It was swell having Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield — two honest-to-goodness Hollywood celebrity movers and shakers — living amongst us. But all good things must come to an end, and so it is that Gilbert and Busfield, the most famous people who ever called Howell home, have packed up and left Livingston County after sweeping in and taking my downtown Howell neighborhood by storm almost exactly five years ago.
Yes, dear reader, Gilbert and Busfield are leaving our community and heading to the Big Apple.
“The last five years … have been some of the happiest years of my life,” Gilbert said. “Michigan will always be my true home and Michiganders will always be family to me.”
When the two first moved to a lovely Victorian home in my southwest Howell neighborhood, it was HUGE news. There was a never-ending stream of cars driving around slowly, looking for the house the “OMG, MOVIE STARS” were living in. The number of Gilbert’s Twitter followers and blog readers must have increased dramatically as folks in the area learned she was giving up the Golden State for the Great Lakes State to be with her new husband, Michigan born-and-bred Busfield, whom she married in 2013. We followed her journey from Los Angeles to Howell, and then we couldn’t keep our eyes off the couple as they settled in and tried to live a relatively normal life in our town.
As people met the couple, I heard the same thing over and over again: “They are so nice.”
I have a snapshot of the two of them in my memory. It was during a particularly snowy, bone-chilling 2014 Polar Vortex evening, when it felt like the merciless winter would never, ever end. I had dinner with my husband and son at the old Diamond’s (and current Cello’s) near to closing, as did Gilbert and Busfield. We left at about the same time, and ended up introducing ourselves to each other as we juggled the two doors and navigated the tiny vestibule of the restaurant without banging into each other. I remember Busfield shaking my kid’s hand and introducing himself as “Tim.”
“How cool is this?” I thought. “They really are nice.”
I had parked right in front of the restaurant, and my husband cleaned off the car as I warmed it up. I made a U-turn on Grand River Avenue to head the several blocks west to our house when we caught sight of Gilbert and Busfield walking through the street as a light snowfall glowed beautifully against the street lights, as if on cue.
“Maybe we should see if they’d like a ride home,” I suggested to the horror of my son.
“If they wanted a ride, they would’ve driven their own car,” he said.
And he was right. So we drove past as the movie stars walked home together happily through the snow, looking like they were having the time of their lives.
For the nearly two years that they lived a couple blocks from me, the two were wonderful neighbors and community boosters. They didn’t complain about the constant traffic up and down their street. They were generous with their time, taking part in lots of community and charity activities, including serving as the Grand Marshals for the 2014 Fantasy of Lights Parade in downtown Howell. Gilbert wrote a cookbook and a children’s book, and did signings and events at local businesses. She even threw her hat into the ring in the summer of 2015 as the Democratic nominee to challenge Republican Mike Bishop in the 2016 general election for the 8th Congressional seat; however, she withdrew from the race in the spring of 2016 for health reasons.
What impressed me most was that Gilbert and Busfield truly lived in the city: walking, shopping, dining at restaurants, going to the movies, enjoying performances, and getting to know this charming, quirky little town I love, a town that suffered for many years under the weight of a dead, former KKK grand wizard who didn’t even live here. Now it was known as the home of the stars of iconic television shows: Gilbert of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, and Busfield, who starred in “Thirtysomething” and “The West Wing.”
After those first two years, Gilbert and Busfield moved a short distance away, to a log cabin in the woods in Genoa Township. I suspect a need for more privacy may have been behind the decision to move, and who can blame them? Once they moved, they each got busy with various projects outside of Michigan. And as they got busier, we saw less and less of them out and about, which actually makes this parting more sweet, less sorrow; we wish them nothing but the best.
And as much as we loved having the movie stars here, we also seem to have made a big impression on the California born-and-bred Gilbert.
“I was so amazed by how welcoming everyone has been,” she said. “I look forward to watching this beloved state and county grow and thrive. I will miss so many people and places, and Michigan will always have a special place in my heart.
“Thank you to everyone who showed kindness. Michiganders are strong, courageous, hard-working people. My time here, I hope, has made me a better person. You can take the girl out of Michigan, but you’ll never take the Michigan out of this girl.”
Amen to that. And we’ll never forget how cool it was to have Gilbert and Busfield here. Just think: When they first moved to Michigan, the two could’ve picked anywhere to live — anywhere.
They chose Howell.
How wonderful is that?
To see Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield in the 2014 Fantasy of Lights Parade, click here: IMG_2119. This snippet of the parade is taken from video shot by George Moses.
There’s going to be an estate sale to empty out the log cabin in the woods that Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield called home for the last three years. Inside the 2,500-square-foot home is an entire main floor, an upper level, a basement ,and a garage, all “filled to the brim with lots of great stuff.”
The sale is being handled by Poofestateservices.com.
The sale will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, July 27, and Saturday, July 28. The address of the Gilbert/Busfield home will be announced just before the sale, and judging from the Poof Estate Services website, it’s going to be quite the event, with directions for parking and shuttle service up the long driveway.