The Mill’s Future as Explained by the Project Manager

By Jef Rietsma

Plans for the $60 million redevelopment of the former Simpson Paper Co. mill are falling into place. Transformation could begin in earnest this spring, said project manager Jackie Koney.

Koney, at the November meeting of the Vicksburg Rotary Club, said she remains optimistic the property will return to the prominence of its heyday, though in a far different capacity.

“There were as many as 300 people working at the mill in the past and we want to have that many people working there again … working and living,” Koney said. “This is a multi-use facility we’re planning; there are going to be apartments, office space, event space, multiple food- and beverage-production facilities, beer gardens. There’s just a lot to this place.”

Koney cautioned that design plans she showed during her speech remain subject to change. A few definite plans, however, are in place.

For example, outbuildings without historical value will be demolished.

From the time Paper City Development’s president, Chris Moore, started planning redevelopment three years ago, the former mill has been the site of plenty of work. Koney said a huge step was securing a spot in the National Register of Historic Places. The designation allows the project to qualify for federal tax credits to supplement the project’s expense.

A master plan was completed in 2016. Emergency roof repairs are being conducted, and a fair amount of cleanup has taken place.

“For example, the building is free and clear of asbestos,” Koney said. “There’s still lead paint, but all of the rest of the contamination inside the building is taken care of. There’s still some contamination on the property that we need to deal with, however.”
After the paper company left, a series of owners spent no money on maintenance and left the mill exposed to the elements. Because of that, there is serious damage to the roofs, leaving the building vulnerable to damage, untenable for redevelopment and at risk of losing its status on the National Register of Historic Places. Emergency roof repair, including replacing 10 24-foot-long support beams on the east wing, is almost completed.

As a “brownfield” site, the property has numerous obstacles to redevelopment, including the presence of contamination, blighted and dilapidated structures, and outdated infrastructure.  Paper City Development is working with its contractors, the MDEQ and MEDC to develop plans to address these issues and secure funding assistance to resolve these obstacles not typically found on a “greenfield” site.  This is in addition to being eligible for historic tax credits to help pay for the planned historic preservation activities at the site. It is Moore’s intent to restore the mill in a manner that celebrates the legacy of the site and its place in the history of the Village of Vicksburg and larger paper-making industry of the region.

Koney, who has known Moore for more than 30 years, said she has no doubt his heart is fully into the project – and it remains with the Village of Vicksburg.

“Chris loves the mill. He loves it for many reasons including the fact that his grandfather Gordon Moore and his dad Tim Moore worked there for most of their careers. He worked there in the summers during college and it’s a beautiful, important, iconic building and it meant a lot to this community,” Koney said.

Moore stepped in after plans were presented to demolish the mill, which closed in 2001.

Koney said Moore lives in Seattle and owns Old Stove Brewing Company in the city’s historic Pike Place Market development. Old Stove Brewing (named after an old Kalamazoo Stove) will be the first tenant at the redeveloped mill and is projected to be open for business in late 2019.She shared details of an economic-impact analysis conducted by Washington, D.C.-based specialist Michael Shuman. She said rough figures show the project will create at least 200 construction jobs over a three-year period and will support more than 1,200 new jobs in the first five years of operation. The result? Koney predicted $182 million in new wages, $357 million in new value added, and $55 million in new state and local taxes.

“I love this quote that he provided in his draft report,” she said. “It says, ‘Very few economic-development projects of this magnitude simultaneously clean up a polluted site, restore historically important buildings, create hundreds of high-paying jobs and attract tens of thousands of visitors. All of these features complement rather than compete with other economic-development initiatives in the region.’”

Koney said part of the appeal to Old Stove Brewing in Vicksburg will be the opportunity for guests to see where products used in the beer-making process come from.

