100 years ago in South County

Children living outside the villages of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft attended one-room schools such as Strong School and Clark School, pictured here (Strong School in the first two pictures and Clark School in the last two). Clark School, District 1, was located on West U Avenue and 8th Street and is no longer standing. Strong School stood on Silver Street and was acquired by the Vicksburg Historical Society in 1996. It has been restored and is now in the Vicksburg Historical Village. The clothing and haircuts were typical of the time.

It’s a Fine Life – School Days

My dad and uncle join classmates on the steps of Harper School.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Nostalgia and I are long-time friends. Growing up the fourth generation on a family farm, I eagerly welcomed this constant companion. Reminders of the previous generations and their hard work were visible daily: the hay barn’s hand-hewn beams, the old horse collar in the shop, the field stone foundations. My grandparents planted two pear trees to the west of the farmhouse in 1908. From my bedroom window, I could watch those knobby branches drop their fall fruit, twiggy fingers wiggling in the breeze.

The childhood faces of my father, uncle, and their neighbors smile from their annual school picture on the steps of the Harper School – a charming old black-and-white photo in my album. Dad’s one-room-schoolhouse days were part of our growing-up-folklore: the mile walk to school, the tag and softball games at recess; the neighborhood’s contribution to salary and firewood. It all sounded magical to me.

When I started kindergarten, I rode to Fulton Elementary School with my grandmother – our 4th grade teacher – in her white Thunderbird. I couldn’t see over the dashboard, so I watched the trees click by or traced the powerlines as we drove the six miles to school. I loved being with her – my striking grandmother in her little tweed suits with the lapel pins, her suntan hose, and her spectator pumps. After parking, she opened the car’s heavy door for me, saying, “Have a good day, dolly.” I assumed everyone’s school experience was as wonderful as mine; the only way it could possibly be better would be going to “country school.”

Last spring, a frank discussion with my mother-in-law about her one-room-schoolhouse experience revealed a different narrative. She had attended several one-room-schools in rural Illinois before going to high school in a larger town. My mother-in-law is smart, loves numbers, and remembers everything. I’m sure she was a sharp and thorough student, quickly finishing anything her teacher assigned. But when she finished one year and entered a different “country school,” she learned that her teacher had not introduced her to important math concepts, leaving her terribly unprepared for the next year’s expectations. “I was angry. I had lots of work to do to catch up.” Catch up she certainly did, but it was disappointing and stressful for her.

So those really weren’t the “good old days” for many students. Isolation and lack of support in outlying areas created gaps in student learning I hadn’t considered. Today, teachers plan and team at grade level, following curriculum that guarantees students’ exposure to the most important standards. Also, in the 1940s and ‘50s, many students didn’t go beyond the 8th grade. Many students today are eligible for and receive much needed services and supports, also helping more students complete their schooling.

I will always enjoy looking at those charming school photos or seeing the old structures on Sunday drives, but I am also reminded of the historical and continued need for equity and opportunity for all students.

It’s a Fine Life

On the Corner

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

After nearly six months, our school children are returning to classrooms which are operating differently. Our communities continue to adjust our regular activities, and many of the events we look forward to have been cancelled or postponed. This current state is challenging our patience. Despite these disappointments, there are still many interesting things happening in South County.

Exciting Discovery at the Mill

Environmental researchers discovered a colony of snuffbox mussels in a section of the Portage Creek which runs along the Mill property. Native to eastern North America, this freshwater mussel is listed as endangered in both the United States and Canada. To read more about this exciting find, go to https://vicksburgmill.com/.

Pumpkin Decorating Contest

One of the joys of fall are the beautiful, bright-colored pumpkins that adorn our porches and yards. The Vicksburg Historical Society, together with the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, are hosting the ever-popular pumpkin-decorating contest. This sounds like fun! Check the organizations’ websites or Facebook pages for upcoming details. Entry forms will be available at http://vicksburghistory.org/pumpkins.

