Does a Garden Spot Beckon You?

garden 1Members of Community Gardens of Vicksburg are gearing up for another season of digging in the soil and producing tasty edibles from seed and plant. Anyone in the community interested in using a plot is welcome to join the enthusiastic group that has been involved in growing vegetables since 2008.

Two garden areas are available. The Heritage Garden is located on the east side of the village on North Richardson Street next to the Historic Village and big red barn. The Pantry Garden is found behind the Leja House at the west end of the village on Prairie Street across from Summit Polymers. Plots in both gardens are open to new and returning gardeners. The use of private plots is free, but gardeners must purchase their own seeds and plants.

It’s an educational experience and the Community Garden group invites those who enjoy gardening or want to learn or learn more. Master Gardeners are available in both locations to share their knowledge. Together the group cares for perennial beds of herbs, strawberries and raspberries and common paths. There are garden tools in an on-site shed to share.

If you have questions or would like to become involved, note Thursday, April 23rd from 7-8 p.m. on your calendars. The planners will gather at the Vicksburg Community Center. Preparations will begin there for the upcoming season. For any further information in advance of the meeting, contact Nancy Wolf at 269-649-2840 or Carol Meyer-Niedzwiecki at 269-568-0580.

Blast from the Past!

Rag Room Lee Paper mill
The Lee Paper Mill was built in 1905 to fill a need for a rag-content paper mill in the Kalamazoo Valley paper-producing region. Scores of workers of Polish ancestry, some of whom had papermaking experience, were brought to the mill from Chicago and other areas. There were 205 employees whose wages ran from 20 cents per hour to 32-1/2 cents an hour. Girls earned 10 cents an hour, sometimes working 50 to 60 hours a week. Textiles in the form of worn-out clothing and other rags formed the raw material for rag-content paper. Women sorted the rags, removed buttons and foreign objects in the Rag Room. The cloth was shredded, cooked and processed into fine-quality writing papers. Photo and content courtesy of the Vicksburg Historical Society. If you have an old photo you would like to share, please email it to Steve at

Dancing, Socializing, Eating, All for a Great Cause

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South County Community Services staff and volunteers, put the word community in their Dance Across the Decades signature event each year. From left to right: Jackie Sirotti, Tim Delaney, Lorna Landrum, Danna Downing, Madison Branch, and Amanda Fields. The two women on the right are holding on to the quilt made by Jennifer Appell as a donation to the silent auction to be held on April 25 at St. Martin of Tours Church.

By Sue Moore

“We needed a signature event to highlight the services of South County Community Services (SCCS), raise money for the agency and have a good time doing it,” said Danna Downing, the agency’s executive director.

Dance Across the Decades is in its second year as a money-raising event. It promises to be even bigger and better in 2015, Downing said. Success is critically important, following a year in which funding was cut nearly in half.

To publicize the April 25 event, Downing appeared at nearly every scheduled meeting of clubs and organizations in the greater Vicksburg community during last month. This has also allowed her to spread the word about the need in south Kalamazoo County for the services SCCS provides.

The goal of the dance and accompanying silent auction is to raise $10,000. “Many of the ingredients for this fun way of getting people energized are being donated. This makes the stated promise of 75 percent of the proceeds going right to the bottom line of SCCS a reality,” Downing said.

The food is being prepared by Robin Maple and Marian Steffens, both of whom are donating their time. The “signature drinks,” a special feature, are being provided by an anonymous donor. The DJ play list has been selected by the music man, Jim Shaw, and will be presented by DJ Jimmy Lawless from Debiak Entertainment. The silent auction items are coming in strong and should be in great demand, Downing said. The ticket prices are $65 per couple or $35 single before April 15, which gives the volunteers a chance to plan accordingly.

The agency’s needs became even greater when United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, was forced to cut back support funding in 2014 by $40,000–48 percent of the SCCS overall budget, Downing said. Since then, the budget deficit has been whittled down by moving to space in the Marketplace on Kalamazoo Avenue in Vicksburg. In addition, staff has moved to a four-day work week. No services have been cut, Downing emphasized.

In fact, the food pantry has enjoyed a hefty growth with more food being donated and availability of a larger, more accessible display area with the demand for food assistance growing every day.

The agency represents the first line of help and referral for any person or family suffering from a financial hardship. “It’s important that members of the community know what services we have available so when they see a neighbor in trouble, they can send them here to get help,” Downing said. Through the dance and other outreach, the services will remain in the public eye, she believes. “There are lots of good-hearted people in the community. We had a gift just the other day when a mother who lost her son at a young age, came in to make a large donation in his name–the very day our newsletter arrived in her mailbox.

