Monthly Archives: March 2016

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’.”

New Family & Children Services Facility will Offer Easier Access for South County Families

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Lynn and Charles Zhang.

By Kaye Bennett

A new Portage facility for Family & Children Services (F&CS) will make it easier for South County families to get help for children, teens and adults dealing with trauma, anxiety and abuse.

Located at 1302 W. Milham Ave. in Portage, the building was made possible by a gift from Charles and Lynn Zhang in 2015. The agency’s main offices are located on Lake Street in Kalamazoo.

Counseling services will be offered at the Portage location, says Diane Marquess, director of Behavioral Health Services at F&CS. A special interest will be working with schools and businesses in the Portage, Mattawan, Gull Lake, Vicksburg and Schoolcraft communities to identify adults, children and teens who need counseling support. Marquess says that the agency plans to reach out to the community to help better identify needs in these areas. Therapy and support will be available for anyone who has experienced trauma or anxiety. Couples counseling is also available.

Melissa Wilson, a school psychologist at Sunset Lake and Indian Lake elementary schools in Vicksburg, says that school counselors in the district have always had a good relationship with F&CS and often make referrals to that organization when students need counseling or therapy. “Many families we serve have transportation issues,” she says, “so a facility located closer to South County will help remove one of the barriers to meeting their needs.”

It’s all about families, says Lynn Zhang, explaining the decision she and her husband Charles made in early 2015 to donate the original headquarters of Zhang Financial to the agency.

After the Zhangs’ wealth management business had grown to the point where the 3,000-square-foot building they had designed and built in 2000 no longer met their needs, they moved to a new headquarters, three times as big, located just a few blocks away on the corner of Milham and Oakland Drive. But they pondered what to do with the old building. It was so dear to them that, according to Lynn Zhang, it felt like a member of the family.

“People approached us about buying it,” says her husband. “But it was hard to put a price tag on something that was so sentimental to us.” Then, speaking with friends on the board of F&CS, Lynn says she and her husband sensed a good match. The agency, the Zhangs learned, has been improving life for people struggling with poverty, violence, abuse, and mental and emotional challenges since 1903. Its 200 full-time staff members provide services in the areas of child welfare (including foster care and adoption), behavioral health (including mobile crisis response), and youth development to approximately 9,000 people a year, primarily in Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. In addition, the Zhangs had friends whose children had been adopted through the agency, so they could see for themselves the long-term value F&CS has for families.

Rosemary Gardiner, F&CS’s chief executive officer, says she was thrilled when the Zhangs approached her to explore the idea. “We had been hoping to offer services in a location that would be more easily accessible to Portage and the South County communities, but we would never have been able to afford a building without a capital campaign.”

F&CS at the same time was conducting a $5.1 million campaign to expand its Lake Street campus to include a family visitation and learning center, a respite youth activity center, and an enhanced counseling center. A second capital campaign, she says, would have been far in the future. The Zhangs’ gift, however, made it possible for the agency to quickly realize its expansion goal.

Charles and Lynn Zhang have a long history of philanthropy, including major gifts to Western Michigan University, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Columbia University and a variety of local recipients, including the Stuhlberg Competition, Portage Northern and Portage Central High Schools, the Kalamazoo Male Chorus, Miller Auditorium, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony and Ministry with Community. But the gift of the Zhangs’ original business home to an agency that they care about and whose work they respect so highly is, says Gardiner, “the ultimate gift.”

Melissa Wilson adds, “What a great opportunity for communities in southern Kalamazoo County! On behalf of our community, we thank the Zhang family and Family & Children Services for their ongoing commitment to our community of families.”

Kidney Dialysis Center Opening on 131 in Schoolcraft

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Staff of the new Fresenius Medical Care Center on US-131.

By Linda Lane

People across southwest Michigan experiencing kidney failure – 600-800 patients in the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek area alone – will have an in-home training option located in Schoolcraft. Kidney patients will be heading to the new Fresenius Medical Care Center about to open on US-131 south of U Avenue.

A grand opening of the facility is schedule for March 9, from 4-7 p.m.

Patients will receive individualized training from medical professionals as an alternative to getting kidney dialysis three times a week at a dialysis center. The in-home option, hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis, will be reviewed and patients trained.

Hemodialysis uses a machine as an “artificial kidney” to pump blood through a filter which removes water and waste as a healthy working kidney does for the body. One treatment at a dialysis clinic typically takes 3-4 hours, 3 times week, whether at a dialysis clinic or at home.

Peritoneal dialysis uses the patient’s peritoneal membrane located in the abdomen, as the filter for blood. A fluid dialysate is injected into the abdomen where it draws out water; later the dialysate is drained. This treatment, called an “exchange,” can be done daily or nightly with two primary methods: the continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD), performed manually by the patient, or continuous cycling peritoneal dialysis (CCPD) which utilizes a cycler to provide the exchange with a small, portable machine. The CAPD is “continuous” occurring within the abdomen as the dialysate filters the water and waste. The CCPD with the cycler occurs at night while the patient sleeps.

