Chalk art by artist David Zinn will be a feature of the scavenger hunt, sponsored by the Vision Campaign. As for permanence, these drawings will not be Zinn’s usual chalk art, but rather small-scale painted images that will resist rain and be only gradually affected by sunshine and foot traffic.
By Sue Moore
The Vicksburg Vision campaign has been in full gear for the last few months. To get more recognition and participation, the organizing committee is putting on a series of fundraisers that are fun, have high visibility and offer a challenge to the participants.
A scavenger hunt has been set for Saturday, April 16 with a featured guest, David Zinn from Ann Arbor, drawing permanent art installations at several secret locations. It is for the participants to find his artwork and hustle around the village to win the prize for the fastest completion of the scavenger hunt.
Of course it is all in fun, with the hopes that individuals and families will compete for the prizes while making a contribution to the Vision campaign. Each donation has an incentive as the Vicksburg Foundation has set aside $170,000 for matching whatever is raised by the community. The funds will go toward construction of the proposed walking and biking trail that will extend from the current 1.6 miles that runs parallel to Sprinkle Road. Bringing the trail into the heart of the village has been Kathleen Hoyle’s focus since she came on board as executive director of the Downtown Development Authority.
The scavenger hunt has been planned by Donna Cratsenburg-Scott, a volunteer who loves to put her many talents toward helping her adopted community. It will begin and end at the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, VCAC, 200 S. Main, with registration beginning at 9 a.m. and the starting gun going off at exactly 10 a.m. There are seven easily walkable and family friendly locations within the village on the hunt. There will be hints given out for each with an easily recognizable piece of art work by celebrated chalk artist David Zinn at the destination. His work is whimsical and so much fun, said Cratsenburg-Scott, that anyone in the community can enjoy it.
Music will be playing at the Art Center. A bake sale is also planned to keep up energy during the scavenger hunt, she said with a chuckle. All who compete will be entered for additional prize drawings. The event will go on rain or shine, as April weather can be finicky at times.
A suggested donation of $3 to $5 per person to participate in the hunt is all that’s needed to enter and win. Tickets can be pre-purchased at the VCAC or by contacting Cratsenburg-Scott by phone at 269-903-6514 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who loves history more than the members of the Vicksburg Historical Society? The board of this passionate group of people is hoping that a lot of other members of the community also have an interest in their forebears. An immediate goal is to enlarge the displays and offerings housed in the eight buildings on the grounds of the Historic Village. To do this, more volunteer docents are needed, according to Ted Vliek, president of the board.
“We want to make history come alive for school kids and people in our community,” Vliek said. “To do that, we know we need to open wide the doors of the buildings and invite people in on a regular basis. Our new hours of operation when we open in May will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The collection of artifacts has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Now we want to share them with tourist groups, school students and the community at large.”
There is a catch in these plans, Vliek said. “We need people to help interpret the history contained within these walls.” Two training sessions have been scheduled for volunteers in April to prepare them to describe exhibits to visitors. The first one is scheduled for Wednesday, April 20 from 6-8 p.m. The second one will be held on Sunday, April 24 from noon-2 p.m. at the Depot Museum, including a walk around the Historic Village’s buildings, housing its displays.
“People are needed to recreate a working village in period dress, including a farmer, teacher, blacksmith, conductor, print shop operator, ticket master, store clerks, and even a mayor of the village,” Vliek said. “Many loyal volunteers have worked in the Depot Museum over the years. It is hoped they will attend the training and continue to offer their time to help the village come alive.”
Volunteers can choose to work as little as two hours at a time or half a day if they wish to, said Kathleen Hoyle, who is organizing this educational effort. It’s her belief that the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will benefit by bringing tour buses in to spend some time walking through the Historic Village and then inspecting Vicksburg’s downtown as part of a day’s outing. The website of the DDA has several tours listed and she will be actively selling this idea as part of the effort to build the trail, improve the facades of the businesses and upgrade the parking lots.
Dance Across the Decades is in its third year now as a fundraiser for the South County Community Services (SCCS). It’s a fun time to hear new and old music and dance steps that do in fact cross all the genres from the 20s to the 21st century, says Danna Downing, SCCS executive director.
