The story behind this month’s cover

In honor of Women’s History Month, here are just a few of the many women in leadership in South County. Photo created by Taylor Kallio.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the South County News team presents a special cover featuring a sample of women in leadership in South County.

Several months ago, Alysse Thomas, event coordinator for Paper City Development, proposed this March cover for Women’s History Month. Alysse commented on how many women hold or have held positions of leadership in the area.

She suggested a March photo cover featuring a few of South County’s women, in the style of Ormond Gigli’s “Girls in the Windows.” The brick building for the South County News photograph? The Mill.

A team from Paper City Development and South County News met with a Frederick Construction project manager on site at the Mill. The group walked the exterior and parts of the interior of the brick structure and determined this picture could not be safely taken there. Some of the floors are unstable and safety harnesses would be needed to stage the photo in the window openings.

So the brainstorming began. Taylor Kallio, photographer for Paper City Development and innovative problem-solver, was enlisted. To re-create the style of Gigli’s photograph, he took individual photos of each woman, using a green-screen and wooden frame made to the exact size of the window openings. He then used Photoshop’s editing tools to adjust and insert each photo in the openings of a Mill building photograph he had taken.

The cover features women from many parts of South County: business owners and managers, medical professionals, leaders of various agencies and organizations, governmental and school leaders, community advocates and dreamers.

Kallio presents just twenty-seven of many area women. There are hundreds more making a difference in South County, working and leading and following the footsteps of women who came before.

Those women — to quote the late Congressman John Lewis — were women who weren’t afraid “to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” They were women who pushed for the right to vote, to secure business loans, to be recognized for their skills and their own merits. These women made possible the choices and opportunities women have today.

The strength, power and pride that represents South County women is captured in Kallio’s photograph.

By Margaret Snyder, Vicksburg Historical Society

Woman-owned businesses fuel today’s economy nationwide, now representing around 42% of all businesses of all types. Vicksburg’s women are doing their share to keep these numbers growing.

Early Vicksburg had its share of women who owned businesses – and today’s ladies would probably enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with at least two of them.

Vera Penfield

John L. Penfield, publisher of the Vicksburg Commercial, died suddenly in 1931 just as the paper was beginning to recover a bit from the Great Depression. His wife, Vera, was encouraged by the family to keep the newspaper going even though she knew very little about its day-to-day operation.

Because her main interests before her husband’s death had been her home, flower garden and various cultural pursuits, she had to catch on quickly, and she did. Meredith Clark, who worked for Mr. Penfield before leaving for college, came back to help until he and his wife, Bernice, bought a Tekonsha newspaper in 1936. Following Clark’s departure, Vera carried on alone, except for one employee in the press room. She did the bookkeeping and wrote all the copy, with only the aid of two local women who sent in local news items and another woman who sold advertising.

Mrs. Penfield’s aim was to serve her community with news of school, library, business, and village affairs. She successfully managed to do just that, even though the difficult days of World War II created paper and printing ink shortages. Mrs. Penfield soldiered on until August 1947, when she sold the business to Meredith Clark.

Both hard work and tragedy were taken in stride by the delicate Vera Penfield, who was apparently endowed with a plentitude of hidden spirit and business sense. Vera’s efforts are why, after many twists and turns, South County News exists today. She died November 23, 1953, at the age of 70 and is buried along with her husband in Vicksburg Cemetery.

Maggie Ellsworth

Another successful local woman was Margaret E. (Maggie) Ellsworth. While there is a bit of evidence she may have been born in Vicksburg, she first appears in local print sometime during the 1890s. The Vicksburg Commercial reported, “Maggie Ellsworth moved her bakery and restaurant to Prairie Street and plans to open a boarding house, too”.

The building we most associate with Maggie, 125 East Prairie, was built around 1884 for a carpenter shop. Apparently, it didn’t last long because by 1902 various sources tell us Maggie opened a hotel there. She managed to avoid the 1900 and 1910 Federal Census, probably because she was very busy. 1904 finds her in a Kalamazoo County business directory as the manufacturer of a hair grower and scalp cleaner. Her interest in ladies’ hair grew – or perhaps the hotel business didn’t – as another business directory lists a M. E. Ellsworth of Vicksburg as a hairdresser from 1905-1908. She was still hard at work manufacturing hair restorer in 1907 and 1908, but the directory also includes a listing for Margaret Ellsworth as a hotel operator. Still looking for ways to increase her business, A Tale of One Village notes, “Maggie Ellsworth’s hotel, on the north side of Prairie Street just the second door west of Kalamazoo Avenue, was closed in 1908 and she started a bakery. However, after two years she had second thoughts and re-opened the hotel using the first floor for a restaurant and lunch counter”. Apparently by this time she’d given up on all aspects of ladies’ hair services. The Federal Census finally caught up with her in 1920 and listed Maggie as widowed with her occupation as cook at a hotel.

