Gathering of the Greens at Schoolcraft Library

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Trees to the left and right of the photo of Kelly Bergland and Deb Christiansen are entrants in this year’s Gathering of the Greens contest. Photo by Linda Lane.

By Linda Lane

The Schoolcraft Library is looking like Christmas as entrants begin to fill the library with trees and wreaths decorated with various themes as part of its annual fundraiser.

The Gathering of the Greens is a contest where visitors can “vote” for their favorite greens for 25 cents per vote by dropping coins or cash into cans stationed at each contest entry. There is no limit on casting votes; they may be cast through December 15. The winners will be announced on December 18; prizes will be awarded at the Library from 6:30-7:30 p.m. and punch and cookies will be served.

It costs $10 for each Christmas tree entry. Entries may be only artificial greens, and if lighted, may only use battery-operated lights. Trees are limited to no more than 3 feet tall, and wreaths no more than 24 inches in diameter, but may include a stand. Businesses, organizations, schools, churches, and residents are encouraged to enter the contest as well as vote for their favorite greens.

Proceeds from the Gathering of the Greens will support the Schoolcraft Friends of the Library children’s programs.

Schoolcraft Community Christmas Caroling December 19

caroling two.jpgLooking for a way to awaken the Christmas Spirit? Join in for Community Christmas Caroling on Tuesday, December 19 from 6:30-8 p.m. Carolers will meet at the Schoolcraft Community Library. Weather permitting, they’ll carol through Centre, Cass Street and other nearby streets west of 131. If the weather is not favorable, they’ll sing at the Burch Park gazebo or in the Library, as they did last year.

Everyone is invited, even if you’re not a resident of Schoolcraft. Feel free to bring your entire family. Please dress for the weather and bring a flashlight to read the provided printed carols. Kirk Bergland will be leading the singing. To bring the gift of the season full circle, a donation to Schoolcraft’s Food Pantry of an unexpired canned good or non-perishable item can be dropped off at the collection box in the Library’s entrance.

After singing, everyone is invited for complimentary hot chocolate, hot cider and cookies until 8 p.m. at the Schoolcraft Community Library. A big thank you to the organizing committee which includes library Director Faye VanRavenswaay and community enthusiast Kirk Bergland. If you have questions, please call Darby Fetzer at 269-569-5557.

40 Years of Luminarias Lighting Up Schoolcraft

Luminaria Crew 2017 3
Members of the Schoolcraft Presbyterian Church who have volunteered to help distribute and light the luminarias gathered on the steps of Westminster Hall after church services. The church will also be selling crafts in the DeVries law office on S. Grand Street on Friday evening and on Saturday in the Hall. Photo by Linda Lane.

By Linda Lane

Sidewalks running from Lyons Street south to the railroad tracks on Grand Street, US 131, will be aglow on Christmas Eve with candlelight from luminarias thanks to the dedicated members of the First Presbyterian Church of Schoolcraft. Both sides of Grand Street will be lighted with 600 luminarias set out along the street.

“We’re hoping to expand the luminarias this year to a wider reach including additional streets in Schoolcraft and hopefully even into Vicksburg,” John Barnett said. He’s coordinating the luminaria project with the Presbyterian Church. “We’d really like to see all of south Kalamazoo County light up!”

To facilitate residents participating, the Presbyterian Church will offer kits for the public to purchase. Two nicely packaged kits including 10-hour burning candles, the bags, and candle burn cup will be available: a kit of eight candles for $10 and a kit of 16 for $20. Residents will need to provide their own sand, kitty litter or dirt for the luminarias.

Initiated in 1978 in Schoolcraft, this longstanding community project is a large endeavor, requiring three days of volunteers to coordinate the project. The Presbyterian Church calls upon families, kids and adults, to help fill jugs with sand and candles on December 23, load them onto a truck to light and distribute the luminarias on Christmas Eve, and return on Christmas morning to pick them up again. The public is welcome to lend a hand with the project; volunteers will gather at noon on Christmas eve at the Church, 224 E. Cass Street, to set up. The candles will be lit at dusk.