“This is not the same agency that it was two years ago. Our job is to connect individuals with the many resources available locally and across Kalamazoo County. If SCCS wasn’t here, who knows what would happen to those walking in our door? Now the agency is asking the heart of the community to come have fun and to help make sure the doors remain open to help friends and neighbors in times of need.” Those wishing to make reservations should call 649-2901.

Grant Will Buy Staples for Local Families

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Left to right: Kathy McCormick, Dawn Phelps, Sheri Lois, Kay Anderson, Larry Phelps, Suzanne Muzljakovich. Back row, left to right: Darci Schimp, David Westman, Paula Schriemer, Terry Epstein, Stuart Welden, Nick Lam, Jennie Schmidt.

Dawn and Larry Phelps, local farmers, nominated Generous Hands Inc. (GHI) to receive a $2,500 grant from the Monsanto Company in December. Stuart Welden, a representative from the America’s Farmers Grow Communities program funded by Monsanto was in Vicksburg in March to present the check in person to the board of GHI.

Each year, this Monsanto program offers farmers the chance to direct a $2500 donation to their favorite community nonprofit organization (like 4-H, FFA, food pantries, schools and fire departments). One winner is selected in each of 1324 counties in 40 states.

The money will fund vouchers used by Generous Hands families at the local Family Fare store. Each participating family receives $40 per month to purchase milk, bread, eggs, fruits and vegetables. For more information about Generous Hands, or if you wish to donate, please visit

CROP Walk Starts in Front of VUMC in Vicksburg

crop walk
Members and guests of the Vicksburg United Methodist Church, headed by Brad Addis on the far right, set out for their walk around the village, during the 2014 Crop Hunger Walk.

By Sue Moore

The passion demonstrated by people like Brad Addis of the Vicksburg United Methodist Church is what keeps the annual CROP walk in the forefront in the community, according to Pastor Buff Coe.

The church will sponsor the 21st annual CROP Hunger Walk, at 2 p.m., Sunday, April 26.

It will once again provide money for the South County Community Services food pantry, recipient of over $45,000 over the life of the Walk. Members of the church participate along with any other interested individuals, according to Addis. Organizers also ask the community to pledge money for the walkers. In the last 20 years, over $181,000 has been raised right here in Vicksburg to feed the hungry all over the world, he pointed out.

For every person who obtains a registration and collects at least $25, there is an anonymous donor who will give another $5 in the church’s name.

The CROP Hunger Walks are community fundraising events sponsored by Church World Service (CWS), an international relief, development, and refugee resettlement agency. They provide food, medical care, disaster relief, and self-help development for needy people around the world, Addis said.

“Our goal is participation. We want to get folk involved any way they would like to, not just walking. If they want to walk, jog, run, rock in a rocking chair, be a cheerleader at a street corner, bake cookies for the event, or be a prayer partner, we are open to just about any kind of participation you could imagine,” Addis pointed out. “We are also thankful for the many community businesses that support us as well. We are grateful.”

“CROP” is an acronym: Christian Rural Overseas Program. CWS on its website says it has “outgrown” the word as an acronym, but points out that the program began as a way to donate excess grain to the hungry in post-war Europe and Asia.

Maple Syrup Event Draws Plenty of Interest

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Vicksburg resident Justin Plankenhorn, 9, enjoys a plate of pancakes at Butternut Creek Sugar Shack in Mendon Township. The open house was a part of Michigan Maple Syrup Weekend.

By Jef Rietsma

It may not be a good season for maple syrup production, but that didn’t seem to bother an estimated 300 people who attended an open house at Butternut Creek Sugar Shack in mid-March.

The event at the Mendon-area site was organized by maple syrup producer Terry Moyer, his family and friends. The event was part of a statewide observance of Michigan Maple Syrup Weekend, to help promote the state’s maple-syrup industry.

The two-day statewide event was organized by the Michigan Maple Syrup Association. “It’s the third year the association has had the weekend and it’s our third time participating,” Moyer said. “It seems to get better and better every year in terms of how it’s publicized and the number of people who show up, so I’m glad to see Michigan maple syrup being promoted … there are about 200 producers in Michigan, so there’s a lot of representation. We just need the weather to cooperate.”

He said this year and last have not been good for the industry. Ideal weather conditions would see the temperature hit 40 in the daytime and in the 20s at night. Nighttime temperatures have stayed consistently in the 30s the past week, throwing the 2015 maple-syrup season for a loop.

