Monthly Archives: March 2015

On the Corner

By Sue Moore

This issue of the South County News highlights three stage productions being presented in Vicksburg and Schoolcraft in March. The young people of the two high schools have shown considerable talent in singing and acting. If the past is a guide, some will go on to make stage work their profession. Those who end up working in other fields will continue to get up on the stage and give it their all—as in the Showboat at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center, celebrating its 62nd year.

The directors of these shows are diverse but passionate about their productions. Christine Sargeant in Schoolcraft says she relieves the actors’ nerves backstage by acting crazy, all the while urging them on to quiet their nerves. Melissa Sparks in Vicksburg works in the drama department at Western Michigan University and is director in residence at VHS, keeping the singers and dancers seriously concentrating on their parts. She is a creative, multi-talented director that the kids really respect. Dr. Ken Franklin, Showboat director, is equally serious with the cast of talented men, all drawn from the surrounding area. In their day jobs, you would never know they are performers.

The audiences for these three musicals is miniscule however, and that is a pity. These are talented people who give enormous time to their performances. As a community we are blessed by so many entertainment options, but these three are the very best and deserve our attendance and applause.

The Showboat cast each year draws a number of young people from the high school choir program including its director, Dusty Morris, who sings a beautiful solo number. Several of the pit band members who are decidedly grayer, evolved from the high school band program. Craig Rolfe, Tom Weeks, Dennis Watson, and Dawn Garrett are refugees from the Big Red Machine. Combine that with Music Director Chris Garrett, who spent some years here as band director before going to KVCC, and you realize how much local talent there is and the importance of training young people as early as possible in the performing arts programs in each school.

Quilt Trail Visitor

Kitch Rinehart, the founder and executor of the fabulous Quilt Trail in the Vicksburg area, has scored another coup. She has invited Suzi Parron, the nationally known author of quilt trail history throughout the U.S., to visit and promote her new book coming out in the spring of 2016. It will feature the Vicksburg Quilt Trail in one chapter and she will come here in May 17 of that year to lecture and sign her books. Kitch is looking for a suitable venue for the presentation that will need to seat at least 150 avid quilters. The Vicksburg Historical Society has agreed to underwrite her appearance.

Chili Cook-Off Winners

Clink Powell, owner of the Vault, was declared the winner at the Chamber of Commerce chili cook-off in early February. Voters cast their ballots for the six entrants, giving second place to Barrett’s Smokehouse and third place to Boy Scout Troop 251. The outhouse race winner was the Chapman Memorial Nazarene Church crew. Most of the cooks ran out of chili before the closing time of 5 p.m., so a decision was made to quit early. The scouts whipped through the huge tent in 15 minutes as the volunteer clean-up crew. Tanya DeLong, the Chamber president, was exceedingly grateful for their help.

Anna Brown’s Birthday Recognition

Helen Brown Horn, wants to thank the many people who sent birthday greetings to her mom, Anna Brown on her 100 year anniversary. She was thrilled to see the names of so many people she knows, and many more that she doesn’t know. She even received a lovely card from a reader who saw the article and sent a card anonymously. She received 207 cards and Anna realizes what a great community of wonderful, caring people she lives in.

Flower Power

Village Manager Ken Schippers recommended to the village council the elimination of the flowers that usually get planted in the elongated curbs in downtown Vicksburg during the summer. The cost of $4,000 he thought could go toward buying pots for flowers or plants instead. That way he could keep the need to weed at a minimum and improve the looks of downtown toward the end of the summer, when the weeds typically take control of the flower beds. The council concurred.

One Last Tidbit

The lady who ran an ad in the February newspaper needing a used treadmill for her dog to get some exercise on, got six phone calls from it and found just what the dog liked and started his workouts almost immediately. This spring the advertising representatives hope to produce a classified section for sale of items such as this along with garage sale advertisements.

Maple Syrup Celebration

By Sue Moore

A free breakfast of pancakes and pure maple syrup awaits those people who come to Butternut Creek’s Sugar Shack on from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 14-15, at 24890 Flach Road, Mendon.