“We needed to find a source of new funding for the agency,” Downing said. “Promoting a fun way to raise important dollars for the services offered, seemed like a win, win, for everyone.” The event will be held at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Vicksburg, on Saturday, April 23 from 7 to 10 p.m. The music will be by DJ Jimmy Lawless of Debiak Entertainment. There will be heavy hors d’oeuvres, complimentary beverages and a cash bar.
A silent auction has become an important part of the event, even though it’s not closely connected to dancing she noted. That’s because so many interesting and valuable items have been donated to the auction. They are listed in the next story on this page.
The cost of the dance is $65 per couple or $35 for individuals before April 15. Reservations can be made by calling SCCS at 649-2901. Tickets at the door are $75 per couple and $40 for individuals. The important thing is that 75 percent of all proceeds go to support the agency’s programs.
One of the most alluring things about Dance Across the Decades (aka DAD) is the silent auction to be held on Saturday, April 23 from 7 to 10 p.m. Last year the auction netted over $2,000 toward support of South County Community Services (SCCS) programming. And there was an extra cachet in the amazing stories that emanated from the effort. That is why the auction portion of the fundraiser is now called the Amazing Auction, according to Danna Downing, SCCS executive director.
The event planners want to share just a few stories that illustrate what can happen when folks who donate auction items to support SCCS hook up with inspired shoppers who also support the agency.
STORY #1: The Gibson Bowl
At the 2015 DAD Auction, a hot item was a bowl crafted from scrap wood secured from the Gibson Guitar Company. It was crafted and donated by Lloyd Appell. After promoting it on the Lori Moore Show, a former Gibson employee and Kalamazoo gal, Irene Stearns, contacted him and arranged to meet him at the dance so she could bid on the bowl. She desperately wanted to buy that bowl to give to her dear friend John Thomas, who recently authored the book Kalamazoo Gals, which honored the women who made guitars during World War II. Thomas had recently spoken at the Schoolcraft Community Library and his books were on sale locally. That led to adding a copy of Kalamazoo Gals to the auction package, along with background information provided by Appell. Lloyd and Irene got to chatting at the dance and as a result Lloyd was invited to meet the author at an informal gathering hosted at Irene’s home. It was a memorable day for all who attended to hear John playing his own Gibson guitar before being royally surprised and delighted with the presentation of the Gibson bowl.
STORY #2: The $400 Bottle of Wine
Kristina Powers Aubry, a well-known wine lover, suggested to her friends Margaret and Karl Kerchief they might like to donate a bottle of fine wine they didn’t quite know what to do with. They received the wine from their daughter, who received it from a couple (one of whom is a cardiologist) who wanted to show their appreciation for her fine work as their au pair. A special license was required to include alcohol in the auction and there were some doubts about who would bid on such an expensive item. All doubts were amazingly dispelled when Mark and Sheri Louis began bidding on the item. It turns out Mark is a wine maker and his son-in-law, Drew, is a wine collector. The Chateau Margeaux Grand was a rare find for the collector and was bottled in 1982, the year Drew’s wife and Mark and Sheri’s daughter, Shelly, was born. To top it off, Shelly was scheduled for cardiac surgery in the month following the dance. As Sheri expressed it: “That wine needed to be in their lives.” So they got serious about the bidding for the “perfect” thing for Shelly and Drew. That made for a perfect ending for all concerned. Shelly is doing well. Both givers and recipients were happy with the gift. The money to good use helping South County families.
STORY #3: Gold Star Baby Quilt
The Gold Star Baby Quilt was donated by Jonatha Johnson who lives in Vicksburg. She is a key player in the development of Vicksburg’s community gardens. When asked why she donated the baby quilt, she replied, “Because it is my way of giving.”
