Tennessee Mutt Puppies in Vicksburg

By Sue Moore

When bridegroom Mitch Craddock and his six groomsmen, all from Vicksburg, planned their bachelor party in Tennessee for Craddock last fall, they expected to spend the time four-wheeling. Instead, they and a litter of pups managed to put Vicksburg on the map like no other good publicity for this community has ever accomplished.

The publicity has slowed. But it hasn’t ended.

A female dog found them, then led the guys to where she had placed her puppies in a hole. The dogs were dehydrated, dirty, hungry and oh-so-loveable. Right away, the men agreed to bring them back to Vicksburg. Each pledged to adopt a puppy or find a home for their charge. All the pups were spoken for even before the men left Tennessee. The story went viral when Mitch’s mom, Joanne Craddock, thought to ask Channel 3, WWMT, if it would be interested in a sweet human interest story. From there, it went on the AP wire, an interview on Good Morning America, and just recently an appearance on the Lori Moore show.

The puppies now have their own Facebook page under Tennessee Mutt Puppies. They were getting so many news outlets calling that the guys had to find an easier way to tell their story.

The dogs are now between five and six months old. The puppies have their own play dates as five of the guys live on the outskirts of Vicksburg and get together often on the weekends with their pups in tow. The happily married couple, Mitchel and the former Kristen Olson, have another dog that he gave her when he proposed marriage – a chocolate Labrador puppy with an engagement ring tied around its neck.

The men have developed a 2017 calendar with photos of the men and their puppies on the cover and a feature of each one on the inside. “A friend (Britnie Langs Photography) took the photos for free, Kal-Blue helped us with the design and printing, and we have been into a second printing as I’ve been sending them around the world to those who order them on eBay,” Mitch’s mom, Joanne said. “Anything we make on the calendars has gone to pay for spay and neutering the puppies first. Additional sales will go to the Kalamazoo Humane Society’s ‘Operation Fix-it’ program that provides low cost spay and neutering. We also plan to donate proceeds to the Tennessee county program in Huntsville, where the dogs were found.”

The pups have been given a year’s supply of dog food from Cargill’s Royal Loyall Nutrena pet food. Just recently, Mars’ pet food company, Pedigree, sent doggy treats and another year’s supply of dog food certificates to the new owners. That includes the Craddocks and the groomsmen: Trevor Jennings, Alex Manchester, Jake Rowe, Dave Perkins, all graduates of Vicksburg High School in 2011 except for Rowe, a Mendon grad. Brent Witters, Craddock’s best man and Logan Wolf, a groomsman, were unable to take a puppy. Craddock’s grandparents, Joe and Betty Gruber are dog lovers; they took the mother of the brood, named Annie, and one of her puppies.

Craddock’s father is an owner of High Country Construction, where Mitch works. The calendars may be secured by calling 269-649-0070 if they are purchased locally rather than through eBay.

Battle of the Books Enters 22nd Year of Competition

By Linda Lane

A total of 191 students in 31 teams will be participating in this year’s Battle of the Books, with 18 teams from Vicksburg, 10 from Schoolcraft and three from Parchment.

The Battle will kick off on Saturday, February 18 at 10 a.m. in Schoolcraft’s Performing Arts Center (PAC). The Grand Battle with the four final teams will be held on Thursday, February 23 at 7 p.m. at the same location. On Saturday, four preliminary Battles and two semi-final Battles will boil down to four top ranking teams for the Grand Battle on Thursday.

“There are multiple teams who come to the Library to study; their excitement is palpable and contagious. I love to hear how the kids are enjoying the books from the participants who come in to check out Battle books,” said Faye VanRavenswaay, Schoolcraft’s library director. “For librarians, it is all about the books and creating a love for books and reading. I don’t think that will ever change.”

“This year there are 14 Battle coaches who are teachers, aides, and other staff who are volunteering to work with kids on a Battle team. I think that is an impressive number,” VanRavenswaay said.

