Monthly Archives: December 2013

Infrastructure Grant Submitted by Vicksburg’s Village Council

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.58.11 AMTo many people the word infrastructure means roads and bridges. For Vicksburg’s Department of Public Works (DPW), it means sewer lines, pumping stations and water pipes.

For over a century, these vital pieces of infrastructure in the village have been mapped in the brains of those who dig them up and repair the broken parts, according to Ken Schippers, acting Village manager and head of the DPW.

To get a handle on the entire underground infrastructure, the State of Michigan is holding out an incentive to cities and villages. They have set up a competitionfor grants that total two million to each entity to conduct a study, map the existing pipelines and thereby plan for future upgrades.

The grant money is being pro-offered with the usual carrot and stick according to village engineer, Michael Schwarz, of Pein & Neuhoff. The Village portion of the survey and planning phase is 90 percent funded by the State. What is generally conceded by those in the business, is that the state cannot come up with the major funding needed to improve infrastructure across the land, thus any remediation or upgrade costs will need to be taken on by the municipalities.

If Vicksburg should qualify for the grant, the State would pay $1,126,199 and the village $153,177, some of which could be offset by ‘in-kind’ contributions of the Village DPW staff and take three years to complete. “This would be a major rate study concerning capital improvements for the village,” Schwarz said. “The kicker is that the Village might have to adjust rates after the three years if they find they aren’t charging enough now,” he warned.

There are 121 miles of underground pipe, 98,000 feet of sewer lines and 380 manhole covers that we know of, according to Schippers.

“The survey would allow us to computer model the system and even include the pumps, capacity of the system and show the leads into each house. You will find stuff because much of the system is 20 years or older. Ultimately, Kalamazoo will have to require an asset management plan for any municipality that connects to their system,” Schwarz said.

There is no guarantee that the village would receive the grant as it will be competing with many others for the 450 million that has been set aside by the State for this program, Schwarz told the Village Council, but warned that if they didn’t get started on applying now, they might have to end up paying out of pocket in the future.

Norma Tackett Does Christmas “Big” for Schoolcraft

By Sue Moore

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.52.51 AM“It’s amazing what 80 year old Norma Tackett, an antiques dealer on Grand Street in Schoolcraft, can do to galvanize our town into a Christmas wonderland for two days,” said Wes Schmitt, former Village president. She will lead the 25th annual Christmas Walk in downtown Schoolcraft on Friday, Dec. 6 from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Dec 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

She came here with her husband, Carl, in 1985 after 17 years doing business in Portage Plaza on South Westnedge. Since then the town’s antique businesses have become the staple of retail offered here, Schmitt continued.  “She and Carl had a vision to bring customers into the village at Christmas to see the charm and history that we have to offer.  The magic was that she got all the other merchants to join in her quest.”

People come from all over the area to shop and walk between the stores to quaff hot drinks, eat sweet treats and win door prizes. More importantly for Norma is seeing the old friends, visiting with each other and just having a good time. One lady from California plans her vacation around being in Schoolcraft the first weekend in December for the Christmas Walk, according to Tackett. She does all the advance work of organizing the merchants, the publicity and even brings in Bob Rowe & the Green Valley Boys Band to play upstairs in her shop on Friday night.

“I started the ‘Walk’ on my own. It went three years before the others in town picked it up and made it what we have today,” Tackett said.  At least 1,000 people come through her shop and probably many more go elsewhere during the two days, she claimed.  Red bows and posters on front doors mark participating merchants. The United Methodist Church, further north on US 131, has a bake sale, craft sale and silent auction both days, as does the Presbyterian Church on Cass Street.  New businesses included this year in the Walk are The Grinder, Pizza Hut, American Legion and Beginnings.

“You can’t just take from your customers who are giving you their business,” she said, “you have to give back.  That makes us feel good, so we continue to make the Christmas Walk our special way to thank everybody.  It gives us great joy.”

The Tacketts started as T & W Coins, Stamps & Antiques. When they came to Schoolcraft they added Norma’s Antiques and Collectibles.  Her knowledge of antiques is well known.  “I love old things and many of the items that mean the most to me are on display in our cozy apartment right next to the store on Grand Street.”  The objects in the store can come and go, she said while telling the history of a glass jar that was owned by her great-grandmother. You just have to draw the line with what you sell versus what you want to keep.  Carl has a particular interest in rare coins, jewelry and paper.  His part of the business is housed in the back of the first floor shop, while many of the antiques are on display upstairs in what was at one time an opera house.  He has served on the Schoolcraft Village Council since 1992 as his contribution to the community.

Norma’s knowledge of antiques is well-known to her many contacts in the industry. They often call her for advice, she related, because they can’t rely on out-of-date books and the Internet is way over-priced.  She has a regular customer in Japan who buys many things and knows he is getting good quality if it comes from her store.