“The idea is to make this a destination for people interested in knowing how stuff gets made, so they’ll be able to go out onto the adjacent 80 acres and see what hops, barley, wheat and rye, etc. look like. Then they’ll be able to come into the facility and there will be a malt-processing facility, a hops-processing facility, yeast cultivation, equipment manufacturing and brewing. It’s going to be a situation where people can see how the whole process is done and then they can go and drink their beer,” she said.

Koney, who delivered a similar presentation to the Vicksburg Lions Club, said there is good reason to be optimistic about the redevelopment.

“Obviously, it’s easier to build a new building on a green property that has no contamination than to rehab an old building on a brownfield property that has contamination. But I think people will be interested in visiting, and living in – and will even hear about Vicksburg in the first place – because of the old mill,” Koney said. “Everybody can have a new building; not everybody can have the Vicksburg Mill. It’s the only one there is.”

Schoolcraft Couple Observe 50th Anniversary

Jackie and John Skinner of Schoolcraft have been married for 50 years.

The children of John H. and Jacklyn K. (Maile) Skinner happily announce their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. To celebrate the event, an open house will be held on Jan. 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Schoolcraft Presbyterian Church, Westminster Hall. The couple request no gifts, please.

John and Jackie were married on Dec. 20, 1967 in the chapel at the First United Methodist Church in Three Rivers by Reverend Schanzlen. They have been blessed with four children, Tim Brundige, Gary Brundige, Beth (Skinner) Vause and Amy (Skinner) Kweton, and eight grandchildren.

John is retired from Armstrong International in Three Rivers; Jackie is retired from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. John and Jackie have been very active in several volunteer and community organizations,

Throughout their years of living in Schoolcraft, they have gifted the community with many volunteer hours. They are both lifetime members of the Schoolcraft Historical Society.

They have served in many offices in Masonry, John in the Masonic Lodge and Jackie in Eastern Star. John has an honorary life membership from the American Legion Post 475, Schoolcraft, having served in various command capacities. Jackie has served in many roles with the American Legion Auxiliary at the local, state and national levels. The Daughters of the American Revolution is an important organization that Jackie has been involved with locally and as chaplain at the state level. She currently serves as the board president of South County Community Services.

Jackie received the 2011 National Outstanding Daughter of the American Revolution Service for Veterans Award for exemplary service in caring for America’s Veterans. It was presented to her in Washington, D.C.

She also received the Governor George Romney Lifetime Achievement Award at a Governor’s Service Awards event in Detroit from Gov. Rick Snyder.

60th Wedding Anniversary for Vicksburg Couple

Barbara and Billy Adams will have been married 60 years on Feb. 22. Although both are from Illinois, they met on Indian Lake in June 1957 while Barb was visiting Sue (Miller) Hunt. Bill drove up to the Miller’s dock in a pleasure boat. It didn’t take much longer after that for him to ask her for a date and for her to accept.

Her parents, Floyd and Opal Miller, came here from central Illinois in 1953 where he was employed by Wolverine Pipeline. She graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1957. Bill was from southern Illinois where he lived with his grandparents. He was in town to visit his mother (Helen Miller) who lived here at the time the two met. He took a job at Simpson Paper Company for 12 years and then worked for 27 years at the Fisher Body plant until retiring in 1993.

Barbara was a homemaker and a seamstress offering her consummate sewing abilities to many people in this area. Following Bill’s retirement, they traveled in their truck and trailer for 20 years to Arizona and Texas. The last 14 years of their marriage has been spent in Port Lavaca, Texas where Bill has enjoyed making a lot of fishing friends. Barb has spent her time sewing and quilting at a local quilting shop, making everlasting sewing friends, she said. Their last winter in the Lone Star state was 2015 as they have now settled down all year in Vicksburg at their home on East S Avenue where they have lived for 59 years. They had one son, Brad, who passed away in April 2017.

Bill has been treated successfully for esophageal cancer. He was born in 1936. Barbara was born in 1939.

