Monthly Archives: November 2017

Vicksburg Arts Spectacular Features a Live Auction

By Sue Moore

It’s been two full years since the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center became a reality. With a constant need to raise money to keep it going, the staff of the Center organized an art auction in 2016 as a fundraiser that helped to keep the doors open for a second year. It was so successful that Syd Bastos and Lisa Beams, sparkplugs behind this success, are presenting the Vicksburg Arts Spectacular on Saturday, November 11 from 5:30 to 9:30 to further cement the Arts Center’s place in the community.

It will be an art auction fundraiser with lots of moving parts on the four corners of downtown Vicksburg. There will be a live auction in the Community Center offering seven major items. The centerpiece: a package called “Party at the Paper Mill” for 25 people.

Paper City Development has planned an unforgettable evening – a 30’s style party for twenty-five at the Mill.  Staffed by members of Paper City, Ryan Collins, Stephany and Mike Frederick, the event will be in an undisclosed location within the Mill with access gained through a secret door and a coded password – just like Grandma and Grandpa did during Prohibition!  The winning bidder will work with the staff of Paper City to create a special menu reflective of the era. Live entertainment will add extra zest to the evening. The opening bid: $900.

The Cultural Arts Center began as a gleam in local artists’ eyes and opened at 200 S. Main Street in 2015. It has since gone through several iterations, looking to find the right mix of art work for sale, visitor center operations and entertainment venue. Together, Bastos and Beams have taken the operation to a new level, according to John DeBault, president of the Downtown Development Authority which oversees the work of these two ladies and their staff.

Things are on a solid footing for the Center. It moved its operations to 101 E. Prairie Street with plans to eventually move to the former Doris Lee shop next door at 103 E. Prairie when renovations of the space are complete. Thus, the need continues to raise funds and bring the best of local artists’ work for public consumption, according to Bastos.

The Arts Spectacular will use all three buildings to showcase the current and future spaces that will allow the Center to be even more active in the community. To date it has held 58 events engaging more than 250 artists and musicians and over 7,000 visitors. It’s clear that the Arts Center is becoming a part of the tapestry of the community, according to DeBault.

Guests will register at 103 E. Prairie, where they will get a sneak peek at the future home of the Arts Center. Next door, the Gallery will be open where items will be displayed for bidding in the Silent Auction. Musical performances will run all evening in the Gallery including Whiskey Before Breakfast, Bob and Kathy Brandt, Sky and Walker Truckey, and Adam Wallace. Guests will also enjoy live music at the Community Center with emerging artist Megan Happel opening the evening, an excerpt of the next Revelry Theatre production, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”, and musician Patricia Pettinga performing with Bill Willging just prior to the live auction.

This year, the guest auctioneer will be Mark Mitchell, Vicksburg Rotary Club president. He will be tantalizing bidders with uncommon items such as The Monty Python, a crazy collection of items fit for the King and his Knights of the Round table; The Big Head Todd Special, including tickets to their concert at the State Theatre, a collection of CD’s and memorabilia, hotel accommodations in downtown Kalamazoo and dinner before the show; and The Distant Whistle Package, including a Mug Club Membership, growler and pint glasses for filling, a custom colors mug, and a Distant Whistle shirt.

Silent auction items run the gamut from original works of art, spa treatments, auto care and sports packages, Miller Auditorium tickets and much more. The Center is adding daily to its list of items. Guests can follow the event on facebook.com/vicksburgculturalartscenter.

Tickets are $40 and include entertainment, hors d’oeuvres, special non-alcoholic beverages and delectable desserts. Tickets are limited to 125 and can be purchased at the Vicksburg Arts Center Gallery at 101 E. Prairie in Vicksburg and at vicksburgarts.com.

Ryan LaPorte Honored for His Work at Swan Park

ryan laport 2
Ryan LaPorte holds the plaque presented to him at the Schoolcraft Township board meeting by the Little League district 15 administrator.

By Sue Moore

Ryan LaPorte, who serves as coordinator for Schoolcraft Township’s Swan Park, was honored by District 15 Little League as its Volunteer of the Year. District Administrator Joanne Wilson was present with a plaque and a formal presentation at the Township’s board meeting in October.