VanRavenswaay coordinates Battle of the Books and works closely with Jenny Taylor, a teacher at Vicksburg’s Sunset Elementary School. Over the summer, VanRavenswaay and Taylor read lots of Young Reader books to boil down the list selected for the Battle to 12 books. Taylor puts in many, many additional hours after the 12 books are selected to write hundreds of questions to be used during the Battle. She will serve as the moderator during the Battle competition, asking the teams on stage questions from all 12 books. VanRavenswaay will act as emcee, reading rules, introducing teams and thanking participants and sponsors. More than 20 additional volunteers on the days of Battle will assist staff at the doors, check in teams at the registration desk, monitor the cafeteria and take photos.

Kelli Mein, 5th grade teacher at Schoolcraft Elementary School, has teamed up with her daughter, Kaiti Mein to coach the “Rainbow Readers” a team of six students plus an alternate from the Schoolcraft Middle School. Students are eligible to participate in Battle of the Books in 4th, 5th and 6th grades.

“Kaiti wanted to do it with me. I was a co-coach when my daughter started Battle in 4th grade many years ago. She asked me to co-coach a team with her when she was in high school. This is our third year now co-coaching a Battle team. Kaiti loves reading, working with kids, and wants to become a teacher,” Kelli Mein said.

Like many Battle teams, Meins’ Rainbow Readers started out meeting for 45 minutes once a week in November, moved to twice a week meetings in January, and the week before Battle extend their meetings to 75 minutes twice a week.

“These kids prepare for Battle for ten weeks, picking a team name, designing their T-shirts, reading books, organizing who’s reading which books, writing questions, and having mock Battles with other teams. Not all kids are involved in sports, so this provides an opportunity for many kids to experience team spirit, camaraderie, leadership growth and the thrill of competition,” Mein said.

“The kids liked the sound of ‘Rainbow Readers,’ and the idea of having a rainbow on stage with multicolored shirts. They wanted Kaiti and I to have white T-shirts to represent the clouds surrounding a rainbow. They even designed how they would pose for the picture. Because Aiden Flinton is the only boy on the team, they thought his placement in the team photo needed to be unique. That’s why he’s lying on the floor in front of the rest of the team.”

“Our team is an amazing group of kids, I’m telling you what! They’re fun, but very focused on getting the work done,” Mein said.

Change of Venue for Chili Cookoff

By Dustin Morton

A winter chili cook-off has become a tradition in Vicksburg over nine years. This year, the event is moving to the community pavilion in the Vicksburg Historic Village. “We wanted to take advantage of some of the features our beautiful town has to offer,” said Mandy Miller, event chair for the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce. “Being at the pavilion ties all the day’s activities together.”

On March 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., local area restaurants will offer up their favorite recipes for visitors to taste and judge. While new entrants can still contact the Chamber to be included, past participants have included Apple Knockers, Main Street Pub, Taco Bobs and Jaspare’s Pizza. This year, the Chamber anticipates eight vendors offering chili styles ranging from traditional beef and beans to tasty white chicken chili and even local game meats.

Even though the event was moved to the beginning of March from early February, weather always plays a factor in outdoor events. The Chamber plans to provide temporary shelter from wind, rain or snow by enclosing most of the pavilion and if necessary, bringing heaters to offset the chill.

Admission to the event is free. Tickets for food items and drinks are 50 cents each. Plan to spend $5 a person for samples, snacks and drinks, Miller said. A new and welcome addition to the cook-off is being provided by the Distant Whistle Brewhouse, with two styles of beer offered for purchase. Beer will be available for $3 a 12-ounce pour. Throughout the day, attendees will be treated to live classic rock music provided by local favorite Bill Johnson.

Kicking off the chili cook-off will be the Vicksburg Chamber Chili Dash 5K under the management of Donna Cratsenburg-Scott, who also manages the Glow Race 5K here in Vicksburg. The Dash will start and end at the Pavilion and use the Vicksburg recreation trail. Registration is $25 and is being handled online from now until March 2 at http://www.runsignup.com, where full details about the 5K may be found. Late and in-person registration begins at 9:30 a.m. the day of the race.