Along with the breakfast is an opportunity to walk or ride through the sugar bush, the wooded area where Terry Moyer taps his maple trees to start the maple syrup process. Moyer taps his own trees, boils down the sap in his evaporator on site, bottles it and then sells small quantities of it each year. He expects to tap a few neighbors’ trees too, with about 500 total taps. Last year he ended up with about 100 gallons of syrup for the season.

Visitors to Moyer’s Sugar Shack can also expect a ride through the woods on either day at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 2:30 p.m., weather permitting. He will be demonstrating the art of making maple syrup, reducing the sap into what ends up as seemingly minute quantities of syrup. There will be sausage and drinks to accompany the pancakes and syrup, along with cookbooks and maple syrup for sale. The meal will be served inside a heated garage, but if venturing outside, guests will need to bundle up, Moyer remarked. He has lots of helpers on site to join in the fun and work the syrup making process, but he could always use more extra hands.

The season for tapping maple trees is a small window of about three weeks in March, depending largely upon the weather, according to Bob Smith, another area syrup maker. He expects to tap 270 trees this year with four taps to a tree if they are large maples. He mostly taps trees along 28th Street, U Avenue, and on Richardson’s Farms, by getting permission from the land owners. Each tree gives about 11 gallons per tap and Smith goes about collecting sap every day in his pickup truck equipped with a 55-gallon drum. He uses a pump to transfer the sap from each barrel attached to a tapped tree. He claims he doesn’t even get sticky with all of this transferring of sap. He will drive each day to a place in Watervliet where a large evaporator boils it down into maple syrup.

The temperature needs to reach at least 32 degrees during the day for the sap to begin running, Smith said. The season begins when the sun starts to hit the canopy of the trees, drawing the sap out of the roots of the trees. When the temperature drops at night, the sap moves back down to the roots. It’s about a three week window for the sap to run. Once it gets too warm, the resulting product starts to turn bitter and cloudy. At that point it’s thrown away, Smith explained.

Moyer and Smith live only seven miles apart, but it took a meeting in northern Michigan at the Michigan Maple Syrup Association for them to get acquainted. Smith’s wife Kathy and Moyer’s girlfriend Kathy now often serve as judges for the blind tastings the association sponsors each year where they award medals for the best maple syrup producers around the state. Moyer has hosted Open Houses for tours of his property for other producers, and offered the free breakfast since 2013. He says he does this to introduce all those interested in learning more about the process of making this all natural product.

Pure maple syrup is deemed to be much better for the individual to eat, in place of processed food made with high fructose corn syrup. Moyer spends a lot of time getting ready for the season by cleaning his tanks and hose lines with bleach and peroxide. He places a huge emphasis on cleanliness and battles squirrels constantly who are attracted to any salt on the exterior of the plastic pouches. The salt invites them to chew through the plastic.

Smith sells his syrup at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market and sold all 217½ gallons he made in 2014. Moyer sells his syrup from his Sugar Shack on Flach Road.

Directions to 24890 Flach Road, Mendon for the Butternut Creek Maple Syrup Event

Coming from Vicksburg, travel east on W Ave. to 27th St. Drive south until the road dead ends (approximately 2 miles). Turn left on YZ and go .4 mile past Ronningen Research. Turn right on 28th Street and drive for .9 mile where it dead ends. Turn left (going east) for .8 mile on Flach Road to a sign that says “member MI Maple Syrup Association.”. Turn left, down a narrow road, into the woods about half a mile, to the Sugar Shack where parking is next to the Moyer home.

“Toots” at 89 Years of Age, Still Works in the Greenhouse

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Dave Corstange & Helen “Toots” Nelson at Corstange greenhouse on Centre Street in Portage.

By David Schriemer, MD

Helen “Toots” Nelson celebrated her 89th birthday in January. She had already received her best birthday present, an invitation to return to work at the Corstange Greenhouse in February. She had been a little ambivalent about working, worrying if she could still do the job to her standards. But when she received that note with her previous year’s W-2 form she decided, “Well, I guess I have to work now.”

