Monthly Archives: March 2016

Cake Bake Fundraiser for Vicksburg Cub Scouts

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Reed Tassell and Aiden Hawkins spring into action in the Tassell’s kitchen as they demonstrate their cake baking prowess to Aiden’s dad, Craig, standing in the background.

By Sue Moore

Can the Cub Scouts of Troop 251 have their cake and eat it too?

They surely hope so, said Renee Hawkins and Valerie Tassell, the moms involved with making the event happen on Friday, March 25 at the Vicksburg Community Center. The littlest scouts get to learn how to bake a cake with help from their dads, said Hawkins. Then they are sold to the highest bidder at an auction to help raise money for the pack. “We get some very fancy cakes that are pieces of art. Then of course the boys haven’t really done all that work; their dads have to pitch in too,” she said.

There are 60-plus Cub Scouts, ages 6 through 10, and if they all plan to bake a cake, they need that many buyers to take them home. “In the past, we have just been buying each other’s cakes to raise money,” Tassell explained. “We need to spread the cakes around to the public so we are planning a huge Cake Bake auction. That’s because our budget of $24,589 to run the cub pack is daunting. Scout registrations only covered $4,321 of that cost. Scout fundraisers assure that every boy who wants to participate in scouting has that opportunity, regardless of their financial situation.”

“We are planning lots of special events at the Cake Bake for the first time in hopes that there will be greater support, in hopes that there will be lots of community participation and support for the local scouts,” Tassell said. “There will be appetizers, beverages, and cake served during the evening. The cakes will be judged by a panel of community members, including Mandy Kokales, proprietor of Mandy’s Candies in Vicksburg.”

A demonstration on cake decorating by Bridget Mueller, the owner of Cake N Candy on Sprinkle Road, will start things off at 6 p.m. with a cake decorating demonstration. A raffle is on the docket to help raise money during the evening. Then the main course: the cake auction at 7 p.m., with Kevin Belcher of Belcher Auction Company in Marshall doing the honors.

If that isn’t enough to lure the public into the Community Center, scouts will be handing out cake samples to the community at various locations Thursday evening, March 24 to tempt the community’s sweet tooth for the auction the following evening.”

These Cub Scout moms are working hard to make sure the troop has its cake and of course can eat it too!

Where Are They Now? Nate Melvin, VHS Class of ’99

By Sue Moore

Over 240 Vicksburg High School (VHS) students have received a scholarship offered by the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation. In theory, this money should be helpful to boost a student’s success in starting their journey through higher education pathways. Nate Melvin was one of the first recipients in 1999, but he admits that he can’t remember receiving it. “But my mother does,” Melvin exclaimed.

It’s likely he won it because of his four years at the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center (KAMSC) and his many stage presentations while in high school. “I wanted to get out of going to KAMSC every year but my folks didn’t think much of that idea. All the kids there were really smart, except me,” he opined.

Melvin made up for his half day of traveling to KAMSC by participating in every single high school play and musical that was performed during his tenure. “I tried out my freshman year and worried that I didn’t do well enough to get the part.” Fortunately, he did and has gone on to become a resident actor at the New Vic in Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, worked behind the scenes at Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium, performed at the Air Zoo, and now is the business development manager for Discover Kalamazoo.

In between all of those acting gigs, there is also a musician who played saxophone and bass drum for his last two years in the Big Red Machine marching band. His ability didn’t go unnoticed as he qualified to play in the Michigan Lions club All-State band. “We got to perform in Quebec, England, Scotland, and France with that band. I loved marching band under the direction of Chris Garrett and Dennis Kozan. I thought my future was in film and video, so after a year at WMU in general education, I transferred to Central Florida for an associate’s degree. Florida was not my favorite place, so I went to school year-round and got out in 13 months, exactly a month after 9/11 happened and came right back to Kalamazoo.”

Things were pretty bleak for a guy who could sing, maybe dance a little, and act in the theatre at every opportunity to find a good paying job. He started shooting free-lance photography. “But I didn’t love that enough, and got a part-time job back stage at WMU. The low point was working on a production line job at Pharmacia on the factory floor. I hated this one more than anything, even more than corn detasseling. I would often fall asleep wrapped in the Tyvek garb but had a friend who would kick me under the table to keep from getting fired. Then an entry level job opened up at the Air Zoo running the amusement park rides. They soon made me floor manager, but the best part was joining an acting troupe to perform historic air flights on the museum floor in 2005. I even wrote one original piece for a character. There were six of us in the troupe and one was Angie, now my wife, who has given us 2-year-old Stella, a beautiful little girl.