The schedule for the day is as follows:

9:30 a.m. – Late/In-Person 5K Registration ($30 fee)
10:30 a.m. – 5K begins
11 a.m. – Chili Cook-Off begins
Noon to 3 p.m. – music by Bill Johnson
3 p.m. – Event ends

The Chili Cook-Off and Chili Dash 5K is hosted by the Vicksburg Area Chamber of Commerce, who uses its proceeds to fund future events such as the Taste of Vicksburg. Interested sponsors and volunteers may contact the Chamber at vicksburgareachamber@gmail.com.

Showboat Chorus Leaves Vicksburg on a Bus Trip

By Sue Moore

For those who love the sound of male voices melding in perfect choral harmony, there is no better place to experience it than at the 64th annual Rotary Showboat, said Ken Franklin, the stage director. This year as in the past, a chorus of nearly 30 male singers will take the stage to set the Showboat on course to travel to some of the more exotic destinations they have experienced in recent years.

The Showboat departs on Friday, March 3; Saturday, March 4; at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m. from the stage at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center (PAC). It never fails that there are plenty of jokes on the road to somewhere. The cast and crew will invite the audience along as they are hired for a concert tour of the United States.

To make an evening of it, the Boy Scout Troop 251 will be offering a spaghetti dinner before each evening performance and a brunch on Sunday before the matinee. This will take place in the High School cafeteria from 5 – 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday. The scouts and their leaders prepare the meals, help with the seating and serving, then clean up afterwards. It is a fundraiser for the troop but they aim to make the meals tasty and as much as a person can eat, said Todd White, who is the leader in charge of this event.

Chris Garrett is in his eleventh year of directing the chorus and has rehearsed the basses, baritones, tenors and leads on some dramatic four-part harmony featuring several new songs and some of the old tried and true pieces that the audience just loves, Franklin said.

The crew expects luxury accommodations on their concert tour, but quickly discovers that is not exactly true. The luxury concert RV is actually a rickety school bus, built by legendary prop designer Lloyd Appell. He and Warren Lawrence will perform their new and old newspaper jokes, and several old and new soloists will offer their fine voices to the mix in each act.

The Rotary Club of Vicksburg has been sponsoring the Showboat as a community endeavor every year of its existence. It brings volunteers to sing, act and build sets from the various segments of the greater Vicksburg area, and not just members of the club itself. All the proceeds are given back to the community in the form of grants, underwriting activities, and sponsorships.

Mike Tichvon, the general chairman for the Showboat, promises an engaging show that will have the audience laughing out loud, with toes tapping to the music as the script takes the busload of characters to concert venues nobody would ever expect.

Tickets are available at Hill’s Pharmacy beginning February 10 and are all general admission at $10 each. They can be purchased at the box office at the high school on the day of the performances.

Booster Bounce Dance Scheduled for March 4

Cheryl Grabowski, Tracy Lovell, Diane Fort, Lorie Stock, Cindy Johnson and Mindy Reno, all members of the Vicksburg Athletic Boosters organization.

By Sue Moore

It’s not just another fundraiser. It’s a “fun-raiser,” said Cheryl Grabowski, public relations manager for the Vicksburg Athletic Booster’s Bounce Dance on Saturday, March 4 at Indian Run Golf Club.

This is the organization that has raised over $830,000 since 1985. It’s put enough money back into the Vicksburg High School athletic program to ensure that none of the athletes would have to “pay to play” as other area schools have had to do to support programs, Grabowski said. In 2015-16, the Boosters donated over $50,000 to the school’s athletic fund for tennis court upgrades, new gym flooring, a mural on the wall of the gym and other smaller items. They fund $5,000 in scholarships for eight individual male and female senior athletes going on to college each year.

The dance is just one of its fund raising activities but it’s definitely one with the most fun, according to Mindy Reno, who works with the Boosters. The music will be provided by DJ Joe DeBiak. Costing $15 per person, the event will include complementary hors d’oeuvres, cash bar and raffle prizes. The fun begins at 7:30 p.m. and lasts until midnight. The public is encouraged to attend; tickets are easy to obtain at home basketball games on February 10 and 27. Others of the boosters who will be selling tickets include Grabowski, 569-2700; Tracey Lovell, 808-4622; Diane Fort, 377-1039; Cindy Johnson, 491-1385; and Lorie Stock, 808-4622; or any other boosters’ reps at http://www.vhsbulldogs.org/main/boosters.