Five Schoolcraft Boy Scouts Obtain Eagle Rank

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New Eagle Scouts in Schoolcraft are from left to right: Cole Richter, Clayton DeVries, Jared Lynch (sitting), Scott Macfarlane, Matthew Dickerson.

By Sue Moore

“Scouting is about more than just building a campfire or tying a knot. It’s about becoming a leader and learning to challenge yourself every day,” said Clayton DeVries. As a member of Troop 254 in Schoolcraft, he had just earned his Eagle Scout rank, the highest honor a young person can attain in scouting, along with Scott Macfarlane, Matthew Dickerson, Cole Richter and Jared Lynch.

The Boy Scout Court of Honor was held at the Schoolcraft Masonic Lodge at the end of November to finish the journey of these five boys to become Eagle Scouts. The leaders of their troop were there to commend them, including Scoutmaster Scott Macfarlane, Assistant Scoutmaster Steve Dickerson and committee member Phil Marks.

It takes completion of 22 merit badges to become an Eagle Scout according to Marks, who often acted as a counselor to the boys as they were pursuing their dream. Twelve badges are required. One is first aid: If a boy is out in the wilderness and gets hurt he needs to know how to patch himself up. There are 118 possible merit badges, some of which Marks characterized as “growing” opportunities.

Marks had a major influence on the five boys. He and the elder Macfarlane came on board for Troop 254 early in 2007 and helped to grow the troop through outdoor adventures such as camping, hiking and other high-adventure sports. He also volunteered as equipment coordinator to make sure everything got back into the scout trailer in good condition.

Cole Richter said he “joined Scouts looking for some hobbies. I not only gained some hobbies, I learned a love of outdoors and found lifelong friends.”

The younger Macfarlane said, “Being in Boy Scouts has just made me a better person. I’m more caring and empathetic because of what I’ve learned with Scouts. It’s made me believe in working for change to make things better.” His dad, Scott, has been scoutmaster since his son was a Tiger Cub and is an Eagle Scout himself, having achieved this as an Escanaba resident. He is now an industrial hygienist for Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, having lived in Schoolcraft for the last 12 years.

Matthew Dickerson, whose dad, Steve, has been assistant scoutmaster during his growing up years, said, “I decided to join Engineers Without Borders because of my experience with Boy Scouts. I want to go to another country to help others, and I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do that without my scouting experience. I know that I can survive on my own in almost any conditions.”

There is lots of competition for kids’ time these days, Marks said, which makes it an even greater accomplishment to become an Eagle Scout. “Boys go through the same phases no matter their background. It never changes. At 11 they are full of it, at 12 they settle down a little bit, at 13 and 14 the hormonal instincts start to kick in, at 16 they start driving cars and at 17 it’s all about girls. To become an Eagle Scout like these young men did, I ask myself, ‘How the heck did they do that?’”

Major Donations Help Schoolcraft’s Friday Pack Program

Eagle's Nest Donations
Hastings Mutual Insurance and Trust Shield Insurance each presented a $2,500 check to the Eagle’s Nest Friday Pack Program. Left to right, first row: Julie King, Alicia Abfall, Megan Walsh, Kathy Mastenbrook; second row: Dan Olvitt, Tom Olvitt of Trust Shield Insurance, formerly the Ayres Rice Agency in Schoolcraft.

By Linda Lane

Two insurance companies, Hastings Mutual Insurance and Trust Shield Insurance (formerly Ayres-Rice in Schoolcraft), recently donated $2,500 each in matching grants to boost Schoolcraft’s Friday Pack Program funding.

The Friday Pack program in Schoolcraft sends children home with a bag of food items on Fridays, ensuring they will have enough food to eat over the weekend when they’re not in school. While it is mostly geared for kids in the free or reduced lunch program, the Friday Pack program isn’t limited to this group. Anyone who requests the assistance of the Pack food items is allowed to receive a bag of food.