No one could be more delighted to work than Toots.

She grew up in Portage. Her father, Nanno Hazelhoff, was a Dutch immigrant and a celery farmer. Their greenhouse and celery farm was on Westnedge Avenue where Putters Miniature Golf is today. As a child she helped start celery seedlings in the greenhouse.

Toots has “no idea” how she got her nickname. She has always been known as Toots. “My mother said I was a cute baby. I said, ‘What happened?’”

Toots quit school at 16 and went to work in a factory for three years. She met Harry Nelson, got married and soon after had two daughters, Ruth Ann and Donna. As the girls got older, she returned to work in retail at Federals, Gilmores and Don’s Card Hut. She was a good worker but would tire of retail. “I wasn’t one who believed ‘the customer is always right.’” She would periodically return to work in the greenhouses, get refreshed and return to retail. Toots reported with pride,“I never applied for a job.” Employers asked her to work for them, whether in retail or in the greenhouse.

When Toots was a young teenager, the celery business was no longer profitable and celery farmers turned to raising flowers in their greenhouses. The greenhouses got busy and required more workers from February to June. Toots loved to be in the warm bright greenhouses that time of year. She worked at the Peterman, Schram, Posthumus and now Corstange greenhouses. The Corstanges have employed her for eight seasons since George Posthumus, a former owner retired.

Dave Corstange worked in the greenhouse for Carl Hoeksema. With Carl’s help, he started his own greenhouse business on Centre Street in 1972. The business has changed radically. Toots’s father had a small greenhouse to start celery seedlings and then raised his plants on five acres.

The Corstanges have about 3 acres of greenhouses, sell over 120,000 geraniums, 200,000 begonias, about 12,000 flower baskets and many other flowers each season. They import seeds and plants from Uganda, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Israel. Many tasks are now automated. Toots reports that when she started, she made three cents for every two flats of seedlings she completed. She could turn out about 66 flats and make about a dollar a day. Now workers are paid hourly and a good worker like Toots can prepare over 200 flats per day.

Corstange reports it’s difficult to find good help for seasonal work. He has hired a number of retirees like Toots. Toots loves to get out of the house in the dead of winter. When asked about driving to work in winter she said, “My kids worry about it”.

Corstange confirms Toots couldn’t make it in only three to four times in the previous seven years. The Corstanges love her. “It embarrasses the 19 and 20-year-olds when she outworks them,” said Corstange. His son, Todd, added, “People just don’t have Toots’s work ethic.”

Toots has made a few accommodations for her age. She works half days and quits in April before the work is more physically demanding. She reports coworker and friend Gail Weber helps her out. “She keeps me straight. If I don’t hear something, because my hearing isn’t so good, she’ll tell me what to do and when it’s icy outside, and I need an arm walking to the car, she helps me.”

Toots loves the work. “It’s good for me. I should pay them to work because therapy costs a lot more.”

Donor to the South County News Offered Personal Service

jane deckerA sprightly voice on the South County News answering machine wanted to know how much it would cost to subscribe to the newspaper. The woman wondered if she could charge it to her Visa card. A return call informed her that the paper is a nonprofit and thus doesn’t have subscriptions. However, all who donate their time to work on it are most appreciative of any donation she might wish to make but to control costs there is no way to accept Visa payments.

Jane Decker, the caller, didn’t think she could even get out to the mailbox, as she is past 84, and lives on an extremely icy and snowy hillside on Indian Lake. An offer was made to pick up a check.

That sealed the deal. She had donated in July of 2013 when the paper was just getting started and wanted to do her part once again.

Decker said she reads the personal stories first, and then the others from cover to cover. She is originally from Scotts and married a young man from Scotts, Kenneth (Jack) Decker. The family has had several homes in the Vicksburg school district, bringing up a son, Dean, and daughter, Cheryl, who have also settled in this area. She has seven grandchildren, and “texts” with all of them although she doesn’t own a computer. “They get a kick out of that,” she chuckled.