Luminarias are intended to light the path and sidewalks to invite the Christ child into their homes on Christmas Eve.

Residents may contact the Church office between 9 a.m. and noon at 269-679-4062. Kits will be available for pick up at the Church’s Westminster Hall on Saturday December 9 or 16 from 10 a.m. until noon.

Proceeds from the luminarias sale and support of area merchants go into the luminary fund to continue this community tradition. The Presbyterian Church continues this tradition with the following philosophy: “It is our gift to those passing through Schoolcraft on Christmas Eve.”

Open Enrollment Options in the Affordable Care Act

By John Fulton

Editor’s Note: John Fulton has been through many years of treatment for various types of cancer since he was 15 years old. Now at age 56 he still travels out of state for some medical services. Who better to write about the vagaries of obtaining health care insurance? He was asked to write about the options for the open enrollment period that comes to a close on December 15. Some patients of Bronson Family Medicine of Vicksburg will have to change their provider because Bronson Hospital does not accept some forms of traditional coverage.

The 2018 open enrolment deadline for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace is December 15. This is fast approaching with just a few days remaining. Current law requires individuals to purchase health insurance through the Marketplace if not already covered through an employer, Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) or other qualified coverage. If you do not have coverage there may be a penalty or fee. Coverage will begin January 1, 2018.

The Federal Government offers tax credits for insurance premiums depending on income and family size. Many applicants will be surprised at how high a person’s income can be to qualify for a tax credit. There are a wide variety of plans, but all cover essential health benefits, pre-existing conditions and certain preventive services.

2018 Open Enrollment is Here – and It Ends on December 15.

It is extremely important to enroll during the open enrollment period. If not enrolled by December 15, the open enrollment opportunity ends and you will have to wait another year. There are some enrollment exceptions for major life changes such as marriage, divorce, births and loss of a job that provided coverage. Part of enrolling is providing income information to calculate if a subsidy is available.

For this writer, the hard part when covered through the Marketplace was determining the enrollment sweet spot based on the premiums and estimating what my medical expenditures would be for the coming year. Part of the calculation involves personal medical risk assessment and an individual’s tolerance for paying higher deductibles versus lower premiums.

If you are healthy and consume few medical services you may choose a lower premium and risk higher deductibles, copays and coinsurance limits. Stay healthy, you win. Find yourself in a medical crisis, you will wish you had picked the higher premium with lower deductibles.If you use lots of medical services you will need to do some math calculations to find the sweet spot of deductibles versus premiums that make the most sense based on your individual situation and comfort levels.

Picking between a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) is another big decision you will need to be thinking about. Again, it is partly based on your need for medical services and risk tolerance. There are many differences in the two plans that you will need to research, but a couple of things stand out. HMOs keep expenses down and have lower premiums because services are obtained through a provider network that I found limiting in most cases. PPOs offer more flexibility to choose a provider and the option to obtain services from providers beyond a geographic area. Perhaps you desire to travel out of state to see a renowned specialist for your medical issue, such as I have had to do.

If this all sounds overwhelming, it can be. There is help available. The option I choose was to go through a local agent to purchase the insurance. There was no extra fee for this service and I found it was helpful to have somebody that could help me navigate the options.Insurance from the Marketplace can also be handled on your own through the Marketplace online.

You can find information about Marketplace plans at When you investigate individual plans you will see provider names you recognize such as BlueCross Blue Shield of Michigan, Priority Health, Meridian, Spectrum, Blue Care Network, McLaren and others. Once I made the HMO choice and picked a provider, I had confidence in the big decision of finding my comfort level of premium versus deductibles.

If you qualify for a subsidy and have lots of medical expense, the website states that a plan in the Silver category provides not only a premium subsidy, but other savings including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.Investigate all your options carefully because for every generality mentioned here there are specific rules and exceptions for each provider. This writer’s advice is to stay healthy. Take advantage of regular exercise, eating well and good living to help avoid being a high-end consumer of medical services.

Vicksburg District Library to Host Holiday Events

By Eric Hansen

The Vicksburg District Library will offer four opportunities for the public to capture some holiday cheer this December.

