Living like Proos: Senator’s home fit for family

As a state senator representing more than a quarter million southwest Michigan residents, John Proos’ commitments at the capitol in Lansing and across his tri-country district keep him on his toes.

His responsibilities are far from over once he pulls his car into the parking lot of his two-story home in St. Joseph, though.

On a warm, sunny Saturday in early May, John and his wife Kristy spent the morning busily tackling the usual early morning tasks — making a pot of fresh coffee, throwing a load of clothes in the washer — while coordinating the busy day ahead of them.

Later that afternoon, John would participate in the annual Blossomtime Festival Parade, one of the largest springtime events in the region. Riding shotgun in his vehicle was the couple’s youngest child, Nora, while their eldest child, Elena, participated in the procession with the members of her school’s marching band.

Photo by Michelle Pulling

Meanwhile, it was Kristy’s turn to drive their middle child, Jack, to Ann Arbor for one of his games in his traveling soccer league. The two would leave later that evening, and would arrive back in town the following day.

All in all, it was a pretty standard weekend, by the Proos family’s standards, John said.

“It’s literally all hands on deck like this,” he said.

That’s not to say that the family never has moments of serenity, though.

Be it gathering outside by the toasty firepit on a starry night or huddled together on the couch in front the TV in the cozy confines of the den downstairs, the Proos family knows how to disconnect themselves from their busy lives outside the home and simply enjoy each other’s company.

Photo by Michelle Pulling

The family has called the residence, located on Hillview Lane in a neighborhood in St. Joseph, home since 2003. John and Kristy purchased the home from some of John’s long-time family friends, Mike and Karla Vernasco, who were looking to downsize at the time.

“They [the Vernascoes] actually threw us a wedding shower at this home [in 1999],” John said. “Four years later, we bought the place from them.”

John and Kristy, who had already had Elena and Jack at the time, purchased the two-story home to give their budding family room to grow. Nora was born three years after they purchased the home, in 2006.

Photo by Michelle Pulling

Located near the end of street, with a massive backyard ravine that connects to nearby Hickory Creek, John said the home is like a nice retreat for he and his family.

“I grew up in a home with a ravine behind it, and I couldn’t think of a better place to grow up,” John said.

When not on the go, John, Kristy and the children can be usually be found relaxing in the living room, located in the back corner of the home, with a pair of double glass sliding doors connecting the room to the spacious backyard. Right near the front entrance is the dining room — usually reserved for special occasions only — and the study/play area, where the family computer is located.

As much as he gets the opportunity, John likes to spend some time inside the home’s bright, sunlit kitchen.

Back in his bachelor days, John and his friends would whip up meals “Iron Chef” style — coming up with recipes on the fly depending on what was in the fridge at the time, as he put it. John carries that tradition on today, where he serves as the family’s resident chef, he said.

Compared to his day job, which is full of deal making and compromising in order to get bills written or passed that may not take effect until months or years down the road — if ever — cooking serves a nice break, John said. In front of the stove and oven, John is free to make whatever decisions he wants to make on what is on the menu that night — for better or worse.

“I get immediate feedback from the kids as to whether or not they like what I’ve made — and my wife lets me know even faster,” John said.

Upstairs are the bedrooms: the master bedroom as well as rooms for each of the children, which are decorated as one might expect for youth their age: for instance, pictures with Elena and her friends line her room, while Jack’s has posters of his favorite teams and athletes plastered across his walls.

The basement is where John and Kristy have made the most changes since they purchased the home, John said. They have turned the downstairs into a den area, with a bathroom and storage room attached.

While it is often used by one of the children as somewhere they can hang out with friends, the entire clan occasionally gathers in the basement to watch a movie or two, gathering around the couch that stretches across three walls in the corner of the room.

“We got that couch in particular so we would all have room to stretch our legs,” John said.

Another place the family likes to spend time is the backyard. During summer nights, one can often find the entire crew gathered around the fire pit, chatting away or checking out the stars above.

“The only electronics we have out are those that play music,” John said. “These are times for us to talk and enjoy each other’s company, not have our heads buried in our devices.”

Photo by Michelle Pulling

Of course, simply finding time to relax can prove a challenge for the family, who are always on the move.

John, who commutes back and forth between Lansing as well to various locations throughout his district (which consists of Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph counties in Michigan), is often coordinating with Kristy, a finance director with Whirlpool, on what times they can pick up or drop off the children at school or at one of the many sporting or activities they are involved with.

Not that this is different from most other American families.

“John does most of the grocery shopping, and he mowed the lawn yesterday,” Kristy said. “We’re a normal family, like anyone else.” ϖ

Ted Yoakum is a community editor at Leader Publications, LLC, and contributes to Michiana Life magazine.