The other major fundraising contributions are generated from the boosters annual Golf Outing in late August, Bingo every Tuesday and Friday night, printed sport programs with new issues every sporting season and advertising on the stadium sign.

The high school had approximately 810 students enrolled in the 2015-16 school year. The athletic rosters totaled nearly 653 students in the same school year. That number reflects the students that play multiple sports.

The Boosters Club is a fundraising organization that focuses on assisting the Vicksburg Community Schools and its student athletes to meet financial obligations that cannot be achieved through the normal funding of the Vicksburg Athletic Department. The purpose of the club is to promote and support athletics at Vicksburg Community Schools in an atmosphere that is consistent with the educational philosophy of the school community, according to its website.

Cultural Arts Center Celebrates Ukrainian Culture


John Kern and his wife Jackie Koney as new residents of Vicksburg, have jumped right in to helping in the community. Kern will give a talk about their experience living in the Ukraine in 2014, a calamitous year for the citizenry there.

By Syd Bastos

On February 11, the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center will host an evening of Ukrainian food and drink at the Creekside Grille at Angels Crossing Golf Course. The event will culminate with a presentation by John Kern, originally from Muskegon Heights and recently relocated to Vicksburg.

Kern lived and worked as a high school teacher in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, during the Euromaidan protests, also known as the Revolution of Dignity, which spanned from late November, 2013 to its violent conclusion, resulting in the collapse of the government of then president Viktor Yanukovych, in February, 2014. The Creekside event will feature a multimedia presentation of his experiences, including photographs taken in the months following the protests.

During the unrest, Kern, who lived a short distance from the city center, was witness to many of the protests and the government’s attempts to disperse the increasingly large crowds.

“Living so close to the City Center was harrowing,” Kern said. Located just a few blocks from the epicenter of the clashes, he witnessed the thick, black smoke of burning barricades as it billowed over downtown, and heard explosions of percussion grenades meant to disperse the crowds and monastery bells rung by orthodox monks to call protesters to the streets.

“It was all so surreal,” he continued. “While all of this happened, grandmothers served hot tea and sandwiches at the barricades and my students missed homework deadlines in order to participate in whatever ways they could. Life went on. The subways ran, bars and restaurants were full, grocery store shelves were stocked. But then the shooting started.”

Once the government started to violently crack down, tensions and confusion grew. Ultimately, John and his wife, Jackie, barricaded themselves in their apartment for three days as violence engulfed the city.

The experience prompted him to learn as much as he could about the history of the region. That is the foundation of the evening’s presentation.

“Everything has its foundation in the past,” he said. “That understanding compelled me to learn as much as I could about the region and how those events have impacted current events. Once you understand things a little better, you can start to make some sense out of both points of view. It’s all really fascinating and, given the current state of our relations within that region, very topical.”

Tickets to this unique event are $40 per person and cover the presentation and dinner. A cash bar is available and will feature specialty drinks from the region. You can purchase tickets in advance at the Arts Center and Gallery at 200 S. Main Street in Vicksburg, or on line at http://www.vicksburgdda.com/events or call (269) 501-11347.

Cowboy Up is Part of Brewster’s Restaurant Offerings

Lucas Iobe stands behind the salad bar at Brewster’s Smokehouse on M-60 near Mendon.

By Sheryl Oswalt

Looking to break up this dreary weird winter weather? Working on your renewed efforts to lose weight that came with the new year? I’ve got a suggestion. Why not check out Cowboy Up on M-60, west of Silver near Mendon, for some line dancing to get your heart rate up? It’s not just for kids or young people! It’s great fun for all ages.