She buys from individuals and has a staff that has been with her for most of the years the Tacketts have been in Schoolcraft.

Many Families Experience Christmas the Old-Fashioned Way with a Trip to Mott Farms

Mardee Mott and her Santa's helper, Kathy Lange.
Mardee Mott and her Santa’s helper, Kathy Lange.

By Sue Moore

“It’s all about the Christmas experience,” claims Mardee Mott as she gathers up greens, bows, holly, and boxes of decorations to display in the Mott Farm Christmas Barn.

Mardee Mott with statue of Santa that greets guests as they walk in the front door of the Christmas Barn.
Mardee Mott with statue of Santa that greets guests as they walk in the front door of the Christmas Barn.

For 24 years, thousands of family outings at Christmas have included a trip to Mott’s Farm south of Vicksburg on Y Ave. They come to purchase fresh pre-cut trees, or take a ride into the fields to select a U-cut family tree.  Inside the cavernous barn it’s time to warm up, sip hot mulled cider, dazzle the eyes with freshly made arrangements and tickle the nostrils with the scents of Christmas in the country, much like an old Currier & Ives picture.  They are open six days a week from noon to 7 p.m., and closed on Mondays through December 22.

The story of Mott farms actually goes back 50 years or more when Phil Mott’s grandfather was a wholesale florist in Cass County.  Mott remembers scouring swamps to find the elusive wild bushes that bear the bright red-orange berries that are Michigan holly, known to horticulturists as Ilex verticillata. 

His grandfather had a permit to cut the wild berries which he shipped out of state, otherwise it is illegal to cut the holly, even today.  In 1970, Mott started clearing the land on Y Ave. and 21nd Street just north of the St. Joe County line, to grow the holly commercially.  It took many years to start the plants from cuttings and some more years to figure out how to protect the crop from the deer that roam freely in that part of Kalamazoo County.  Wholesale is still their biggest market with the harvest taking place in late October.  They sell holly at the Christmas barn too but the real attraction is the Christmas trees that were planted with 220,000 seedlings in late 1980s on the farm that they bought from Maurice (Pete) Miller.  It took more than seven years of trimming, fertilizing and irrigating the selection of Douglas fir, Fraser fir and lately Concolor fir, that have become the biggest selling varieties these days, according to Mott.

They closed the business for two years when the trees withered from a drought suffered in 2007 and 2008 They were begged by the public to keep going as so many people missed coming to the farm.  The decision was made to install irrigation on a big section of the farm, which has been costly, but allowed them to reopen to the public with a newly-sided barn (green and white) and even greater selection of trees and trim.

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.50.21 AMOriginally from Zeeland, Mardee Mott had little experience in decorating, having graduated from Western Michigan University in 1965 to become a teacher.  She met this Phil guy, walking to her student teaching assignment at University High, at his gas station on Oakland Drive.  He took notice of her daily commute and introduced himself, asked her out, and the rest is history.  They lived in Kalamazoo when she first tried her hand at designing Christmas baskets with greens from their arborvitae tree in the back yard.  “You just learn the best design as you keep trying things,” Mott explains.  Her first hire to help with the decorations was showing her how to arrange things with a glue gun, and Mott had to tell her that was a no-no as she prefers all natural.  They offer custom wreaths, handmade centerpieces, roping and boughs, and all kinds of tree ornaments.  She has learned to do the ordering, stock the shelves with new and different items each year and stay out of the way as the staff of ten helpers is inundated with customers.  “We try to sell items at the best price we can offer from high-end décor to just a dollar, so everyone can come away with something,” she says.

“The neatest thing for us has been seeing the grandparents returning each year with the kids and grandkids to experience the magic of Christmas, and the traditions they have established for their family experiences,” Mott concludes.

Beginnings in Schoolcraft New for the Christmas Walk

By Sue Moore

This year, the Christmas Walk in Schoolcraft on December 6 and 7, has a new twist, extending its boundaries from Beginnings Rental Hall on the south end of Grand Street across the railroad tracks, to Pizza Hut at the north end at the corner of Lyon Street.

Guests may not want to walk all that way, according to Terry Yax, co-owner of Beginnings, so they are offering plenty of activities in their new building to attract visitors all day long and lots of free parking, he said.

Since Beginnings is a new business in Schoolcraft, Yax and his wife Laura are the owners with Nate Ambroso as the events manager. They are reaching out, offering a craft show and farmers’ market during the Christmas Walk and subsequent days.  Most importantly, they will have Santa on tap to talk to children who want to list their wishes with the jolly fellow.  Children can even get their picture taken with Santa for posterity, according to Yax. Santa will be seated in a specialty sleigh, all decorated out for the occasion.