On Sunday, December 3, children will have the opportunity to decorate waffle cone Christmas trees at the third annual Candy Forest Decorating event from 2-3 p.m. Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby will provide waffle cones, green frosting, and a variety of candies and sprinkles. For additional entertainment, the library will show “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” There is no cost to attend, but attendees must register on the library’s website or at the circulation desk. Children must be aged BK/Kindergarten through fifth grade. A parent or guardian must attend with them.

Community Engagement Manager Linda Adams will host three showings of wonderful holiday films this December.

On Friday, December 15th from 1-4 p.m. the library will show “Holiday Inn” (1942). At a fantasy hotel, open only during the holidays, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire play a dancer and a singer who compete for the attention of the lovely Marjorie Reynolds. The film includes Crosby’s hit song, “White Christmas.”

From 1-4 p.m. Saturday, December 16, children and adults are invited to view “A Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992). Michael Caine stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in this adaptation of the Dickens classic. Kermit the Frog is presented opposite Caine as the perpetually put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit, and the other muppets are cast in roles familiar to viewers of holiday fare.

On Sunday, December 17 from 1-4 p.m., Adams will show the Frank Capra Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore. In this post-war classic, a good man learns the value of his devotion and personal sacrifices. Stewart’s character, George Bailey, is saved from his personal despair when an angel named Clarence shows him how his life has changed the world for the better. George Bailey comes to realize that his years of serving the community have made him an integral part of the lives of other people and that “no man is a failure who has friends.”

These film showings and events are a great opportunity to get involved in the life of the library, and to stay involved after December ends, Adams said. For instance, patrons are encouraged to come and search the more than 5,000 films available in the library, and to participate in events such as the Winter Adult Reading Program. Program participants who read at least five books or audiobooks or view a minimum of 10 films will receive a free tote bag and an entry in a prize drawing at the end of winter. Completing additional books and films makes a patron eligible for additional entries in the drawing. Director John Sheridan is planning a special prize for the winter’s end drawing.

Jones Publishes a Third Book, “Are You Ready?”

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Marilyn Jones. Photo by Linda Lane.

By Linda Lane

She’s soft-spoken, smart and witty, the kind of woman you’d be proud to call your grandmother. She’s Marilyn Jones, southwest Michigan’s Poet Laureate, because Schoolcraft, Vicksburg and Portage all vie to call her their own.

With two poetry books already published, Jones is just releasing her third book called “Are You Ready?” The girl who in fact is lucky enough to call her Grandma, Angel Martin, helped her compile and publish the book.

“This book is a little bit different. It’s not just poems, but includes short stories from my life as well,” Jones explained. “Every time I go to speak at one of the local libraries or clubs, people kept asking me when I was going to publish another book. So, I finally called my biggest cheerleader, my granddaughter Angel, and ask her to help me. She didn’t hesitate a minute and said, “Grandma, let’s do it! You know I’d do anything in the world for you!” And so they did.

Jones has lots of fans around these parts of Michigan. “Oh, she’s one of my favorite people!” Sue Moore exclaimed. “When I grow up, I want to be just like you,” Jan (Krum) McNally told Marilyn Jones at the conclusion of her talk at the Ladies Library meeting in Schoolcraft.

Over 100 people showed up for her 90th birthday party last year, including people she went to high school and college with and many friends and family from the area. Jones was married to her husband for 47 years before he passed away; they had five children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

In 2009 she fell and severed a knee cap, broke a wrist, and slit a sizable piece of her earlobe. She spent weeks in intensive care, her family warned by doctors that they didn’t think she would make it, and did three months in rehabilitation.

“It really changed my life,” Jones explained. “I had published one book at that time, called “One Lump or Two” because I loved drinking tea. When I had those life-threatening injuries, I asked Angel to publish a second book if I died.” Again Angel didn’t hesitate. “Get well, Grandma, and we’ll do it together!” And they did.

Jones recently fell again and it took another three months in rehabilitation to recuperate. But again, the fall resulted in another book being published.

“When Angel calls me, she often says to me, ‘Are you ready?’ Of course, I always say, ‘Yes! What am I ready for?’” Jones said. And hence the title of her third book. “I couldn’t have done it without her.”

