Monthly Archives: November 2018

Mill Project Approved by Unanimous Village Council Vote

By Jef Rietsma

Tearing the corner off a piece of notebook paper, Vicksburg Village President Bill Adams gave a visual example of how much work remains for redevelopment of the former Simpson Paper Co.

Adams, speaking prior to the council’s 7-0 approval of the $60 million planned-unit development Oct. 29, said the corner of the torn paper represents the amount of work already completed. The rest of the sheet, he said, signifies the work that lies ahead.

“We have voted on the small portion of the plan tonight,” Adams said, indicating he intended to present the two-piece puzzle to his wife as a means of explaining the current state of the project.

Village Manager Jim Mallery said in a perfect situation, village staff “would have been here with all the details. But working with the developer, we felt it best to proceed this way in order to receive the county- and state-level economic incentives, and then move forward.”

There’s plenty of work ahead, but for now, backers of the ambitious plan to redevelop the former mill will take a moment to celebrate the council’s milestone vote.
Buoyed by the unanimous decision, the crowd of more than 150 – most of them proponents – applauded as the meeting adjourned at Vicksburg High School’s Performing Arts Center.

Chris Moore, a Vicksburg native who is backing the Paper City Mill project, said there was good reason to celebrate a vote that has been several years in the making.

“We’re a lot closer to the start line now … it’s such a huge project, you have to think about the thing incrementally,” the 53-year-old Moore said. “So, there is the initial study, figuring out the brownfield issues, then the next step is to get the traffic plan, the sound plan, the parking plan and all that stuff put away. It’s all incremental and if you don’t think of it incrementally, your head will blow up.”

While behind-the-scenes work takes place over the winter, project manager Jackie Koney said visually, the public will see progress commence in the spring. She made a reference to the Transformational Brownfield Redevelopment plan under review by Michigan Department of Economic Development.

“We are waiting on it and if awarded, it truly (would be) transformational,” Koney said.

Supporters indicated the need for such a destination with the facilities the development will provide, while others noted it would help preserve a building and property that impacted thousands of area families over nearly a century before closing in 2001.

Vicksburg native Joe Krill, a Stryker employee, said Paper City has the potential to impact the county’s larger employers. He said large meeting spaces – which are included in Paper City’s plan – are needed in the area to enhance manufacturers’ recruitment and retention of prospective and current employees.

The village council’s vote followed the Vicksburg Planning Commission’s Oct. 17 unanimous recommendation for approval. The recommendation was sealed after commission members in last-minute negotiations won concessions from Moore reducing permissible sound levels and late-evening hours for entertainment at the site.

Vicksburg-area resident Don Wiertella was the first of eight people to address the council. He reminded the members that Mallery and the planning commission’s support spoke well of the project.

“I believe that the mill project will be successful and will allow Vicksburg to become a destination village and not a travel-through village,” said Wiertella, a former Michigan Department of Transportation engineer who oversaw traffic studies at locations such as the Pontiac Silverdome and Michigan International Speedway. “I believe that what is in the best interest of the village is a yes vote on this project.”

Jo Ramsdell, a Vicksburg resident, said the Village Council “is the equivalent of a watchdog whose job is to bark and alarm when something or someone suspicious approaches, to sniff out potential problems and to stand your ground to protect our interests. You have done your jobs well.”

“Chris Moore has offered Vicksburg an amazing opportunity,” Ramsdell said. “We, the residents and the voters, are the watchdog owners. We hear the barks and the growls, we step out from our doors with caution, but when we realize it is actually Santa walking toward us, delivering gifts, it is our responsibility as owners to tell our watchdogs to sit, stay, but don’t go away.

“We know that many gifts come with warnings and they need to be monitored when in use, but that does not mean the gift is no good, or even worse that it should be returned,” she added.

Virginia Corners Homestead Circa 1840 on Home Tour

virginia corners 2
Don and Cheryl Ulsh stand on the east side of their Virginia Corners historic home.

By Linda Lane

Aaron Burson Jr. might be a great-great-great-great- grandfather to some families in Schoolcraft. He’s the man who built the Virginia Corners home for his family in 1840, 178 years ago, moving west from Virginia to settle here with three other families. The stately Greek Revival home at the corner of Oakland Drive and U Avenue has nurtured over six generations of families.

Virginia Corners is currently owned by Don and Cheryl Ulsh. Very active within the community, Don currently serves as the Schoolcraft Township supervisor and is president of the Vicksburg Rotary Club.

“It’s an honor to own a home like this with so much history,” Ulsh said. “When we purchased the property, we were told, ‘You never own Virginia Corners, you are just stewards for a while.’ We’re very sensitive and careful about making any changes or modifications to this historic home.”

“This was a weird coincidence, but when staff members were cleaning out an old vault in the Township offices, they happened upon a photocopy of a land grant deed to a property. I looked at it and said, ‘That’s our home’s property!’ It’s a copy of a land grant registered in Washington D.C. and was signed by President Andrew Jackson on June 1, 1831.”

