Faces in the Crowd: Jeff Poet

March 9, 2020

Jeff Poet

On the front page of the February 21st edition of the Clare County Review, it was announced that Jeff Poet was named the Grand Marshal of this year’s Irish Festival. Most people know that he has been the President of Jay’s Sporting Goods in Clare and Gaylord since the age of 27, but this article will attempt to provide a short biography of the man himself.

Jeff was born at the Osteopathic Hospital in Clare in 1962. He attended the Clare Public School system from K-12, graduating in 1980. During his high school years he played basketball and was the co-captain of the varsity team. He also participated in track.

While a junior in high school, he married his first wife, Tina. The marriage lasted 5 years and produced a son – Derrick, who is 41 and works for Summit Petroleum in Rosebush.

After graduating from high school, Jeff attended Northwood Institute (a university today) in Midland, acquiring an associate degree in Business Management.

In 1987, Jeff married Kathy Hitchcock. He adopted her daughter, Stephanie. Jeff and Kathy also had a son. Today, Stephanie, 45, works at Jay’s in the Firearms Compliance area, and their son, Matt, 35, also works as Jay’s in marketing and technology. Unfortunately, Kathy passed away in 2010 with cancer.

In 2013, Jeff married Lisa Stanley. He says that a large part of their courtship was spent biking rail trails. He owns a couple of bikes and considers biking not only a great form of entertainment but also a great way to maintain good health.

Jeff says that Jay’s Sporting Goods will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year. From humble beginnings in a small garage on 7th Street in Clare, Jeff’s father, Jay, opened a gun shop that continuously grew until an official store opened in 1974, with a 14-car parking lot. The store quickly outgrew this location as well. In 1987, the store broke ground on a new site, in a hayfield – its current location – that soon became known as the Midwest’s outdoor superstore. Today, there are 215 employees serving the Clare and Gaylord stores. Their philosophy is simple: Give the customer what they need and give them the best service possible.

Many of the folks who work at Jay’s Sporting Goods are members of the family. However, in order to gain experience in working at the store, they must first work for some other store for a year or two before working in the family-oriented store.

I asked if Jay’s Sporting Goods has won any awards. He said that the store has won many, many awards. For example, the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT Show) is the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries. This group awarded Jay’s the Best in the Country in 1999, and again in 2010.

The Michigan United Conservation Club, which is a group whose mission is to unite citizens to conserve, protect and enhance Michigan’s natural resources and outdoor heritage, awarded Jay’s with the Industry and Corporate Conservationist of the Year in 2019.

In 2005, they won the Citizenship and Outstanding Community Involvement Award. Jeff’s father was honored by Junior Achievement in 2005. Jay’s has received several recognitions for their contributions to Toys for Tots. They have received countless awards from many of their vendors. Governor Engler granted them awards for their mentoring in reading programs. And the list literally goes on and on.

Jeff is the Vice-Chairman of the Michigan Wildlife Council, which is entrusted with educating the public about the importance of wildlife conservation and its role in preserving Michigan’s great outdoor heritage for future generations.

For over ten years Jeff has been a part of Mid Michigan College with Northern Traditions, a group that meets annually, usually in April, to provide scholarships for qualifying individuals. He also partners with Mid Michigan to raise money for education. He also supports many local projects in Clare, including athletics and band. He also supports Friends of Clare Parks & Recreation, including their outdoor activities, like those associated with parks, hunting, and fishing.

Jeff says that his personal motto used to be “Give until it hurts.” In recent years, however, he has changed it significantly into “It’s not giving unless it hurts.”

I asked Jeff if he had any pet peeves. He responded, “People who don’t pick up after themselves.”

Jeff has spent some time in genealogy researching his family history. He spent two vacations in Ireland, one in 2011 and another in 2019, and at least a part of that time was spent in genealogical hunting.

I asked Jeff if he could be anywhere else but here, right this moment, where would it be. Jeff thought about it for a couple of minutes and then responded, “I love Clare and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Jeff says he would like to be rememberd as “a caring person.” He feels he has been blessed and desires nothing more than to pay it forward.

The best skill Jeff believes that he brings to his job is his vision on how a lot of little moving parts move together as a whole – an essential vision for understanding the operation of Jay’s Sporting Goods.

I asked him to name 3 words he would use to describe himself. He answered, “Passionate, Hard-working, and Fun.” He believes his colleagues would describe him the same way, except they would replace “Fun” with “High Expectations.”

Next, I asked him what he wants to make sure he does before he dies. “I want to establish a legacy that my family can be proud of.”

During the next year Jeff says his goal is to do things that will keep him in better shape physically. Of course, he plans on continuing his bicycling, as he mentioned earlier.

I asked Jeff what publications he liked to read. He loves to read history, and he named “American Ulysses” and “April 1865.” He also loved to read biographies of the U.S. presidents. In addition, he’s recently finished two related books by Simon Sinek: the first is called “Why?” which discusses why some businesses succeed and other fail, and the second is called “Leaders Eat Last.”

When Jeff is not working, at least recently, he loves to be with his newest grandbaby, Oakley, who is 10 months old.

Jeff says that he has to be at least 100 miles away from Clare in order to really disconnect from his job. So he takes hunting and fishing trips. He hunted and fished in Alaska, Montana, Saskatchewan, and numerous other places with great success. He loves to hunt birds with his two English setters. Last September, he harvested an Alaskan moose, which has now been removed from his bucket list. He still has other thing on his bucket list, including a big caribou.

Jeff’s favorite music genre is classic rock. His favorite movie genre is comedy, and his favorite movie is “Uncle Buck.” And his favorite food is ice cream.

What was Jeff’s greatest embarrassment? When he was still in high school, he just finished taking a shower after a session in track and was standing nude at his locker. Chuck Meek came running through the locker room, being chased by a girl who ran right after him. Of course, Jeff became the main observation.

I asked Jeff what was the greatest compliment he ever received. He responded that there were two. The first one occurred when he was allowed to introduce Robert O’Neill (the Navy Seal who killed Osama bin Laden) to an audience of over a thousand people. The second one occurred only recently: “Being appointed Grand Marshal of the Irish Festival.”

Congratulations, Jeff.

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