“When I was young, everybody was poor and you didn’t know the difference. I’ve been blessed with my life, and just lucky to have lived this long. My dad was the smartest man I have ever known, even though he only had an eighth grade education. He came from Holland and settled on a farm in Scotts,” she explained.

“Do it gently,” were her parting words to the check pickup person, as she realized she had been interviewed for a newspaper article.

Vicksburg Community School Students to Take Part in National Reading Celebration

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Jenna Grabowski and David Rutt concentrate on their reading in Paula Branch’s 7th grade English class. Over 3 million pages were read by students participating coast to coast.

Students at Vicksburg Middle School, Indian Lake Elementary, Sunset Lake Elementary and Tobey Elementary took part in a nationwide effort to “Read the Most Coast to Coast” on Friday, February 27. They are among hundreds of thousands of students who joined in this fourth annual reading celebration.

Read the Most Coast to Coast celebrates reading with a one-day event that encourages students to read as much as they can. Last school year, students set a new one-day record of 4,987,949 books read. Students will also complete Accelerated Reader Quizzes on the books they read.

At Vicksburg Community Schools, 1,700 students took part in this shared effort to read the most and be a part of something much bigger than a school district. “Read the Most Coast to Coast is a fun-filled event that enables students at multiple grade levels to join in a shared reading challenge,” said Stephanie Mallery, VMS Instructional Consultant. “Students are engaging in valuable reading practice, all while taking part in an event that joins students across the country in a collaborative effort focused on reading. We’re so proud of our students!”

Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader is a K-12 program that serves as a platform for teachers to manage independent reading practice. Students read books at the appropriate level and then take a quiz to show they understood what they’ve read. The web-based program provides access to over 160,000 quizzes, enabling students to choose from a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction books.

During the event, Renaissance Learning tracked national quizzes on its hosted database and shared progress online. Educators, parents, and interested community members were able to see progress toward the national goal at http://www.renaissance.com/read-the-most.

Soloists & Ensembles Move On to State

Schoolcraft Drama Club Stages Into the Woods

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Schoolcraft actors go through their blocking assignments for Into the Woods during early rehearsals for the show. The top row, from left: Katie Denharder, Brooke Johnson (senior), Marena White, Maxwell Patrick Jones, Halie Stackpole, Kacey Bell (senior), Jessica Carlton (senior), and Colin Evans. Bottom row, from left: Isabella Parker, Madison Crissman, Holly Macfarlane, Phil VanOrman (senior), Jacob Evans, Gwen Robbins (crouching), and Maegan Sargeant. Not pictured: Aaron Sargeant (senior), Casey Germain, Brooklyn Parker, Tim Brinkert (senior), Lily Wright.

By Sue Moore

Twenty one Schoolcraft drama club students are hard at work learning their lines and singing the songs for Into the Woods, a Broadway musical they will present in March. The large cast will take the stage at the Performing Arts Center under the direction of Christine Sargeant on Friday, March 27 at 7 p.m.

The troupe will repeat the show on Saturday, March 28 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and present a matinee on Sunday, March 29 at 3 p.m.

Into the Woods was created by James Lapine, with music by Stephen Sondheim, hitting Broadway in 1987. The story line is complicated. Major parts include a witch, played by Maegan Sargeant; a baker, played by Phil VanOrman; and the baker’s wife, played by Holly Macfarlane. The stage manager is John Manning, who wants to be in the arts as a theatre manager someday. Director Sargeant is giving him some on-the-job training.

Besides giving teenagers a chance to learn the basics of acting, this play has a high level of difficulty in the singing parts, according to Sargeant. “We have five seniors along with strong voices from Jacob Evans, Macfarlane, and Madison Crissman with the ability to carry this off; that’s why this play was chosen. Two of the major parts have actors who are also in rehearsal for a play at the Civic Theatre in Kalamazoo, so they are getting lots of experience this year,” she said.