Start your evening out at nearby Brewster’s Smokehouse. You might have already visited one of the other locations owned by Brad Wilcox and Jeff Geiger, a Vicksburg area resident. The location just outside of Mendon is owned by Wilcox, Geiger and Dee and Larry Shannon. They opened this location about nine and a half years ago. Locals might remember it as The Bottle Barn in the 1970s or The Keg in the ‘80s, then Duke’s Steakhouse before opening as Brewster’s. I’m sure many of you have memories of attending classic rock concerts there or enjoying the arcades.

Brewster’s is known for its apple wood smoked meat entrees. The beef brisket is smoked for 14 hours. It serves smoked items dry; meaning without sauce. You have the option of enjoying the flavors of the meat itself or you can add any number of five terrific sauces in the amount determined by you. This allows you to make your meal a smorgasbord of flavors all of your own choosing. Another neat thing is the combo offerings. Options include meat selections along with sides and serve from two to six people. Prices on these combos are very reasonable and give you the option to try more than one entrée.

Along with its great smoked meat options, it boasts a terrific soup and salad bar for those watching their weight or with dietary restrictions. The Smokehouse offers quiet dining in the bar area or room for a crowd in the large dining area. This section comes complete with a large fireplace where “Elvis” hangs. Elvis (I believe to be a Texas Long Horn bull) was owned and raised by Terry and Tody Stitt of Three Rivers and is quite a specimen. This is a great area for family get-together or parties. Reservations for this type of gathering are appreciated but not required.

I met with cook Lucas Iobe, who has been working at Brewster’s for six years. Iobe started at the Paw Paw location and soon found himself transferring to the Mendon location where he is in charge of the smoking for all locations. Ironically, his father also worked as a bartender at this location back in the ‘70s. Brewster’s is one of the state’s largest buyer of briskets; needing anywhere from 700 to 2,500 pounds a week. Favorites on the menu are its brisket dinners, smoked wings, St. Louis ribs and its fritters. I had a great pulled pork sandwich with the salad bar and my husband enjoyed their ribs.

After your meal, plan to head out back to enjoy some music. Cowboy Up offers line dancing from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. with music playing until midnight on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Lessons on Friday and Saturday run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with live music from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Rumored to be the largest dance floor in Michigan, there is plenty room for every one of all ages. You’ll find families with young children out on the dance floor, everyone from 2 to 82. It’s a great place to go for food, socializing and even exercise.

Recently added to its spring line-up of entertainment is last year’s sellout performer Kane Brown. For more information on this and many other upcoming events be sure to check out its Facebook page. Reserve your tickets soon as the Brown show is sure to be a sellout.

In addition to family dining and entertainment Wednesday through Saturday, Brewster’s offers buffet and banquet catering as well. Its website shows a great offering of choices for on-site or off-site catering options. If you get anything out of my review I hope you realize that this location is not just for an energizing evening of music and dance but also a good place for a great quiet meal for two.

Donated Objects Key to Unlocking Vicksburg’s Stories

Kathleen Greaver, points to some of the artifacts she is helping to catalog at the Vicksburg Depot Museum.

By April Bryan, Vicksburg Museum Curator

A Vicksburg Historical Society collections volunteer, Kathleen Greaver, knows that boxes of donated objects contain much more than “old stuff.” The contents within each can provide key details that help the society better understand and tell Vicksburg’s important stories.

While processing newly received donations, Greaver described one particular box as a vista into a Vicksburg resident’s personal experiences. “It covers someone’s lifetime.” Teeming with keepsakes as diverse as modern hunting gear, travel maps and souvenir key chains, it also included a palm-size pottery piece. A note on the back reads, “Dug up in Moscow”, a township in Michigan’s Hillsdale County. How Moscow relates to Vicksburg is one of the mysteries Greaver hopes to uncover as she works through the collection that was donated by the Vicksburg resident’s family.

Greaver graduated with her B.A. in anthropology with a focus on sociology from Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. While studying at Linfield, she served as a student curator, engaged in all aspects of collections management and exhibition development. She is applying her experience and knowledge to help the society learn from and steward incoming donations.

Donations make up the majority of objects on display in the Union Depot Museum at 300 S. Richardson St., the caboose and boxcar and Historic Village buildings. Over 30,000 objects, documents, and photographs comprise the society’s local history collection—one that continues to grow. Recent local history donations include the uniform and decorations of United States Navy Captain Stanley Lane and Milo “Mike” Skidmore’s 1936 Vicksburg High School Basketball Championship charm.