Moyer produced a personal record 164 gallons of maple syrup in 2013, the highest since he started tracking output in 2006. A year ago, despite tapping even more trees than usual, the production dropped to 108 gallons which has been about his usual volume. Through this past weekend, Moyer said he has generated four gallons and he is not optimistic about reaching 100 gallons in 2015.

“You can have all the best equipment and tap 500 trees, as we have this season, but that overnight temperature in the 30s is a killer,” he said.

If Moyer was bothered about the situation, he concealed it well during the gathering at his Flach Road operation. He recruited help from friends who made pancakes, cooked sausage links, and manned reservoirs of milk and orange juice.

Hoping to recoup the out-of-pocket expenses for food and drink, Moyer had for sale maple syrup in a variety of bottle sizes. The largest quantity, a gallon, was going for $48.

Business was good and Moyer said he was pleased to see such an interest in his hobby.

“I work two full-time jobs, one at American Axle and the other is a side business as owner of TM Asphalt,” he said. “So the maple syrup work is definitely a hobby.”

He said it is a pastime that demands a number of hours due to its nature. It takes time to pierce the trees for sap collection, then more time is needed to collect the four-gallon bags into which the sap accumulates.

That, he said, is just the beginning of the process. His processing area is in a standalone building from which a sweet smell and thick cloud of steam spread. The wood-fired stove has received an upgrade in recent years, which has sped up the processing pace.

Moyer, 56, started making maple syrup when he was 14 thanks to his grandfather’s affinity for the chore. He resumed the activity about 12 years ago. Now, Moyer taps trees on the 44 acres he owns and a 70-acre area that was offered to him for sap-collecting purposes.

Much like Moyer when he was a young man, 9-year-old Justin Plankenhorn of Vicksburg would like to start making maple syrup. The youngster said he enjoyed hearing his dad talk about collecting sap when the elder Plankenhorn was younger.

Will Plankenhorn said the day proved a good opportunity to show his son what is involved.

“I did it with my folks when I was just about Justin’s age and just this week he asked me about it,” Plankenhorn said. “We saw this event featured in the South County News and decided we’d get out here right away. I’m glad we did.”

Plankenhorn said he and his son have tapped about eight trees this year, which are yielding a small amount of sap.

Moyer said he taps no more than three lines into a tree and always taps a new area in subsequent years. Out of 500 taps this season, he expects to collect about 800 gallons of sap.

“But then again, the way things are going so far this season, that might be a little too optimistic,” Moyer said. “We’ll see.”

Butternut Creek Sugar Shack is located at 24890 Flach Road. Its phone number is 496-7082.

Schoolcraft Little League Opens on April 25

sch lit lg 4
Turnout was big for the 2014 opening day at Swan Park for Schoolcraft Little League.

By Sue Moore

Opening ceremonies for the expanded Schoolcraft Little League facilities at Swan Park will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 25 according to Troy Faulk, Little League director.

There will be two new softball fields available for play besides the three already in existence. The complex at Swan Park, next door to the Schoolcraft Township Hall on 18th Street, has been built with a lot of volunteer labor, contributions from the community and the township over the last few years. This latest expansion is costing about $40,000 according to Faulk. It would be even higher were it not for all the free labor and use of equipment.

Approximately 275 Schoolcraft area children will have the opportunity to play on diamonds that are in pristine shape, Faulk said. Adult coaches total 75 and umpires are drawn from the ranks of volunteers including parents and siblings.

Another development is the formation of two girls softball teams of 13 and 14-year olds from Mendon, Schoolcraft and Vicksburg areas. They call themselves MSV for short but are still considered a part of the Schoolcraft Little League operation.

For many years the contests took place on the diamonds in Schoolcraft owned by the school district. Now 95 percent of the games are played at Swan Park, Faulk said.

Get in the Game as an Umpire

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Vicksburg Little League teams turned out in force for the 2014 opening day parade.

Vicksburg Little League is seeking umpires to officiate for baseball and softball. Vicksburg has maintained an all volunteer staff of officials since its inception in 1970. The vast majority of those former “Blue” members of the community have moved on.

This year there are nearly 500 participants comprising 40 teams in Vicksburg Little League. Opening day is April 25th. While all of those participants require proper instruction by their managers and coaches on the field of play, there remains a need for individuals with a good rules understanding to administer game rules and establish the conduct of play during those games.

All with a good understanding of the game are encouraged to be part of this experience for kids by contributing an evening or two for the benefit of these young boys and girls as an umpire. A free rules clinic is being offered on April 19th at Main Street Pub from 3 to 5 pm. The clinic is designed to provide an enhanced understanding of game rules and umpire protocol.