The bag provided to kids typically includes several breakfast items, four easy-to-heat meals, a fruit cup, a dessert, two beef sticks, a cookie, fruit snack, cracker packet, chips or pretzels, a granola bar and fruit juice. They also receive five snacks for after school during the week.

“While we’re conscious of the nutritional components of the Friday Pack, we try to provide items that kids like to eat and are easy for them to heat and eat,” said Megan Walsh, the vice president of the Friday Pack Program.

The Friday Pack Program purchases the warm meal options from Harding’s in Schoolcraft. During the Christmas break, kids will receive a $10 voucher for Harding’s. They are allowed to shop in certain aisles (alcohol or other items are not allowed to be purchased). The program currently has 52 children receiving the Friday Packs. In other years it has had as many as 72 kids enrolled. There is typically a rise in the program numbers after the holidays.

To participate in the program, a family fills out a simple one-page application which does not include any financial information. Anyone interested in participating in the program may contact the Schoolcraft Community Schools at 269-488-7350. Information can be found online at

Alicia Abfall, the Friday Pack program’s treasurer, said last year, “the program was down 23 percent from the 2015 year. This year the funding is higher than 2016, but hasn’t yet reached the highest funded year of 2015.” The influx of the $5,000 donations will greatly add to the program’s budget and success, according to Abfall.

Hastings Mutual Insurance Charitable Foundation provided the first $2,500 donation; Trust Shield Insurance matched its grant with a second $2,500 donation. Hastings Mutual Insurance Charitable Foundation awards grants quarterly to programs such as the Eagle’s Nest in six states in which they do business. This is the second time Hastings has donated to help fund the Friday Pack program; five years ago it also provided funding.

Financial donations may be sent to Schoolcraft Friday Pack, Inc., PO Box 50, Schoolcraft, MI 49087. Donations are tax deductible. Volunteers are sought to help pack and distribute the food bags weekly, according to Abfall.

The Friday Pack components are located inside the Eagle’s Nest, in the former Administrative Building between the Schoolcraft Middle School and Elementary School buildings. It is open the second Saturday of each month from 9-10 a.m. The public is welcome to drop off baby clothing, baby food, wipes, diapers, and food pantry items. These items can also be dropped off at the Schoolcraft Community Library (330 N Centre St) during their open hours.

JA Rettenmaier Christmas Gift Giving

j rettenmeier Friday Pack this picture is going to need some work
Seated, from left: Jill Strake, Schoolcraft Friday Pack president and Dan Hartlieb, owner of On Purpose Branding. Standing, from left: Ted Crook, Senior Logistics Coordinator for JRS USA. Alicia Abfall – Schoolcraft Friday Pack treasurer; Jessica Keaton, customer service representative for JRS USA; Neosha French, Administrative Assistant for JRS USA; Jeff Przekora, safety/project engineer for JRS USA; Shannon Mellinger, graphic designer for On Purpose Branding; Megan Walsh, Schoolcraft Friday Pack VP; Mollie Brown Hartlieb – owner of On Purpose Branding; Corey Grim, cost accountant for JRS USA; Dennis Kelley, product/territory manager for JRS USA; Holly Nadrasik, Schoolcraft Friday Pack secretary.

The J. Rettenmaier company (JRS USA) located on U.S. 131 south of Schoolcraft and its employees donated enough food to fill Jill Strake’s SUV to take to the Eagle’s Nest for distribution to the schoolchildren taking part in the Friday Pack program. J. Rettenmaier and its employees also contributed $4,070 in monetary donations.

“We asked other local businesses to participate, and we were joined by On Purpose Branding, Edward Jones, and Dave Rice Group, LLC,” said Caroline Schroeder, the company’s marketing coordinator. Teams from Edward Jones and Dave Rice Group, LLC were unable to be in the photo: Kristina Loney and Sean Budlong from Edward Jones, Dave and Sally Rice from Dave Rice Group.

