The Lady Eagles battled it out with Muskegon Western Michigan Christian (WMC), to come out victorious with a score of 3-0 and claim the title of regional champs on November 14 at home.
“It is a really awesome feeling going from KVA champs to district champs to regional champs. And no matter what happens from here on out we all still have that to hold on to,” said Jayci Suseland, Schoolcraft high school freshman.
Schoolcraft worked hard through out the match. They ended their first game 25-19. Once Schoolcraft hit 19-15 during the second game, the rest of the contest went smoothly, leading then to finish strong. The third game ended in 25-21.
Schoolcraft Varsity coach Erin Onken said, “The girls have heart, they are determined, and they play for each other.” Onken says that she’s confident in the girls as she’s with them everyday and sees just what they can accomplish.
When it comes to playing against these very talented teams like WMC, it takes a lot to get through the games. There are so many things that motivate these players; Miranda McDonald said her coach motivates her with inspirational quotes. While Jayci Suseland says the student section motivates her, “Trust me, we can all hear them cheering for us.” However, it’s Kathryn Ingle who feels it’s her team that pushes her, Ingles said, “My team is what motivates me, they are all so amazing and wonderful. We all push each other every day. At practice or in a game we push each other and make each other better.
The Schoolcraft Eagles will play Mendon at Delton Kellogg High School on Tuesday, Nov. 19th at 6:00 p.m.
WATERVLIET – Schoolcraft High School’s varsity football team struggled for most of Friday’s Division 6 district-title game to stop opposing quarterback Luke Traver.
No matter, the Eagles left Berrien County with a 28-26 win thanks to what boiled down to a trio of game-changing plays:
*Phil Pelton’s interception and return for a touchdown proved to be the game-winning score for the Eagles. The pick-off came with just under four minutes to play in the game.
*Needing a two-point conversion to tie the game at 28-all with less than two minutes to play, Watervliet saw its attempt swatted down by Schoolcraft’s Brennan Vaughn.
*The Panthers’ last-gasp effort to score in the final seconds had momentum until Pete Schultz nabbed an interception to secure the Eagles’ tenth win of the season. The interception was forced when linesmen Carter Fowler and Cody Mikel hit Traver as he released the ball, causing the pass to be underthrown.
For Schoolcraft, it was a 48-minute roller-coaster ride that extends its season into a twelfth week. The 10-1 Eagles travel to Shelby to take on the Tigers at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The fact Schoolcraft remains in the playoffs after Friday’s aerial clinic by Traver is notable, as Watervliet’s quarterback completed 38 of 49 pass attempts for a mind-boggling 460 yards.
“We knew he was good, but he played better than what we had seen on any of the two game films we had studied,” Schoolcraft Head Coach Terry Haas said. “We don’t see that kind of an offense in our run-dominated league, so this was a test for our defense and they hung in there long enough to win it for us.”
Traver’s touchdown passes of 23 and 5 yards put the Panthers up, 12-0 early in the second quarter before Schoolcraft answered with two scores of its own to knot the game at 12-12 at halftime.
Josh Zemek’s second-quarter runs of 5 and 4 yards accounted for Schoolcraft’s first-half scoring. The second of the two touchdowns came late in the half, when Zemek intercepted a pass and returned the ball to Watervliet’s 16 yard line to set up the tie score.
The teams combined for three missed extra-point-kick attempts and one failed two-point conversion in the first 24 minutes.
Schoolcraft took its first lead of the game three minutes into the third quarter, when Mikel reached the end zone on a 17-yard run. Zemek’s two-point conversion put the Eagles up, 20-12.
Watervliet would tie it at 20 with a score in the fourth quarter. The deadlock would remain until Pelton’s interception and touchdown return on a bobbled pass.
Haas said his team’s defense had to adjust to a no-huddle, up-tempo offense employed by Watervliet.
“They spent a lot of the night chasing down (Traver), so they had a good workout,” Haas said. “But in the end, defense wins championships and I preach that all the time.”
Haas said it was an especially memorable night for senior Charlie Schultz, who turned 18 years old Friday.
Haas said he also felt good about Vaughn and his role in breaking up Watervliet’s two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
“Brennan was pretty down about missing the two extra-point attempts early in the game … he had only missed one all year,” Haas said. “So, he got redemption and that two-point conversion attempt was a big moment.”