It recognizes Ryan LaPorte as a dedicated and loyal supporter of the 15 leagues of Michigan District 15 hosted each year at Swan Park. “Ryan’s been instrumental in field maintenance for regular season play.  I’ve received the highest praises from our Little League guests on the condition of the fields.  He’s also taken the lead in our hosting the four state of Michigan Little League All-Star tournaments at Swan Park over the last five years.  Swan park has hosted approximately 540 players and managers plus countless family members who follow their teams to the township location.  They praise Ryan’s hours of dedication on providing a first-class state tournament site,” Wilson said during the presentation.

The plaque reads, “Ryan LaPorte goes over and above in his commitment to the ideals and goals of Little League.  Ryan LaPorte is a spirited and dedicated volunteer that supports the development of children participating in Little League baseball and softball.”

“He accommodates the players and families’ every need,” Wilson said. “He and his dad, Jeff, are in this for the kids. This year they spent $1,200 to rebuild the pitching mounds before our tournaments. He takes care of the fields as if they are his babies. It’s like a field of dreams for the players. It’s a small town with big town attractions.”

LaPorte isn’t satisfied with just maintaining the fields; he wants to enlarge and enhance the whole property. The goal is to build one more field, continue laying irrigation to extend to all six fields rather than the three it currently covers and expand the parking lot. The biggest project of all is to build a full-service concession stand by adding on to the existing block building. That will have a price tag between $80,000 to $100,000, so he envisions several years of fundraising to see the dream come true.

The development of Swan Park began 15 years ago when there was one softball field sitting idle on land that was purchased from Raymond and Lela Swan in November 1966. Jeff LaPorte asked the township if he could convert it to a baseball field so his son Ryan and his team from Schoolcraft would have a home field to play on. The dad is now retired and helps with the mowing and Ryan, age 28, has accepted the responsibility of managing the park as its coordinator. He is a graduate of Schoolcraft High School and Western Michigan University and holds a full-time job as a test engineer at Parker Hannifin. His mother, Patti, and sister, Katie, also help with the park.

The Township has a budget for park maintenance, covering expenses for anything outside of the Little League fences. The Schoolcraft Little League takes care of expenses inside the fences such as the irrigation system and the stone dust on the base paths. “Our goal is to make this an enjoyable experience for the people who use the park,” LaPorte said.

“This is the best place to play in the state of Michigan for Little Leaguers,” Wilson declared.

From Russia With Love

jim & nat
Jim Butterfield and Natasha Yakimenko at the Vicksburg Community Center.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg resident Jim Butterfield, a Western Michigan University political science professor, wasn’t expecting to find love during a sabbatical in Russia in 1994. It happened anyway. He met Natasha Yakimenko in the Moscow office of the Agency for International Development (USAID) where she was working.

“We worked so well together,” Butterfield said. “She was on the team of Russian interpreters and I was the only American who spoke Russian. “It took us three years to decide to get married through our long-distance romance.”

One thing that helped to seal the deal: Butterfield sent Natasha flowers and a jar of pickles. She had told him she was sick of chocolate. Male consultants would often drop by the translation pool and bring chocolate. She said she wished they’d bring pickles once in a while. He picked up on that and sent them to her as a surprise. “I love pickles any time of the day,” she had told him.

In those years after the fall of Communism, U.S. consular officials were suspicious of women applying to come to the States. “We had to show that it wasn’t a relationship of convenience, via emails, phone bills and letters to get approval,” Butterfield said.

When Natasha was interviewed at the U.S. Embassy, she was asked, “Are you excited about moving to the U.S.?” No, she had answered, “because I have my life here and I don’t know how it will fit in over there.” The embassy employee assured her she would be all right and stamped her visa.

Although she had previously visited the U.S., there were plenty of reasons that Yakimenko did not want to leave Russia. Among them: She had a terrific job as an interpreter with AID, a mother who was still alive and a son Ivan, then 12.

Yakimenko was well educated, with a Ph.D in American Literature from Moscow University. She came from parents who were both university professors and wanted their daughter to have the very best that education had to offer. She started taking English lessons at the age of seven and found it easy to learn. Upon graduation, she went to work at the Institute for World Literature in Moscow, a research organization. Despite the education and jobs, she and her parents were not paid much more than a worker in a factory. They lived in a small apartment with few luxuries.

Her father had served in World War II, first in the artillery and then as a war correspondent. He had suffered many wounds with shell fragments remaining in his spine until he died at age 58. He was gratified that he was still alive when over 20 million Russians had lost their lives. He went to graduate school where he met Natasha’s mother. He authored war novels and both taught at Moscow University.