Vicksburg Transportation Department Gives Gifts

vix transportation dept.
Those helping out were Chris Cowles, Alice Cronk, Cheri Craig shown on the lift of the car trunk. On the right of the car is Karen McKinstry, Lyndsey Harp and Linda VanderStraaten. Many drivers donated but were not available to be in the picture when it was taken, McKinstry said.

The Vicksburg Transportation Department delivers school children safely from their home to school and back again. At Christmas time, they decided to give back in a new way by buying and wrapping Christmas gifts for some of their students. Its driving crew won third place money with a school bus decoration in the Christmas in the Village parade in December. They used that money for the gifts along with cash contributions.

The bus drivers and administrators decided to buy Christmas gifts for needy children with their prize money and personally delivered the gifts. “We had a fun time planning, shopping and wrapping.  The delivery went smooth and I believe the parents were blessed,” the Transportation Director Karen McKinstry said.

Christmas for SCCS patrons

sccs xmas gifts
Fire Chief Tracy McMillan, at right, was joined by Vicksburg Police Chief Scott Sanderson, on the left. They greeted their luncheon guests at the church standing next to Diane Durian who organized the events. Seated on the left is Otto Decker and Jim Boers on the right.

Serving the public when there is a fire or an emergency is usually when people meet the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority personnel. During the month of December, the staff took time to meet the people by sponsoring free meals for patrons of South County Community Services (SCCS) at the Fulton fire station, Pavilion Township office and the Vicksburg United Methodist Church which is right across from fire station number two.
Several of the police and firefighters took part in the SCCS Shopping with a Hero event at Meijer’s Thrifty Acres store near Schoolcraft.

Their big contribution to the Christmas in the Village parade was decorating their firetrucks with thousands of lights and winning first place in the fire truck division.

Activities for Kids at the Vicksburg District Library

Nisajwen 2
Nisajwen Topash loves to visit the Vicksburg District Library, especially during Christmas break.

By Eric Hansen

There are numerous opportunities for young people to enjoy socialization and learning at the Vicksburg District Library, said library Director John Sheridan. In December alone, the library offered 16 programs for children and youth from pre-K through teen years. Another seven programs at the library were managed by outside presenters, including two local Girl Scouts troops.

On each weekday, the library provides computer access to students who come after school to play video games and access the Internet. Other groups of teens and pre-teens come to socialize quietly or study before they go home for the evening. “This makes the Vicksburg District Library a safe and educational stopover for young people who need to wait for a ride home or must wait for a parent or guardian to come home from work,” Sheridan said.

One of these young people, Nisajwen, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, explained that he “likes the wide selection of books and using computers to learn things and play games.” Nisajwen’s mother also likes the way that he is involved with our Bulldog Break program that includes Wii U games, socialization, and snacks, and with other programs for kids. That family offers service back to the community by volunteering to work in the obituary collection, while also having the benefit of the pleasant social environment full of stories and information, Sheridan pointed out.

Other families, such as the Veldermans, are part of Vicksburg’s significant homeschooling community and use the library’s books, DVDs, and MeL interlibrary loan resources to educate their children. Kate, Louisa, Luke, and Will Velderman described their favorite school subjects, listing science, math and history. Luke shared that his current project was writing an essay about University of Michigan football.

The library’s homeschooling assistance extends to Stephanie Willoughby’s book club for homeschooled students. This monthly meeting provides social value while augmenting homeschooling – it is meant as an opportunity to discuss books outside of students’ homeschool curriculum with other young people. “It fosters strong social relationships while students discuss books they love,” Willoughby said.

Willoughby, the youth services librarian, also purchases compelling graphic novels and books for different age groups. She and other staff assist young people in learning by using their skill set in dealing with children and prior experience working in college education. Willoughby is eager to receive suggestions for purchasing new books and resources that prepare young people for the future. Even though it is not possible to fulfill every purchase request, the library staff enjoys learning what youth in the community need in order to succeed.