“We have lots of new kids and some veterans of performances, which I call my drama babies,” Sargeant remarked. She started directing plays in Schoolcraft three and a half years ago, because of her own kids, she said. In her daily work, she is the online coordinator for 170 Schoolcraft students who are taking subjects through the Michigan Virtual University.

All the proceeds from the performances will go to a trip to Disney World in Orlando in July, where the cast will recreate their roles. The cost for each performer is $1,000, so they will need to continue fundraising far beyond the March performance, Sargeant said. “We barely break even as the costs of production include the rights to the play, about $2,500, and the sets, which include a tower and half of a tree—it will all come close to $4,000. We are even renting a prop horse from the Civic. We can expect three to four hundred attending our shows, helping mightily to defray the up-front costs.”

Members of the Drama Club are working with Lori Pelton, Schoolcraft business teacher, on how to market the presentation which is also good experience for the students, Sargeant said.

Schoolcraft School Board Focuses on the Middle School

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Schoolcraft principals from left to right: Amie McCaw, elementary; Amie Goldschmeding, early elementary assistant; Chris Ebsch, middle school; Ric Seager.

By Sue Moore

It was Middle School Principal Chris Ebsch’s turn to report to the Schoolcraft school board at mid-year, focusing on gains made and work that needs improvement.

He presented a parent perception survey revealing that most agreed or strongly agreed that the school is a welcoming, positive place where children have every opportunity to succeed.

The results he presented showed the percentage of parents agreeing or strongly agreeing with the following assertions:

Fall 2014 Parent Perception Survey Highlights – Ranked from largest to smallest number of respondents stating agree or strongly agree:

1. This school provides a safe environment for my child to learn. 85 %

2. My family is treated with respect at this school. 83 %

3. My child’s learning is a high priority at this school. 83 %

4. I feel welcome upon entering this school. 79 %

5. Teachers, staff, and administrators demonstrate genuine concern for my child at this school. 74 %

6. This school develops a positive school climate. 72 %

7. I am proud to say I have a child at this school. 72 %

8. My child has every opportunity to be successful at this school. 70 %

9. This school is clean and well-maintained. 70 %

10. This school delivers a high quality instructional program. 62 %

11. This school manages its resources well in support of its mission. 62 %

12. My child is recognized for good work and behavior at this school. 60 %

13. This school promotes strong parent/school relationships. 57 %

14. School rules and discipline are enforced consistently at this school. 57 %

15. I would recommend this school to other parents. 57 %

16. I receive regular feedback from school staff on how well my child is learning. 32 %

17. I receive positive phone calls, notes, emails about my child from the school. 15 %

Ebsch elaborated on testing results that showed the need for intervention for gaps in reading and math achievement from the high score testers to those at the bottom. “We will dig into the data to figure the effectiveness and why some students are moving up and down,” he promised.

He celebrated a big jump in attendance from 85 percent in 2013-14 to 94 percent so far this year. “Middle School can be a fun place to be,” he told the board.

KRESA Millage Request Scheduled for May 5

Superintendent Rusty Stitt explained the impact the KRESA special education millage election would have on finances in all of the county’s school districts if it were to pass. In the year 2008-09, the cost of serving special needs students in the county was $5.3 million. In the current year, the price has ballooned to almost 11 million, all of which the school districts must bear. If the 1.5-mill proposal passes the $859,068 cost to Schoolcraft would likely be reimbursed. “Special education services are a federal mandate and thus our first dollar must go to pay for these programs. KRESA receives a millage from county residents that reimburses the agency for its costs of providing special education services, but not for the local school district,” he said. The Schoolcraft school district serves 102 special education students this year.

The request of local taxpayers is complicated by the state of Michigan’s Proposal I to fix the roads. There is money in this package that would flow to local school districts, but there is no guarantee as to what it would pay for, if the district did receive new funding, Stitt explained.