The win advances Schoolcraft to its deepest post-season run since the 14-0 state-champion team of 2001. The Eagles, whose only loss this season was to co-league champion Olivet in Week 3, bowed out in the Week 11 district title game last year to Constantine, 40-27.
Shelby, meanwhile, is a 10-1 team with its only loss to Spring Lake, 27-0, in the final Friday of the regular season. The school is located in Oceana County, halfway between Ludington and Muskegon.
Haas said he and his coaches will spend Sunday looking at game film of Shelby, a squad he admitted he doesn’t know much about. The game against the Tigers was originally scheduled to take place Friday, but Haas said considering the 130-mile distance, he objected to a Friday game and was awarded the matinee game Saturday.
Squinting against the bright September sky, project foreman Rick Collins surveyed the scene before him. Something extraordinary was about to happen in the small town of Vicksburg. “I would go so far as to say that it’s probably been well over one hundred years since anyone has built a structure this way,” he declared. The 120-by-46-by-24 foot post-and-beam construction would take 70 timber framers and 2900 board feet to build…plus about 3500 paper plates (recyclable). More specifically: carpenters and apprentices from 20 US states, Canada, France, England and Poland; white ash, oak, black locust, poplar, and cherry donated from local landowners; and paper plates full of homemade food prepared by 330 members of the local community. All that after two years of dreaming, planning, and the fundraising necessary for the vision to be realized: a pavilion where the farmer’s market, summer festivals, and special events of Vicksburg, Michigan, would have their home for the next few centuries.
Assuming certain minor details could be worked out.
“Did you pick this portapotty spot? …because if you did, I’m going to start doubting your management skills. I’m about to pick another one.” The very no-nonsense Alicia Spence didn’t wait for the local historical society hosts to answer, but delegated the relocation of the mobile relief stations without breaking stride. Spence, project manager extraordinaire of the Timber Framers Guild, knows what it takes to deliver a project of this magnitude efficiently. That’s why she’s in charge—the HMFWIC, as it were. For the uninitiated, that’s “head-mother-bleeper-whut’s-in-charge,” to quote the English-accented carpenter who put it that way. Laughter followed from his mostly-American colleagues in “Braceland,” the tent where the group was busy building braces. Apparently, the HMFWIC is a universally understood referent.
Indeed, the pace of progress over ten early fall days required vast quantities of leadership, skill, efficiency, and people. According to Collins, who owns Trillium Dell Timberworks out of Knoxville, Illinois, “you need about five thousand man hours to do a project like this. Based on the crew we’ve pulled together, that means every person has to be productive for ten hours a day on this site.” Incredibly, that’s just what happened. “Although it’s not all been perfect, but I guess we don’t want to anger the gods,” said Kristina Powers Aubry, a host from the Vicksburg Historical Society. Co-host Bob Smith added good-naturedly, “Well, I’m more worried about angering the guys with the power tools.”
Made of Sturdy Stuff
This kind of work isn’t for the faint of heart. Every gritty, safety-goggled worker bent over a tool was putting his or her whole heart and soul into the endeavor. Richard Barnes, who owns a saw mill south of town, turned the logs to timbers, then he joined dozens of volunteers from the TFG and local community who put in long days on the construction. For many, it was their first timber framing experience. Some were getting a good dose of OJT from TFG instructors. Others were the kind of woodworkers who just might be using some of their grandfather’s tools as well as an iPhone FingerCAD app. It’s that reverence for old world ways combined with new age technology that is the hallmark of timber framing today.
Spence says, “Timber framing is about rediscovering this age-old wisdom of constructing things with the raw material of wood alone…to bring the language of the past into the codes of the present. It used to be, ‘ok, I’ve got a snow load on this beam, how much will it take before it’ll break?’ Today, we take the tree species, the wind volume; we do a drawing in 3-D to apply stresses on a building, and then look at all the variables. The computer analysis figures it out. We can push the envelope of what’s possible.”
“We take the ancient art of timber framing and apply the science of technology. It’s a true gift of the computer world. Then you can build the whole thing without power, and we’ve done that.” Alicia hesitated just a moment, adding with a wry grin, “there are a few die-hards…the ’take an axe, get an ox,’ types; but me? I do love that mortise machine.”
