Monthly Archives: July 2014

89th Annual July 4th Celebration Set for Schoolcraft

By Sue Moore

Schoolcraft’s 89th annual July 4th celebration kicks off with a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. and ends with fireworks at dusk. In between those times, many other activities are in place for people to enjoy.

The pancake breakfast will be served by the Lions Club from 7-11 a.m. at the Upper Elementary School. At 8 a.m., runners can run the Firecracker Road Race, starting at the High School and then head to the Schoolcraft United Methodist Church for the ice cream social from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

At 11 a.m., the annual parade kicks off which will close down U.S.131 from U Avenue to XY Avenue for two hours while the parade travels down Grand Street. This year, Deb Reynolds, president of the organizing committee, is expecting over 110 entries in the parade. And since it is an election year, there will be the usual turnout of politicians.

Hungry parade goers can stop by the American Legion Hall on Clay Street for barbecued chicken and ribs. Visitors can also tour the Underground Railroad house and garden until 3 p.m. Also, fire truck rides for children will be offered by the South County Fire Authority in front of the Upper Elementary school.

Meanwhile, the Antique Car Show in Burch Park runs all day. Food and drink will also be available at the car show.

The fireworks show at dusk caps off the day with onlookers packing the streets and back roads for miles around. Chip Mongrieg, who has engineered the show for the last 17 years, is retiring this year, turning it over to Randy Palmer who will be in charge of next year’s show.

While no one on the organizing committee knows just how the Schoolcraft Fourth of July parade got started 89 years ago, they agree it has been a big bonus economically for the village, drawing over 20,000 people to the community for the parade and all the events throughout the day.

Schoolcrafts 89th AnnualIndependence Day Celebration

Friday, July 4th, 2014

7-11a.m.- Pancake Breakfast-Schoolcraft Upper Elem.-Sponsored by: Schoolcraft Lions Club

6:30-7:30 a.m.- Late Registrationfor Road Race-High School

7:30 a.m.- 1 Mile fun Run/Walk(free-High School)

8 a.m. – 5 Mile Firecracker Road Race– High School-reg.early @-

8 a.m. Old Car Show in Burch Park until 4 p.m.

9 a.m. -2 p.m.- Ice Cream Social – Schoolcraft United Methodist Church

10 a.m.- Parade lineup                                                           

11a.m.- Parade!!!!!! Parade route: Eliza to Grand to Clay Streets

Noon-?American Legion Chicken & Ribs BBQ- Legion Hall, Clay Street

Post Parade Events: Underground Railway House & Garden Tours until 3 p.m., Sponsored by Schoolcraft Historical Society

Fire Truck Rides & Fire Prevention Trailer-Upper Elem. – Sponsored by South County Fire Authority

2-6 p.m.American Legion Dance-American Legion Hall on Clay Street

10 p.m.– FIREWORKSfamous choreographed fireworks show held north of Schoolcraft High School. Parking is available in school lot. Bring your own blanket or seating. Fireworks funded by donations to the Schoolcraft 4th of July Committee, PO Box 231, Schoolcraft, MI. 49087.

Taste of Vicksburg Photos

Highlights from the Old Car Festival

Lions Club’s 41st Summer Festival to Open at Pavilion

John Polasek, Alice Galovan, and Brett Grossman stand at the entry to the new community pavilion where the Lions Club Summer Festival will be held.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg Lions Club members have found a new roof over their heads for their 41st annual Summer Festival, a.k.a., the B&B (Beer and Brats), in the new pavilion they helped build on N. Richardson Street.

The grand opening in the new venue will be, Thursday, July 24, at 4 p.m. for Beer and Brats, with the emphasis on kids’ entertainment.

Games for children begin at 6 p.m. with lots of prizes for the kiddies, said Mitch Moldovan, overseer of the event. The Kalamazoo Shrine Clowns will once again entertain the children. Free testing of “kidsight” for ages 1-5 will be available. The testing, which provides immediate results, may help to detect any early vision problems.

Of the festival’s new venue, John Polasek, who cooks the brats and sauerkraut, said, “It just seems like we’ve been moving every year. It’s really just the sixth location and arguably the best one.”

Started by Otto Kaak, the festival originally was held in what is now the Dollar General Building on East Prairie. When that space became too small, they purchased a building on W. Avenue, some distance off the road so the noise from the festival wouldn’t bother the neighbors.