With the collapse of Communism on December 31, 1991 and dissolution of the Soviet Union, life in Russia became something like shock therapy, according to Yakimenko. Inflation was 2,500 percent the first year although salaries stayed the same. She recalls standing in line for hours just to buy milk in the winter. It was brutal, she said. “Nobody knew how to reform a Communist society. The American government wanted to make sure that Communism didn’t ever come back. They sent highly paid consultants from Harvard to help develop a market economy, but at a huge price.”

At that time, she augmented her meager paycheck by editing trash novels, then interviewed for a job with the U.S. State Department. “I was so naïve. I just asked to do this job part time because I wasn’t ready to leave academia so I didn’t get the job.”

But she got the next best thing: “The interviewer put a letter of recommendation in my file and when the USAID office was set up, I was the only person they knew about. I had lots of translation jobs and worked long hours with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in an attempt to set up a disease surveillance system. It turned out that Russia had been collecting this type of information all along, but in a very different format.”

Her employer, the World Literature Institute, hosted Americans. She came to Jackson, Miss. on an exchange program in 1992. “It wasn’t the America I expected. I was just amazed at how rural it was. I saw firsthand the north-south animosity I read about in southern literature was still alive when being hosted by professors at the university. We were there a week and then flew to New York City where I stayed with a Jewish couple in their apartment who were psychoanalysts. The third night, we moved to an apartment of a Jesuit priest. The USSR was not homogeneous and I learned in my first trip that the U.S. wasn’t either, so I found I loved life in New York during my brief visit.”

From Russia With Love will conclude next month.

Veterans Day in Oswalt Park

vet 15
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5189 fire a salute during the 2016 observance.

The annual Veterans Day observance will be at 11 a.m. on Friday, November 10 in Oswalt Park in downtown Vicksburg, to allow school students to participate. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5189, named after Capt. Charles E. Osborne, will be conducting the annual flag ceremony. The observance usually takes place on the national holiday on Nov. 11 which originally was known as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I 99 years ago. Each year, fifth grade students from Sunset School join the ceremony and use sign language for the National Anthem as it is played over the loud speaker. Boy Scouts from Troop 251 participate in saluting the colors of each armed services branch. The guest speaker will be, former U.S. Army Major Richard Furney. Major Furney is a veteran of several deployments including combat in Somalia as part of the Third Mountain Division. He and his family are Vicksburg residents.

Historic Plaque Dedication Set for November 12

Oswalt Park on the main four corners of Vicksburg’s downtown, once had a large group of imposing buildings that housed an A&P grocery store, a post office, a clothing store, offices on the second floor and the Sun Theater. The buildings were torn down in the early 1970s to create the park when the bank, at that time known as First National Bank, decided to raze the Stofflet Block.

Enter the Historic Footsteps Program an arm of the Vicksburg Historical Society. The Footprints committee has been working over the last five years to place bronze plaques on various buildings in the community to mark their historic significance. This plaque recently placed in Oswalt Park was years in the making. Mike Hardy the “artist in residence,” drawing of the buildings is the highlight of the newest plaque that has been erected. On the reverse side of the plaque are photos of the interior of the various retail establishments that were once housed in the Stofflet Block.

The large metal signs have a special coating that protect the painting and photographic images from fading and make the surface weather and vandal resistant. The original painting and text was digitized by Kal-Blue and the sign was made by Sign Art. Two village light poles were reclaimed from the Department of Public Works’ yard and incorporated into the sign frame which was engineered and painted by SignArt. Fred Reiner and fellow woodworkers made the finials for the top of the poles. The DPW dug the holes, poured the concrete and erected the sign in the park.

A dedication for this imposing plaque will take place on Sunday, November 12 at noon in the park according to Kristina Powers Aubry who has been the de facto leader of the plaque committee. Everyone is invited to celebrate what has turned out to be an imposing monument to the history of the village, Aubry said.

The Footsteps committee was introduced in 2013 by the Vicksburg Historical Society to identify buildings and locations in the Village of Vicksburg of historical significance. Twenty-five locations have been identified: eight have been completed and marked with bronze plaques, seven are in process and 13 more are planned to be finished by the end of 2019. All of the plaques were financed by private donations, Aubry said. Others serving on the committee were Ted Vliek, Bonnie Holmes, and Margaret Kerchief.