The Schoolcraft Library has sponsored a Tournament of Writers contest for the past three years. Jones has placed in poetry, non-fiction and fiction categories for all three consecutive years, an impressive feat. “I’m in the teenage division,” she quipped. In fact, she won in the Senior category.

For only $10, people can pick up a copy of Jones’s new book and have her autograph it. She will have a book signing event during Schoolcraft’s Christmas Walk on Friday, December 2 from 6-9 p.m. and Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Schoolcraft.

Another book signing is planned for Jones and another local author, Barbara Vortman, who also just released her second and third books as well, called “Child of Mine” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” The Schoolcraft Library will host a book signing for the two local authors on December 9, from 10 a.m. to noon in their Community Room.

“Friends ask me where I get my ideas and I don’t really know. Something will trigger a memory. I might start out writing thinking it will be funny and when I’m done, it turns out seriously. Sometimes the stories just take on a life of their own and they kind of write themselves,” Jones explained of her craft.

“It took many years before I realized that I could do something like this. It’s humbling to know that others are interested and enjoy what I have to say.”

Letters from China by Vicksburg’s Hali Tavelsky

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Hali Tavalsky.

My name is Hali Tavalsky; I am the daughter of Cathelia and Jeff Cowles. I am an alumnus of Vicksburg High School and Northern Michigan University (NMU). I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology with a minor in Business and a Master of Arts in English with a dual concentration in Writing and Pedagogy (Teaching).

At 24, I moved to China, in August, for a year-long teaching internship. I’ve always been fascinated with the Chinese culture, and the thought of their history being thousands of years old. It has been a dream of mine to visit China. As I progressed through school, I began playing with the idea of teaching abroad. I had actually been doing research on how to do this when an opportunity through NMU came up.

Northern Michigan has partnerships with schools in various parts of China, but they are wanting to expand. One partnership is older, but both parties wanted to rebuild the connection. The opportunity was posted through campus, and so I started researching and asking questions about it.

Now, I am teaching English at Guangya School at Luxehills Community. I teach seventh through twelfth graders and am here on a year-long contract. Although I have only been here for a month, I am really enjoying it. The school is very accommodating, and the people here are extremely friendly.  There are other foreign teachers here as well teaching various subjects, math, history, geography, art, etc.

I live in a small, gated community in Chengdu city, which is located in the Sichuan Provence. Chengdu is also the home of all the panda research in the world, but that’s a topic for another time. The community and the city are extremely safe, and I am very happy this is where I have ended up. I am looking forward to the adventures this year will take me on and will hope to keep writing letters back to my home in Vicksburg.

Bednarski-Sinclair to Wed

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Adam Sinclair and Michelle Bednarski.

Michelle Bednarski and Adam Sinclair and their families are pleased to announce their engagement.

Michelle is a 2004 graduate of Posen High School and attended Grand Valley State University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in education. She currently works at an optometrist’s office in the Hudsonville area. Bednarski is the daughter of proud parents Michael Bednarski of Mackinaw and Donna Bednarski of Posen, Michigan.

Adam graduated from Vicksburg High School in 2003. Moving to Grand Rapids, he received his Bachelor of Science in Health Professions and in Psychology in 2009 followed by a Master of Business Administration in general business, receiving both degrees from Grand Valley State University. He is employed at Spectrum Health as a Senior Quality and Safety Improvement Specialist. Sinclair is the son of Robert and Barbara Sinclair, lifelong Vicksburg residents.

The couple will wed in March and then reside in Dorr, Michigan.

Kristen Stanford Promoted

Kristen Stanford.

The Buckham Agency, a Portage insurance firm, recently promoted Vicksburg resident Kristen Stanford to the position of Senior Customer Service Representative at the organization. The promotion follows Stanford’s successful completion of Farm Bureau’s Certified Insurance Representative (FB CIR) designation.

“We are so blessed to have Kristen as part of our office team,” said Agent/Co-Owner Stephanie Buckham. “She is kind, hardworking, and cares deeply about the people in the community we serve.”