From there, it moved to the Harding’s (now Family Fare) parking lot, and then to the Historic Village site next to the Brady Township Hall, and then to the Village’s Recreation Park off of Sprinkle Road. Attendance kept declining at the park, largely due to the economy, according to Doug Stafinski, general chairman for the last 15 years.

“When the idea was broached to return to the Historic Village and build a pavilion, the Club got on board,” Stafinski said. “We pitched our tents last year where the pavilion stands now and had the best attendance in the last six years.”

For over two years, the Lions Club and Polasek worked with the Farmers’ Market organizers to help plan and finance the building of the pavilion.

Polasek now takes pride in what he called the “final resting place” for the festival, because he and the Lions Club helped build the pavilion.

He and several other local men volunteered their time for 10 days, teaming up with the Timber Framers Guild.

Holding the festival at the new pavilion will help the Lions Club in their service to the community.

“We can save the cost of the main tent by utilizing the pavilion,” said Stafinski. “That gives us more as a service club, to return back into the community.”

The Lions Club provides eye glasses and vision testing for low income citizens, purchases AED machines for the schools, provides scholarships for high school seniors, sponsors Senior Honors Night at the high school, supports the Generous Hands’ backpack program, and several Lions International eyesight programs.

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Brett Grossman and John Polasek are ready to greet festival goes to the new community pavilion for the Summer Festival.

Lions Club Summer Festival Activities Line Up

Thursday, July 24 – Opening Night for Beer and Brats at 4 p.m. Kids’ Night; children’s games 6 – 8 p.m.

Friday, July 25 – Open for lunch and dinner – 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Friday, July 25 – Vicksburg Rotary Club meeting in the pavilion – noon

Friday, July 25 – Third annual corn hole tournament – 6 p.m.

Friday, July 25 – Rustic Band – 8:30 to 12:30 a.m.

Friday, July 25 – Volleyball tournament – 6 – 9 p.m.

Saturday, July 26 – Vicksburg High School Alumni breakfast – 9 a.m., in the pavilion

Saturday, July 26 – Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Saturday, July 26 – 8th annual horseshoe pitching contest – 11 a.m.

Saturday, July 26 – Volleyball tournament – 1 p.m. until a champion is crowned

Saturday, July 26 – South County Band – 9 p.m. – 1 a.m.

Festival Events Change But Recipe and Volunteers Remain the Same

doug s
Doug Stafinski is the long-time Summer Festival general chairman.

While events scheduled for the Lions Club annual B&B Festival have changed over four decades, some things have remained the same such as the recipes and longtime volunteers.

The Saturday parade was eliminated years ago because of failing attendance, according to Doug Stafinski, but recent additions include the horseshoe pitching contest and the corn hole tournament have been very successful.

What hasn’t changed since the B&B’s inception is the recipe for the sauerkraut, said main cook, John Polasek. It’s a secret recipe from Otto Kaak, founder of the festival.

“We cooked 1600 pounds of brats last year and those, too, are a secret recipe created by John Fink,” Polacek said.

Since 2011, the beer selection has been Miller along with Leinenkugel.

Four men from the Lions Club were around for the original B&B 41 years ago and also the 60th anniversary of the Club they are celebrating this year. They include Paul Schutter, Roland Peach, Bob Merrill, and Don Ramer.

Others who have served as committee chairs for many years include Nellie Pierson, tickets; Bob Allison, set-up; and newer members Brett Grossman, in charge of the horseshoe tourney; Alice Galovan, publicity; Eric Stafinski, volleyball; Bobby Poveda and Ryan Bright, who are in charge of the corn hole tournament as volunteers even though they are not Lions Club members.

Backroads Band Headlines Friday Night B&B Entertainment

By Nathan Czochara

Playing at Lions Club B&B will be Vicksburg residents Charlie Pritchard and Bob Soter from the Backroads Band. The band has been playing the event for six years and will be on stage again Friday night, July 25th.

The Backroads Band has been around for ten years, playing all over west Michigan. The classic rock/country band consists of John Engle on vocals and rhythm guitar, bassist Larry McKeown, lead guitarist Charlie Pritchard, drummer Bob Sutor. The band has slowed down playing shows in recent years, and always looks forward to the Lions Club annual summer festival.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun. We are looking forward seeing the local people. When we do play out and about it’s not usually around here. So when we come to Vicksburg, all our friends come on by,” says Soter.

