Monthly Archives: August 2017

Harvest Festival Celebrates Our Agricultural Heritage

By Sue Moore

From its inception in 2009, the Vicksburg Historical Society’s Harvest Festival was meant to highlight the nature of this agricultural community’s lifeblood – raising pork, beef, lamb, corn, soybeans, potatoes and farmers’ market produce.

The 2017 version from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, September 24 at the Historic Village, will have it all. And it’s free, according to chairman Don Wiertella. There will be five food trucks selling smoked barbecue rib tips, pulled pork sliders, brats, hot dogs and other savory concoctions.

The Animal Zone is always the most popular for children who have never been up close to a pig, a horse or a bull. There might even be a zebra on loan from the Boo Zoo in Battle Creek. David Critchlow will be on hand with his ever-popular alligator and snake show to charm the youngsters.

The pumpkin harvest this year will focus on children’s carving and decorating in categories of scariest, prettiest and most artistic, with prizes that will be announced at 12:30 p.m. at the Society’s information desk. Each winner will receive a gift certificate from Apple Knockers. Entry forms will be available at the Depot Museum, Fred’s Pharmacy, Family Fare and from each of the three Vicksburg elementary schools.

The “sweet” event is the long-standing pie baking competition. Three judges from area restaurants will have the enviable job of judging the pies. Pie-baking entry forms will be available at the Depot Museum, Rise N Dine, Yogi’s, Apple Knockers, Main Street Pub, Mar-Jo’s West and Jaspare’s Pizza.

Prizes will be offered to every child who completes the Secret Word Search and the Secret Picture Search activity. Face painting and balloon animals will be available. Educational and fun activities will be presented by the Vicksburg District Library with help from Project Graduation. April Bryan, museum curator, has prepared an exhibit, “Dog House to House Dog”, that will be open during the Harvest Fest in the old Township Hall.

The family can enjoy the free hay wagon rides. A trip in an antique automobile will be available for a small fee. A woodturning exhibition, including historic tools of the trade, will be conducted near the barn. Music will again be a special part of the Harvest Fest. The Luke Lenhart Family Band will be playing from 1 to 2:30 p.m. near the Gazebo. Open mic music performances will be located at the north end of the Community Pavilion from 2 to 4 p.m.

“Volunteers are the key to the success of any event,” said Wiertella. “We have the best when it comes to the Harvest Festival. These folks have several months of meetings and planning sessions, then they work all day during the Harvest Fest.” They include Gail Reisterer, Ron and Carol Wilson, Sue Harper-Grieger, Mary Ann Kudary, Randy and Donna Seilheimer, June Kucks, Dortha Bratt, Ted Vliek and co-chair John Polasek.

Wiertella added, “The Vicksburg business community is to be commended for their strong support for the Harvest Fest. This support includes monetary donations, material donations such as the Animal Zone fence as well as contest prizes. But most important is the sense of community that local business owners have toward the event.”

Hauntingly Historic Schoolcraft

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A gravestone in the Schoolcraft cemetery.

By Bill Christiansen

Ghosts. Witches. Wizards. Vampires. A figure in Schoolcraft’s past wrote about these eerie things. Spirit rappings. Trumpet seances. Materializations. Messages from beyond. These things allegedly happened much closer to home than you may have thought possible.

Starting on September 30, Deb Christiansen will be conducting guided tours through Schoolcraft Township Cemetery where you will have the opportunity to learn some secrets of Schoolcraft’s past.

Deb and I attended the Michigan History Conference last spring and learned that other Michigan towns were doing cemetery walks in October. When I saw the look on Deb’s face, I knew she was going to come back and make a similar event happen for Schoolcraft.

“I started digging – figuratively of course – and discovered October has historical significance for Schoolcraft. We became the first town in Kalamazoo County on October 5, 1831.” said Deb Christiansen.

“The Red Brick Tea Room on Hayward Street (formally known as the Ladies Library building) was dedicated in 1896.” Deb compiled a list of 12 souls which will remain top secret until the tours begin. “Only a select few know the identities on the list,” Deb said, “and they have been sworn to secrecy. Virginia Mongreig at the Schoolcraft Township is one. She generously gave me access to information about the cemetery. Keith Gunnett, the Schoolcraft Village Council President, is another. His support of the project has been so valuable.”