To care for and manage its growing collection effectively, the society recently upgraded its software to PastPerfect—a professional museum collections database. In fact, it was a donation that made PastPerfect possible. Ted Vliek, former board president and current trustee, provided the funds to take the collection into a new era. The database will not only enhance the society’s ability to steward the collection and strengthen membership outreach, but also help it to assist community members conducting local history research such as house histories and genealogies.

Currently, the society needs objects and images related to the community’s pets and animals for a new exhibition due to open this summer. Do you have a photo of or keepsake related to a beloved pet or farm animal that you would like to gift, loan, or share a story about for inclusion in the exhibition? Please contact April Bryan, curator of collections, at collections@vicksburghistory.org or call 269-649-1733.

In addition to seeking object, document, and photograph donations with nearby history connections, the society also seeks insightful volunteers like Greaver who can appreciate the stories found within the boxes.

Local News is the Purpose of This Newspaper

By Sue Moore

The South County News, a monthly newspaper, appeared in June of 2013 after almost a year of planning and organizing. This publication was a direct response to the closing of the hometown weekly newspaper the Commercial-Express, that had been owned from 2007 to 2012 by the Kalamazoo Gazette.

A bound volume of the three and a half years of issues of the South County News has been presented by the board of the newspaper to the Schoolcraft and Vicksburg libraries and the Vicksburg Historical Society.

After experiencing a year without a newspaper, the communities of Schoolcraft and Vicksburg looked around for better ways to communicate. Bill Adams, the newly elected president of the village of Vicksburg encouraged Wes Schmitt, Sue Moore, Steve Ellis, Norm Hinga, Bob Smith and Kim Marston to come together to publish a newspaper.

It seemed like folly to start another newspaper when the big boys in the industry were dropping like flies.

Nevertheless, the first real issue of the South County News contained enough advertising to pay for the cost of printing, about $2,500. This left no money for delivery either by mail or hired carrier. So a volunteer army set out on foot and by car to deliver 11,000 copies to all the homes in south Kalamazoo County. This included residences and businesses in Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft, Brady and parts of Wakeshma and Pavilion townships. Those who drove their cars to deliver on busy roads such as Portage or Sprinkle vowed to never do it again, questioning how postal workers could possibly endure these routes every day. Of course they soon found out that it was illegal to slide the paper into designated mailboxes, and thus was born the need to pay for delivery.

This was accomplished by including an envelope in the July edition asking (not begging) for donations to help fund this start-up paper, if the community thought it was worthwhile.

It did! Wes Schmitt, the treasurer and a Schoolcraft resident, whose address was on the return envelope, soon found his mailbox full of bright red and white envelopes with checks in them for $40, sometimes even more. Thus, a new business model was born, with mailing via Michigan Mailers and the post office rate of 27 cents apiece. That was better than losing life and limb on Sprinkle Road.

In 2017, it’s clear that the model has been sustainable with some important tweaks. The board applied for nonprofit status with the IRS and it was granted within a few months. That made it possible to reduce the mailing costs by a third, affording the opportunity to start paying a few writers to contribute sports stories, cover meetings, write reviews and hire sales reps to sell advertising.

None of this would be possible without the strong support of the two communities, the school systems, the advertisers, local government, and the individuals who are reading this story. The niche in the market appears to be covering local news in depth and offering human interest stories about friends and neighbors. In addition, there is a web site where each edition is displayed at http://www.southcountynews.org and also on a Facebook page.

Steve Ellis on the paper’s Facebook page commented about the 32-page January edition, posting pictures and stories. This winter sports issue contained photos of 213 different individuals (a few may be in more than once) plus 283 athletes from Vicksburg and Schoolcraft for a grand total of 496 individuals included in this great issue. If you are not in here somewhere, you need to get out more!! None of these photos, plus the 33 stories, local obituaries and calendar of events would have seen the light of day without the South County News publication.