Free Room and Board
With so many workers coming from faraway places, the question of room and board had to be answered. A tent city was put up beside the community garden next to the worksite for anyone preferring a camping experience. Others were welcomed into homes around town. The Nazarene Church was available for showers. It was one of many churches that provided hot meals. So did organizations like the local garden club. Member Martha Stanley dubbed her peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chippers Lumberjack Cookies in honor of occasion. As the workers came through the line in the dining tent, she’d ask each one where they were from and visit with them. “They were so friendly and thankful for the food. That made me feel full,” Martha said.
Members of the community and local businesses volunteered countless hours to ensure that three squares a day were ready for the crew. The Rise-N-Dine, Subway, Main Street Grill, Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor, Erbelli’s, and Jaspare’s Pizza all donated meals, complementing the homemade fare from local churches, groups, clubs, even designated neighborhoods. Karen Hammond of the Vicksburg Historical Society managed the herculean task of coordinating meal donations and the business end of things in the dining tent. Not a day went by that someone who hadn’t even signed up for food duty would drop by with something to keep the snack table stocked. Hammond says she loved every minute of it.
“The feeling you get from working together to pull something like this off is incredible. We could have just had it catered, or left cold cuts and bread on a table for sandwiches, but we wanted to put the extra effort in to show how much this means to us as a community,” she reflected. “The whole experience was something that might have been typical in my grandparent’s time, but for us it was really something exceptional. We made new friends, and got closer to the ones we already had.”
Connecting the Past and the Present
Before dawn, the smells of a morning campfire and fresh sawn wood from the cut-post tent hang in the air. There’s something time-capsuling about the scent—how it would have been the same for workers 500 years ago. It’s an olfactory trigger to timber framing’s visceral connection of the past and present. “You look at an old woodcut from the Renaissance period showing all the work stations and processes involved in putting up a cathedral maybe 900 years ago—every aspect of the trade; we’ve got that same thing happening here today,” says Rick Collins. “Everything is happening right here. You could call me a ‘localvore’. I like seeing local people and resources doing local construction. That’s sustainability. It’s the closest connection we have to our past. We lost that through industrialization…we need to regain it.”
When the Timber Framers Guild does projects like the Vicksburg Pavilion, it proves that people can harvest their own wood, use local labor, and make something that the whole community can be a part of, says Collins, “I believe we should be doing more of that.”
Margaret Kerchief, president of the Historical Society, agrees this “has brought the community together in a shared experience that emphasized giving toward a greater cause without hesitation, and the pride in having achieved something lasting.”
The real “joinery” of the Vicksburg Pavilion is about the community coming together. It’s a community that includes people who might have come from somewhere else in the world. Kristina Powers Aubry put it this way, “We’ve met artists, poets, philosophers, and kings, white collars, blue collars, and no collars from all over the world here in our little corner of it.” Alicia Spence agrees. It’s not just the wood work, but what happens when all those woodworkers meet in the dining tent at the end of the day. They’re all there to share the workload as well as the blueberry pie. “I would say the community service element is really what makes this a matter of the heart. There’s a lot of ways to build something. You could put a pole building up—it’s faster and cheaper. But with a project like this, there’s an old-fashioned barn-raising feel to it. It joins us together in a way that’s so absent in American culture. It really brings out the best in people,” Spence explains. “We’re not just building buildings…we’re building community.”
Hidden way back in Vicksburg’s Industrial Park sits KEPCO, a manufacturing company, little known to residents of the area but well-known in the niche market of electropolishing.
It is owned by President Bill Hochstetler and general manager Paula Hochstetler, assisted by their two sons-in-law, Tim Palomaki (plant manager) and Nick Sertic (sales manager). This trio of men is sometimes dwarfed by their well-known wives – Paula, Angela and Rita who own Apple Knockers restaurant in downtown Vicksburg. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to faze them when it comes to living in this small town and running their businesses.