There will be eight tours on four consecutive Saturdays starting September 30. Each Saturday will have two tours, one at 1 p.m. the second at 4 p.m. Each tour will run about an hour and a half and is limited to 16 people. Cost is $20 per person in advance and $25 the day of the tour. Funds raised from the tours will go to three of Schoolcraft’s invaluable resources: the Schoolcraft Library, the Ladies’ Library Association of Schoolcraft and the Schoolcraft Historical Society.

This is a walking tour and involves moderate walking. There are no stairs and the paths are wide and flat, but there will be a lot of standing. So please take this under consideration when purchasing your tickets. Tours will happen rain or shine, unless it’s deemed too dangerous. In the case of a funeral, tours will be rescheduled. This is an active cemetery and respectful conduct is expected.

This will not be your standard Halloween haunted house type tour. “We don’t plan to have people jump out from behind gravestones or touch you on the shoulders or whisper in your ears behind your back,” Deb said, “but we can’t predict what you personally will see, hear, or feel.”
The cemetery tours will be only part of the October celebration. Check the website and Facebook page for upcoming events and activities. Ticket information is available at pureschoolcraft.org and facebook.com/hauntinglyhistoricschoolcraft/.

Schoolcraft Ladies’ Library Cream Tea

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A sample of the desert delights which will be served as part of the Cream Tea.

The Red Brick Tea Room is less than a mile away from the hustle and bustle of US 131, but a world away from wi-fi, fast food and responsibilities. Here every year for the past decade, members of Schoolcraft’s Ladies Association prepare an elegant tea party and invite the public.

The Red Brick Tea Room, formally known as the Ladies Library Building at 330 N. Centre Street, was built in 1896 and has remained virtually unchanged since then. On September 16, the tea committee will open the doors for two tea parties, the first at 11 a.m. the second starting at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 and sell out quickly.

Partygoers are seated in tables of four each with three courses of breads, savories, and sweets served on fine china. Tables will be gloriously decorated with a nursery rhyme theme. When asked if there will be music, Harriet Swartz replied, “We tried that once, but the room is so abuzz with real social media and people enjoying conversations with their tablemates that we deemed it superfluous. Ladies and the occasional gentleman have always enjoyed quiet elegance…fine china, flowers, delicious repast, delightful company and fashionable surroundings. There is no better place to find this than Schoolcraft’s historic Ladies Library building.”

Please call or email Harriett Swartz at (269) 679-5949 or ahjswartz@aol.com to reserve seats. There will be information at schoolcraftladieslibrary.org, but committee members prefer that those wishing reservations contact Harriett. They say they are a little old-fashioned that way and think the public will enjoy spending some time that way, too.

Revelry Theatre Starts Up in Vicksburg

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Local actors in the staging of The Importance of Being Earnest from left to right: Ms. Prism, Angela Wilson; Dr. Chausable, Norm Hinga; Gwendolyn Fairfax, Lindsey Bosel; Jack Worthing, Neil Bryer; Algernon Moncrief, Casady Haines.

By Sue Moore

Revelry Theatre Company is dedicated to renewing community theatre in the south Kalamazoo-north St. Joseph county area, said Leigh Fryling, artistic director for this new endeavor. The group’s first production, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, is scheduled at the Vicksburg Community Center at 6:30 p.m. on the weekend of Sept. 22-24 with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Sept. 24.

The Oscar Wilde play was first performed in February, 1895 at St James’s Theatre in London. Fryling invites the public to join them for some wild Wilde in this steampunk-inspired version of the classic. “This isn’t your great-great-great-great grandmother’s version, as we include robot butlers, bionic arms, cucumber sandwiches, and gear-bedecked shenanigans. Buy yourself a traditional Victorian Creme Tea at concessions, sit back in a comfy chair, and enjoy an irreverent evening of romantic exploits,” she said.

“We seek to build community, push the envelope, explore new artistic territory, hold up the mirror to ourselves and our local society and have a really ridiculous amount of fun doing it,” Fryling pointed out when referring to her newest endeavor. The name for Revelry Theatre came right from Fryling’s heart, she explained. “It is the overwhelming sensation of joy that we experience when we are doing something that we love and the more traditional meaning of a wild celebration.”