Ellis, Moore and Schmitt, have stayed the course as board members and contributors to the newspaper each month. Linda Lane and Bob Ball have joined to make sure that the communities served by the print publication will continue to receive the finest newspaper it is possible to produce with our low-paid and volunteer staff.

A Christmas Miracle

A first person story by Linda Lane, a Schoolcraft resident, and South County News board member

As I pulled into the parking lot at the restaurant for my mom’s 85th birthday luncheon, I told my husband I’d call him back when we were both in route home to Schoolcraft, he from Kentucky and I from Grand Rapids. It was three days before Christmas and we had big plans.

Unbeknownst to me, five minutes later he pulled off the highway in rural Kentucky and dialed 911. That call saved his life.

In Grand Rapids, my mom had arrived with my sister, frazzled from the car horn blaring nonstop. The blaring started without the horn ever being touched and it wouldn’t stop. A UPS driver helped out by crawling under the vehicle to rip the wire connection to get it to stop. In retrospect, the horn was a weird emergency call: we didn’t know it at the time, but it happened exactly when my husband experienced an “aortic dissection” in a rented car near Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

When the birthday lunch concluded, a text from my husband popped up. “In hospital.” That was all it said. I tried calling. No answer, several times. I texted back, “Where are you?!?” No response. I called again, several times. No answer. I texted again, “Please call me!!!” No response. I assumed he’d been in a car accident driving home.

My husband had texted the plant manager he worked with: “?” That was it. One question mark. The plant manager texted him back, “Are you okay?” Response: “No.” He had texted after he had called 911. It was all he could get out. Within 10 seconds, his vision went black and he was experiencing excruciating chest pains.

After crazy phone calls between his work and my family, we found no record of him in any hospitals in Indiana, where we were guessing he’d been in an accident. No traffic accident report for the rental car. Finally, he was tracked down to an Elizabethtown Hospital; we learned he was being airlifted to Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky for emergency heart surgery.

I called a best friend and told her what was happening. Could they help with our two dogs? She’s part of the Heart Team at Borgess Hospital. She told me I really needed to take our two boys with us down to Kentucky, that he might not make it. I had never heard of an aortic dissection before, but I began to realize it was really awful.

It wasn’t even 45 minutes after I had received that first text from him, and I could feel my world crumbling.

I packed my bag and one for two boys in under eight minutes, and was back on the road. A strange number rang on my phone; an unknown physician’s assistant informed me they were prepping my husband and he was moving into heart surgery right now. My husband’s voice on the phone was quiet, raspy, and unnatural. He seemed tired as we both told each other in frightened voices how much we loved each other. I told him I was coming.

The open-heart surgery, which started at 6 p.m., was expected to take 6 to 10 hours due to the complicated nature of what had occurred to his aorta and heart. The ascending aorta (going out of the top of the heart) had ruptured, tearing the inside lining of three layers within the aorta, creating a double-barrelled tube where it had previously been a single tube. The rupture was forcing blood in and out of his heart simultaneously, which significantly damaged a heart valve. To make matters even worse, he was on blood thinners (due to previous blood clots) and that meant he was going to be at risk for severe bleeding during the surgery. It was going to be a complicated and difficult surgery.

My sister, niece and I stared at each other, flashing back to an awful night we lost someone we dearly loved. My sister’s husband (and niece’s dad) had died in Grand Rapids during a routine, out-patient, heart-catheter procedure. We were all scared. “This cannot happen again,” I said, our eyes filling with tears. My heart-team nurses texted and called to tell me they’d checked out the hospital and surgeon. Both had great ratings. They told me to be patient and hope for the best. Hours ticked by slowly.

At 12:30 a.m., a nurse came out with good news! The surgeon had replaced the heart valve and repaired the aorta! They were trying to control some bleeding, but the surgery was going well. But just a half hour later, the nurse came out. Her mood had definitely changed, with her face creased with worry from the operating room. The surgeon had discovered a new tear. It was below the area he had just completed, so he had to undo what he had just fixed to get to the tear and repair it. Things had gotten more complicated and it would be a longer wait.

To be concluded in next month’s South County News.