The Backroads Band covers classic rock and country. The band has a fun time jamming out country classics from Dwight Yoakum, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr., and rock artists such as The Beatles, CRR, and Bob Seger.

“We are fun with the crowd, we are really known for that,” says Pritchard.

Pritchard, assembler/driver at Houghton Manufacturing, and Soter, working for Greater Kalamazoo Auto Auction, have lived in Vicksburg for decades. The two really enjoy Vicksburg, and think the village really tries to promote events and festivals to bring in visitors.

“One thing about this town is that there is always something going on. More than most towns, Vicksburg has something going on and something to do for the kids,” says Pritchard.

Schlitz Creek Band Brings Back Bluegrass

Schlitz Creek
By Nathan Czochara

Today, bluegrass music is rarely heard. Yet, a band in southwest Michigan is doing something to change that. In fact, the Schlitz Creek Band considers themselves “Kalamazoo’s Ambassadors of Bluegrass Music.”

Mandolin player, John Speeter; acoustic guitarist, Derek Dekema; stand-up bassist Nick Griffith; and banjo player Nick Deaton convert classic rock and pop songs into bluegrass renditions. Their repertoire includes covers of artists such as The Beatles, Cheap Trick, Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Seger.

The Schlitz Creek band started when Deaton was learning to play banjo, and needed someone to play with. He found Griffith, who was playing rhythm guitar at the time, and the two started jamming together just for fun.

Speeter got into the mix a year later. The trio, interested in playing traditional bluegrass, started jamming at Deaton’s father’s house in Cooper, Michigan.

“[Deaton’s Dad] said why don’t you come out every week?” said Griffith. “So we did. Before you know it we were attracting a crowd. Folks started coming out. The neighbors started coming out. Even the mechanic from across the street would come out after his shift.”

Schlitz Creek Band Cartoon-6-14 jpgNews spread about the group’s rehearsals and the group gained steam.

Then, Dekema, hearing about the jams from his parents, went to a show one evening.

“Rock ‘n’ Roll, Ozzy Osbourne and metal was what I played,” said Dekema. “I had never heard this kind of music ever. I was amazed when I first heard it. Totally wasn’t what I was used to, but way more fun.”

But he was entranced by what the trio was doing with bluegrass and decided to join in. With the final member found, the Schlitz Creek bluegrass band was born.

The weekly Schlitz Creek practices are not typical rehearsals, but are more of a casual party. Relatives, friends and locals come by to hear them play, while socializing and having drinks.

The family dog mingles through the crowd as children ride scooters and bikes. The band enjoys the family atmosphere because it reminds them of what bluegrass music is all about.

Early bluegrass artists like the Dillards, Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe have been their major influences.

Besides their unique instrumentation, Schlitz Creek also sing vocals on a single microphone or “Ole Opry” style. The band says the style gives the crowd a more unique and intimate experience, something that music lovers do not experience every day.

Schlitz Creek has a connection to Vicksburg. Speeter is president of the Long Lake Association and a Governmental Lake Board representative. He also has used his musical talents for the annual Vicksburg Rotary Showboat and is a cartoonist for the South County News.

“I’ve been doing cartoon work for 30 years. I’ve published a couple books of illustrations,” he said.

Schlitz Creek will be attending summer bluegrass festivals in the Michigan, but will also be playing local weddings, which the band says has been a new venture over the years.

“[The weddings] are awesome,” said Griffith.

The band has no plans on making an album anytime soon, but instead they enjoy the experience of playing live music.

“I always love the fact you can play [Bluegrass music] anywhere,” Griffith said. “You don’t need a microphone, or amplifiers, or anything and the people will come and listen.”

Vicksburg’s Rudy Callen Plays in Irish Rock Band

rudy 2
Rudy Callen with his homemade electric luthier he plays in the Irish rock band Belfast Gin.

By Nathan Czochara

Vicksburg resident Rudy Callen is a board member of Vicksburg Community Schools, Vicksburg Community Foundation, and the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, yet others know him as “Rudeman,” electric guitarist of the Irish rock band Belfast Gin.