“Angie and I were in a play together at the Civic called Class Reunion. Our characters were written to hate each other, but I soon fixed her computer, so she deemed me to be useful.” Melvin’s parents are musicians and theatrical, so he has had plenty of encouragement from home. His dad Tim, is a jazz drummer and mom Lynne plays the organ, the flute, and has had leading roles with the South County Players.

The best gig of all, has been with Discover Kalamazoo, he said. “You’ve got to use your connections any way possible. My boss there is Renee Newman and she oversaw my work at the Air Zoo too. I moved with her to Discover and now she heads up the marketing department. I love this hidden industry. We are here to benefit Kalamazoo County in a special way. It is fun and rewarding. We promote our local partners: the restaurants, the hotels, the meeting spaces, and best of all the craft brewery industry. Kalamazoo has an awesome craft brewing scene and I’m responsible for helping with the Beer Week that brings thousands of visitors to this county. I’m passionate about Kalamazoo and what it has to offer to the outside world. To think it started when my parents moved to Vicksburg when I was one year old.”

Little Mermaids Play Big in Schoolcraft

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The Little Mermaids dance troop works to perfect its choreography run through.

By Sue Moore

“I’ve always loved the “Little Mermaid” musical and the Walt Disney animated production from 1989, so I hopped on obtaining it right away when it became available,” said Christine Sargeant, director of Schoolcraft drama productions for the last six years.

“The music is terrific and the story is a fun rendition of the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The Disney animation featured a beautiful princess who dreams of becoming human and marrying Prince Eric. The stage adaptation opened on Broadway in 2008 and just this year has been made available for community theatre,” Sargeant said.

It will open at the Schoolcraft Performing Arts Center on March 11, 12, 18 and 19 with the curtain going up at 7:30 each night. Tickets will be available at the box office.

Called “Sarge” by her cast, the director believes that the Kalamazoo area is the best there is for great community theatre. She has sent several of her actors to work in the Civic Theatre, and has a son and daughter who are completely immersed in performing.

The cast of 20 includes Holly Macfarlane as Ariel the Little Mermaid; Jacob Evans as Sebastian; Ben Eiler, borrowed from Portage West Middle School, as King Triton; Maegan Sargeant as Ursula, the witch. Flotsam is played by Isabella Parker; Jetsam is Bridget Crofoot; and Flounder is Brian Crofoot.

There are six seniors in the play but most of the cast consists of underclassmen experiencing their first run in a high school musical, Sargeant explained. The seniors are Madison Crissman, Casey Germain, Max Jones, Gwen Robbins, Evans and Macfarlane. Backstage, they are being assisted by Kay Satoh, piano; Cody Ladd and Ben Sampley on lights; Austin Ladd on sound.

“Holly Macfarlane was in one of my virtual classes and found a love of musical theatre with her role last year of ‘Into the Woods’. It is so rewarding to see these students grow in the theater and want to go on after they graduate to become involved in the many different aspects of stage productions. We are very blessed because they have these opportunities right here in the Kalamazoo area,” Sargeant emphasized.

Gilmore Family Concert Pianist Comes to Vicksburg

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Terrence Wilson.

An internationally renowned artist, Terrence Wilson, will be performing on stage at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) on Monday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m. Lovers of piano music can get a taste of Kalamazoo’s Gilmore International Keyboard Festival performer right in this community’s own backyard, according to Tim Fuller, PAC manager. The audience will experience a 50-minute concert of world class piano music accompanied by engaging visuals.

The Gilmore plans a program that appeals to all ages, Fuller said. In fact, Wilson will play for all 1,500 children in Vicksburg’s elementary schools in the morning of March 21 at the PAC. In years past the students have been treated to all levels of what the piano player can do to entertain children and yet give them a taste of classical music that they will enjoy. The Gilmore staff scouts out artists that are less formal and work well in a child’s environment, Fuller said.

Pianist Terrence Wilson has established a reputation as one of today’s most gifted instrumentalists. He has appeared as soloist with many prestigious ensembles and is an active recitalist in his own right. On Monday, March 21, Wilson will guide audiences through the world of dance and movement through the sounds of the grand piano. The repertoire is still in development, but selections will be pulled from Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Bernstein’s West Side Story and other piano works from ballets or works influenced by dance.

The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. All ages are welcome and admission is free.

