Monthly Archives: January 2015

Boy Scouts and Showboat Host “Dinner Theatre” Experience

Vicksburg Boy Scouts Troop 251 sell tickets for spaghetti dinner and Showboat combo ticket.
Vicksburg Boy Scouts Troop 251 sell tickets for spaghetti dinner and Showboat combo ticket.

The 62nd Vicksburg Rotary Club Showboat is right around the bend with performances scheduled for Friday and Saturday, February 27 and 28, at 7 p.m. A matinee on Sunday, March 1 is set for 2 p.m.

For folks who would like to dine on spaghetti and meatballs, Boy Scout Troop 251 is offering a fabulous opportunity to enjoy dinner and the show on the first two nights of the show, beginning at 5 p.m. in the Vicksburg High School cafeteria.

This is the second year for a combination dinner and Showboat ticket to be offered by the scouts and the sponsoring Rotary club. The scouts have been staging a spaghetti dinner for several years and have their team of epicurean chefs preparing the food under the auspices of Jim Butler in the kitchen and Dan Gettle as head of the organizing committee.

Troop 251 will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015, beginning with the spaghetti dinner, with other events planned throughout the year. They were actually chartered in 1917 but saw its charter lapse and be reinstated in 1939. They have been in business ever since, helping to implant the moral and ethical values they espouse in Vicksburg area young people, according to Kevin Borden, the current scoutmaster. The troop’s numbers have been growing steadily with twelve scouts in the various stages of the challenging process to become Eagle scouts. “Scouting is a way of life,” Borden says as he believes he and the other adult leaders are building future citizens.

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Ken Heikes, Dan Gettle, Jim Butler, and Don Anstead, support the Boy Scouts’ spaghetti dinner as the kitchen help.

The combo ticket is a fundraiser for the scouts and the Rotary Club in this partnership. It provides $2 off the price of the regular ticket, plus a $1 reduction in the meal cost, for a total of $15 for dinner and the show, according to ticket chairperson Steve Goss. For kids less than 14 years of age, the dinner/show combo is $12 and for those who want just the dinner it is $8. For kids 14 and younger without the show, it’s $5 and those under five years of age, it’s free. Tickets will be available at Hill’s Pharmacy several weeks before the show by calling 649-1476 or stopping in at their Main Street store in Vicksburg. Walk-ins the night of the shows will be able to purchase the combo tickets or either the dinner or show at full-price.

Lose Your Winter Blues with Chili Cook-Off and Frostbite Run

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Crowds gather for the chili cook-off the last time it was held in Vicksburg in 2013.

The Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce has decided to resurrect the Chili Cook-off that it held for over five years in the village after a one-year hiatus. It was very popular, but a lot of work, says Tanya DeLong, the president of the Chamber Board of Directors.

It is set for Saturday, February 7, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., just as the Frostbite Run sprints into action at 11 a.m., from a huge tent that will be set up at the corner of W. Prairie and Michigan Ave. This fun run has been on-going since Ann Maltby and her family started it in 2009. For the first time, runners will be able to get ready in the heated tent and end up back in the same, according to Jonathan Langworthy, the race director for the last two years.

“We’ve moved up the time of the race to 11 a.m. to coincide with the Chamber’s event, not to mention the opportunity to keep a bit warmer,” he said. Registration can take place online before Friday, Feb. 6, then at race headquarters on Saturday morning.

After the race, runners will be fed and those watching and cheering can choose a can of beer or pop to go with their samples of chili, according to DeLong. Vicksburg area restaurants will vie for prizes, from fan favorite to the juried prize for best individual chili. The tent holds about 450 people at any given time, so the Chamber planners have decided to keep things going several hours into the afternoon before closing down and announcing the prize winners at about 5 p.m.

On the Corner

By Sue Moore

The season of giving that most of us just experienced during the holidays actually extends throughout the year. Our communities are fortunate to have the caring people who volunteer to keep the nonprofits doing their magic.

This list begins with the Vicksburg Foundation board, which recently announced nearly $250,000 in grants made to 501c3 organizations in south Kalamazoo County.