7th Annual Vicksburg Lions Club Golf Outing

The Vicksburg Lions Club supports our community with time and money. The summer festival, their big fundraiser was cancelled this year. Golfers can help fund their area projects by supporting the annual Golf Outing. This important club event will be held Saturday, September 19 at States Golf Club. Shotgun start at 11. For more information, contact Ryan Freeland (269) 290-4381 or Dawn Freeland (269) 910-2758.

Tractor Parade

Preschool-age farm kids, my great-nephew Grady and his sister Addy, were surprised and thrilled by the tractors parading down their street several weeks ago. The Kalamazoo Valley Antique Tractor & Machinery Club hosted this Tractor Ride in place of their cancelled annual show. Organized by Vicksburg resident Dale Sult, tractors arrived from as far away as Lansing, Charlotte, Three Oaks and Plymouth, Ind. The caravan of 53 tractors, which covered more than a half mile, slowly passed 12 of the quilt barns and historic buildings of the Vicksburg Quilt Trail and then drove up Main St., waving to kids (and the kids-at-heart) along the route who stopped to stare!

Fall Bike Celebration

This sounds like a perfect autumn activity! The second annual Fall Bike Celebration Weekend will highlight attractions in and around the village of Vicksburg and southwest Michigan from September 18-20. This weekend has been meticulously planned with countless activities for all ages. Registration and a complete list of details are available at www.fallbikecelebration.org.

Quilt Trail Presentation

A Vicksburg Quilt Trail presentation will be held Saturday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. at the Vicksburg District Library. Learn how quilt trails began, how Vicksburg started a trail and how to paint a quilt. Attendees will also learn about each of the 24 quilts on barns in the surrounding countryside and on historic buildings in town.

Area businesses stay productive during quarantine

By Rob Peterson

The 2020 quarantine was a significant disruption to businesses, especially to smaller ones which rely on walk-in customers to keep the doors open.

This disruption caused local entrepreneurs to work harder and get creative. It was a difficult period, “But you can’t pout,” said Rita Sertic, the energetic co-owner of Windfall coffee house and Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor.

For some, quarantine made for an opportune time to get projects done. Distant Whistle Brewery finished a planned expansion of the bar; the Hide-A-Way completed annual maintenance projects that would have required some closure to the public; and Windfall poured its outdoor patio, a project it decided to start “the Friday before we re-opened,” said Sertic with a laugh.

Virtual projects were accomplished as well. Carley Bosker, owner of Silo Chic clothing store, was already planning on adding online sales back into the mix. “I started this as an online store, but it took a backseat when I opened the brick-and-mortar shop,” she said. She has leveraged a large social media following to host live sales, where her VIP members can order items on Facebook and pay through her website.

Wrapped in Gratitude owner Kim Crites used the downtime to start an online store from scratch, even while tending to her ailing father. Crites posted 500 products on her website, most of them items intended to lift the spirits. “Most orders were from women buying gifts for other women,” she said, adding that the gifts could include a personalized note.

Apple Knockers also added an online store so that customers could order their food ahead and have it delivered to their car when they arrived in the parking lot. The owners chose a stormy Sunday to re-open, thinking it would be slow enough that they could keep up. The enthusiastic response from customers proved them wrong. “We were running from car to car in the thunderstorm,” said Sertic. Some orders took up to an hour, but customers were understanding of the predicament.

Even those who did not create online shops were creative in the ways they maintained service levels. Distant Whistle ran out of growlers, the large glass jugs that customers use to bring beer home, and they were backordered through the supplier. Some customers brought in their own growlers, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with demand. So, owner Dane Bosel started used his canner for the first time – a one-can-at-a-time canner. “I’d spend Monday filling 240 cans,” he said. “They’d sell out in just a few days.”

As restrictions eased, the retail shops in Vicksburg started meeting with customers by appointment. Silo Chic has since opened its doors for regular walk-in traffic. “It’s been busy,” said Bosker. “Including our online sales, the numbers are similar to last year.”

Workshops are a big part of what Wrapped in Gratitude offers, so Crites is working on videos that will allow customers to learn how to complete a project from the safety of their home. “I will be teaching people how to create mantra paintings,” she said. They are paintings based on a word or phrase that can inspire people when things get tough. The videos will be posted soon, and supplies will be available on her website.