Jonatha learned to make patchwork as a child from her mother and aunts. It gets its name from the stars built into the sashing that connects the blue 9-patch blocks. Gold and blue are a classic combination and for many reflect the team colors of the University of Michigan. Jonatha believes that, “Every child born should be welcomed into this world, and handmade items carry something of the goodwill of the creator, as well as the love and care of the giver,” she said. To Jonatha, a patchwork quilt is a statement of economy and frugality, where even small scraps are made useful, reflecting the jingle popularized during the Great Depression, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
“At the heart of the art of patchwork quilting are the core values of a people, and that is my gift to SCCS,” she emphasizes. She trusted that the coverlet would serve a dual purpose, as a fundraising item at the SCCS auction and a snuggly blanket for someone’s baby. David and Jackie Sirotti must have agreed with Jonatha’s assessment because they bid on the beautiful “blankie” to help them welcome a new arrival in their dear nephew’s family. As volunteers at SCCS, Jackie and Dave also agree that it was a generous and lovely addition to last year’s auction.
Sneak Preview for 2016 Auction:
Italian Dinner for 10, Pandora Bracelet, Handmade Quilt created by Jennifer Appell (Burleson, Tex.) entitled Cactus Wreath Quilt (6’ x 6’). Hand-crafted recipe boxes, coasters and items from the Kindling Maker-aka Larry Forsyth.
A very popular Smoked Dinner for six from David Aubry, floral painting by Vicki Bell, a quart of Charlie Kendall’s home-made maple syrup, an autographed limited-edition Children’s Literary Collection, gift baskets, gift certificates, garden specials, and much more.
If so, there is a class that can help anyone learn the tenets of staying on your feet without falling. It is called Matter of Balance and is offered under the auspices of the South County Community Services (SCCS) in Vicksburg.
The class is meant for individuals or someone they care about, who has concerns about falling. Do these concerns keep people from enjoying life to the fullest? Are people physically active enough to keep their mind and body in shape? If so, Matter of Balance is an award-winning, evidence-based program that will help anyone manage concerns about falls, and help them improve balance and strength, says Danna Downing, executive director of SCCS.
Matter of Balance is led by two trained community volunteers passionate about helping people age well and enjoy life. With the help of instructors Aileen Greanya and Lynn Pruit-Timko, you will learn to view falls as controllable and make changes to reduce fall risks at home and out in the community. You will learn easy-to-do exercises to improve strength and balance. Class members will set goals for increasing activity. And, they will be a part of a group that will inspire and support anyone while improving their quality of life.
The instructors give tips on keeping one’s house safe from falls. This includes bannisters, throw rugs that can trip a person, and exercises for better balance. The classes have been popular and well attended in the past. “We learn from each other and have fun in the process,” says Greanya.
Matter of Balance is part of the Healthy Living Series provided by the Area Agency on Aging IIIA. Although donations are greatly appreciated there is no charge for the class. Classes are held twice a week for four weeks. The next session of Matter of Balance is scheduled Tuesdays and Fridays from May 3 – May 27. It will be held at the Vicksburg United Methodist Church. Call South County Community Services at 269-649-2901 to register. Pre-registration is necessary to assure adequate class materials and refreshments.
A prize of $1,000 was presented to the Vicksburg schools by Mike Larson, executive director of United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and Cindy Cole, Vicksburg resident and former United Way board chair, at the February school board meeting.
The United Way Community Challenge responsible for the $1,000 bonus check came from a contest between Vicksburg and Gull Lake competition to see who could increase their giving the most in 2015. The $1,000 was to come from restricted funds not included in the actual campaign, according to Larson, who championed the competitive challenge.
Each local United Way board agreed to participate, based upon its ability to increase donations. The criteria was based on percentage of new businesses contributing, increase of new individual donors, and increase in dollars raised year-over-year. “The best part of the challenge was the increased participation we had from members of the Vicksburg Community Schools staff through the efforts of Tonya Nash and many others,” Laura Howard told the board. She was chairperson of the local effort.
The school personnel had a huge increase in donations, as did the entire community, Howard said. “That’s why we were able to secure the extra $1,000 for equipment to start the Project Lead the Way/Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) offering at Indian Lake Elementary School, led by art teacher Jake Biernacki.”
This is a pilot program at Indian Lake. Biernacki took special training in STEAM over the summer to be able to lead this innovative program for students in his art classroom. As part of STEAM, the third graders are testing gliders by studying wings, the fourth grade is completing an egg drop experiment, and the fifth grade is learning more about robotics and automation, he told the board.