A guitar player all his life, Callen focused mainly on classic and heavy rock. Then, he was called to Belfast Gin to help the band “rock it up a bit,” he said.

Even though Callen wasn’t familiar with playing traditional Irish music, he has enjoyed the transition from classic rock to this genre.

“I was surprised at the complexity of the music, and how deep it runs for some people,” he said.

Belfast Gin has been playing traditional Irish/Celtic music around the state for almost a decade. Besides Callen, the band consists of vocalist Lori Laing; flutist Richard Koontz; bagpipe player Jenni Koontz; drummer Aaron Miller; bassist Patrick Solomon; and Natalie Beversluis. The band specializes in blending American genres such as rock, blues and jazz into traditional Irish and Celtic music.

“We are like a 200 to 300 year-old cover band,” said Laing. “The music we play is like a layered onion of traditional and modern, blues. All these different backgrounds come together to really make a unique sound.”

The band recorded its first album at Calllen’s Vicksburg home and at times when the weather is good, the band takes a ride on Callen’s pontoon boat for a practice session.

“We call it pontoon practice,” said Callen.

Belfast Gin has made a mark in the last couple of years on the festival circuit and playing huge shows for St. Patty’s day. Playing in Southwest Michigan and as far as Grand Marias, MI, the band has garnered a major following. Callen and Laing say the music has a lot to do with their success, but also the energy and chemistry at shows makes an impact.

“We have fun up there; we are little bit silly. We are your everyman band,” said Laing.

The band is amazed and grateful for the passion their fans give back to them, said Laing, who is amazed at how loyal and dedicated their fans are.

Callen recalls a fan from Plainwell who drove seven hours to Lake Superior just to hear Belfast Gin play.

Callen says the crowd really helps the band make shows enjoyable and rewarding.

“It’s nice to see some of the people you know,” said Callen. “It helps you be more relaxed.”

Even though Callen enjoys seeing familiar faces in the crowd, he also relishes gaining new recruits to the Belfast Gin Nation.

“Even if you are not into Irish music or an Irish music lover, it’s fun,” he said. “So come listen, enjoy, and dance.”

Wally’s Vapor Shop Opens in Schoolcraft

ecigs 1
Ted Emmons shows the e-cigarette selection in Wally’s Vapor Shop in Schoolcraft.

By Nathan M. Czochara

A new smoke shop opened in Schoolcraft but it is not your average tobacco store. There’s no tobacco at all because Wally’s Vapor Shop, 403 N. Grand St., sells e-cigarettes.

Owners and Vicksburg residents, Ted and Devon Emmans, opened the shop in early April. The idea that came to Ted when he was doing computer IT work at Kalamazoo Vapor Shop. The owner discussed opening a homemade e-liquid shop in the Schoolcraft area, so Ted decided to open his own vapor shop in conjunction with the Kalamazoo group.

So, now Wally’s Vapor Shop is providing customers with e-cigarettes and accessories, but don’t expect to find the $9 devices you see in your local gas station, said Ted, who describes those as “cheap, knock-off hunks of junk.”

“Battery-life doesn’t last long; the devices themselves do not last long, and actual flavor and stuff they use are not very good. They taste terrible,” said Ted. “We don’t know what goes in their [e-cigarettes]. I know exactly what goes in our liquid; they are not saying what goes into theirs.”

The price at Wally’s for the liquids is $7.41, which Ted says is equal smoking time to seven packs of regular cigarettes. The e-liquids come in several flavors and levels of nicotine content. The hardware itself ranges from $25 to between $300 and $400, said Ted. The price variations are due to the battery life and the ability to change voltage, since certain e-liquids vaporize at different temperatures. While there is an initial investment in e-cigarettes, the cost benefits can be seen right away, said Ted.

“We usually tell customers they will save 50 to 60 bucks a week,” he said. “My mom was a huge smoker. She was looking to do something different. So I bought one for her and she really liked it. We figured out the first month she saved over $200. That’s when I thought this is really something.”

Tobacco chewers have an option as well.

“We are the only ones in Southwest Michigan to carry an herbal chew with nicotine in it,” said Ted.

Ted and Devon feel they are helping the community with Wally’s Vapor Shop by providing a service that can lead to a healthier community.