Since the restaurants are only allowed to operate indoors at half-capacity, Distant Whistle and Hide-A-Way are turning to the streets for extra seating area. The Village of Vicksburg allowed both establishments to make use of parking spaces for a patio; the Village even loaned them picnic tables. “The additional outside seating brings us to full capacity,” said Hide-A-Way General Manager Jared Tinklenberg.

A continuing struggle for the restaurants is the availability of food items and the increased cost of beef. “We won’t be doing our Friday night steak special for a while,” said Tinklenberg. “I want to give people a good value, and the price of steak is just too high.” Customers will be happy to know, however, that the perch and Reuben are both available.

Apple Knockers and Windfall have seen shortages as well. “It’s a chance to expand and put some new items on the menu,” said Sertic, who is training a new cook how to prepare the family recipes they serve.

While everyone had a different approach to staying productive during quarantine, there was one common theme: The chorus of every business owner was how supportive the local community has been. Customers have showed understanding about the changes throughout the reopening process, and they showed up to bolster sales.

Tournament of Writers announces 2020 winners

By Syd Bastos

The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center announced winners of the 6th Annual Tournament of Writers in a live Facebook event in July. Twenty-nine works were entered in four categories, down from prior years.

“Covid-19 impacted submissions this year with the number of entries from students down sharply,” Acting Executive Director Krista Grotelueschen explained.

First place winners received a cash prize of $25 and second place winners received $10. In the Fiction Category, Junior Division; Maya Grossman took first place. In the Young Adult Division, Alana Falbo took first and Hanna Laughery took second place. In the Adult Division, Lon Glover and Katie Grossman tied for first place. In the Senior Division, Marilyn Jones took first and Bette Brown took second place. In the Non-fiction Category, Senior Division, Annette Smitley took first and Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe and Krista Ragotzy tied for second place. In the Poetry Category, Young Adult Division, Rebecca Penning took first and Grace Flanagan took second place. In the Senior Division, Krista Ragotzy took first and Mark Stuckey took second place. Thomas Mills took first place in Graphic Novel. This category does not have age divisions.

Maya Grossman and her mom, Katie Grossman, entered the Fiction contest together in two different age divisions. Maya was a winner in last year’s competition but needed a little motivation this year. Katie thought if she entered, it might help. She had never entered a writing competition before. Maya said she didn’t picture her mom as a writer but enjoyed reading her entry. “I thought I knew about COVID-19, but my mom had a lot more detail in her story.”

Katie wanted to memorialize what we are living through this year in her entry, “2020 – Can I get a Restart?” “As I was writing this fictional piece, I wanted to be mindful of how this time is affecting all of us,” Katie said. Maya wanted to write about the new puppy, Rocco, her family got in April. As Maya explained “I wanted to share Rocco’s goofiness with others.” She wrote the story from Rocco’s perspective.

All of the stories will be published in “Small Town Anthology VI.” In normal times, the competition would end with a public celebration in September with authors on hand to sign books and read from selected works. The book will still be published, but it isn’t clear how the book signing event will take place. The plans will be announced, including delays if necessary, as the situation evolves. As Katie Grossman wrote in her piece: “In the end we are all humans sharing the same planet; experiencing the highs and lows that life brings and working towards common goals.”

Trusted help in turbulent times

Staff and volunteers are masked and ready to serve. In the front row, from left: Tamra Stafford, Carol Brockway, Georgia Rolfe, Drew Johnson, Sheri Louis, Diann Weesies, Julie Oosterhouse and Donna Simonton. Standing, from left: David Sirotti, Lorna Landrum, Austin Wiggins, Wes Bittenbender, Michael Sirotti, Jackie Sirotti and Sarah Cagney.

By Danna Downing

Generous Hands and South County Community Services (SCCS) staff welcome anyone impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to reach out with a single call to (269) 649-2901. With this call, the information and assistance needed to cope with the ongoing shut-down and medical issues is readily available during these uncertain times.