“The schools are our greatest partner,” Larson said. “This United Way investment in education is a pivotal part of United Way’s strategic plan in the greater Kalamazoo and Battle Creek communities.”
The new Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAV) is launching a blockbuster list of activities for April as a way to get the community interested in what the VCAC has to offer, said Syd Bastos, VCAC Manager.
She has completely retooled the offerings along with help from Leigh Fryling, events coordinator and Lisa Beams, artist coordinator. The arts world has flourished in the Vicksburg area for many years, but only recently has it had a place to showcase the work of some really competent artists, Bastos explained.
With a lot of volunteer effort and some grants to pay small salary stipends, the staff has transformed the building at 200 S. Main Street in Vicksburg from what had been a storage area for Rawlinson’s Appliances to a cozy gallery and performance venue. Thirteen local artists currently display their work at the gallery.
In addition to the gallery, the VCAC plans seven to ten public events each month, ranging from musical presentations, guest artist exhibits, and special activities, she pointed out. The signature event for April is The Art of Elegance, a Victorian Tea on Saturday, April 16. It will have a presentation on fine handcrafts from the Victorian Era by local business owner, Tanya DeLong. Classically trained violinist Julio Sepulveda and pianist Nancy Mansberger will be performing live during the tea. The cost is $15 at the door. Reservations are strongly recommended by calling Bastos at 269-501-1347.
Another featured event happens on Saturday, April 30. Mac Hultmark, composer and pianist will perform from 7 to 9 p.m. He plays classical and contemporary pieces. He studied at Western Michigan University and has performed at Bridgewater Place in Grand Rapids and locally at the Epic Center and Henderson Castle in Kalamazoo.
The Center is also planning some recurring events each month. One in particular that is catching on is Board Game Night for all ages. Families are encouraged to check their phones and tablets at the door and pick out one of the games on hand, or bring a favorite from home. This event will be held every 2nd Thursday from 4-7 p.m. This month, that’s April 14.
If you want to show your work at the gallery, rent the gallery for a private event or be considered for a performance event, you can email the them at email@example.com or call Bastos. You can also follow the VCAC on Facebook at facebook.com/vicksburgculturalartscenter.
Following is a roster of scheduled events for April and early May:
4/1 – Fri. April Fools Silly Song Sing Along at the VCAC, 4- 5:30 p.m., free.
4/7 – Thurs. DIY Papered Pots Party at the VCAC, 4-6 pm, $10 donation at the door to cover supplies.
4/14 – Thurs. Board Game Night at the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center. Games available or bring your own. All ages welcome! 4 – 7 p.m., free.
4/16 – Sat. Victorian Tea at the VCAC 2 -5 p.m. Presentation by Tanya Delong, music by violinist Julio Sepulveda and pianist Nancy Mansberger, $15 at door, reservations important.
4/22 – Fri. New Artist Reception at the VCAC 6-8 p.m. Meet the Gallery’s newest artists, Nancy Smith, Pam Davidson and Aerick Burton, free.
4/23 – Sat. Spring Clean Clothing and Prom Dress Swap, DIY Fashion Upcycle and Bleach Printing at the VCAC 2-6 p.m., free. No prom dress to swap? Limited supply of prom dresses available for donations.
4/27 – Wed. Mighty Pen Open Mic at the VCAC. Read your poetry, monologue or excerpt 6:30-8:30 p.m., free.
4/30 – Sat. Live Music at the VCAC, Mac Hultmark, composer and pianist, performs 7-9 p.m., free.
5/5 – Thurs. Gallery Gals Night at the VCAC 6-9 p.m. Jewelry making, Jamberry nails, makeup demonstrations, chair massage, essential oils in creams and soaps and more! $10 donation at the door.
He’s been totally blind since he was six, but Michael Branch of Vicksburg considers himself a lucky man. Sighted in his earliest years, Branch says he learned what colors looked like. He treasures his memories of the colors of flowers and birds. “I remember rainbows,” he says.