“Little Shop of Horrors” Debuts This March in Vicksburg

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Director Melissa Sparks, on the left, instructs her crew of actors on how they should feature the plant that will grow to be a giant. Caleb Dziepak, Alex Smith, Emily Towns, and Seamus Hyman have the leading roles.

By Sue Moore

Musical theater teaches important lessons to Vicksburg High School students, according to Melissa Sparks, the director of “Little Shop of Horrors” opening March 11. “It’s all about the skills one learns on stage. They can apply to so much of life, giving confidence in public speaking and showing initiative in the work world. What you learn in theater, you can take anywhere,” she said.

A good example is her friend from Portage, Hannah Elless, now starring on Broadway in “Bright Star”. Elless came to Vicksburg in January to spend an hour with cast members to describe what it’s like in the business of theater. She described the challenges of performing in eight shows a week and what it is like to get cast in a play when you come from Kalamazoo, Michigan. “The kids said it was very impactful, and they are working even harder on their parts,” Sparks said.

“Little Shop of Horrors” has some challenges for the actors. Even the diction must be perfect with the cast of 40 and stage crew of 10. The plot is a sci-fi, campy story that Sparks has wanted to produce for many years. “I saw this was a play the kids would love to perform.”

There are four main characters. Sophomore Alex Smith is Seymour, the tragic hero. Senior Caleb Dziepak is Mushnik, who owns the flower shop that is the focus of the play. Sophomore Emily Towns is an especially lively Audrey who has a big voice and is pursued by Orin Scrivello, a sadistic dentist played by senior Seamus Hyman. Nathanial Chiu as Audrey II has a lead singing part but is never seen on the stage. He sings from the orchestra pit as the flowering plant grows larger through the musical.

There are six doo-wop girls who play street urchins who sing along with a Motown feel. “You can’t help but love the music,” Sparks said. “Even though the play is something of a Greek tragedy, it is a comedy that will keep the audience enthralled.”

The stage manager is Andrew Phelps, a junior, who Sparks claims is the best she has ever had in her ten years of directing plays in Vicksburg. “He’s knows how to be a leader and take the initiative good at it without being a dictator, very organized while also devoting a good deal of his time to singing in the Rotary Club Showboat and having a big speaking part in that production.”

The actors are collecting items during performances for the Kalamazoo YWCA domestic assault shelter supporting the women, like Audrey, who have been victims of domestic abuse.  Audience members are encouraged to bring any of the items listed at site and the in-kind needs list including but not limited to: kitchen items, feminine hygiene products, women’s and children new underwear, and baby supplies.

“Little Shop of Horrors” opens at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on March 11, 12, and 19. A Sunday matinee is set for 2 p.m. on March 20. Tickets are available at or by calling 269-321-1193.

Tim Fuller Heads up Performing Arts Center

Tim FullerBy Sue Moore

“Tim Fuller designs, builds and paints all the sets, manages the sound and lights and coordinates all the musical groups, even the Gilmore keyboard artists. He makes sure the grand piano is in tune and promotes community events that use the Performing Arts Center (PAC).

“You should write a story about him as I think his role is unique and interesting,” said Susan Miller, the publicity chairperson for the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center.

“He is always working behind the scenes and really doesn’t get much recognition. I know his budget is small and he has to get donors and advertisers for the programs. I think he could use some publicity for the PAC because it is such a big part of our community. My two cents for what it’s worth,” Miller wrote from Pfizer Corp., where she works.

The Vicksburg School Board agreed with that assessment when he gave his annual report on the progress being made at the PAC over the last year. They gave approval for replacing one third of the stage lighting system that’s used the most and the dimming system that is 20-plus years old. “There are 250 electrical outlets that suffer wear and tear of plugging and unplugging for each event. We want to upgrade our headset communication too. It’s a challenge to keep it all running like new. Our programs are growing. The community and school groups use it constantly. We are lucky to have this facility,” he told the board.

“For instance the Gilmore Family concerts which we are honored to present, are perfect for all ages. They are good for adults and little ones alike. It’s really great music. With the Gilmore Young Artist series, you can see rising stars in the piano world, right here on our stage. It is amazing to see that kind of talent, at such a young age,” Fuller exclaimed.

Skip Knowles, school board president, acknowledged the role the facility plays in education by thanking Fuller for the number of kids in the arts that he oversees. “It’s one giant classroom for the arts in our community.”

