hope they continue with theirs.”
Third daughter Lisa Gee-Cram, born in 1973, feels blessed to have Brent, her devoted husband of 20 years, at her side. The two have three “wonderful” children, Cody, Kaytlyn and Paige.
Lisa, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Sienna Heights and a master’s degree from Northcentral University, says some of her most difficult times came in her teen years when she faced the challenge of teenage motherhood.
“I was blessed to not know what I didn’t know and to have a loving supportive family throughout those years,” she said, adding that she was determined not to become a victim of public opinion.
Lisa excels as a woman of intelligence and dedication in law enforcement, another male-dominated profession. She is approaching her 24th anniversary with the Michigan State Police.
“Having a successful and productive career has allowed me to give back to my community through a committed and dedicated vow to public service,” she said.
In conjunction with her happy marriage, Lisa considers her public service as one of her life’s highlights. “A great marriage is not when the perfect couple comes together.” She shares a quote by Dave Meur. “It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”
Lisa reflects on her early, life-shaping years with a grateful heart. She is thankful, she says, that she was a teenage mother. But she regrets the worry she caused her mother and apologizes for the gray hair. She indicates her early years set her on a journey that she wouldn’t want any other way and that she is blessed to have experienced.
Fourth and youngest daughter Amanda “Mandy,” born October 1978, earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in clinical laboratory science. She worked as a medical technologist at Ingham Medical before returning to the farm full time in 2007.
Mandy says her mom and dad taught her the value of hard work and family, and she believes being happy is an intentional choice. Recently Mandy and husband Chris started an adoption process for their son, Carter, a time-consuming and difficult process. They are pleased to have entered the final stages and are excited for what the future holds.
Mandy cites being a mother as her greatest accomplishment. Her advice to young women? “It is so true that the only difference between a dream and a goal is a plan. Get out there and make it happen!”
Each of the Gee women blazed a different path in life, yet each remains rooted in family. Perhaps Michele summarized their situation best when she said, “All four of us followed a different career path in life, but we are a very close family that enjoys being together.”
All five Gee women are avid supporters and contributors to the Stockbridge community. Their dedication to the betterment of the community and its students bears acknowledgment and praise.