Branch is a massage therapist who works at the Kalamazoo and Portage branches of the YMCA, but his story goes back to the Battle Creek area, where he was born 63 years ago. His family lived on a 31-acre farm south of Bellevue and raised sheep. And to this day, Branch, who has lived across the street from the Vicksburg Post Office for more than 35 years, longs for a house in the country.
He was born with cataracts, which started robbing him of his vision when he was four years old. He adjusted so well to his gradually decreasing sight that his parents didn’t realize his condition until all he could see was light. By age six, he was totally blind.
Branch attended Battle Creek schools, graduating from Battle Creek Central High School in 1972. He started receiving mobility training – how to negotiate his way on city streets, how to recognize coins by the sound they make, how to find his way around school buildings and such, when he was in second grade. Much of that training was provided by Western Michigan University students who were studying blind mobility and who came to Battle Creek to work with Branch and other visually challenged children.
After graduating from high school and spending a year at Detroit Bible College, Branch went to the Lansing School for the Blind to learn massage therapy. He says he chose the profession because, “I wanted some kind of work that would serve people.” He spent a summer reading the Braille textbook, practicing massage techniques on other students, passing a test with more than a hundred questions and proving that he could assemble a model of a human torso. After graduation, he became a Certified Massage Therapist.
He came to Kalamazoo, where he worked as a therapist first at the Hilton Hotel (now the Radisson), then at the YMCA, where he has been since 1987. He is self-employed and works four days a week at Maple Street and Wednesday mornings in Portage.
In the late seventies, Branch began attending Grace Bible Church (where Bethel Apostolic Church is now) in Vicksburg. A friend had urged him to come there because, Branch remembers, “he said that the pastor had two daughters and they were both pretty.”
One of those daughters was Freda Dubbeld and Branch says that when they met, “We clicked right away.” The two were married in April 1978. They have two children, Bethany, 36, and Sarah, 32. Sarah and her husband Neil Hartmann have two sons, Nathan, 7, and Ben, 3. The Hartmann family also live in Vicksburg, and Sarah helps provide care for Bethany, who is developmentally disabled.
Branch has been active in the Vicksburg Lions Club for more than 20 years. He says he enjoys collecting money at the club’s annual White Cane week and the Salvation Army kettle drive each Christmas. “I enjoy knowing I’m helping kids,” he says.
He bowls each week in a league for blind bowlers. When he was younger, he also played beeper ball, a variation of softball, where the pitcher, umpire and spotters in the field are the only sighted players. Branch’s sports experiences started in elementary school, where coaches found ways to modify both football and basketball games so he could play on the teams. By playing on the defensive line, across from the center, and putting his hands on the ground, he could feel when the football had been hiked. On the basketball court, the coach installed a doorbell on the bottom of the backboard and, if Branch had a play to make, they rang the bell. They also put bells on the belt of a player Branch was guarding, so he could tell where his man was, Branch remembers.
Though he still longs for country living, Branch says that Vicksburg is “the next best thing.” It’s an easy walk to Dollar General, Rawlinson’s Appliances or Family Fare for most things the family needs. They recently bought a new lawn mower at Vicksburg Hardware, says Branch, but his wife would only let him cut the grass in the house’s backyard, fearing he might not do a front-yard-worthy job. Branch acknowledges that Freda was right. “I couldn’t mow straight lines,” he laughs.
Branch gets to work and to his church in Scotts on a Kalamazoo County Connect bus, which picks him up at his door and delivers him to his destination. He says that the service these days is much more reliable than the Care-A-Van services, which it replaced.
The only thing that Branch feels would make his life – and that of other visually-impaired people in Vicksburg – easier would be stop lights that make an audible click or other sound when they change. Branch says that he listens to traffic a third of a block away and knows how many seconds it is between lights. But with audible prompts, such as those in Kalamazoo traffic signals, “you can be more sure.”
A special plus in Branch’s neighborhood is a friend who is also blind. David Adams (“Doc”) is a chiropractor who lost his vision in a hunting accident when he was 20. Though Adams and Branch live on the same block, it was several years before the two met. Now they enjoy a weekly cribbage game with sighted friends. They have to play in Adams’s office, says Branch, because they make too much noise in the house.