Fryling returned to Vicksburg after several years in Canada where she owned and operated a much lauded youth theatre company in London, Ontario and Duncan, Vancouver Island B.C. She worked part time at the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center and then was hired by the school system from which she graduated in 2005 to substitute teach. She studied theatre performance at Western Michigan University, specializing in directing. She is now working to re-invigorate the local arts and culture scene.

“We believe that theatre is the lie that tells the truth, the fantasy that gives us a new perspective on reality, and the gift of transformation in ourselves and each other. At the end of the day however, we are here for the sake of joy. Our motto? If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong,” Fryling said.

Leading roles in the play are acted by Neil Bryer, Casady Haines, Lindsey Bosel and Amanda Wilson. They are backed up by Angela Wilson, Norm Hinga, Holly Fryling, Phil Timko with Montana Major as stage manager and Fryling as director.

Tickets for the Importance of Being Earnest are $10 for adults, $7 for students and seniors. Steampunk attire is encouraged but not required for a good time! Visit the company’s website at revelrytheatre.weebly.com to reserve tickets, or buy them in advance at the Distant Whistle. For questions and other inquiries, call Leigh Fryling at 269-386-0303.

Vicksburg Ladies Library Auxiliary Founded 138 Years Ago

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Joy Reinstein points out the facts of the founding of the Vicksburg Ladies Library Auxiliary.

By Sue Moore

Most people are given a birth certificate to tell the rest of the world exactly how old they are. Organizations have a little more trouble knowing for certain. Their birth date is often an evolutionary process. Case in point: The Vicksburg Ladies Library Auxiliary, which celebrated its 125 years last fall, found out that it actually had 138 years to its credit.

The extra 12 years were due to the sleuthing of Joy Reinstein, a fairly new member of the organization. She was able to document the founding in 1879 as the Ladies Literary Club, according to an article in the Vicksburg Commercial on September 18, 1884. By that year, the group had already changed its name to the Ladies’ Library Association. It had 289 volumes of choice reading matter on hand.

The ladies didn’t have a library as it is today. Books were stored in rooms over C.B. Mason’s store and were open to readers every Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. The newspaper went on to say, “Our citizens should each take a membership in this praise-worthy undertaking, as it is of the greatest importance to each family in the village to have just such reading for the entire family to peruse as is furnished by the Association.”

Reinstein dug even deeper to document the founding. She found mention of it in nine sources altogether. “We are 12 years older than we thought,” Reinstein told the current Ladies Library Auxiliary members.

The former Vicksburg third grade teacher shows a passion for reading and researching in her quest for the truth. She uncovered notes from Mollie Franklin about the early days of the library when she was a young girl. “The library suffered many vicissitudes, having to move from one small room to another, the Scotts having found need for all of their own apartment where the books were stored. I feel when I look at the old books that they are my personal friends, so many times as a young girl did I help my mother pack and move them with the aid of my father’s horse and buggy and unpack them.

“I recollect two places where the library was located – one a rear room of what is now Masonic Hall or else the rear of the building next on the south. The other was the rear room of the now Farmer’s Bank Building, with a door opening on the court. The membership was never large enough and much sacrifice was entailed to keep the library a going concern. I remember at one time when there were but four paid members (the officers).

“The Association felt it had reached the high tide of prosperity when in 1892, they were able to purchase a long narrow house, readily convertible into a small hall. This was moved to a vacant lot at the rear of the McElvain House (the current Vicksburg Community Center), the McElvains leasing the ground to the Association for a nominal sum. During the moving some of the machinery broke down, the movers got drunk, and the Association was placed in great consternation for blocking the public streets while the loafers of the town chortled in great glee, pleased to see the women ‘put in their place.’ “

The Market’s Still Hot!

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Peaches and sweet corn will be available at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market in September.

By Carol Meyer-Niedzwiecki, Vicksburg Farmers’ Market Operations Manager

The summer’s not over. The growing season’s not yet up. Fall begins September 22 and the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market is open until October 6. “Harvest time is upon us until the ghouls shout it’s near to close by Halloween,” said Stella Shearer, the market’s board president.

