World Wide Wade Goes West—Episode IV: Torch Lake, MI

Sharon Branson, a retired nurse, and her husband Dean Branson, a retired industrial chemist and toxicologist, are busy enough for any three non-retired couples. I met this fascinating couple through my parents, who serve with Dean in the Three Lakes Association, a conservation group working to preserve the natural environment around Michigan’s Torch Lake and two adjoining lakes. Sharon is a webmaster and a volunteer caregiver for her parish, and Dean, in addition to his conservation work, is also active in the Rotary Club. In fact, on the day I interviewed them, the Bransons had just returned from a trip to Minneapolis (where I am now, coincidentally), and were on their way to a local Rotary dinner where Dean was to be feted as the outgoing president.

How do they keep up the pace? Technology helps a lot, it turns out. As Sharon and Dean explain in the interview that we’ve excerpted in today’s episode of World Wide Wade Goes West, they use desktop software, the Internet, and their new iPhone 4 to coordinate their schedules, keep in touch with all of their fellow volunteers, do research, pay their billls, and (now that they have an iPhone with GPS) navigate to their various meetings. While they profess not to understand some of their gadgets (Dean says it’s helpful to have kids they can call up for instant customer support) they struck me as more technically sophisticated than some technology writers I know.

The chance to sit down with a variety of people across the country and hear stories about how they use information technology was the whole idea behind our video series. I’ve been thrilled by the depth and freshness of the perspectives we’ve gotten so far. And there’s more great stuff coming tomorrow, from Minneapolis. I urge you to check out the whole series, including the pilot episode and our videos from Gloucester, MA, and Rochester, NY and my more personal video from yesterday. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel at

I’m not even half way across the United States, and already this whole video project has benefited from the enormous generosity of so many people. I’d like to extend a special, personal thanks to Dean and Sharon Branson, David Cook, Bettina Hein and all of the folks at Pixability, Mark Nelson, genius-guy videographer and video editor (and copilot) Graham Gordon Ramsay, my parents Paul and Patricia Roush, and Oliver Zhou. Thanks also to Bob Buderi, Rebecca Zacks, Luke Timmerman, and all of my colleagues at Xconomy for helping to line up the time and resources for this project, and for picking up the slack while I’m on the road to San Francisco.

World Wide Wade Goes West is sponsored by Pixability.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “World Wide Wade Goes West—Episode IV: Torch Lake, MI”

  1. Real people really using technology to do good = good news! Wag

  2. Wade,
    My uncle has a house on Torch Lake Drive. I’ve been going there since the 80’s. You should have shown the lake – 400+ feet deep, 14 miles long and carved by a glacier.

    San Diego

  3. OK Wade this is too weird. I am sitting watching this video of you and the Bransons feeling subconsciously jealous of the Torch Lake location, and then came to my senses and realized I am sitting indoors in a lakeside cabin in Maine. I dragged my butt to the deck to be more “Branson.” I love that you featured them and their use of technology. Let’s bust all those retiree stereotypes!

  4. You’re very welcome, Wade! Our team had great fun helping you put the intro together. Thanks for the interesting stories along the way.

    In August, I’ll likely be taking the same journey, just via train from Boston to San Francisco. Hope to see you there then!