With family, good friends, a job he likes, his church and his community activities – not to mention the memory of rainbows – Michael Branch says he has a very good life.
Church members get started on the CROP Walk in 2015.
Brad Addis is organizing his 7th CROP Walk.
Over the last decade, South County Community Services (SCCS) has received a whisper less than $50,000 from the annual CROP Walk, an event aimed at ending hunger, one step at a time.
This year’s event will take place April 24. It has been hosted for the last five years at the Vicksburg United Methodist Church. The location of the church and the warm hospitality are greatly appreciated by participants.
The heart and soul of the walk’s success during this period of time is embodied in Brad Addis with the support of his wife, Barb. His leadership will end in 2016. He wants this to be the best event ever.
The course is a pleasant three-mile walk through the Village of Vicksburg and there are shorter options for anyone who wants to participate but is not up to a walk. Everyone who participates receives a T-shirt. Pledging materials and additional information are available at cropwalkonline.org/vicksburgmi or from church members or at SCCS.
The walks bring neighbors and friends together to take a stand against hunger. Walkers raise awareness and funds to help feed people across the world and around the corner. In the South County area, SCCS receives 25 percent of what is raised. The money is used to supplement the basic foods provided by Loaves and Fishes for the SCCS Pantry and helps assure that families leave with well balanced, nutritional meals to feed every family member for at least four days.
In 2015 SCCS provided 10,924 days of food to South County families. This does not include its partnership with Schoolcraft volunteers who delivered monthly to 58 families in 2015. In the six-township area that SCCS serves, 33 percent of the households either live in poverty or have difficulty meeting basic needs such as food, utilities, transportation and healthcare expenses on a dependable basis.
“There are not enough positive words to describe how much the board, staff, volunteers and shoppers appreciate the support that comes from the CROP Walk,” said Danna Downing, SCCS director. She added that most people using the pantry never expected to be in a position to need help with food. They know first-hand that when money is tight and times are tough, the food budget is the first place they can reduce expenses. And, that’s why they appreciate help from the SCCS Pantry.
The walks were started through Church World Service, founded in 1946. CROP is an acronym for Christian Rural Overseas Program, originally intended to help farmers to share their grain with the hungry in postwar Europe and Asia. The acronym is still used, but rarely spelled out.
Rudy Callen, a guy with so many diverse interests, is embarking upon the next chapter of his life after retiring as CEO of KALSEE Credit Union in Kalamazoo on April 1. He has played rhythm guitar for a band called Belfast Gin for the last twelve years, runs marathons, and continues to serve on the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, the Vicksburg School Board, the Vicksburg Foundation and the Board of the Michigan Credit Union League in Lansing.
He and his wife, Fawn, have given up lake life on Barton Lake, which was home to their two daughters, to purchase the old Gambles building on S. Main Street in Vicksburg. They have remodeled the upstairs and moved in just before his retirement. “We wanted to be free to pick up and go places at any time, without the worry of taking care of lake property,” Callen said.
As CEO of the credit union, his record of overseeing the assets from $79 million in 2005 to $163 million today, is heartening, said his predecessor Bob Moore who lives on a farm outside of Vicksburg. Moore has known Callen since he was a kid when his dad Tom Callen worked at National Waterlift where the credit union was formed in 1954. Moore served as KALSEE CEO from 1965 until Callen took over in 2005.
Callen opted for the buyout package at Pfizer in 2004 rather than relocate outside of Michigan. Without any plans he went off to deer hunting camp and never returned to Pfizer. He had been on the board of KALSEE for 14 years and when the call came in 2005 to interview for the job, he was ready to accept the new challenge.
As a musician, he plays with the Celtic band that has a diverse repertoire, has made two recordings and is in great demand each year for St. Patrick’s Day performances. Taking guitar lessons in 5th grade, he first played publicly in high school at Loy Norrix. He ran track and cross country in high school and his last memorable appearance was in the 2015 Hearty Hustle in a Superman costume.
His quick wit and incisive mind will be needed in his next endeavor. Wherever that may take him, he will be ready, said Bill Oswalt, president of the Vicksburg Foundation.