Farmers’ Market staff are planning activities through the month of September. Corn will still be served up for Labor Day weekend in addition to Drive Through Q’s barbeque, yummy cheesecake and baked goods like mama’s. Lots of meat and veggies for the grill too. “Free honey sticks for the children, tasty coffee, some new chili sauce and wacky, cracky corn crunched while listening to music from the Kalamazoo Folk Life group, round out the market experience,” said Shearer.

On Friday, September 8, the market will host local chefs featuring easy-to-make but perhaps new-ways-to-fix produce while it’s in season. A second Makers Mart is set for Friday, September 15 and just a hint … it’s never too early to start shopping for the holidays, maybe buying from folks you know. Pumpkins and Jaspare’s pizza will also be highlighted that day, Shearer said.

Kids are especially invited over after school to sketch their drawings to decorate pumpkins for their winning Harvest Festival entry. Children can buy their pumpkin in time to decorate it for the Harvest Festival on Sunday, September 24.

On September 22, professionals will be on hand offering their expertise and hands on care as the focus will be on health. All are invited to swing through and get blood pressures checked, postures analyzed and questions answered about local medical, pharmaceutical and dental services and health care changes in the Vicksburg community. The month will end with a surprise activity in the works for September 29.

It’s always fresh on Friday.

Is it Crayfish or Crawfish? Depends Where You’re From!

By Sue Moore

From Lafayette, La., a team came to Michigan recently and took the little village of Vicksburg by storm with their charm, crawfish and the way they cooked the delicacy.

The Lafayette Travel Bureau responded to the alarm raised here when crawfish were found in the village and in Sunset Lake. They saw an opportunity to tout the shellfish, much loved in their area, by bringing a traveling road show hundreds of miles to Sunset Lake Park on August 19. “It seemed like a wacky idea at first,” said Jesse Guidry, coordinator for the event. “The more we got out the word, the more the idea caught the imagination of both communities.” Once the team arrived, “Everyone in Vicksburg was so friendly and welcoming. We almost felt like it was home.”

By the way, it’s “crawfish” in Louisiana, “crayfish” in Michigan.

Local residents and many from out of town mingled all afternoon while visiting with people from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Louisiana contingent. The state workers talked about the dangers of crayfish, found in Sunset Lake in July, as an invasive. In fact, Nick Popoff, the DNR manager, sparred with Sean Suer, who owns a crawfish farm near Lafayette, about the species.

Another highlight was Chef Lauren Liner demonstrating how to make the classic etouffee featuring crawfish caught in Louisiana and transported to the festival in frozen bags. The DNR made sure they weren’t bringing live shellfish that might set back the effort to rid the lake of the invasive red swamp crayfish.

Liner had fixed a huge batch of etouffee earlier in the day to feed the crowd of over 200 people who assembled during the afternoon.

There was an authentic Cajun band from Ann Arbor: Sel de Terre (Salt of the Earth) was playing background music during the afternoon. They kept people tapping their toes with their music while children enjoyed story-telling, face painting and others watched the cooking demonstration. A movie about “King Crawfish” was shown at the end of the day in the Sunset Lake pavilion.

The Lafayette Travel bureau financed the entire Cray Fest, as they called it, bringing a crew of five people including Guidry, a technician, a videographer, the chef and the crawfish farmer who is part-owner of the Cajun Table restaurant in Lafayette.

“We paid for the trip before we even left Lafayette,” said Guidry. “The publicity we gained from our local news outlets, the Associated Press, Food & Wine magazine, is invaluable for our $3.5 -million operation. We wanted to spread the word about the many special events we have in Lafayette and invite everybody from Michigan to come and visit us for our Crawfish Festival, which happens every year the first weekend in May.”

Crayfish the Invasive Species

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Representatives from Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources were at the Cray Fest in Vicksburg to explain the vagaries of the crawfish invasion in Michigan. They are left to right: Joanne Foreman, Nic Popoff, Tyler Czarnopis.

By Sue Moore

There are many species of crayfish native to Michigan, biologist Nick Popoff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources told the crowd at the Crayfish Festival at Sunset Lake Park in August. It’s the red swamp crayfish found in Vicksburg in July that is invasive that could hurt our $2.4 billion fishing industry, he said.