“I love to hunt and fish, living close to the school, the workplace and the people here,” remarks Nick Sertic, although he was raised in Farmington, near Detroit. He served as a sales rep for a medical supply company after graduation from Ferris State, where he met Rita. Now as sales manager for KEPCO, he is all about electropolishing stainless steel, passivation of stainless steel parts and problem solving for their customers. He claims there is, “No ceiling here for this small business.”
KEPCO (www.kepcoinc.com)was formed in 1983 and was known as Kalamazoo Electropolishing Company on Sprinkle Road, where Bill Hochstetler was the general manager until 1997, when he purchased the business. He moved it to Vicksburg’s Industrial Park in November of 2004, Sertic joined the company on April 1 of 2005, where he shared an office with Paula who was the plant manager then.
What KEPCO invented for removing metal impurities with electropolishing was creative engineering according to Sertic. KEPCO’s unique machinery to process multiple parts for acid dipping was the secret to the company’s success at the time. They could do two million pieces a month with a device that automated the dipping process. They could process up to 20,000 pieces an hour to provide quick turnaround time and better control to the end product, Sertic explains.
The company’s electropolishing process removes imperfections in metal from the surface called deburring, working only with stainless steel to protect the parts from rust and corrosion. In 2005 they were 40 to 45 percent into automotive work and since then have diversified into medical parts, water purification desalination pumps, and agriculture. “It’s not too complicated a process, as it’s based upon time, temperature and voltage. The voltage and time is the most important thing we need to do to keep the metal impurities coming out,” he explains. “We also do passivation with no electrical current, removing impurities which leaves a nice clean surface. Lots of time, we become a problem solver. You’ve got an issue, we try and fix it for you,” Sertic proclaims.
Since they use nitric and citric acids in the process, they are closely monitored by the EPA. They have fashioned a waste treatment operation that recycles all acid and water, which is drained into the system and made into a cake like substance that is environmentally friendly. It’s a very green thing, according to Sertic.
Working with family sometimes has its challenges, but this team seems to understand these and they make it work by also supporting the wives in the restaurant business. Paula wears several hats in both entities and that is easy to understand when it becomes known that she holds an aviator’s license, started a pet store in Three Rivers and then a pet grooming operation, too. She has bought and sold real estate and has been acknowledged as “the boss” for some time, Sertic proclaims. He works closely with brother-in-law Tim, who came from the military (Coast Guard) often going out to plant locations as the “ghost busters” team to solve problems in on-site passivation.
“Bill is the most fair-minded person I know,” says Sertic. “He treats people in a kind way so that many on our staff have been here almost as long as he has. In addition, Tim and I are like brothers, he knows what I’m thinking and is a real straight shooter. The good news is you know the family always has your back!”
“The future is brighter” says an understated Todd Weinberg.
That wasn’t the case in March 2013. On oxygen 24 hours a day, lungs measuring 16 percent of expected function and unable to walk across the room without getting short of breath, the future was dim. Todd was not sure he’d make it to his 44th birthday in April.
Todd’s journey to this point was not easy. At age 5, not gaining weight as expected and suffering from digestive problems, Todd was evaluated at Mott’s Children Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Parents, Mel and Jo were told their middle child had cystic fibrosis. With good medical care he might live to 17 or 18 years of age.
Vicksburg High School (VHS) Graduate
Mel and Jo were determined to have Todd live as normal a childhood as he could. He went to school in Vicksburg taking a handful of pills with each meal. In middle school, he was healthy enough to play on the basketball team. At 15 years old he had his first hospital admission for a lung infection. Despite recurrent lung problems he played percussion in the Big Red Machine, admitting that some days it was pretty hard to march. Todd graduated from VHS in 1987.
Farming is His First Love
After graduation, Todd did what he always wanted to do: farm. Todd reports the first word he said was “tractor”. He had always worked on the farm with his dad, now he could farm full time. So he did. But, usually after the busy times in the spring and fall, Todd would need to get a “clean out”: intravenous antibiotics and breathing treatments to clean out infections and mucous from his lungs. At first this was done in the hospital, but then as technology improved he could get intravenous antibiotics and breathing treatments at home. This pattern of twice-a-year “clean out” continued for many years.
Inevitably, Todd’s lung function declined. In 2005, his pulmonologist introduced the idea of a lung transplant.
