Monthly Archives: February 2017

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 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 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.

New Electric Transmission Line Proposed for Area

Residents of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft gather a public information meeting held by representatives of AEP Indiana Michigan Power Company.

By Sue Moore

A public meeting was held in Schoolcraft in January by American Electric Power, owner of Indiana Michigan Power, to provide information about a new transmission line proposed between Vicksburg and Schoolcraft substations. The company shared information about the proposed routes and the process for submitting comments on the proposal.

The $30 million investment includes retiring the substation in Schoolcraft on Hager and S. 14th Street, replacing it with a new one to be called the Kalamazoo station. The Vicksburg substation will be expanded and upgraded.

There are two route options. One follows the railroad tracks similar to the existing power line.  The second route mostly follows W Avenue. A part of that route crosses the entrance to the Greensborough residential area and then north to the present substation on First Street in Vicksburg.

According to an Indiana Michigan spokesperson, Maggie Beggs, the new installation would build redundancy into the transmission system, forming a loop so that if one line goes down, the other is still in operation. That should reduce power interruptions and outages and add reliability to customers.

It appears that the residents of Greensborough, a neighborhood near the Angels Crossing course in Vicksburg, is staunchly against the W Avenue route and plan to fight that configuration, according to Mark Maki, a Vicksburg resident.

A map and timetable for the proposal is available at

When Thanks Isn’t Enough

Lisa and Terry Butcher on the left, take Norma Woodcox in the middle and Doris Grinder on the far right along with Sheri Freeland with the glasses atop her heard, to their favorite restaurant the Rise-N-Dine in Vicksburg, last summer.

By Sue Moore

Grief is a powerful thing and when it comes to a sudden tragedy, even more so. Just ask Sheri Freeland, the South County News advertising sales person about how it affected her family. Her cousin, Doris Grinder, of Vicksburg, whom she knew as Aunt Doris, died in her car along with her 70-year companion Norma Woodcox. In late January, as they drove to the end of S. Michigan Avenue from their home a block away, they stopped, then proceeded to drive ahead where there was no road, straight into the Portage Creek. The car flipped over in the creek bed and they were gone before the three minutes it took the fire fighters and ambulance crew to get to them.

Because Sheri is the newspaper’s advertising representative, her first thought was to put a thank you ad in the newspaper. The editorial staff convinced her that what she and her cousin, Terry Butcher, had to say to the community would be more fitting for this article.

“So many people in the community came to help us,” Freeland related. “Norma’s glasses were lost in the accident, so Vicksburg Optometry donated a pair that were just like what she wore. The people at the Village Hall were so comforting when we went there to ask for further information about the accident. They took time to tell us what they knew at that point in the investigation with great sympathy. Mike’s Towing was on the spot and did all he could to pull the vehicle out and reclaim the contents. Andy at Vicksburg Auto Body let us in to see the car and figure out if anything was retrievable. Steve McCowen of Life Story and his staff helped in so many ways. The owners of Rise-N-Dine came to our aid in our hour of need, as did Jody at the Main Street Pub where we held a luncheon after the services.”

“One of the most considerate persons was Tracy McMillan, the fire chief. We noticed that the afghan ‘the girls’ always had in the back seat of their car was still in the creek when we were looking at the scene of the accident. My cousin Terry and I tried to make sense of what had happened as we looked over the bridge and below rippling in the water, was the girls’ afghan. Our hearts stopped, how could this still be there two and a half days days later? That same day, the chief came by the funeral home with the freshly laundered afghan to give back to our family in ‘the girls’ honor,” she exclaimed.

In the time of a very tragic accident with an awful outcome, faith and the sun shown from our town’s people.  We are all so blessed to be a part of Vicksburg and need to honestly look at all the good this little place, tucked on the outskirts of Kalamazoo County, has to offer. This is truly why Doris and Norma lived where they lived for over 60 years and loved Vicksburg unconditionally,” Freeland said.

Jon Steeby Serves His Country in the Civil Air Patrol

Jon Steeby stands beside the Cessna aircraft he flies when on duty with the Civil Air Patrol.

By Sue Moore

Schoolcraft resident Jon Steeby wears his affection for the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). He’s volunteered as a pilot for the Air Force auxiliary organization for the past three years. The uniformed volunteers are called to search for downed aircraft and lost hikers, to photograph storm damage and promote Civil Air Patrol at public events.

Steeby serves as a Training and Safety officer with the “Wildcards” MI-248 Squadron located at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. That’s just part of the duties. CAP members train constantly. Members were called on the day after 9/11 to fly 1,000 feet over New York City to assess the amount of damage which couldn’t be determined from the ground. The MI-248 Squadron served in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, taking thousands of photos to assess damage.

