Serving Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and Surrounding Areas
Local News is the Purpose of This Newspaper
Wes Schmitt and Linda Lane, members of the South County News board of directors and Schoolcraft residents, presented Faye VanRavenswaay, Schoolcraft Library director with a bound volume of the South County News editions dating from June 2013 to December 2016. Schmitt, a Western Michigan University graduate and Pfizer retiree, is the treasurer of the nonprofit organization that governs the newspaper. He was one of the founding members in 2012 and has been in firm control of the purse strings ever since. Lane is a relatively new member of the board having graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in communications, then worked for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. She has been writing a number of news stories each month since joining the board in 2016. The 42 issues of this monthly newspaper can be accessed for research by area residents whenever the library is open. It can also be accessed online at http://www.southcountynews.org, however there are no ads or obituaries in the online version.
Steve Ellis, on the left, presented the Vicksburg Historical Society with the bound book of South County News’ 42 editions of the newspaper. He is a founding member of the News’ board of directors. Accepting the donation for the Historical Society are April Bryan, curator, Judy Glover; office manager; and John Polasek, the newly elected president of the Society. Bryan was generous in her thanks for the volume, realizing how it would make her work easier in researching the history of the Vicksburg area. Ellis is the publisher of Spark, a news magazine which he started after the Kalamazoo Gazette went through a period of downsizing. At about the same time, he was recruited to help with starting the South County News as an advertising consultant, since he had spent 20 plus years as the Gazette’s advertising manager. He is a Western Michigan University graduate, living on the east shore of Long Lake and specializes in history of the area.
South County News board members Bob Ball on the left and Sue Moore standing, combined to present a bound copy of the three and a half years of the South County News publications to John Sheridan, Vicksburg District Library’s director. He plans to place the volume in the history room of the library where the 125 years of bound volumes of the Vicksburg Commercial-Express are held. This tradition of binding the newspaper was begun by the early publishers, Meredith and Bernice Clark and carried on by Jackie and Warren Lawrence when they owned the newspaper. Moore was recruited to start the South County News in 2012, saying she would stick around to write and design three issues and then give way to an editor that the board would hire. It hasn’t quite worked out that way as she has stayed deeply involved as editor and publisher over the last four years. She is a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in journalism, with an emphasis on history and political science. Ball graduated from the University of Michigan with a journalism degree and worked for many years as editorial writer for the Royal Oak Tribune. He moved from Reading, Michigan to Vicksburg when he married Rachel Freeman and now serves as this newspaper’s copy editor.
Justin Gibson and five month old Gus, his helper, is the South County News graphic designer. Madeleine Fojtik designed the first two issues, holding to her promise to get the paper started and then turn the graphic work over to Kim Marston who stayed with it for another year. Gibson stepped in to design the July 2014 issue and has been going strong ever since. He and his wife Staci live near Kalamazoo College in the Stuart neighborhood, thus most of the work is accomplished via a virtual online office. Gibson graduated from Gull Lake High School and Western Michigan University. He teaches part-time at WMU as a remedial English teacher for incoming freshmen. Since Gus was born in early September, just missing the newspaper’s deadline that month, his dad has been the principal care giver as his wife is a web designer for VML advertising agency in Kalamazoo.
Sheri Freeland is the Vicksburg area resident and advertising sales person. She had never sold advertising before she was recruited by Bob Smith to take his place in 2014. She works hard at helping advertisers put together good looking ads that will best characterize their product and sell for them. Without her efforts of working with merchants and businesses, there would be no South County News, as the advertising helps to pay for printing and mailing this newspaper. She is a Vicksburg High School graduate who has her own hair salon, waited table at Rise-N-Dine where she met Smith, and held a part-time job at the Air Zoo.
Brian Decker, a Schoolcraft resident, has the sales responsibility for advertising coverage in the Schoolcraft area. He graduated from Colon High School and was a soft drink salesman for several years before he and his wife Johnnie started their own real estate team with Berkshire Hathaway in Kalamazoo. Their ad can be read each month in the South County News as they work to become well known for quality service as the local real estate team in the Schoolcraft area.
Travis Smola, who writes sports for the South County News and covers local government, is a graduate of Western Michigan University’s journalism school. He lives near Decatur but now professes a love for all things red and white as he works with the many coaches in Mike Roy’s athletic department. Smola spends a good deal of his off-duty time enjoying geocaching, an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world, according to Wikipedia.
Sean Budlong covers sports in Schoolcraft. He is an investment manager with the Edward Jones office in Schoolcraft and has a daughter who played volleyball for the Eagles varsity the last two years.
Sheryl Oswalt is rather new to the Vicksburg area, but not new to writing for publications. She enjoys writing the restaurant reviews in partnership with her husband Scott, as they go out to dinner together to evaluate each restaurant assignment. She has reviewed nearly all the established restaurants in this area and can’t exactly go incognito any more if she starts back around again with her interviews of the owners. She worked for Greenstone Bank in Charlotte before joining the Oswalt clan and was a township clerk in Eaton County.
Stephanie Blentlinger, owner of Lingering Memories Photography in Schoolcraft, has given of her considerable talents to take pictures for the South County News in the last three years. She has concentrated on sports photography, first covering the championship volleyball team’s drive to the state finals. She attends football, basketball, and baseball games to highlight the action and capture the athletes’ excellence, beautifully. For the past two years she has covered Schoolcraft’s graduation ceremonies in great detail, meeting the newspaper’s deadlines within minutes and hours of press time.
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.