The board did vote to spend money for a new school bus that Stitt said was badly needed, although it had been budgeted for next year’s capital expenditures. By purchasing the bus now, it would replace one that has been red tagged because of rust and is 20 years old.

A bid for reroofing the Middle School was put on hold until more information could be sought from the lowest bidder which was Sherriff-Goslin.

Vicksburg Middle School Reports to the School Board

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg school board, at its monthly meeting discussed a 1.5-mil special education millage set to go on the ballot on May 5.

The proposed millage by Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) will hopefully pay for federal and state-mandated special education costs. “During this year, it is estimated that Vicksburg Community Schools will be paying a half million out of general fund dollars,” said Supt. Charlie Glaes. “The intent of this millage is to have the local district’s special education costs paid for.”

While there is already a millage in place covering special education, Glaes says there is less money to go around for the $14 million in special education costs district-wide. As a result, schools have to dip into their general fund to cover the costs. He says one big issue with the current millage was the housing crash. “That millage is paid by property owners, as property values tanked, so did the revenue,” Glaes said. “Consequently, there is less money to go around.”

The millage may face some difficulty because it is going on the same ballot as Proposal 1, to increase state sales tax to fund roads and schools. Glaes says polls for that proposal have been weak statewide. “The more voters learn about this, the less they like it,” Glaes said. “Things are just gearing up; it looks like it is going to be a very heated campaign for and against.”

He also says the millage will in the long run, help with the funding for all Vicksburg students. “It is certainly the hope of KRESA and school districts throughout Kalamazoo County that it will pass in May,” Glaes said. “That would make a huge difference in the budget.”

Principal Laura Kuhlman and assistant Principal Matt VanDussen made a presentation on the middle school’s instructional progress.

Kuhlman says her staff overachieved over the course of the past year in the face of many difficulties. “If I had to describe them with a phrase, it would be ‘rise to the challenge’,” Kuhlman said. Both Kuhlman and VanDussen have high aspirations for the students in charting and planning ways to improve student progress. “We want to make sure our planning and our focus stays on our vision,” VanDussen said. “We want all students to be proficient no matter the content area.”

VanDussen says the state gave a baseline in 2012 for where students should be achieving in the future. “What we want to have in 12 years is 85% of students proficient in those areas (math, science, reading, social studies),” VanDussen said. The state has set benchmarks for each year so the schools know what marks they have to hit to eventually reach the 85% proficiency level. These standards are based on common core curriculum. VanDussen says Vicksburg is well over that 85% mark in reading already, and is also above where it was supposed to be last year.

In math, the school has made use of the Delta math program, which tests students three times a year, to assess student readiness for the next grade level. To help kids who are struggling, they are implementing a new program where students can get additional tutorial time in place of an elective class. The students are pulled from their elective for a couple weeks at a time or every other week. “We’ve tried to keep elective opportunities strong and not pull out so many for extended learning opportunities,” VanDussen said.

Math teacher Dawn Simpson demonstrated a math website that can give students practice in many different areas. She says that her students completed over 50,000 math problems in a week on the website. “I would equate this to a form of accelerated reader,” she said. “They log right on and are engaged. You could hear a pin drop.”

English teacher Joe Lukowski demonstrated how he incorporated a kid’s blogging website into his writing curriculum. When his classes wrote science fiction stories, he had the students read each other’s stories and give positive feedback on their classmate’s stories. “The students were waiting for people to comment on it (their story),” Lukowski said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

In other news Steve Goss reported bids are in for roofing projects and will be available for approval at the next meeting. “The good news is, it appears all those bids came in better than we were hoping for,” Goss said. He says they should be ready to begin work on these projects once school lets out for the summer. Goss also reported that as a result of re-financing of 2005 bonds to replace athletic facilities, the school will be able to repay the loan a year ahead of schedule in May 2020, saving over $100,000. “The savings there will accrue back to the general fund,” Goss said. He also said that in two years, the district will be able to refinance the 2007 bond.

Homecoming Courts in Schoolcraft & Vicksburg