His duffel bag is packed and ready to depart 24-7 if the call should come to fly the small aircraft based in Battle Creek. The process is set in motion when the alerting officer gets the call from Emergency Services at the National Operations Center. Dispatch looks for who is nearest to the problem and certified to fly at any hour of the day. The plane is then prepared for flight, weather checked and the best route determined.

Pilots fly as low as 1,000 feet above the ground when scanning the ground for the object they are looking for. An observer will be sitting in the right seat as part of the mission and a scanner in the back seat. Those members are not necessarily pilots but have been taught a specific way to scan the ground for information. CAP volunteers also mentor Cadets who hope to become a part of the Civil Air Patrol in later life or pursue a Military career.

At the age of 58, Steeby is living out his dreams of helping people, flying a Cessna 182 Skylane and participating in training missions that do “really cool stuff. I’m fortunate to have these opportunities” he said.

A special treat for CAP pilots is being a practice “target” for F16 fighter pilots to intercept and escort unauthorized aircraft from restricted airspace. “Typically a pilot does not want to see an F16 fighter off the wingtip, but in this training exercise, it’s all in a day’s work,” he said.

His day job is as Chief Engineer for Eaton Corporation in Galesburg where he manages several teams that design truck transmissions. “A nice perk of the job is driving semi-trucks over the Rocky Mountains and see how well our stuff works.”

A 1976 article about Steeby in the Vicksburg Commercial-Express in 1976 predicted his future interests. It described his exploits as a 14-year-old watching hang gliders on the dunes of Lake Michigan. The son of Gary and Joyce Steeby, long-time Schoolcraft residents, he was praised in the article for his interest in learning to fly airplanes when he was too young to test for his pilot’s license. He paid for his lessons by mowing lawns in Schoolcraft. Before that, he was building and collecting model airplanes. He graduated from Western Michigan University in 1982 and set off for a job in Washington D.C. as a civilian engineer with the Navy.

A friendship with a Schoolcraft High School classmate, Julie VanOrman, blossomed into marriage. The thought of moving closer to home brought the couple to Columbus, Ind., with Cummins Engine Company in 1985. A job offer from Eaton Corp. brought the couple even closer to Schoolcraft, but with a catch: a two-year Engineering Manager assignment to Eaton’s plant in Manchester, England. While there, he performed with a brass band, the only American in it. He had played trombone and baritone in the Schoolcraft High School band and wanted to keep his skills intact.

An emotional moment came just after 9/11 while Steeby lived in England. The band was scheduled to play on England’s Remembrance Day, observed annually, like Veterans Day here. “Their services that day were instead dedicated to the fallen on 9/11 in memory of their American friends.”

Steeby also uses his piloting skills as a partner in the nonprofit Eagle Air Inc. flying club, based at the Kalamazoo Airport. There are 15 owners in the club that share two aircraft for personal use. “The idea is to break even by sharing expenses such as fixed costs for hanger rent and annual inspections,” he said.

In a few months, he leaves for New York state as part of a CAP Mission to escort drone training flights for the Air Force. “I love the team work in coming together involving aircraft and people while doing good things for my country,” he said.

Civil Air Patrol has an Important Mission

cap-10by Tech. Sgt. Glenn Whitt
217th Air Operations Group from an online posting

One of the better kept secrets of the Air Force is its official auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol. Founded on December 1, 1941 by citizens committed to using civilian aviation resources to help bolster the nation’s defense, the Civil Air Patrol was established as a federally chartered nonprofit organization by President Harry Truman on July 1, 1946. Congress passed a law on May 26, 1948 designating Civil Air Patrol (CAP) as the Air Force Auxiliary, giving the CAP three primary missions – emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education.

Today, CAP still serves as the Air Force Auxiliary in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. There are 1,400 squadrons and approximately 56,000 volunteer youth and adults nationwide. CAP operates one of the largest fleets of single-engine piston aircraft in the world, with 550 currently in the fleet. Its squadrons fly a total of approximately 100,000 hours annually. CAP also has ground emergency services with a fleet of more than 1,000 vehicles, as well as a well-established communication network.

Two CAP units are housed at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. The Kellogg Field Senior Squadron is an all-adult unit focusing on search and rescue while supporting all other missions of CAP. The squadron has a Cessna 182T glass cockpit aircraft housed in the T-hangers here in Battle Creek. The Battle Creek Cadet Squadron also meets on the base (in the Security Building) every Tuesday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cadet squadron is made up of youth aged 12 to 18 years of age, as well as adult senior members to support their operations. These cadets train in search and rescue, learn leadership skills and study aerospace related topics. Cadets are eligible for five powered orientation flights and five glider flights provided by CAP. Other areas that cadets work on are physical fitness, military customs and courtesies and community service.

Prospective cadets interested in the Battle Creek Cadet Squadron and their parents are encouraged to contact the unit commander, Capt. Terry Travis, at 269-719-5470 or to learn more about the program and its benefits. Both units are accepting applications for new members.