The red swamp variety is known in Cajun country of Louisiana as a delicacy, celebrated with a Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge, La. The town is a few miles from Lafayette, whose Travel Bureau sent a delegation to set up the Sunset Lake Park event.

In Michigan the shellfish can burrow into the lake shoreline and rivers, weakening dams, roads and other works, according to Joanne Foreman, who accompanied Popoff to Vicksburg. “They multiply quickly and travel easily between waterways. They have only been found in Sunset Lake and Novi, Michigan this July so it’s early in the study to determine where they came from,” Popoff said. “We are in a learning mode right now.”

Sean Suer from Lafayette told the audience he owns a 365-acre farm and raises crawfish in ponds as a commercial fishing business and to serve at his restaurant, The Cajun Table. “They have a rich taste and are tough to peel, much the same way you do a shrimp.” He and partner Lauren Liner started a food truck business in 2014 and opened the restaurant last March. They were invited to come along on this trip to Michigan because of their depth of knowledge about fishing and cooking crawfish.

“She’s the queen of etouffee,” remarked Suer in referring to Liner. The proof of that was in the samples of etouffee to the hungry onlookers. “It’s called a ‘smother’ recipe,” Liner said as she put the cover on her creation to let it cook down. She first made a roux on her huge thick-bottom pot, just eyeballing the quantities of butter and flour she put in the pot. “You can’t rush making a roux. Just listen to the pot and what it’s telling you.” She made the Trinity next which is a combination of onion, green peppers, celery and Cajun spices that she makes up herself. She added the seafood stock and let the pot cook down for several hours before adding the crayfish just before serving it on a bed of white rice. “It gets to the point where the neighbors start smelling it and come on over and share in the backyard fun,” she joked. By the way, it’s pronounced eh-too-FAY.

Guests came from as far away as Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Indianapolis. Many were sporting Louisiana t-shirts with Cajun sayings on them. Then there were the many whose houses border on Sunset Lake Park who were curious about the festivities. “People were calling us from all over asking how they could get on the bus to come to Michigan,” Liner said. “We had over 1,000 following our progress on the drive to Michigan.”

They traveled in a big Yukon GMC van and pulled a trailer behind with all the many tents they put up, their public-address system and electronic gear that added to the Cray Fest. “This was a heck of a lot smaller festival than the thousands who visit the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge, but that one has been going on since 1960 and sports seven stages with music performances, a parade, tons of food and drink and lots of dancing in its three days of merrymaking,” Suer said. “We hope y’all will come visit us in May.”

Sunset Lake Beach Declared Safe to Swim in This Summer

By Sue Moore

It has been safe to swim at the Sunset Lake beach in Vicksburg all summer long, according to the Kalamazoo County Health Department. Last year the beach was closed during June and July due to excessively high E.coli bacteria counts.

The county’s environmental health staff collects water samples each week from the north, middle and south ends of the swimming area. They are analyzed by the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Laboratory. These samples show that Sunset Lake has not exceeded the standard for E.coli in 2017 and has shown a drastic reduction from 2016 when the beach was ordered closed.

“We are actually doing as well or better in containing E.coli than many of the other beaches such as Holland State Park, Saugatuck, St. Joe and South Haven,” said Ron Smith, village council trustee and a next door neighbor to the Sunset Lake beach. He has posted weekly reports on his Sunset Lake Water Trail Facebook page.

The rules for E.coli bacteria contact in public swimming beaches are not to exceed a count of 130 colonies per 100 milliliters as a 30-day geometric mean. In 2016 Vicksburg’s beach count registered almost the highest in the state. This year it is down to an average of between two and eight colonies per 100 milliliters.

Why is E.coli bacteria bad for swimming? Most types of E. coli, found in human and animal intestinal tracts, are harmless and even help keep the digestive tract healthy. But some strains can cause diarrhea if one eats contaminated food or drinks fouled water. While E. coli is associated with food poisoning, people can also get pneumonia, breathing problems, and urinary tract infections from different types of the bacteria. In fact, 75-95 percent of urinary tract infections are caused by E. coli. One especially bad strain, O157:H7, can make someone very sick. It causes abdominal cramps, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea and is a leading cause of acute kidney failure in children. Swallowing only small amounts of water that contains E. coli, perhaps while swimming in a pool, lake, or pond can cause any of the above problems, according to WebMD.