Umpire equipment is provided before each game by Vicksburg Little League.

It is by far the greatest seat in the house. And the game, umpires get a free soda and a hot dog.   Contact Joe Pawlak of Vicksburg Little League@ 269-327-9707 for more information.

The Ed Knapp Story of Successful Coaching

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Softball player Shaidan Knapp poses with her much admired grandfather and coach, Ed Knapp.

By Sue Moore

Ed Knapp’s fifty years of coaching sports in Vicksburg High School is a milestone that needs recognition, according to Mike Roy, Vicksburg’s athletic director. Knapp might disagree: He figures he’s had all the accolades anyone could ask for when his former athletes call him, text him and seek him out whenever they need his words of wisdom.

“That’s what makes it all worthwhile,” says Coach Knapp. “I learned that high school kids participate in sports because they want to have fun. I learned that early. If you have a positive way of talking with kids, it works. To see them develop socially, mentally, and physically is a real joy.”

The joy, encouragement and skills he gave his athletes translated into huge winning records for Vicksburg’s baseball, cross country, football and wrestling teams; he coached all of these sports at one time or another from 1964 through the current spring season. And he’s not stopping. Although retired from teaching, this is his second year as the assistant coach for softball. He is still having fun, especially since his granddaughter, Shaidan Knapp, is a star at shortstop on a team that will contend for conference champion honors again this year.

He coached baseball for 32 years and the field the boys play on for home games is named after Knapp. His players produced ten conference championships, three district championships, and a total of 393 wins and 205 losses from 1964 to 1998.

He coached wrestling for 27 years, racking up huge wins for a 360-98-2 record from 1971 to 1998. In that time his teams won 15 conference championships and five district championships; he received four regional coach of the year awards. He was inducted into the Vicksburg athletic Hall of Fame years ago.

“Coach Knapp taught determination, perseverance, self-respect, and the value of hard work in order to succeed in wrestling,” says Mike Frederick, now owner of Frederick Construction in Vicksburg. “Besides that, we were the best conditioned team in the conference. After football, you came into wrestling thinking you were in good shape. But the first two weeks of Knapp’s conditioning regime, you thought you were going to die.

“I never heard him raise his voice in all the years he was my coach. When you graduated, you knew you could go out in the world and accomplish anything.”

Cross country was equally successful under his guidance for ten years with a record of 174-56 for both boys and girls teams.

“It’s rewarding to work with young people, as it’s certainly not about the money. It’s about how you approach kids,” he says. “You get after them without demeaning them. What works for some might not work for others.”

Knapp came to Vicksburg from Western Michigan University in 1964 as a student teacher because it was close by his rental home in Lemon Park on Indian Lake. He had spent two years at Jackson Junior College, worked at Sturgis Foundry for two and a half years and served in the military for three years. He met his wife, Sue, when she invited him to her home in Wasepi for cherry pie that purportedly she made. He found out years later that his mother-in-law made the pie. The Knapps raised three sons, Ted, Tom, and Fred, and have five granddaughters.

In those days he played fast pitch softball, threw the javelin on Jackson’s track team and needed another specialty. He chose the 100-yard dash, because he figured he wouldn’t get lapped that way. He played baseball for the junior college when the team played prisoners at Jackson Prison. He tells the story of being let into the prison grounds and watching his team’s lead-off hitter get three balls called that were way wide of the plate. The catcher turned to the umpire with this word of caution, “You call another one like that ump, and I’ll kill you like I did the other six I’m in here for.” The next call was a strike.

Knapp has a profusion of these stories and keeps things light and fun–which is what he thinks sports should be about. Ask any of his former players, like Mike Hill who pitched for him in 1972-73 and today is vice president for sales and marketing for Prab Corporation:

“Ed Knapp’s coaching history is well documented, but details about the man may not be so well known. He keeps the athletes loose, allowing them to perform to their best ability. He shared some really funny one-liners with me as he made a trip to the mound to settle me down or change the pace of the game. I also believe that the dedication he shows to the sport and each student athlete creates an atmosphere where kids don’t want to fail and disappoint him, sometimes even more than they don’t want to disappoint their own parents.

“I have seen Coach Knapp hit fungos from home plate into a five gallon bucket in center field and I would not bet against him being able to do that again today! Ed is one of the finest, most genuine individuals I have ever met and he has been like a second father to me. I would not trust my life to many people, but Ed is definitely one that is in that category.”