“We really just want to serve people in my home area and take care of the people,” said Ted.

The Torch is Passed at Aaron’s Music Shop

Steve Cowles in front of Aaron’s Music Service in Vicksburg.

By Nathan M. Czochara

Steve Cowles has taken over Aaron’s Music Service, 113 S. Main St., the business started by his father, Aaron Cowles, who died in December, 2013.

Steve hopes to step in with the same passion for his work as his father.

“We have the same sense of humor,” said Steve. “There’s no change in poor quality of jokes in this shop. No change.”

Aaron opened the shop in 1984, focusing on making and repairing stringed instruments, said Steve.

But his father’s love of music and stringed instruments began at an early age, probably when he won his first mandolin from a family friend, Hugh “Quack” Quackenbush. Aaron was six when Quackenbush awarded Aaron the mandolin for winning a song-playing contest in which he competed against his siblings.

“It wasn’t much of a song, but Quack gave him that mandolin,” said Steven.

In his late teens, Aaron began playing the guitar and then started working at the Kalamazoo Gibson guitar plant in 1962, said Steve. He began by doing just basic sanding and assembly work, but worked his way up to handcrafting Gibson’s renowned mandolins known as the Gibson F-5.

After 21 years at Gibson, he was laid off and then opened Aaron’s Music Service in 1984 on Prairie Street where Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor is now located.

aaron old
Aaron Cowles in earlier years in the workshop.

“My father was a practical guy,” said Steve. “It wasn’t the shop but rather what he did. He was a guitarist and guitar maker. He enjoyed the process. He didn’t just do it because he was good at it; he did it because it was fun to do.”

Enjoying playing the guitar as well as making them, he shared his skills with the community, Steve said. He would play in church on Sunday, sometimes with a local group such as the Wasepi Gospel Bluegrass singers. He would help young customer tune their guitars free of charge.

Steve recalled the time an older man, who attended the same church as Aaron, could not afford a guitar but wanted to learn to play. So, Aaron made the man a guitar.

“He did that kind of thing for a lot of people,” said Steve. “He worked hard, and was good at what he did, he never aimed to get rich. He was very generous.”

Aaron’s passion still remained true even after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2013, said Steve. Aaron would still go to the shop or play with his band when he felt up to it.

Even close to his death, Aaron was still in love with the instruments that shaped his life.

“I came up while he was in hospice care towards the end,” said Steve. “He was still with it but wouldn’t talk much. So I picked up the guitar and played it for him. I asked if he wanted me to quit and he said ‘No, keep playing.’ I thought that was pretty cool.”

After his father’s death, Steve moved back to Michigan from Washington, D.C. His main focus, he said, is to retain the high quality and passion for the work that his father had.

Today, when customers walk into the shop, they can still smell the wood dust and guitar lacquer, reminders of the work that Aaron did there for 30 years. On the walls are photos of Aaron receiving employee awards at the Gibson plant. There’s even a photo of him with guitar legend, Chet Atkins.

Mandolin frames and unfinished guitars are strewn around the old cast-iron Gibson equipment which Aaron bought from the plant after it closed in 1984.

Surrounded by these reminders of his father, Steve is now pushing himself to produce custom guitars like the ones his father made so well, and continue the tradition of what made Aaron’s Music Service so great.

“I doubt I’ll ever be good as my dad,” he said. “My vision is to keep on keeping on.”

Steve Cowles

Steve Cowles, new owner of Aaron’s Music Service, grew up in Vicksburg, graduating from Vicksburg High School in 1985. He then joined the Air Force, eventually being stationed in Texas, Germany, and Florida. Then, he worked for the U.S. government in the Washington D.C. area and Florida. Jobs ranged from working for the Department of State, to engineering, security officer, and computer support.

After being laid off by governmental cuts around the same time Aaron’s health was declining, Steve moved back to Michigan to take on the family business. Having learned the craft from an early age from his father and working on his own guitars, Cowles is carrying on his father’s tradition.

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Steve Cowles in his workshop.

Working alongside Steve is volunteer Ed Miller who became Aaron’s apprentice in 1992. After Aaron’s death, Miller kept the store going until Steve moved back to take over. He builds acoustic guitars and does other repair and assembly work. Although Miller isn’t paid for his work, he does it for the lifelong joy of guitar making, he said.