Some of the nonprofits who received grants in 2014 from the Vicksburg Foundation include:

  • Generous Hands
  • Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation (VCSF)
  • South County Community Services (SCCS)
  • Village of Vicksburg: computer upgrades, partial salary of DDA director, weed treatment for Sunset Lake ponds, utility meter system, drainage systems for Township Hall in the Historic Village, school resource officer (three year commitment)
  • Village of Schoolcraft: building renovations to the Ladies Library building
  • Lending Hands: repair and replacement of medical equipment
  • Vicksburg United Way
  • Kalamazoo County Sheriff: help with funding K-9 purchase
  • Vicksburg Band Boosters: new band uniforms grant match

Frederick Construction continues to give to the community in lots of little and big ways but doesn’t want any publicity. When asked about the opportunity to showcase their contribution, Mike Frederick responded, “We’ve had a good year. We’d rather just keep doing our little bit for this area, without anybody noticing.”

Just for the record, Frederick Construction has made a nice donation to the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation (VCSF). A more visible donation was when he quietly talked to Ken Evensen, the leader of the Thursday Guys who are building the General Store in the Historic Village. He gave Ken the OK to charge whatever materials they needed to complete the project on the company’s account at Big C Lumber in Schoolcraft. Ken, of course, was happy to oblige because he desperately needed materials to enclose the exterior before winter.

Bronson Hospital, Jaspare’s, and Life Story Funeral Homes have also donated recently to the VCSF’s endowment fund, which Warren Lawrence continually promotes. He loves this way of giving because the money will stay in the fund in perpetuity, with the interest on investments used to provide grants to deserving students.

One such grant, was recently given to VHS sophomore Emma Piper who needed financial help. She was selected to play with the Michigan Ambassadors of Music Band. They will play in Europe next summer on a three week tour with band students from all over Michigan. She wrote the following in a thank you to the board of VCSF, “It means so much to me that you are supporting not only this amazing learning opportunity, but once in a lifetime chance. I am very much looking forward to getting to share my experiences with you all.”

Rettenmaier, although a German headquartered, multi-national company, takes just as much community pride, and writes a check each year for the Schoolcraft Friday Pack that feeds youngsters over the weekend who would go without.

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Members of the Vicksburg Foundation Board of Trustees from left to right standing: Danna Downing, David Schriemer, Warren Lawrence, Jim Shaw, Didik Soekarmoen. Seated left to right: Lloyd Appell, Chairman Bill Oswalt, and Rudy Callen.

It doesn’t end with just giving dollars, it’s the human factor that makes the difference. Volunteers get things done whether behind the scenes or out in front. It would be impossible to name all the volunteerism that goes on in these two villages, but the Eagles Nest folks stand out in Schoolcraft, and the South County Community Services volunteers that serve both communities set the pace.

Hats for a Good Cause

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Pictured doing their knitting from left to right: Margaret Lutz, Tanya DeLong, Amy Miller, Mary Ruple, Nora Bednarz, and Chris Knapper. Lots of cancer patients in Bronson Hospital and its oncology hematology center’s children’s department will be warm and cozy with hats knit by Tanya DeLong’s Girl Garage knitters who donated 238 knit caps to the cause this winter.

Pictured doing their knitting from left to right: Margaret Lutz, Tanya DeLong, Amy Miller, Mary Ruple, Nora Bednarz, and Chris Knapper.

Lots of cancer patients in Bronson Hospital and its oncology hematology center’s children’s department will be warm and cozy with hats knit by Tanya DeLong’s Girl Garage knitters who donated 238 knit caps to the cause this winter.

“The patients received them last week and were thrilled. People from Parchment to Constantine and Mattawan to Scotts, as well as knitters in the village of Vicksburg, saw signs in the store window and just kept filling it up with great designs and colors,” DeLong said.
knit hats 2“Now we are knitting scarves for the homeless at the Dream Center on Portage Street in Kalamazoo, where the homeless can be given coats, hats, scarves, gloves, without having to pay for them.”

Rettenmaier Employees Gave Generously to Schoolcraft Friday Pack

Pictured from left to right: Caroline Schroeder, marketing coordinator; Lisa Platte, employee organizer of the campaign; Becky Orfin, Thorsten Willmann, general manager; employees James Commissaris, and Paula Rumsey.

General Manager Thorsten Willmann, of the J. Rettenmaier plant on US 131 just north of Schoolcraft, presented a check to Becky Orfin, the new leader of the Schoolcraft Friday Pack program that feeds kids who might go home hungry over the weekend.

Pictured from left to right: Caroline Schroeder, marketing coordinator; Lisa Platte, employee organizer of the campaign; Becky Orfin, Thorsten Willmann, general manager; employees James Commissaris, and Paula Rumsey.