He was referred to the University of Michigan and followed by their transplant team since 2006. At that time, his lungs were functioning at 28 percent of what was predicted for a healthy 37 year old man of his size. He was told that when he was on oxygen and couldn’t walk across the room before getting short of breath he would be ready for a transplant. He continued to farm.
In 2012, it became clear the time was getting near for a transplant. To improve the chances of successful transplant he first needed an operation to prevent reflux of stomach acid into his airways and new lungs. On May 14, 2012 he had laparoscopic surgery to tighten the sphincter (or valve) at the lower esophagus to prevent acid reflux. Fourteen days later while checking irrigation equipment in the field, the University of Michigan called to tell him that now they could put him on the transplant list. He agreed. He had to provide them with his cell phone number and four other contact numbers for them to call if he didn’t answer his phone. He would need to get to Ann Arbor within four hours when the donor lungs became available.
September 27, 2012 at 5:40 p.m. while shelling corn he received the call: “We have lungs for you”. “I went numb; mind, body and spirit,” says Todd. By 8:30 p.m. he was in the cardiovascular unit at the University of Michigan where a central line (a large IV placed in the neck) and arterial line (a catheter in the radial artery at the wrist) were placed. He was taken to the operating room at 1 a.m.
At 2 a.m. the surgery team decided the donor’s lungs were not of good enough quality. Surgery was cancelled. He returned home, took a nap, then returned to harvesting corn. He was more relieved than disappointed. He realized that emotionally he had not come to grips with the reality of lung transplantation.
He finished the harvest that fall. At midnight, December 12, 2012 he was called again. By 2:30 a.m. he was in Ann Arbor. Central and arterial lines again were placed. Surgery was scheduled for 1 p.m. Again the donor lungs were not satisfactory and surgery was cancelled. This time Todd reports “I was mad at the world for a while.” Shortly thereafter he realized how fortuitous it was that surgery was cancelled. He had an infection in his intestines (Clostridium difficile) that could have been devastating if he had the transplant and put on anti-rejection drugs that suppress the immune system. As it was, doctors were able to treat the infection successfully, but he was off the transplant list until it was cleared.
By now Todd’s breathing was much worse. Everything was an effort. It was like breathing underwater. Lung function was now 16 percent of what predicted for a healthy 43-year-old man.
All is Ready for the Surgery
Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 8:15 p.m., he was called again by the U of M. That night as he and his mother, Jo, drove to Ann Arbor, he told her, “I have a sense of peace about this.” Jo replied that she did too. At 11 p.m. he was in Ann Arbor and lines were placed again. Surgery was scheduled for 4 a.m. Todd recalls that night the clocks went ahead one hour for daylight savings time. He would wait one less hour. “It’s a go.” Surgery was done early Sunday morning. An incision was made horizontally across the entire chest and his chest was opened. Todd’s severely diseased lungs were removed and donor lungs placed. He was on a breathing machine for five days. Even in his drug induced mental fog in the ICU, he clearly remembers his mother gripping his hand and seeing his father’s face. He was up and walked a short distance the fifth postoperative day. He spent 11 days in the intensive care unit and 24 days in the hospital overall. Sore and weak he returned home. But five days later, on his birthday, he needed surgery in Ann Arbor to drain a painful hematoma (collection of blood) on his chest wall. Almost half a liter of blood was removed.
Third Time is the Charm
Todd had to learn to stand from a seated position without using his arms because his chest would hurt so much. He had to walk every day to gain strength. Over 20 medications to prevent rejection of the transplanted lungs and prevent infections had to be taken on a strict schedule. Laboratory tests were done weekly.
Spring planting approached. Todd reports, “I had more offers to help than I could shake a stick at.” The agricultural community was very supportive. Clay Rhoades, who had worked for Todd part-time before, stepped up and completed planting even sooner than other neighboring farmers.
One month after transplant, his lung function was 71 percent of predicted for a healthy 44 year old man. He was no longer on oxygen. He was no longer short of breath. Six months after transplant his lung function is 93 percent of predicted for a healthy 44-year-old man. Breathing was easier. He notes that even his posture is better as his lungs expand normally. He is still sore. He can’t lift, push, or pull. His breathing no longer limits him but his stamina does. Follow-up testing has all been favorable. Four postoperative bronchoscopies (a procedure to look down the windpipe and bronchi with a fiber optic scope to inspect the lungs visually) have all shown his lungs to be healthy.