Thanks to increased support from community donors, United Way and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, both agencies stand ready to help in new ways. Due to the unusually high need for help, access to financial and basic need assistance is now easier and more convenient than ever. Both Drew Johnson, director for SCCS and Sheri Louis, the director at Generous Hands, say, “Do not hesitate to call – we are here to help!”

“Anyone who has been a client of SCCS this year and has reached pre-COVID assistance limits should check in with Austin Wiggins, the emergency assistance coordinator, if they need additional help,” says Johnson. Robust food options and other kinds of help are changing from day to day and new and current SCCS clients may qualify for new assistance. Fortunately, both agencies are also connected to many other critical resources in the area and can help callers navigate that maze of opportunities as well.

The Vicksburg facility, shared by both agencies at 606 North Spruce Street, is now back to its regular service hours of 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

The office is closed on Friday, but phone calls are screened for emergencies that day. Friday Pack distribution continues to occur on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m.-noon, and by appointment. The Veteran Services office is open on Wednesdays from 9 a.m.-noon.

Before you come to visit:

You may want to call ahead and set up an appointment.

If you want Generous Hands services for families with school-age children, come to the back door.

If you are a family seeking emergency food or financial assistance with clothing, transportation, utility bills, rent or medical costs, use the front door.

Wearing masks and maintaining appropriate social distance are required by state law during the pandemic. Masks are available on site, if needed, along with hand sanitizer.

When you call 649-2901:

Use the telephone directory below to connect with the person or program you need. If you are unsure of what you need or to whom you should speak, just hit zero for the operator and leave a clear message about WHO you are, HOW to reach you and a brief description of WHY you are calling. Staff will screen calls Monday through Friday and return your call as soon as possible.

Press 0: Operator: Hours, location, program registration, veteran services appointment, questions, resource guide requests.

Press 1: Sheri Louis, GH director: Friday packs, grocery vouchers, farmers’ market vouchers, program registration.

Press 3: Gabe Chapman: DHHS benefit specialist.

Press 4: Drew Johnson, SCCS Director (Monday-Friday).

Press 5: Austin Wiggins: emergency assistance – food, clothing, gas vouchers, rent, utility and medical financial assistance (Monday- Thursday).

Press 6: Tamra Stafford: transportation coordinator for Metro Share van and other senior rides (Monday-Thursday).

Press 7: Sarah Cagney: Senior outreach coordinator-resource coordination, SAFE at HOME for seniors and kinship caregivers (Monday-Thursday).

This year’s Backpack Bonanza has been re-tooled to meet COVID-19 safety standards and to increase access and convenience for families in need. Rather than staging an event by invitation, backpacks and school supplies will be available to anyone who needs help this year. Simply call 649-2901 and leave a message with the auto operator to register for service. The school supplies will be available through the month of August.

What About First Day Shoes?

First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) will be onsite at South County schools this year, depending on pandemic restrictions and school calendars. Stay tuned to your local school communications for more information.

Generous Hands and South County Community Services have partnered with First Day Shoe Fund to do free shoe clinics at past Bonanza events. That partnership has evolved into a model that will better address the needs of more students who need help in getting comfortable, well fitted shoes for the first day of school. This approach is now school-based and funded by sponsorships. Generous Hands is sponsoring Sunset Lake Elementary and South County Community Services is sponsoring the Scotts-Climax Schools this year.

The FDSF has set the goal of providing shoes for K-5 students county-wide and is looking for school sponsors so that more schools can be served. Anyone interested in becoming a FDSF sponsor or volunteering for these events should speak with either Drew Johnson or Sheri Louis. To learn more about the FDSF organization, go to http://www.firstdayshoefund.org.

Schoolcraft Community Library reopening plan

A visual reminder that masks are required in the Schoolcraft Community Library.

The Schoolcraft Community Library is operating differently. This phased reopening plan is contributed by Pam Ballett, director of the Schoolcraft Community Library.

Phased Reopening Plan

MI Safe Start Phase 4: Improving

Curbside service is available Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and Wednesday from 1-6:30 p.m.