The employees of J. Rettenmaier in Schoolcraft have conducted a food and money drive for the Friday Pack program run out of the Eagles Nest. Their generosity has supported Schoolcraft school children for the last four years. Nearly $5,000 in contributions along with packaged food from the employees and the company has been collected in 2014. The Friday Pack members also actively adopt needy kids and their families to gift them at Christmas time, Orfin said.

Rettenmaier also has plants in Portage and Iowa from which generous donations were collected for the Schoolcraft Pack program, according to Platte. The large amount of money brought tears to Becky Orfin’s eyes as she was offered the check from Willmann on behalf of the company and its employees.

“There is a great need, with almost 22 percent of students in our schools qualifying for free and reduced priced lunches,” Orfin related. “As the new president of the Friday Pack, I am following in Board President Sue Kuiper’s footsteps. She saw a need and worked to fulfill it and intends to continue overseeing Adam’s Kids as it expands helping young mothers with early intervention needs. Fortunately, she will stay on the board. Kuiper was aided by Jan McNally who is stepping down from the board to concentrate on the Food Pantry program. Both of them with be greatly missed. Mariam McKim, a banker at the Schoolcraft branch of Lake Michigan Credit Union, will be a new trustee on the Friday Pack board.”

Cascade of Changes Take Place at SCCS

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Danna Downing and Lorna Landrum hold up the plaque that was unveiled at the SCCS open house. It lists the Charter Members who donated funds to help start an endowment for SCCS.

By Sue Moore

Important changes have taken place at South County Community Services (SCCS) in 2014 and Danna Downing, the executive director, listed a few of them for the Vicksburg Village Council as part of her yearly report to the general public.

The budget for SCCs was dramatically affected by reduced funding for the next three-year cycle from the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo County Region (UWBCKR). “Fortunately,” Downing said, “the Vicksburg United Way allocation stayed steady.” In its plan submitted to UWBCKR, SCCS committed to using the money received from the parent United Way to provide emergency assistance to the 25,000 residents in its service area. The monies committed from the local United Way drive have been targeted toward increased community outreach. “The face of need has not diminished,” she told the council. She cited statistics about the working poor with 24 percent of the population in this area, and 17 percent more actually living below the poverty line. “That is why our food Pantry is now open four days a week, Monday through Thursday, so folks can stretch their money to take care of other basic needs. Persons interested in using the SCCS Pantry can simply make a call to Loaves & Fishes at 343-3663 on the morning they need some help putting food on the table.

In the 2014 strategic planning process the SCCS board committed to addressing facility issues at 101 S. Main and to create a more sustainable operational platform for the agency. Ultimately this led to far-reaching research about a possible re-location. When the announcement of reduced funding came this summer, it was clear something needed to be done sooner rather than later. As a result, the board decided to take advantage of a more affordable and accessible location at 105 S. Kalamazoo. In addition, a four-day work week plan was implemented in September. Together, these actions have reduced overhead costs significantly for the first six month of the three-year funding cycle.

The SCCS board firmly believes that improving awareness and support in the community and further developing partnerships with other agencies are critical to long-term success. Re-thinking the use of available resources and developing new funding strategies are also part of the strategic plan. “Our new membership program and streamlined operations that meet community needs, combined with continued strong local support, should get us where we need to go,” Downing concluded.

United Way Gives Back to the Community

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The steering committee for the Vicksburg United Way campaign includes standing from left to right: Tim Moore, Gen Landtroop, Danna Downing, Nicole Guza the coordinator from UWBCKR. Seated from left to right: Laura Howard, chair of the committee, Carol Lohman, Cindy Kole, 2014 Kalamazoo campaign chairperson and Vicksburg resident.

The United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region (UWBCKR) announced the winner of its sweepstakes contest last month, but the campaign in Vicksburg is still in full swing, according to its chairperson Laura Howard.

The goal locally of $33,000, helps to fund activities at the South County Community Services, girl scouts, boy scouts, the district library, community education, Generous Hands, and last year it helped purchase football helmets for boys in youth football who couldn’t afford their own.

“We are nearing our goal but need to get over the top, so we can fully fund these deserving agencies,” Howard explained. The Vicksburg campaign is run in tandem with Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, with twenty percent of the money donated by Vicksburg area residents, coming back into the community. Also, donors may designate their money to any one of these agencies, in addition to what we get back from the overall campaign, Howard indicated.

New Book Ghostwritten by Local Writer

The Pulse of Hope CoverAfter hundreds of hours spent interviewing one of America’s first heart surgeons, Leeanne (Gillespie, VHS ’77) Seaver wrote his life story. The result is the memoir of William A. Reed titled, The Pulse of Hope. Reviewed by Pulitzer-nominated author James Still as “a thoughtful and beautiful book,” the hardbound volume also features Seaver’s photography on the cover and throughout. All last winter, Seaver was writing and editing the book at the Vicksburg Library, the Schoolcraft Library, and even on the treadmill at Bulldog Tanning & Fitness, the local Vicksburg gym. Owner Tracie Kline now proudly displays the book poster on the bulletin board and keeps a supply of books behind the counter at her hair salon and fitness center in Vicksburg.

The book was published on November 1, 2014, by Walworth Publishing, and is also available now on the website, at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City, Missouri. A full interview with Leeanne will be featured in a future issue of this newspaper.

South County Community Services Offers Help to Veterans

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Robert Barton (on the left) has helped Jim Wagner of Mendon receive an increase in his disability claim through his work counseling veterans once a week at SCCS.

By Kaye Bennett

If you’re one of the 1,800 veterans who live in South County, Robert Barton would like to meet you—and possibly to help you better understand how to access services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Since May 2014, Barton, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Army himself, has been volunteering his time at South County Community Services (SCCS) to help fellow vets with questions about benefits, health care, and other service-related issues.

A native of Comstock, Barton joined the Army in 1965, saw combat in Vietnam, retired from the military in 1997, then entered the seminary. After serving as a minister in Southern Baptist and Cumberland Presbyterian churches in Tennessee, he retired again in 2009, moving to Kline’s Resort where he lives with his wife Lorraine and brother Zachary.

Barton’s own military experience in Vietnam led to the role he plays with SCCS and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) now. He recalls how helicopters often did not touch down, in order to avoid drawing enemy fire. Instead, young soldiers like Barton would jump out as they hovered a few feet above ground. Over time, the damage that did to his back caused Barton to qualify for 60 percent disability, and led to his activity in the DAV. When the DAV wanted someone to attend Service Officers School, Barton volunteered, becoming certified to work as an advocate, helping other vets understand their benefits. The first thing he did was to download and read all 1,500 pages of the VA’s rules and regulations. “Some of it is gobbledygook,” he laughs, “but some helps you understand.”

Since he began working with SCCS in May, Barton has helped 75 vets or their family members address a variety of issues. These range from replacing lost service ribbons to getting reimbursement for burial benefits for widows who didn’t know they were entitled to them.

Recently Barton helped a Vietnam vet whose financial situation was dire. The vet, Barton discovered, had been exposed to Agent Orange and was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He qualified for disability payments which, though small, meant that “he and his wife didn’t have to turn the heat off at night,” Barton says. This can even help the community, he adds: When a vet applies for and gets a compensable benefit, some of those dollars get spent for South County businesses and services.

Another success story Barton relates is helping a Vietnam vet get his dishonorable discharge upgraded to general, so he would become eligible for VA benefits. This problem is not uncommon in vets from that war, Barton says. Back then, before PTSD was understood—before the term had even been coined—young men returning from what Barton calls “the insanity of war” did “strange things,” earning dishonorable discharges. In the light of current knowledge about this condition, these cases can sometimes be reclassified.

Sometimes Barton says all a vet needs is a listening ear. As a matter of fact, he points out, that’s something anyone can do. “Vets often have a need to share their stories. If a vet starts to tell you a story, listen to it.” The VA has begun compiling these stories, so, when a local WWII combatant told Barton about his experiences in the Battle of the Bulge, Barton passed the story along to the VA to be preserved.

Danna Downing, executive director of SCCS, says of Barton, “We’re lucky he found us. He’s doing a world of good. There’s a magic that happens when somebody cares about somebody else.”

Downing hopes that the agency will be able to add even more services for vets. If anyone is interested in being trained to drive local vets to the VA Hospital in Battle Creek or in donating to a fund to help vets in need, she says, they can phone her or Barton at SCCS, 269-649-2901.

You can meet with Robert Barton at SCCS, 105 S. Kalamazoo Street in Vicksburg, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Thursdays.