In retrospect, Todd sees the timing of his transplant as a “God thing”. He wasn’t emotionally ready for the first cancelled surgery. Cancellation of the second surgery prevented what could have become a fatal infection. The third and successful surgery was on Sunday morning. “I knew that at least six churches were praying for me that morning…It’s humbling when people say they have been praying for you.”
Back on Track
Todd has never indulged in wondering. ’Why me?’ “What good would that do?” Waiting for the transplant wasn’t as anxiety provoking for him as it was for many around him. As a farmer, “I’m used to waiting.” You can’t speed up the time to harvest, you have to wait.
Being given new life has put things in perspective for Todd. “I’m not going to worry. If I can’t do it today, I’ll do it tomorrow.” The future is brighter.
To honor my dad, Meredith Clark, I’m calling this column “On the Corner.” He and my mom wrote and published the Commercial-Express for 26 years. The column “On the Corner” appeared every week on the left corner of the newspaper’s front page from 1947 to 1973 when they sold the paper.
He usually wrote it the last minute before the weekly deadline and a good share of the news he wrote about came from his daily trip to the coffee shop at Marjo’s, the then-revered hangout of the town fathers.
His vision was to support the schools and Village Council, but hold the elected officials accountable by writing the truth as he saw it. His writing was usually chatty, folksy and sometimes more like Will Rogers than the professional journalism I thought it should be. Nevertheless, it was the best read item in the newspaper, based upon surveys we would do every year.
Sports in Schoolcraft and Vicksburg
Our two communities celebrate four winning high school teams who have captured conference titles as we go to press. Vicksburg’s girls volleyball and cross country have snared the Wolverine Conference titles, and Schoolcraft’s volleyball and football teams have taken top honors in the Kalamazoo Valley Conference. It is especially important to this new newspaper to provide the opportunity to showcase our student athletes in story and pictures on the printed page.
Introduction of the South County News Writers
Let me introduce to our readers some of the contributing “scribblers” for this newspaper whose writing is featured in this issue. Doctor David Schriemer of the Vicksburg Family Doctors practice has written gripping stories about survivors in our last three issues. The people he has chosen to profile have a rich story to tell land he has deftly written about their saga, showing the very human side of their lives.
Kaye Bennett, a professional’s professional, also enjoys writing about special people who have experienced challenges to overcome by telling of their lives and adversity in a warm and wonderful way. She spent many years doing public relations work for the Upjohn
Company and then Bronson Hospital, having come from the Kalamazoo Gazette staff after earning a nursing degree. Go figure.
Morgan Macfarlane from Schoolcraft is herself learning the trade as a high school senior who is dedicated to becoming a journalist. She began taking journalism courses at Western Michigan University as a junior and is now editor of the electronic high school newspaper called the Screaming Eagle. She has a bright future and we are glad to give her a chance to listen and learn about her community of Schoolcraft.
John Fulton has volunteered to be our church news specialist, honing in on what’s happening in devotionals around the area. He is especially interested in this as he and his wife, Karen, have
started a branch of the Kalamazoo Family Valley Church in Battle Creek. Although he is a Vicksburg area-resident, he serves the new church as a lay minister. He put in his years of selling real estate with his father J.R. Fulton, while battling a rare form of cancer that was diagnosed when he was 14. He’s a survivor at the ripe old age of 52 and is hoping to keep the disease at bay for many more years.
Leeanne Seaver is a newcomer to the area after 25 years of living in Colorado and Virginia, leaving Vicksburg upon graduating from high school in 1978. She specializes in technical writing and is an accomplished photographer. Her journey has largely settled on advocating for the deaf since she has a son who is severally impaired but now is a successful college student.
Mari Smith is covering Vicksburg sports this fall including volleyball, soccer and tennis. She has an abiding interest in education with twin daughters just graduating last year and a son several years before that. She and her husband own a construction company, plus she volunteers at Indian Lake School, as a reading instructor.
Durti Morton is new to Vicksburg, having recently moved from Pittsburgh to marry Dr. Dustin Morton, a local chiropractor. They are the revivalists of the Haunted House that proved to be so successful for the Chamber of Commerce the last few weeks.