During this phase, you’ll get a notification when your requests are almost ready and we will schedule your curbside pickup. Requests can be made online at http://www.schoolcraftlibrary.org, calling us at 679-5959 or emailing us at staff@schoolcraftlibrary.org

The Schoolcraft Community Library is committed to the safety of our staff and patrons. All returned materials will be quarantined for 72 hours before being added back into our collection for checkout, and all returned materials will be checked in fine-free.

Please note that MeL and Interlibrary loan services have been suspended by the state with no definite date to resume. Once we receive information about the return of this service, we will communicate that with our patrons via our website and Facebook.

Computer Appointments, Faxing, Copying: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Wednesday from 1-5:30 p.m.

Now offering computer services by appointment: One 60-minute session per day. Copying and faxing will be available during these appointments. No browsing or additional services will be available at this time. Call 679-5959 or email us at staff@schoolcraftlibrary.org to reserve. 

Book Bundles: In lieu of our annual book sale we are selling weekly book bundles for $5. We have groupings for all ages and also take requests! You can find them on our Facebook page @schoolcraftlibrary

MI Safe Start Phase 5: Containing

Browsing Hours will resume.
First: Open hours for browsing with limited capacity
Then: Walk-in public computing
Later: Exhibits resume

During this phase, we’ll continue curbside service. You’ll be able to browse the shelves and select your own items for checkout, make copies and use our fax services. We won’t be able to offer workspace, room bookings or events, but walk-in access to public computers will resume.

MI Safe Start Phase 6: Post-Pandemic

Full service will resume.

Vicksburg Library reopens, copes with COVID-19

New staff member, Teresa Diewald, works on quarantining returned items so they can be circulated once more in the Vicksburg District Library.

By Adrianne M. Schinkai, Head of Reference and Circulation Services

On June 22nd, the Vicksburg District Library opened its doors to the public after being closed for 99 days by the executive orders issued by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. However, this did not mean librarians had ceased providing services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The library website was modified to provide information about the coronavirus, news of the pandemic that affected the local area and resources all ages could use to pass the time, from playing online games for free to touring museums virtually on the web. Librarians even held a range of virtual programming through social media.

Now that doors are open once again, staff are excited, yet cautious, to have their patrons back. “I was nervous about reopening and what the reaction would be from our patrons. It was hard being closed on our end,” said Youth Librarian Stephanie Willoughby. “I have been so thankful for our patrons who appreciate what we have to offer.”

Library Director Eric Hansen shared Willoughby’s sentiments. “I feel optimistic about the library’s mission during the pandemic. Our library has been serving the community in one form or another for more than 100 years. Under difficult circumstances a community can definitely benefit from the information and assistance shared … I cannot help wondering how our library staff assisted residents during the Spanish influenza epidemic a century ago.”

While patrons have been returning items kept in their possession during the closure, many are not as swift to enter the library just yet. While activity has been slow, it has still been productive as librarians choose to continue holding virtual programming or offer take home activities for children instead of activities on site. This is the case with the Library’s Summer Reading Program.

“This year’s program has the tag line, ‘Online, Outside, and Offsite,’” Willoughby said. “We are offering Curbside Crafts, which is a bag of fun craft projects for elementary aged children. Tweens and teens can participate in online book clubs. Story time is also online for our youngest patrons.”

Limited services that patrons are seeing from Vicksburg are very normal for libraries across the nation. All of them have one utmost priority while providing service during the pandemic: the safety of anyone who enters the library. Limited services for Vicksburg include toys being pulled from the children’s area, no circulation or display of periodicals and limited use of patron computers. Interlibrary loan services provided by the Michigan Electronic Library Catalog have also been suspended until further notice.

“Public libraries have always had a responsibility to offer no-cost or low-cost entertainment, programming, and information to citizens in the community,” Hansen said. “But at this time we have to take additional steps to promote the health of the citizens that we serve. That means implementing the guidance of state and federal agencies telling us to promote the use of personal protective equipment like masks, face shields and clear acrylic dividers.”

Such steps include adhering to Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-147, that face masks and coverings are mandatory in places of public service. In addition, the Vicksburg fire chief issued a maximum occupancy of 25 persons at a time for the library.