Stanford has been with the agency for three years. She lived in the Vicksburg area as a child before moving away and eventually earning her bachelor’s degree from McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois. She returned to the area to start her family. Along with her dedication to her customers, she is also active in the community as a member of Lakeland Reformed Church in Vicksburg. She enjoys canoeing and spending time with her family.

The Buckham Agency is located on 450 W. Centre Ave., Ste. A, Portage. It is owned and operated by Jeff and Stephanie Buckham, Jr. of Schoolcraft.

From Russia With Love Part Two

Jim and Natasha Moscow 1996
Jim Butterfield and Natasha Yakimenko in Russia 21 years ago when they were dating.

By Sue Moore

Continued from November –

Jim Butterfield and Natasha Yakimenko, now Vicksburg residents, met in Moscow, he as a Western Michigan University professor, she is a freelance translator. They carried on a three-year long-distance romance after he returned to Michigan until Natasha came to the U.S.

Butterfield, from Mishawaka, Indiana, had graduated from Indiana University, then from Notre Dame with a Ph.D in 1989. He sent applications to universities all over the U.S. and the first interview he got was at Western Michigan University. He has risen to become a full professor in the political science department. His specialty is Russia but he is interested in civil society, and transitions and development, especially in post-communist societies. As a specialist in the former Soviet Union and several of the successor states, he has been to the region over 40 times. He has traveled extensively throughout provincial Russia, including to many cities that were formerly closed to foreigners.

Before the collapse, he was accompanied by “handlers” who oversaw his activities. “If you build trust, speak the language, act like a human and ask questions, you can learn and barriers come down so quickly. As a grad student in my early 30s, I was the first American many Russians had ever met.”

His initial interest was in Communist reforms in agriculture and why they had never worked. “There was over-centralization with too many decisions made at the top. There was a risk aversion by farm managers to change things.

“Loyalty was more important. Ag production was inefficient with lots of waste. Ideally, Marx thought that people would do the work out of the goodness of their heart, meaning the worker would have moral satisfaction, but that didn’t evolve into meaningful productivity.” The common saying in the USSR: “The government pretends to pay us and we pretend to work.”

This year, Butterfield is teaching a new course on terrorism and political violence at WMU along with Russian and Central Asian politics.

He has twice been a visiting associate at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for African Studies and in 2013 was a visiting faculty member at the Kazakh Agro-Technical University in Astana, Kazakhstan. In 2009-2010, he received a Fulbright Scholar award and spent the academic year at Saratov State University in Russia. He returned there as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar in May 2014. He received another Fulbright Scholar award in 2016-2017 and spent a semester as a visiting professor at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

His first home in Vicksburg was a rental on Vine Street. He thought it would be a good place to raise his daughter, Sarah, who graduated from Vicksburg High School and now lives in Kalamazoo. He later purchased the Chuck Varker home on Park Street where Natasha visited, then took up residence in 1997 when they were married. She moved her son, Ivan, to Vicksburg when he was in middle school. After graduation, he attended George Mason University and then returned to Moscow where he has a job in the newsroom of Russia Today ( as an editor and personnel trainer.

Meanwhile, Natasha became a U.S. citizen and has been working as a freelance translator. Her first job here lasted more than 10 years with the Center for Citizen Initiatives, an organization aimed at promoting dialog between American and Russian citizens. The Center brought thousands of Russians to the US; Natasha accompanied them on their travels. She spent many a breakfast, lunch or dinner at Rotary Club meetings along the way. Rotarians often hosted the visitors.

Yakimenko loves to garden. She found her place to grow things in the Vicksburg community garden near the Leja Industrial Park eight years ago. She regularly exchanges gardening techniques and best practices with others and still keeps her plot in tiptop shape.

What language do they speak at home? “When Jim is tired, he speaks English and when I am tired, I speak in Russian. We understand each other perfectly. Jim loves to travel and I’m more content staying put because I like continuity. We have two homes as I inherited my parents’ small dacha outside of Moscow so I’m happy with just that,” Yakimenko said. Natasha’s mother died at the age of 88. She traveled to the U.S. a number of times and loved it here, her daughter said, although did she not speak any English.