Faces in the Crowd: Bill & Barb Courtright

January 13, 2020

Bill & Barb Courtright

By Gene Bodnar

While browsing the list of members of the Clare Area Chamber of Commerce, I realized that I had not interviewed Bill and Barb Courtright, the owners of Sweetfern Inn located at 4675 S. Eberhart in Clare. I called them, asked for an interview, and they agreed.

Sweetfern Inn is about 6 miles north of downtown Clare. The exterior is extremely well-kept, and the interior is nothing but elegance and beauty. Nestled in a secluded rural area surrounded by trees, the property is gorgeously landscaped. I could easily picture myself sitting on the front porch on a summer evening, enjoying the quiet setting, or conversing with others seated at the beautiful dining room table.

Bill and Barb were both born in Mt. Pleasant, Bill in 1946 and Barb in 1947. Bill attended Sacred Heart School, graduating in 1964, and Barb attended the Mt. Pleasant public school system, graduating in 1965. After graduation, they both attended college for a time. Bill went to Northwood Institute, specializing in a business curriculum, while Barb pursued a teaching career at Central Michigan University. The necessities of life interfered, so neither acquired degrees.

In 1967, Bill and Barb married. They produced 3 children: Joe, who is now deceased; Jerry, 50, who is a mail carrier in Mt. Pleasant; and Jessica, who lives in Mt. Pleasant.

From the age of about 13 Bill developed an interest in photography. In 1970, he opened his photography studio in Mt. Pleasant called House of Portraits. Throughout the course of his business he won numerous photography awards from the Michigan Photography Society as well as from the Professional Photographers of Michigan. He was also on the board of both organizations. Barb worked beside Bill as the General Manager of the studio for the next 30 years, when they moved to Clare.

While still working at House of Portraits, they bought 40 acres of land in Clare from their Uncle Bill in 1989. Incidentally, Barb’s father, Ron Shaver, was born on Eberhart. Barb says she always wanted to own a bed & breakfast, so they bought the property thinking that someday her dream would become a reality. After closing their photography studio in Mt. Pleasant and moving to Clare, Bill still kept his photography studio at his new location, calling it William Courtright Photography.

In 2014, Bill and Barb began to develop the property, turning it into a bed & breakfast. Two years later, Sweetfern Inn opened – Barb’s dream was fulfilled at last. Barb says Sweetfern Inn can provide you with “good beds, bountiful and fresh homemade breakfasts, peace and quiet, and good times on the front porch!”

For breakfast the inn uses nothing but fresh ingredients. The dining room can seat 6 at a time. A typical breakfast consists of eggs (or something made with eggs), bacon, toast, and a variety of homemade jams and jellies – her delicious specialty is lemon curd jam served on homemade scones. Barb loves to bake, and she has a good friend (and chef), Lesley, who makes cookies, savory sandwiches, and excellent tea from “Chocolate Tea” in Kalamazoo.

The inn has 3 bedrooms and a tea room to accommodate up to 8 people at a time. In addition, they can accommodate from 8 to 20 people for birthday parties, bridal and baby showers, or just a memorable day with your friends. The inn also has a finished basement with a perfect setup for specialty weekends for your “creativity hours,” such as scrapbooking, quilting, or painting, for example.

Bill and Barb have had customers from many countries in Europe, including Germany, Israel, Ireland, England, and others. They have also had customers from all over the United States. Many have been repeat customers as well. Of course, Bill and Barb make the ideal hosts – they love meeting new people, and many of their customers are especially fond of the superb breakfasts that they serve. Others like the fact that they are “in the middle of nowhere,” away from the hustle and bustle of city or town life.

Barb has a couple of pet peeves – she doesn’t like it when people yell, and she also doesn’t like it when people make an appointment, then don’t show up. Bill added that he didn’t like people yelling just to make a point.
Bill and Barb both have talents that most people don’t know about. Barb says that Bill is an excellent housekeeper who cleans house immaculately, and he did so with his photography studio as well. Barb says he is indeed a great help. Barb, on the other hand, loves working in stained glass, and she also is quite adept at making wine. On top of this, she took part in creating a sculpture that currently is exhibited in the Kids Museum in Mt. Pleasant.

I asked both of them, “If you could be anywhere else but here, right this minutes, where would it be?” Bill responded, “Grand Canyon.” He admitted to having been there already at least 8 times. Barb responded, “Scotland.”

At the age of 10, Bill wanted to be an architect. But that changed just a few years later when he got involved in photography. At the age of 10, Barb thought she would own a ranch out west. Today, she is a great fan of Zane Grey novels.

I asked them, “In one word, how would you like people to remember you?” Barb said, “Happy.” Bill said, “Sincere.”

I asked both of them for 3 phrases they would use to describe themselves. Barb said, “Collector, Creating, and I do what I want to do.” I asked to expand on “collector.” She loves to collect unique and pretty things. She proceeded to show me a very unusual long-stemmed glass. Somehow, embedded within the stem was a double spiral that also appeared to be made of glass. As far as getting to do what she wants to do, she said to look at the bed & breakfast – it took many, many years to own her own bed & breakfast, but she finally did it.

Bill describes himself as “(1) Creative, (2) When I set out to do something, it gets done, and (3) Do it to the best of my ability.

A goal that they both have for the next year is to make the basement into a place that promotes creativity in others.

They subscribe to a number of magazines, including Sierra Club Magazine, Smithsonian, Mother Earth News, and National Geographic.

When she’s not working, Barb loves to cook. Another favorite activity is making wine. Bill loves fishing and hunting, and he was a black powder musket enthusiast. Barb added that he actually loves mowing the lawn and shoveling snow.

Barb has participated in the Women’s March for Equality in Mt. Pleasant, which provided an opportunity for women to speak out for gender, racial, and social justice and equality. She also supports Green America, whose mission statement is to harness economic power – the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace – to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.

Barb and Bill have traveled much of the world, including a large part of the United States, Mexico, Canada, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Ireland.

I asked Barb for a motto that she lived by: “Be kind in everything you do; if you can’t be kind, be quiet.”

Sweetfern Inn has received a 5.0 (highest possible) rating on Facebook. It has also received a 9.6 rating out of 10.0 from Booking.com, which awarded them the Traveler’s Review Award for 2020. If you would like to book a room, or if you know someone who would, Bill and Barb can be reached by calling 989-386-0485 or by contacting them via their email address: billbarb67@gmail.com They don’t have a website at this time, but they are in the process of creating one.

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