“I recommend that patrons feel confident visiting our library,” added Hansen firmly. “We are taking steps to provide valuable services that people can use during a time when there is a lot of uncertainty. I also recommend that patrons contact us via phone or e-mail if you have any questions about receiving services.” The Vicksburg District Library staff can be contacted at info@vicksburglibrary.org, via phone at (269) 649-1648, or by accessing the website at http://www.vicksburglibrary.org.

New resident adopts Sunset Lake

By Rob Peterson

It didn’t take long for Zoe Burket to begin taking care of Sunset Lake.

Zoe, who grew up in Portage and Indiana, moved to Vicksburg at the end of last year and almost immediately got to work cleaning up the trash left behind by people visiting the lake.

“I originally got a boat so that I could get some exercise,” says Zoe. “I saw the trash and started cleaning it up as I went around the lake.”

At least once a week, sometimes for up to two hours, Zoe goes out on the lake and uses a fishing net to collect trash. A typical day results in a full net; once, an entire kitchen trash bag.

Most items are to be expected: fishing bobbers and hooks, dog toys, and a considerable number of soda cans. Zoe, who uses the pronoun “they,” can’t wait for the bottle return to open; the cans might earn enough to buy new oars. Sometimes the items are useful, like the gardening glove used to collect trash. Other times what they find is tragic, like the frog caught up in a mylar balloon.

Much of what they find is along the public areas at the south end of the lake. Anything that is discarded at the north end follows the current and gets caught up in the lily pads.

As a child, Zoe was inspired to start cleaning litter by The Big Help, a Nickelodeon community outreach program that would encourage kids to vote for their favorite parks to be refurbished. “It always looked satisfying to make that kind of difference,” says Zoe. “It was really empowering as a kid, watching everyone working together. It helped me to see the importance of protecting nature.”

The most frustrating part of the work for Zoe is seeing the water bottles. “If it wasn’t an inconvenience to bring the bottle, it’s not an inconvenience to take it back,” says Zoe.

“Taking care of your own stuff takes a small amount of energy, but it makes a big difference.”

Food trucks offer variety in South County

By Rob Peterson

Food truck rallies, previously found only in downtown Kalamazoo, are branching out to the surrounding communities, including two sites in south county.

“We wanted to try something new this summer,” said Becca Shemberger of Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center, the organizer of the events. “So many events have been canceled, and people are hungry for something to do.”

The rallies make for a unique dining experience. Shemberger and her staff invite five food vendors with different styles of street food to make sure patrons have options. The vendors rotate, so each rally offers a new combination of cuisines. It’s not uncommon to find a dish from a mobile food vendor that can’t be found at a local restaurant.

The June 30 event at Chem Link in Schoolcraft included Motor Mouth BBQ; Coffee Rescue hot and cold beverages; American fare from Freddy’s Food Hut; churros from Eli’s Doces; and paella from Fire & Rice.

The mobile food businesses are typically chef-driven enterprises. Owners are eager to talk about their food.

Nick Neveau, owner of Fire & Rice, was happy to describe his paella, a traditional Spanish rice dish that is hearty enough for a meal. “The rice we use comes from Barcelona, and we make it with vegetables, meats, or seafood,” said Neveau. “We use imported saffron to season the rice. It’s the most expensive spice in the world.”

Due to the implications of COVID-19, the events have been carry-out only so far. “We are hoping, as restrictions ease, that we’ll be able to have on-site dining, games and even live music,” said Shemberger.

The vendors and staff are following the safety guidelines provided by the CDC and the Kalamazoo County Health Department. All trucks are spread out 15 feet or so, hand sanitizer is on site and the ground is marked with “X’s” to ensure those waiting in line can maintain a safe distance from each other. They also encourage attendees to wear masks so that everyone feels comfortable at the events.

The food truck rallies are just one part of the work that Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center does. The organization’s goal is to provide hands-on learning for college students to give them entrepreneurial experience. The students, many of whom are studying event management at WMU, work with non-profit groups to put on events and fundraisers.

The rallies will return to south county for three more Tuesday events this summer, each from 5-8 p.m. They will be at Chem Link on July 28, Oswalt Park in Vicksburg on August 11, and back to Chem Link on August 25.