The only difference from the 2016 and 2017 results according to Smith is the village’s decision to “goose-proof” the beach. An orange plastic fence was erected by the Department of Public Works (DPW) along the beach in late spring of this year. Over 73 geese and goslings were later captured and relocated to a refuge by Gooseworks LLC. The captured geese have not returned, making it appear that the E. coli problem was due to the excessive number of geese in the park and beach area, Smith said.

Vicksburg Responsible for the High Quality of its Library

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Jack Hopkins, formerly head of the Kalamazoo Foundation leads a strategic planning session for the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation.

By Eric Hansen, Vicksburg Library Head of Circulation and Reference

The Vicksburg District Library receives a vast amount of support from the community in tax dollars, donations of DVDs and books, and volunteer hours provided by patrons from teens to senior citizens.

There is at least one good example of both the tangible and intangible support that the community provides to the library. It is the story of fundraising for the library’s addition from 1984 to 1986. Jack Hopkins, the former president of the Kalamazoo Foundation, oversaw the challenge grant that helped fund the approximately 8,000-square-foot addition to the library.

In 1984, the library was just 2,000 square feet. The project was intended to increase the size to 10,772 square feet. At the time, the community’s investment amounted to $3.23 per person, with 11,530 taxpayers contributing. That $3.23 made patrons part owners of 40,000 books, not to mention other resources and Interlibrary loan privileges. The new space would add amenities that patrons still use, such as a barrier-free entrance and a meeting room accessible while the rest of the library is closed.

Hopkins explained that the Kalamazoo Foundation awarded the grant expecting that the community would match its value. He was surprised at how fully the community took responsibility for fundraising. Ultimately, the community raised approximately $400,000 to meet the expansion goals.

Hopkins witnessed professional tradesmen donating time and families participating in bake sale fundraising. He found it gratifying that his office received a host of grateful postcards and letters thanking the Kalamazoo Foundation. But it is also important that as early as 1984, the community worked to improve this shared resource through independent means. Local students worked and learned job skills at the same time. For instance, Jim Bach, a local contractor and building trades teacher, marshalled students to move a house away from the site of the construction, complete a new basement, and place floor joists. In addition, students attending a practical landscaping class completed the landscaping for the project.

Community involvement left a good impression on Hopkins. He spent 25 years with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, an organization that he describes as being dedicated to promoting the, “health, happiness, and welfare of citizens in the county.” Hopkins authoritatively described a wide range of social, economic, and educational programs that the Kalamazoo Foundation had funded, with the Vicksburg District Library comparing favorably to the many others who have received grants.

Editions of the library newsletter printed from 1984 to 1986 dramatize some ways that Vicksburg citizens assisted with raising $400,000. There are records of donations ranging from $0.04 provided by a small girl up to the Vicksburg Foundation’s allocation of $100,000. A local woman, Ginger Duensing, created a successful program of collecting labels from brand-name goods and sending them to companies for refunds. The Library Building Fund committee, chaired by Tim Moore, began soliciting recipes in 1984 and printed a cookbook in 1986 to raise proceeds. The Ladies Library Auxiliary also hosted a style show bazaar with proceeds going to the Building Fund. The auxiliary’s Christmas Bazaar of 1984-85 generated more than $2,500 and much of the stock sold was donated by citizens. As of the Spring 1985 newsletter, the total raised was $325,000 with approximately $100,000 of that coming from individual donations under $300. By the fall-winter 1985-1986 edition the community had raised $375,000.

This sort of grassroots care for the library has continued into the present. Contemporary examples of community support include the annual book sale that has become famous within the area. That book sale raises more than $2,000 per year to fund various programs, and the stock sold at the annual event comes primarily from patron donations of items. The library receives hundreds of book and DVD donations each year, and these keep down purchasing costs. Currently, citizens are showing significant interest in volunteering to help found a Community Literacy Center in conjunction with the Kalamazoo Literacy Foundation.