Speakeasy Fundraiser Features Flapper Era Costumes

By Linda Lane

“I love this town! I’d do anything to help out, I’d just do anything for Vicksburg!” Linda Brenton exclaimed while a live jazz quintet cranked out beautiful music. Festooned in gorgeous “flapper” gowns of the 1920s and matching headbands, a table of six women, including Brenton, smiled while celebrating at Vicksburg Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) “Speakeasy” Fundraiser last month.

Vicksburg High School’s band director, Ben Rosier, created the festive atmosphere playing live jazz with four students from the Top Dawg Jazz Band: Hannah Tatay, Christian Glascock, Nik Zazula, and Clayton DeVries. Several area dance instructors were on-hand demonstrating dances from the 1920s era.

Bill and Carol Adams, and Michelle Morgan cashed in nicely at the blackjack table; Matt and Keesha Shankle and Keith and Connie Olsen were sweeping the craps table. The gambling chips were converted into paper dollars and names were drawn for an iPad mini, a basket of gift certificates for local stores and restaurants, a golf pass for four at Angels Crossing and a Speakeasy recipe book with a bottle of liquor.

While the event didn’t draw the several hundred attendees the organizers had hoped for, those who came out for the evening donated to help build some of the DDA’s projects. These include further trail development, Liberty Lane East renovation, Clark Park promenade, parking lots rebuilding, and streetscape plans for downtown. The final tally for the Fundraiser wasn’t yet available, according to Donna Cratsenburg-Scott, as donations will continue to be raised through the Vicksburg Village’s website. People can still donate to help fund the DDA’s projects by visiting the site:

“I bought a new dress for the event! I’ve just gotta remember not to bend over in it, as I fear it is a bit too short!” exclaimed Kristina Powers Aubrey, co-chair of the overall Vision Campaign.

Paws for Penny Fundraiser Supports VHS Alum

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Penny Toornman Major with her twin sister Laurie Toornman Hare.

By Sue Moore

“For generations in Vicksburg the paw print has been a symbol of our Bulldog pride and loyalty. When one of our own is in a battle for her life, the paw print is here to help,” said Karla Piper, a 1987 Vicksburg High graduate.

Sterling silver paw print necklaces and earrings are being sold to raise money in support of Vicksburg’s own Penny Toornman Major, who is dealing with the devastating effects of brain tumors. All profits will go to Penny.

Always a fighter — some may remember her boxing skills in gym class — Penny has been battling tumors for years. Now she’s dealing with loss of vision, lack of coordination and radiation treatment after multiple surgeries. She keeps a positive attitude through it all. But the bills are piling up.

Paws for Penny is being driven by Piper, Penny’s longtime friend and classmate, at Siesta Silver Jewelry. Karla said, “I’ve known Penny since kindergarten. When I saw the Go Fund Me page her twin sister, Laurie, set up, I knew I had to do something to help.” Karla was already considering using the paw print jewelry as a fundraising tool for VHS programs. The idea of using the paw prints to raise money for Penny was a natural.

The goal is to raise $5,000 for Penny to put toward her considerable expenses. Karla figures this will take about 315 necklaces and 40 pairs of earrings. Since she started marketing the paw print jewelry on her website, Karla has received Paws for Penny orders from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin.

Besides the website, the paw print necklaces and hook earrings are available locally at the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, Tanya’s Girl Garage, The Pet Emporium, and Don’s Card Hut. Necklaces are $27. Hook earrings are $37. Online free shipping code is PAWS4PENNY.

Penny, Laurie, and Karla were members of that VHS Class of 1987. Penny’s daughter, Montana, now at WMU, was a 2015 VHS graduate.

“Our VHS Class of 1987 was special,” Karla said. “We always looked out for each other and always will. While most people dread their class reunions, our group is already fired up for the next one. We all know what a goodhearted person Penny is. Her illness touches us all. It’s just one more reason for us to stick together.”

Battle of the Books Winners

book catchersAnd the winning team in the Battle of the Books was the Book Catchers from Sunset Lake Elementary in Vicksburg. Molly Young, Cassie Chang, Morgan Zagar, Tyler Fenwick, Clara Centofanti, Aiden Flinton. Their coaches were Tamara Young, Alicia Zagar and Laura Chang.

There were 35 teams of 223 students from Schoolcraft, Vicksburg and Parchment schools competing for the top prize. “It is a day filled with energy, excitement and knowledge and it’s all about books,” says Faye VanRavenswaay, Schoolcraft director, which is the sponsoring entity. “The students have read a list of 12 pre-selected books. They come to ‘Battle Day’ to answer questions and accrue points. They are coached by parents, grandparents, teachers and even former ‘battlers’.”