This new business got its start with Terry’s love of food preparation and desire to provide an affordable site along with catering services for any type of event or function.  The mobile rotisserie smoker grill they use was designed by Yax to meet the needs of the rental hall and give mobility to their catering services.  This allows him to take the operation to off-site events, such as Chili in the Park and catered parties.  The rental hall includes many customized services with interior and exterior spaces that can accommodate almost any size event, he said.

For the holiday season, they will extend their hours with Santa and the craft show every Tuesday and Thursday from 2 – 7 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. through Monday, December 23, from 2 – 7 p.m.

Local vendors offering crafts or sweet treats include: Pam Cowgill, handmade knitted stuffed animals; TerraLee Yax, hand-decorated frames and Christmas decorations; Ashlie Ploski, Scentsy flameless candles; Kenda Schwartz, It Works body wrap; Missy Griffioen, pasties; Kurt Wiley, caramel corn; Nila’s Lotions; Stephanie Newton, “31”; Christina Oberhein, Tastefully Simple; Jessi Crabtree, Jessi Jellies; Loran Tanner, Angry Mustard; and Margaret Ayres, jewelry.

A drawing for a free rental booking is open to those who stop in, along with pulled pork sandwiches, chili, hot dogs and soft drinks for sale from the licensed kitchen in the facility.

What if Christmas Can Mean a Little Bit More?

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.45.43 AMBy Mari Smith

“It came without ribbons.  It came without tags.  It came without packages, boxes or bags.”  Dr. Suess and the Grinch must have been watching how all of the contributions to the South County Community Services’ (SCCS) holiday donations have arrived.  It is through the enormous generosity of those in Vicksburg, as well as surrounding areas, that each and every one of the current holiday collection efforts are becoming a success to help those in need.  No fluffy packaging, but simple generosity from the heart at this high-need time of year.

Danna Downing, SCCS director, states that it is the agency’s goal this year to make better matches to the specific needs of recipients.  After speaking to past recipients about what the agency was doing right and what they could improve on, SCCS has worked hard towards achieving this important goal.    One way is by giving recipients options on when they can receive their donations and schedule their celebrations, as well as having two children’s parties instead of just one.  These changes mean less time standing in long lines, as well as flexibility for recipients when transportation can be an issue.

Downing indicated that, at this time, they are planning for approximately the same number of families served.  Although the economy is reported to be improving, SCCS has not seen the need go down, but they have found different people are affected in different ways thereby finding themselves in need of the agency’s services.   She stated that they have heard from past recipients who no longer need services, but now want to adopt a family of their own.  Downing also stated that some of her best volunteers are past gift recipients.

Downing praised the people of Vicksburg for all they do to make this program a success.  She indicated that the community never fails when there is a need, and that it truly is “. . . love in action.”  They even have people that were residents in the past and regular contributors that still send donations even though they no longer live in the area.  She further praised the efforts of churches not only in Vicksburg, but Portage as well for their generous support, as well as Meijer stores as part of their Simply Giving program.

SCCS will continue to take donations for the Tree of Life ornaments probably beyond Christmas.   Hand-crafted ornaments for the tree in honor of someone or a pet range from $10 – $100 and can be ordered from SCCS from 8:30-4:30 weekdays (and until 6:30 on Wednesdays).    Some people have even purchased ornaments in honor of a recipient for the efforts they make during difficult times.  Dr. Lloyd Appell is personally inscribing on each of the ornaments.   The Cookie Walk and Tree Lighting will take place on Friday, December 6 from 6-9 p.m. in downtown Vicksburg, with Cookie Walk bags for sale before the event for $5, or $7 the evening of the event in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce membership.

Downing reminds the community that although the holiday season is the time of highest need, the needs continue throughout the year.  Sometimes donations get low and SCCS has to expend additional funds during lean donation times.  It is also one of her goals to connect people who have things they no longer need to give those items that might otherwise be disposed of.  She expressed that some people are throwing away things that others in our community can use, and she would like to find a way to join the two.  Residents can contact the agency at 649-2901 year-round to check on current needs.

Vicksburg World War II Veterans Selected for Honor Flight to Nation’s Capital

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.36.58 AM

By Sue Moore

“They are running out of us guys,” said Del Charles, who along with Harris Walters of Vicksburg, departed for Washington, D.C. on an Honor Flight in October, during the government shutdown period.  The trip was free to the 70 World War II veterans chosen to participate, with several more flights scheduled every month.

Both men agreed it was a real worthwhile trip.  “It was something I never would have done myself,” Charles explained.  “There are a lot of patriotic people out in this country yet and they kept hugging, kissing and clapping for us everywhere we went; in the airport, at the luncheon at the Plaza Hotel, at the War Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

Delbert Charles displays his Bronze Star
Delbert Charles displays his Bronze Star

When we returned to the Toledo airport, there was even a band, a football team, and people lined up all along the aisles of the airport.  “When I got back from Germany in 1946, I took a bus home from Camp Shanks in Pennsylvania and nobody even knew I was coming home,” Charles offered in telling about his service in World War II.