“We can offer patients a more natural system that imitates their kidneys, allows them to feel better daily, and live with greater quality of life,” said Amanda Dionne, home therapies program manager at Fresenius. The new center houses four private patient in-home training rooms, a lab, doctors, social workers and nursing offices. A staff of 10-15 medical professionals will work at the new location.

Vicksburg Library Hosts Well Known Writer

9780595456215_COVER.inddOn Thursday, March 31, from 6 to 8 p.m., John Kozak will be at the Vicksburg District Library to talk about his book, his mother and the riveting events he and his family faced in the fall of 1949.

In October of that year, facing persecution, fabricated criminal charges, and a struggle to feed her family, Rose Kozak gathered her two young children for the dangerous escape from Communist Czechoslovakia. Only seven years old at the time, John Kozak would never forget that frightening journey, or the courage and love that sustained his mother, Rose, as she led him and his older sister to freedom. Those memories formed the basis of his book “Through the Eyes of Rose: A Mother’s Flight to Freedom in a Memory Mosaic”, the gripping true story of the family’s escape through the Bohemian Forest and a tribute to his mother.

Kozak will read from his book, hold a question and answer session, and sign copies of “Through the Eyes of Rose”. Vicksburg Library staff are thrilled to welcome Kozak, whom Betsy Myers of the Traverse Area District Library describes as “a terrific speaker…. To hear him speak about their life escaping Communism in Czechoslovakia is chilling, entertaining, and an event that should not be missed.”

After escaping Czechoslovakia, the Kozak family went to West Germany, Switzerland, and finally Michigan, Rose’s original home. Kozak, who earned his B.A. from the Detroit Institute of Technology, is now the president of J. Kozak Sales Inc., based in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. He has told his story to appreciative audiences throughout the state and beyond. Those interested in attending this exciting event can register by calling the Vicksburg District Library at (269) 649-1648 or via email at

GreenStone Dedicates New Building in Schoolcraft

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GreenStone Farm Credit Services celebrated its new Schoolcraft office with a ribbon cutting and open house on February 9. Pictured left to right: Tim McTigue, vice president of sales and customer relations; Paul Anderson, vice president of credit; Edward Reed, board vice chairman; Keith Gunnett, Schoolcraft village president; Dave Armstrong, GreenStone President & CEO; Sara Trattles, financial services officer; Sindi Kozminske, customer service representative.

By Sue Moore

GreenStone Farm Credit Services recently dedicated a new building in Schoolcraft. Those outside the agriculture industry may be unfamiliar with the company and the services it provides, according to Dennis Nykamp, vice president for commercial lending.

Nykamp has been with Greenstone for 40 years, primarily serving the farm community in southwest Michigan. There are 14 employees in the Schoolcraft branch, 150 at the headquarters in East Lansing and 500 employees in all 36 offices stretching to Escanaba in Michigan and into Wisconsin.

“We support rural communities and agricultural producers with financial products and services,” says Dave Armstrong, president and CEO of GreenStone. “It’s our niche and we try to be the best. As a lending institution, GreenStone provides the capital necessary for farmers to own their own land and manage their business, and we provide long-term investments in rural communities. With 36 branches across our territory, managed loan growth was at 7.4 percent in 2015, with $7.8 billion in total assets,” Armstrong said.

“Like anything in life, lending is about relationships. We know about agriculture and what is involved. We make personal visits on the farm to talk with the farmers about their unique needs for capital, seed, fertilizer and chemicals, including revolving lines of credit. In addition, we also finance rural living – recreational land, home sites, construction mortgages, country homes and hobby farms.”

“The state of the art technology in this new building will help us track business trends and become even more efficient. The footprint in this new facility is similar to others we have built in the last few years, so pieces of it are all interchangeable,” Armstrong said.

Nykamp has seen many changes in this neck of the woods through his work with the bedding plant industry, greenhouse growers and blueberries, his specialty. “I’m a farm boy, as are most of our lenders. There is something about the work ethic that we share with farmers that they understand when we call on them.”

Having experience in the Schoolcraft office for most of his 40 years, he has seen the many cycles of farming. “The 80s were a tough time,” he said.

In 1986, a merger occurred when the Production Credit Association, which had been the name of the office in Schoolcraft, merged with the Federal Land Bank, which was created as an act of Congress in 1916. Congress realized how difficult it was to get money for farming and saw that there needed a better way to distribute through local land banks. Each township had one, but they were not government agencies. Then in 2000, the four associations in Lower Michigan merged to create GreenStone, as it is known today.

“This year we’re celebrating 100 years in lending and the eleventh year of our patronage program. As a borrower-owned cooperative, we offer a unique program that allows us to return a portion of net profits to eligible members each year. This March we’re pleased to return more than $35 million, bringing our 11-year total to $235 million. We exist in service to our members and the agricultural community. It’s because of our hardworking members that we can offer patronage, and while markets change, we look forward to the next 100 years, committed to our customers and to ensuring that patronage is a benefit of membership,” Nykamp said.