Boy Scouts Paper Barn to Close

newspaperpickup_preview
Cub Scout Kyle Campbell gathers newspaper inside the semi-trailer truck several years ago when newspapers were more plentiful at the drop off site.

By Sue Moore

For many years, the newspaper collection operated by Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts of Troop 251 as a community service and fundraiser, was paying a nice dividend. Today they are lucky if they receive a check each month for the paper.

Scoutmaster Kevin Bordon has announced that the paper barn on Richardson south of the railroad tracks will be closing for good after the first Saturday in December.

“Due to the amount of paper we receive and money it generates, the troop committee has decided we will not continue after the first of the year,” Bordon said. “Years ago, it would generate upwards of a couple hundred dollars a month. Recently we have been receiving checks for $30 to $50. Financially it is not worth it for our organization and the recycler to pay an individual’s overtime pay to bring the trailer to Vicksburg.”

Bordon cited the impacts of curbside recycling, smaller newspapers and less frequent publication which have decreased the amount of paper the scouts receive. It has been a tradition for years in Vicksburg and unfortunately will need to end, he said.

“Thanks to all that have dropped off in the previous years. Scouts will have to look at other ways to fund their scouting career. In the past, the amount of money scouts could earn through the paper drive helped to offset the cost of scouting for the young people,” Borden lamented.

The Scoutmaster advised that people should stop dropping off the paper if there is no trailer there. “We have continually been picking up papers that are blowing around the village, starting on some Friday nights. It has been a good run for our community but unfortunately it must end,” Bordon said.

Newly Renovated Dining Room at the Masonic Center

Jack Lem 5.1
Jack Lem, the manager of the newly refurbished Masonic Center poses in front of the building on U Avenue. Photo by Linda Lane.

By Linda Lane

A newly-renovated facility is a real gem for people looking to host an event or rent a facility in the area. The Kalamazoo County Masonic Center, located at 4371 West U Ave. in Schoolcraft, spent $5,000 to renovate its rentable dining hall. The renovation included new padded chairs, resealed flooring, a refinished bar and fresh paint with new chair-rails and columns.

Jack Lem, newly elected president of the center, spearheaded the project. The improvements to the dining room earned Lem the Mason of the Year award in July.

The Masonic Center rents the use of the building for $350 for a Saturday night and can seat up to 125 guests. For a nominal fee, it offers full linen service and a fine dining atmosphere. Menus include a pasta bar or high-end fancy dinners, such as pork roulade or prime rib, thanks to the facility’s full commercial kitchen. Or guests can bring in their own food or potluck. The dining room also has a sound system and projector available. The center hopes to obtain a liquor license in the next year as well.

A wedding reception which might cost upwards of $15,000 at a local restaurant or hotel can be delivered for only $2-4,000 at the Center. One local family celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary there with 60 guests in attendance. Lem was able to deliver the function in just over $1,000 for the family.

As a 5O1-C-10 organization, the Masonic Center must pay property taxes on the facility, which is a primary motivation for the group’s willingness to rent to others. Anyone interested in finding events at the Kalamazoo County Masonic Center can find it on Facebook or contact Lem at 269-303-0007.

Besides his role as the center’s president, Lem wears other hats, most related to the operations of the building and its rental, including aesthetics committee director, rental hall manager, and marketing director.

While Lem runs his own power washing business today, he has substantial credentials in the food industry. He trained as a chef under the direction of Helmut Klett, head chef at Alpen Rose restaurant in Holland, and Alex Dobrowoloski, head chef at Gull Lake Country Club. He has worked in the food industry for over 12 years.

“This place is filled with retired contractors, plumbers, electricians—really men who have built our homes and fixed our cars over the years. They’re just a great group of guys who band together and support each other,” Jack Lem said.

While the Masons are steeped in rituals and symbols, their basic beliefs are courage, kindness and generosity. The Masons’ are also called Freemasons. Their mission is “Love your Brother, Help those in need, and Seek Truth.” While they are not a secret society, the Masons are a fraternity which believes that “each man has a duty to make life better, not just for himself, but for everyone.” They give scholarships to students, support other nonprofit groups doing good in the community and strongly support education. They have offered several dinners open to the public, including corned beef and cabbage in March and leg of lamb in April.

Anyone interested in finding events at the Kalamazoo County Masonic Center can find them on Facebook or renting the Masonic Center can contact Jack Lem at 269-303-0007.