“We each had a ‘guardian’ and were required to have a doctor’s permission to be on the Honor Flight,” Walters explained.  The guardians each paid $300 toward their expenses to accompany a veteran.  Charles’ guardian was an Ohio resident in his 60s who sent him an album of photographs he took during the course of the 14-hour trip.  The veterans were each given an orange vest to identify them, a blue jacket for the chilly air in D.C., and a motorcycle escort throughout the D.C. area, to and from Dulles airport.

“We kept thinking if the people who were held up for us to pass by in the three big buses were wondering just what politician they should blame for holding them up,” Walters chuckled.  “A family from Toledo even took time out of their plans to come to our hotel to say thank you, and we were both interviewed about our experiences by Channel 13 in Toledo,” he said.

“We were able to get right into the World War II memorial without any fuss,” according to Walters even though this was the week that the government was shutdown everywhere else in D.C.  They did have some of the tour places canceled because of the closure, but not the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was a stirring memory for Charles who said the guards reminded him of robots, so mechanical, except maybe when they would blink their eyes.

Harris Walters greets the Veterans Day speaker.
Harris Walters greets the Veterans Day speaker.

Walters, a sergeant, served in New Guinea with the quartermaster’s corps as a truck driver.  He had started out as an anti-aircraft gunner and was headed to the Philippines, but the Japanese air force had become so decimated, his role became obsolete.  After six months he moved to Leyte and was put busy loading ships that were getting ready to invade Japan.  Then the atomic bomb was launched and he was back in the states in 1946.

Harris Walters grew up in Otsego, and after graduation from high school in 1942, got a job at Willow Run to work on the B-29 bomber.  “It didn’t seem quite right not to volunteer for the service when everyone else was going,” he said.  Upon his return he worked at a little grocery store in Otsego where he had worked summers while in school.  He went to Pine Lake vocational as a disabled vet and was hired soon after as their business manager.  Walters came to Vicksburg to manage Harding’s grocery store in 1953 and has stayed in Vicksburg ever since.  He is co-owner of Vicksburg Auto Wash on Richardson Street.

Del Charles saw heavy duty in France where he was caught behind the lines with his tank crew at St. Lo shortly after the invasion.  He was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar and was found under a half-track after he had dragged his driver, who was seriously injured, under it for protection.  Charles was air lifted to a hospital in northern England to recuperate.  After five weeks, he was shipped back to Paris and fought on through France to Belgium and into Germany. He was a platoon sergeant when in action and returned to the states as a staff sergeant in 1946.  He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Originally from Fulton, Charles worked for Al Lewis and Jack Thurman building houses, then went to the Tot Shop in Kalamazoo, and retired from the Upjohn Company as security supervisor in 1985.  He now lives at Kline’s Resort.

Military Service Runs in the Family – Literally

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.33.43 AMBy Sue Moore

Serving in the military is often a family tradition for many in this area.  The Jim Henderson family of 208 Bair Street, Vicksburg is especially proud of son Joey, a 2012 Vicksburg High School graduate who enlisted in the Marines on a delayed entry program, November 2011.

After boot camp he took Marine combat training in San Diego, then headed to Aviation Support schooling in Pensacola, FL, then back to San Diego for more training where graduated first in his class on November 1, 2013.  Besides that he received a meritorious promotion to Lance Corporal along with receiving a grey belt for the Marine Corps Martial Arts program.  He will be performing maintenance on Huey and Cobra helicopters in New River, NC.

Joey would be the first to admit that signing up for the Marines, was heavily influenced by the many generations before him who have been Marines.  It reads like this:

Jim Henderson II, Joey’s father, was in the Marine Corps Reserve, based in Battle Creek.  He signed up during the Persian Gulf War in 1991-94.

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.34.04 AMJim Henderson Sr., Joey’s grandfather, served as a corporal in the Fleet Marine Force from 1962-65 in Hawaii, Taiwan and Japan.

John Spencer, Joey’s great grandfather, born in 1923, served in the Army from 1942-45 in World War II in the European theater, participating in the Battle of the Bulge in France as a machine gunner in the Infantry.  He achieved the rank of Corporal.

John Spencer Jr., Joey’s great uncle, born in 1948, served in the Army Airborne from 1966-70.  He fought in Vietnam and received a purple heart.  He achieved E-5 Specialist rank.

Delbert Spencer, Joey’s great, great uncle, served in the Army in the Korean War from 1950-53.

Gabriel Kievet, Joey’s great, great, great uncle, served in the Army and fought in WW I.

Lorenzo Watson, Joey’s great, great, great grandfather, fought in the Spanish American War in 1898.

With that lineage, it was pre-ordained that Joey would serve his country in the military.