Things seemed to roll along more or less smoothly for Maggie until 1921. A Tale of One Village tells us, “A screaming fire alarm shattered a very windy Sunday night, July 21, 1921. …. Flowers Restaurant collapsed into a burning heap…. (while) on the east (side of Flowers), Maggie Ellsworth lived on the second floor of her building up front…The entire contents of both upper and lower floors were burned, and the building’s interior was a total loss”. But Maggie apparently patched things up and kept herself in business.

Four years later, at the ripe old age of 62 – all hard years – she’d had enough. According to A Tale of One Village, “In 1925 Fred Rapp bought the Ellsworth Hotel…and moved his grocery over there. Maggie Ellsworth had run her hotel-restaurant-hotel back and forth for thirty years, but that stint finally took its toll and she sold the property.”
What later happened to this hardworking, ingenious, and inventive businesswoman? We don’t know where (for sure) she came from, and we don’t know where she ended up. But we DO know by the evidence left behind that she was one of several women taking care of business on their own during the early 1900s.

New pottery club for seniors at Hot Flash

By Alisha Siebers, Executive Director, Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center

Hot Flash Pottery is partnering with the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center and South County Community Services to offer a pilot Pottery Club for seniors on March 14 and March 21.

The classes will provide instruction on how to hand-build a piece of pottery like a bowl, cup, or plate the first week, and then will offer the chance to glaze the piece on the second week.

Thanks to local donations and grants, the VCAC can help with the cost of the class: Pay what you can, ranging from $2 to $30, to cover the fee for the two classes. The generous volunteer drivers at South County Community Services will be on hand to help those who need rides. If you want to attend or would like more information, email Alisha at

We’re lucky to have a facility like Hot Flash Pottery right here in our back yard. The studio was opened at 102 S. Main in 2018 by mother-daughter team Lupe Smith and Veronica Levin. Veronica and her husband Scott moved to Vicksburg so they could raise their son in a small town close to family and Veronica realized she needed a place close to home where she could continue her creative projects.

Both owners have extensive experience in the arts. Lupe earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting at the University of Illinois and also studied ceramics in school.

Veronica has years of polishing her talents “on the side.” As a college student, she felt like she wouldn’t be able to be employed if she studied art, so she majored in rhetoric. Over the next 15 years, though, she took part-time classes to practice ceramics, oil painting and metalsmithing. While she worked as a graphic designer in Chicago for 10 years, her evenings were filled with workshops and classes at places like the Chicago Art Institute and the Lillstreet Art Center. She also studied ceramics at the University of Alaska when she lived in Anchorage and spent a year experimenting with metalsmithing in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Based on her experience, she has a message for artists today: Don’t let anyone discourage you, no matter what. You can support yourself and make a living in the arts.

Lupe and Veronica opened Hot Flash so that they could spread out in their own studio space. They bought their building at 102 S. Main from a dentist, which turned out to be a big plus because the building had plenty of sinks for pottery and metalsmithing.

People wonder what it’s like to own a mother-daughter business. Veronica explains that she loves running a business with her mom because they each bring different talents to the table. She jokes that her creative mother is “the MacGyver of the house — she comes up with so many things.” In contrast, Veronica is more methodical, preferring to go by the book or the recipe. She observes that her mom has helped her improve as an artist by helping her loosen up and let go of perfectionism.

Veronica has also been influenced by her father Ronald Smith, who worked as a veterinary professor at the University of Illinois. All her life, she’s had a tender spot for rescue animals and has helped rehabilitate a whole menagerie of critters, including, recently, a pair of raccoon babies found in front of the Methodist Church. At Hot Flash, when you buy from a selected collection of bowls, Veronica will donate all of the proceeds to support local efforts to rehabilitate wild animals.

If you’d like to create something new, you can spend time with Veronica and Lupe and their friendly golden retriever, Ava, to learn how to hand-build ceramics or how to throw pottery on one of the nine wheels in their studio. They also offer instruction in acrylic pour and painting techniques. Veronica sees Hot Flash as “a gathering place for people who want to unwind and need a creative outlet.” She loves to see people of all ages connecting and getting to know each other. She and Lupe are proud to offer their expertise and equipment so that the arts can be more accessible to folks in southern Kalamazoo County. If you would like to know more about the classes they offer, to take as an individual or maybe to use for a date night or team-building event, visit their website: