Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Gift from the Heart

By Leeanne Seaver

Jeremy Smith as a freshman football player for VHS.

When an auto accident took 15-year-old Jeremy Smith’s life in 2001, parents Troy and Phyllis might never have imagined a time when they could speak of the good things that came of such a tragedy.

Jeremy, who had just begun his freshman year at Vicksburg High School when he lost his life, went on to save the lives of many others thanks to the donation of his organs through the Gift of Life Program.

“We donated all of his major organs, soft tissue — and even his spine was used to help newborns with spina bifida,” Phyllis said. “Some of his veins were frozen for people having heart bypass surgery. I figured maybe a dozen people had been helped, but the people at Gift of Life told us it was more like ten times that number.”

Some of those recipients reached out to the Smith’s through the Gift of Life communication channels to express their profound gratitude. Chief among them was Elbert Lekity of Brownstown, Michigan, who is alive today because of Jeremy’s heart. He and the woman who received one of Jeremy’s lungs (who has since passed on) wanted to meet the Smiths personally. All agreed to have lunch in Jackson.

The connection forged a strong bond that brought healing for Phyllis and Troy. “We still meet about four or five times a year. We talk about life,” Phyllis said. Knowing these recipients personally helped Phyllis cope with the loss of her son—and then that of her husband.

Elbert Lekity, the recipient of Smith’s heart, and his wife Diane.

“Just after Troy died, Elbert gave me a list of all the things he could do because he was still alive, including walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, experiencing his grandchildren as they came, and seeing his son retire from the military. That family is just phenomenal. They are such wonderful people!”

The Smiths added contributions from family, friends, their church, and community members to funds from Jeremy’s life insurance policy to create the Jeremy Smith Scholarship in 2005, the year he would have graduated. It continues to be managed by the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation.

The award is given to each year to a senior applicant who needs a little extra help but shows strong character, a good work ethic, and has kept up decent grades, a B average. Like Jeremy, these are kids who are doing ok but might just fall through the cracks, Phyllis explained. They deserve a boost.

Elbert Lekity and his wife Diane decided to help with that, so Jeremy’s scholarship fund recently grew bigger. “Our friendship and get-togethers warm my heart,” Elbert said.

“Phyllis continues to care for us and many others. For our 50th wedding anniversary gift, she spent many, many hours creating a commemorative quilt adorned with photos from our babyhood through our anniversary, which is now a cherished part of our lives.” The Lekitys wanted to show their deep appreciation for everything the Smiths have made possible for their own family, so they made a generous contribution to the Vicksburg Schools Foundation earmarked for the Jeremy Smith Scholarship. “We would like to share our passion for keeping Jeremy’s memory alive by making a donation” in support of Jeremy’s memory and life-affirming legacy.

In the last four years, the Jeremy Smith Scholarship has been awarded to Quintin Haring (’14); Michael Pierluissi (’13); Connor McCormick (’12); and Alex Manchester (’11).

SCCS invites South County residents to mark their calendars for April 25

Dancers from the 2014 South County Community Services first annual gathering.

South County Community Services (SCCS) is inviting all community members to the second annual Dance Across the Decades fundraiser April 25.

The event has been designed to provide maximum fun, delight and surprises for all who want to spend a pleasant evening with friends while they support the SCCS mission of improving quality of life for all who live in the South County area.

Guests will be treated to musical offerings from across the decades provided by Debiak Entertainment and hosted by DJ Jimmy Lawless.  Whether guests dance all night or just tap their feet and reminisce, it offers a romp through time and tunes after a long Michigan winter.

Hors d’oeuvres and other tasty treats will be prepared and served by SCCS chefs led by Robin Maple and Marian Steffens.  And, for those who wish for something more than soft drinks, there will be a cash bar managed by the Bubs 73 Foundation on behalf of SCCS.  In addition to the food and music, Kristina Powers Aubry, chairperson for entertainment at the fundraiser, promises that her team will provide lots of surprises and sidebar opportunities as well.

Dance Across the Decades will take place at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church at 5855 East W Avenue, Vicksburg.  The doors will open at 7 p.m. with cocktail time.  Dancing and the full buffet will begin at 8 p.m. and conclude at 11 p.m.

Advance sale reservations will be available at discounted prices from February 15 until April 15 by calling 649-2901.  Early reservations cost $65 per couple and $35 per individual with 75% of that price going directly to support SCCS programs.  Table reservations are also available for sponsors.   After April 15, a couple ticket will cost $75. Individuals will pay $40.

On the Corner

By Sue Moore

The Vicksburg school’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) hit the big time with a front page story in the online Bridge Magazine that focuses on education in Michigan.

The article by Ron French, a former Detroit Free Press writer, says that 21,000 four year olds in Michigan are benefiting from a full day of free pre-school education. This is because the state put a lot more money into the classroom in 2014 for low and moderate income families. One of the beneficiaries was Vicksburg’s program that had one classroom until this year. It has expanded to four full day classes at Indian Lake elementary.

Elizabeth Lamb, a four-year old from Vicksburg, was profiled in the story. Her mother, Nicole Craig, said “It has made so much difference as we didn’t have to wait that long to see the benefits.” That is what the state was hoping for when it expanded the preschool program. Tonya Nash, community education director and program administrator, told Bridge magazine that the school went from 32 children in half-day programs, four days a week, to 48 children in full-day programs, five days a week.

“We had to go out on a limb and assume we could fill the classrooms,” Superintendent Charlie Glaes said. It turned out the district had the opposite problem—not enough seats. “We could have filled another class.”

The South County News profiled the program in Vicksburg and Schoolcraft in its September back to school edition.

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Teachers in Vicksburg’s Great Start Readiness Program are from left to right: Community Ed Administrator Tonya Nash; Teaching staff Alyssa Thompson, Kylee Schlabach, Kim Flathers, and Andrea VanDyk. Missing from the photo are Alicia Crandall and Dot Rowley.

Vicksburg Hall of Fame Event

There have been many good athletes setting records for the Vicksburg Bulldogs, so making a choice to induct a few each year, has fallen on a committee of ex coaches who carefully weigh the merits of the individual’s records and what they have accomplished after graduation. This year, they have chosen to honor Dr. Tom Willmeng, who didn’t attend school in Vicksburg, but has given time along the sidelines to take care of the athletes’ physical health. He has also volunteered along with Family Doctors of Vicksburg to perform free physical exams on each participant for the last twenty years or so. He and his wife, Maryann, have volunteered for many jobs with the Athletic Boosters organization as well. It is their way of giving back to their community. Of course he is ever humble when complimented on being selected, saying the committee must have been desperate this year. Mike Roy, Vicksburg’s athletic director, is hoping that many of the former athletes who are members of the Hall of Fame, will come to the induction ceremonies at Angels Crossing clubhouse on March 21 at 6 p.m., to honor the newest group inductees.

Free Press Article About Small Town Museums

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Ted Vliek, president of the Vicksburg Historical Society.

The Detroit Free Press featured the Galesburg Historical Museum and its curator, Keith Martin, 70 years old, who keeps the museum going, literally by himself. He is dedicated to keeping the history of the village in a place where the artifacts won’t be destroyed, but laments that nobody comes to see them or is willing to serve with him on the board of directors.

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Don Sanborn, president of the Schoolcraft Historical Society.

That brings to mind how fortunate Vicksburg is to have a highly visible Historic Village and Schoolcraft the Underground Railroad House—and a host of visitors and volunteers who help to keep each village’s history in a special place. Just this month, Randy and Donna Seilheimer took their seats as new members of the Vicksburg Historical Society board and Ted Vliek became the new president. They and the Historic Village committee have big plans for the coming year. The communities are fortunate to have such dedicated people who are interested in its history. Plus, there is a dedicated staff of volunteers who work at the Depot Museum and the Thursday Guys who are constantly building and repairing items in the Historic Village. Should we call the Free Press and see if they will do an article about a roaring success?

The Vault is gaining attention for its emphasis on great cuisine these days. Rave reviews on what its new chef is offering recently, have not fallen on deaf ears, or mouths for that matter.

Schoolcraft Eagles Strive to Avoid “February Blues”

Blake Bales
Blake Bales drives to the basket on Constantine, while Riley Piper on the left and Jason Feddema assist. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.

By Michael C. Reed

According to Coach Jeff VanderWiere, his 13-man Eagles basketball team needs to become more disciplined, play better, and avoid February’s “wall” when fatigue and winter’s cold and darkness challenges everyone on a team.

He says that Schoolcraft still has a strong shot at winning the district and placing higher in the Kalamazoo Valley Association, which also includes Bronson, Comstock, Constantine, Delta Kellogg, Galesburg-Augusta, Kalamazoo Christian, Kalamazoo Christian Middle School, Hackett, and Parchment.

VanderWiere says that he has a good shooting team with several excellent outside shooters, but the boys tend to rely too much on their shooting. They are a stronger team when they pass inside to the big players who then “kick” the ball out to shooters. Coach calls this “getting shots from the inside out.”

The team consists of thirteen boys, including four seniors, six juniors, two sophomores, and one freshman. Although the Eagles have two rather tall players—6’7” Alec Craig and 6’4” Cody Tone, who is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 14.5 points per game—VanderWiere says that height alone does not guarantee effective rebounding. The problem is that players must get good at “boxing out” opponents, meaning “preventing others players from getting to the rebound.”

VanderWiere is interim varsity head coach this season to allow regular coach Randy Small to take a year off to think about whether he wants to continue in that role in 2015-16. Prior to this season, VanderWiere was Small’s assistant for two years.

Randy Small’s son, Walker Small, is a 6’3” guard/forward “who has taken the leadership of the team on his shoulders.” However, VanderWiere says, Small has been “pressing too much,” although he has had better balance in recent games.

VanderWiere notes that the team’s point guard is a freshman, Riley Piper, who is 5’8”. Another notable player is sophomore Blake Bales who, four games into the season, was brought up from junior varsity for just one game (with Edwardsburg). However, Bales has stuck with the team and “provides an energy and work ethic” that have pushed other boys to work harder.

Strong Start by Vicksburg Varsity Girls Basketball

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Liz Weddon blocks out Allegan players looking to rebound.

By Mari Smith

With the 2014-2015 season well underway, the Lady Bulldogs have tallied an impressive six wins and three losses under the leadership of returning Coach Paul Gephart.   The team landed two victories in December, one against the Eddies of Edwardsburg, 54-36, the other against the Tigers of Allegan, 38-34. Liz Weddon and Layna Steele were top scorers in both games. The loss in December was to Plainwell where the Bulldogs fell, 57-34, with Steele at the top again in baskets.

The start of the new year brought back-to-back victories, the first against the Portage Northern Huskies, 56-47. Weddon landed eighteen points and sisters Olivia Welch and Grace Welch added nine apiece.   The Bulldogs followed with a Conference win at home against Paw Paw, 60-48. Weddon tallied twelve, with Kennedy Nabozny and Meaghan Wright tossing up an additional eight apiece.

The brief winning streak came to an end when the Bulldogs hosted Otsego losing, 34-24, with eleven of Vicksburg’s points coming from Grace Welch.   Vicksburg followed that loss with a pounding to Dowagiac, 46-14. Grace Welch put ten through the hoop, with Weddon adding eight and Nabozny another six.

Plainwell took to the Bulldog’s court and handed Vicksburg its second loss against the Trojans, 43-35. Wright scored eleven, including three three-point shots, with Weddon and Steele contributing six each. The Lady Dawgs headed to Parchment to tally another victory, 28-24. Weddon scored seven of the Bulldogs’ winning points, and the Welch sisters added six apiece.

Members of the team also include Rachel Baughman, Alicia Cagney, Makayla Harris, Faith Morris, Alley Munro and Hannah Wilson.

Vicksburg Bulldogs Aim for Better Scoring in Second Half

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Deondre Lovell races down court to play good defense against Parchment.

By Michael C. Reed

Vicksburg High School’s varsity boys’ basketball team was 3-6 overall at the season’s midpoint. Coach Shawn McGuire believes this was partly due to the fact that only three of the team’s first nine games have been at home (the team is 1-2 in home games).

“We knew January was going to be a tough month,” McGuire says. “The team is still looking for consistent offense—somebody to step up with 20 points—and a tighter defense at the end of games.” There are still eleven games to be played, including a home game against Wolverine Conference powerhouse Otsego, which has three starters who are 7’, 6’6”, and 6’5”. McGuire predicts that the second half of the Bulldogs’ season is going to be better.

The Bulldogs started strong with three wins in December—against Schoolcraft, 53-41; Three Rivers, 58-54; and Allegan, 68-19. Since then, the team has dropped five straight, and everyone is understandably frustrated. During January, the team has lost to Portage Northern (69-50), Paw Paw (59-54), Otsego (72-40), Dowagiac (62-42) and Plainwell (64-58).

McGuire’s 10-man squad consists of seven seniors and three sophomores, meaning that next season may be very challenging with no senior players returning. Almost all of the boys on the squad also play football and baseball at Vicksburg High. McGuire says that all ten players play every game, and everyone has started at least one game.

The coach notes that several players have stood out thus far in the season: Senior Mitchell VanSchoick “is our best outside shooter, a good catch and shoot player who makes 3-point shots. He consistently scores about 10 points a game.” Senior Jarrad Whited, who is big and strong at 6’ and 220 pounds, was first-team, all-state in football and is a good rebounder who gives the team 7-8 rebounds per game. Finally, Blake Rankin, a sophomore point guard, is our “leader on the floor.”

Remaining games include division contests against Sturgis (two games), Three Rivers, Otsego, Allegan, and Plainwell. The final game of the season is what is called the “cross-over” game, meaning Vicksburg will play the team in the West that has the same place in the standings.

Players to watch in the second half of the season include sophomore Brenden Lovell, who scored 13 points at Plainwell on January 23; senior P.J. Callahan, who is capable of showing more consistency; and Conner Henderson, a senior who is a “great offensive player.” McGuire also points to sophomore DeOndre Lovell who, at 5’10”, can do a legitimate spinning dunk. Nobody else on the team can consistently dunk the ball.

McGuire says that the Wolverine Conference is strong this year. The West division has more depth, but the East has Otsego, the best overall team in the conference. The Bulldogs currently are in third place in the East Division with a record of 2-2.

This is McGuire’s fifth year as boys’ varsity coach. Previously he coached girls’ varsity basketball for eight years. He has also coached middle school boys and girls basketball. He teaches social studies at Vicksburg Middle School.

Vicksburg Hall of Fame to Honor Newest Members

By Sue Moore

Four new members will be inducted into the Vicksburg High School (VHS) Sports Hall of Fame March 21 at Angels Crossing club house. Former inductees to the Hall of Fame are asked to attend to welcome the new members at the 6 p.m. event.

The Hall was established in the mid ‘80s by Coach Tom Horn and honored athletes from as far back as the 1920s who excelled in sports at VHS.

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Dr. Tom Willmeng.

After a lapse, it was resurrected several years ago due to the efforts of Dr. Tom Willmeng and Vicksburg Athletic Director Mike Roy. A committee of former coaches and players in Vicksburg sports circles was asked to recommend each year’s inductees. Their choices for 2015 include Doc Willmeng himself, for all he has done as team physician through the last 40 years, Missy Guetschow Murchie for her many cross country records, Dennis (Denny) Burns for his cross country and track records, and teacher Jack McCauley for his 23 years of coaching in Vicksburg.

The commendation for Willmeng cites the time he has freely given to treat any serious injuries sustained in competition without compensation over forty years of practicing medicine in Kalamazoo. He and his wife, Maryann, have also contributed their organizational talents to the Athletic Boosters while serving as president and in charge of many special events. Maryann has for many years put together a keepsake photo booster book to sell at home games, showcasing the teams and the senior athletes. Doc, as he is lovingly called, also served as team doctor for Portage Central for 25 years, Hackett Catholic Central and Western Michigan University for ten years, and team physician for the Girl’s World Softball Tournament in Kalamazoo. He ostensibly retired in 2013, yet can still be seen roaming the sidelines of this year’s VHS football games. The couple live on the southeast side of Gourdneck Lake.

Missy Munchie
Missy Guetschow Murchie.

Missy Guetschow Murchie graduated from VHS in 1994 and still holds the school record for the 3200-meter relay race that year. She was a leader throughout her four years of competition, being selected team captain of cross country and track in 1993-94. She was selected Wolverine all-conference in all four of her high school competitive years, Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) region cross country for four years, and MHSAA all-state cross country in 1993, and MHSAA scholar athlete. She went on to compete at Grove City College where she was selected all-conference and MVP in 1997.

“I love to run,” Murchie said. But was on a fluke that she began running in the first place.

“I had no interest in running until 7th grade when a friend invited me to go with her to be on the team. The first meet, I took second place and my dad said, ‘Maybe we should buy you some running shoes’.” She fondly remembers her coaches, Steve Miller, Jon Kachniewicz and Ed Knapp. “Athletics teaches you discipline. You have to commit to the workout and what the coaches tell you. Being part of the team was extra special for me. I still run, but it’s hard with four children, the youngest being just 10 months old.” She still competes in 10K races and half-marathons. Her husband who is a physician in Richmond, Va., sometimes runs with her.

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Coach Jack McCauley.

Coach Jack McCauley taught industrial arts at VHS from 1960 to 1987, when he moved to teaching at KVCC. He retired in 1993 and with his wife, Ruth, moved to Houghton Lake in northern Michigan. Through his teaching and coaching, he made a lasting impact on his students and athletes for his joy of working with young people. The most lasting record: In 1965, he coached the Junior Varsity team to an undefeated and unscored upon season. Some of the players on that team that he remembers with fondness were Bill Cohrs, Mark Fox, and Ron Mayo. He served as JV football coach for 18 years, and freshman basketball for 20 years at VHS.

McCauley played football in high school at Godwin Heights and then at Grand Rapids Junior College when his team was the eastern division champion and played the western division in the Rose Bowl. That’s when he knew he wanted to coach. He graduated from WMU and came to Vicksburg in 1960. A player that stands out in McCauley’s mind at the JV level is Scott Plankenhorn, the current owner of the Hide-A-Way who went on to play football at Valparaiso University. “He was so much stronger and hit so much harder than the others, I actually had to slow him down [to save the other players on the team from injury].” McCauley’s son, Kent, played center for him with Ron Davis at quarterback. For the four years they played football for VHS, they never had a bad snap or a fumble from 1976 to 1979. “The sport has changed so much. Now it takes all 12 months of the year, working on agility, speed, and strength. Back then, a guy could play three sports but now they have to concentrate on just one, [to have much chance of playing].”

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Denny Burns (in his youth).

Denny Burns graduated in 1967 from VHS after an illustrious career running cross country. He was Wolverine all-conference in 1966/67 and took 5th place at state that year while serving as the team captain. He was MHSSA all-state in track and field in 1967 when he also captained the VHS team. He earned two varsity letters when he went on to run for WMU’s cross country and track teams, placing in the top 50 in the NCAA division I championship cross country meet. He returned to VHS in 1978/79 to coach the girls’ track team.