Lastly, there is one unsung hero who makes us all a bit better with her editing capabilities. It is Sandy Minger, our fearsome proof reader, with the mighty red pen. We truly appreciate her specialty that she learned while working for Jackie and Warren Lawrence at the now defunct Commercial-Express.
Ed Bernard, a champion of people, started Bermo with literally nothing, and in 40 years has created a giant in the wholesale clothing industry; and his headquarters has been on US-131 in Schoolcraft for the last 20 years.
He opens the doors of the local warehouse for every winter and summer sale, not so much to get rid of excess inventory, but because his staff of 55 in the Schoolcraft facility love to see their friends and neighbors come in to shop . “It connects us to the community with our great product at very low prices and we can give our neighbors great value,” Bernard points out. He is usually at the front door on sales days to greet the customers.
In fact, he has been connecting with the greater Kalamazoo community since he arrived here in 1973 to start a jeans retail business from his home in Chicago. He has been here ever since, while opening wholesale and retail outlets all over the United States. The company sources their manufacturing from China, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has a sales office in New York City and for years, operated Mr. B’s Wearhouse and Max 10 in Kalamazoo. Bermo also licenses the Farmall and Case IH labels for apparel distribution all over North America.
In business since November of ‘73, Bernard said that “We’ve had 37 great years but I would have to say the last three have been tough for retail business in general and ours in particular. We filed for reorganization bankruptcy in November 2012, not to get rid of the business, but to unload some of our retail leases, mostly in urban and inner city areas, and downsize in order to stay afloat,” Bernard laments. “We exited this year with 12 retail outlets and are doing “B to C” business online through Amazon, Overstock, EBay and Sears’ web sites.”
“There is a much better margin online than we see in retail these days as we don’t have the bricks and mortar stores with their big overhead to deal with so much anymore,” he says.
He chose the Schoolcraft site to build offices and warehouse space because it was perfect for truckers, customers and employees to navigate. Their previous location on Glendenning in Kalamazoo had tough limitations due to traffic routes, thus the access to I-94 and US 131 was ideal.
But the best part of his business, he claims, is being able to give back to the community and kids especially. He has been a “Big Brother” for many years and has served on the board as well as being president of the board for the five-county area. “I had really great parents, but so many kids just don’t. it’s not their fault that they didn’t have a good parent base as I did. I try to instill the proper values in young people I encounter through this program.”
In fact, he and his wife, Diana, just returned from “Parents Day” at Dennison University, where his past “Little Brother” is enrolled as a college freshman. “He has lived on the south side of Chicago the last few years. His mom just didn’t have the ability to help him get prepared for college. We tried to help out by giving him support and allowing him to fit into a more regular world. Big Brothers Big Sisters works because of the one on one mentoring that help kids respond and succeed in today’s world. “
Bernard went to the University of Oklahoma on a tennis scholarship, but only had two years of school before he entered the working world back in Chicago’s garment district. Even though he does not have at least a bachelor’s degree, in 2011 he was asked to teach a business decisions class at Kalamazoo College.
His next real love is tennis, and in 2000 he decided that he wanted to try to win a gold medal in the Maccabiah games in Israel in 2001. After qualifying for the American team, he sat down with his wife to decide how to best train for the event. Since he still had one year of college eligibility they decided that competitive college tennis would be the best training. Bernard played on the team for five months while becoming a full time student. He was 49 years old. It was to be the thrill of a lifetime to compete with over 10,000 other players from 60 countries; but a few weeks before the event, Bernard and many other athletes decided not to go because of the increase of bombings in Israel.
He did win gold in doubles in 2003 in the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile. Bernard considers himself more of a singles player with a strong forehand and thus decided to try again for the main event over in Israel in 2009. In a very tense week with his family and friends watching, he won the gold medal in singles after not being seeded(favored) to do so. “My wife and I were treated like rock stars when I wore my medal at the airport. We were surrounded by many people wanting to know what sport I participated in. It was such an honor,” he says.
“I’m proud of being in business this long, having started with nothing,” as he deftly displays the first dollar he ever made back in 1973, hanging on the wall of his office in Schoolcraft.