Somehow the deed had been registered in the Kalamazoo County Registrar’s office in 1991, the year the Ulshes purchased the home. But Ulsh has no idea who went to Washington D.C. to obtain a copy of the land deed. A thick abstract of the property chronicles each owner since 1831.

The home originally had two kitchens, one called and used as a “summer kitchen” with a tiny fireplace. Previous owners discovered the fireplace when they pulled off some newer wall covering on the room while renovating. The Ulshes currently use the space as a small bedroom.

“If I put a level on any window sill, I can tell you, it is perfectly level on every one of them. It’s the quietest home I’ve ever lived in. There are no creaks or squeaks in floors. It’s just incredibly well-built and has withstood the years,” Ulsh said. With five bedrooms, almost all of the 2,400 square-foot home is original, except for a 6-by-12-foot porch on the west side of the home.

Another unique aspect of the house: it’s on one of the highest spots in the township, another tidbit Ulsh learned from a topography map he found at the Township Hall. He doesn’t know if the original settler selected the site because of that. But the Ulshes have never had a problem with water in the basement.

There are also four original outbuildings on the property and a sign of another. “When it’s really dry for a period of time, we’ve found a defined circle, maybe 18 inches in diameter, that we’re not really sure what it might have been originally. Maybe a well? We’re not sure. We keep talking about digging up that area to see what it might have been,” Ulsh said.

“We removed five layers of linoleum from the kitchen floor when we renovated. The contractor couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘The oak flooring is in such good condition, it doesn’t look like it’s ever been walked on.’ There literally weren’t any scratches or damage to the original tongue and groove flooring,” Ulsh said. Previous owners passed on several original tools from the home and barns, including the original tool used to create that tongue and groove flooring in the kitchen.

The biggest downside to owning a historic home? Maintenance. “It’s expensive to maintain the roofs and to keep everything painted,” Ulsh said.

Historical Homes Tour of Schoolcraft

By Linda Lane

Six gems of historical homes in the Schoolcraft area will be open for the public to tour from 4-8 p.m. Dec. 1. Visitors touring the homes will have the opportunity to see the beauty of the homes up close, decorated for the Christmas season.

Also provided with the tour is a light dinner of soups at the Schoolcraft Library, as well as sweets and coffee at the Schoolcraft Ladies Library. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.eventbrite.com or at the Schoolcraft Community Library and are limited to 200. Proceeds will benefit the Schoolcraft Library, the Schoolcraft Ladies Library and the Schoolcraft Historical Society.

Homes showcased on the tour:
• Dr. Nathan Thomas House, hosted by Jody and Colleen Flinton.
• Virginia Corners, hosted by Don and Cheryl Ulsh.
• Amish built barn, hosted by Francie Brown.
• Lyman Daniels home, hosted by Kirk and Kelly Bergland.
• The Underground Railroad House, hosted by Schoolcraft Historical Society.
• Wind + James (the old Arco building), hosted by Windy and Jamie Clark.

Event organizers are Deb Christiansen and Kelly Bergland. The $25 per person advance tickets will be $30 the day of the tour. This includes a wristband, keepsake color book, map, and booties for a self-paced tour of the homes. Tickets need to be purchased by Nov. 15 to insure receiving a keepsake book at the event. Others will be mailed. If those interested in attending “like” the Pure Schoolcraft page on Facebook, they can get a coupon code for $5 off the ticket price.

Visitors touring the homes must be 16 years old. Food and photography inside the homes are not allowed. People can drive or walk to the homes listed on the Schoolcraft map. For more information on tickets or volunteering, visit http://www.pureschoolcraft.org or find Pure Schoolcraft on Facebook.com. To purchase tickets, click on the link to Eventbrite.

Rescue Ranch: Home of Second Chances

Rescue Twinkie
Twinkle is the second mini-horse that the Hostetler’s rescued.

By Linda Lane

It all began with one feral golden kitty.

The Hostetlers had just moved into their new home in Schoolcraft and found a wild cat, obviously hungry. So Laura Hostetler bought a bag of cat food, named the cat Custard, and got a friend for life.

“Custard told all the other cats in the area there was a free buffet on my deck and a bunch showed up, hungry and cold,” Laura Hostetler said. “These poor cats were just fending for themselves, so I put a couple of doghouses on the back of my deck with straw, started to live-trap them, took them to the humane society to get them fixed, and they stayed.”

Laura’s daughter, Rachel Hostetler, has written stories and poems about her pets for the Schoolcraft Library’s “Tournament of Writers,” getting published the past four years and winning many first place honors.

“Over the summer, I saved a life… a dog’s life that is,” Rachel wrote in her first story for the Tournament of Writers. They thought their dog, Odie, needed a companion. After searching five animal shelters for a hypoallergenic dog which didn’t shed, they headed to Cass County Animal Shelter to check out “Otis.”

“When the staff picked up Otis, he peed all over the floor… Mom whispered, ‘Strike One.’” Rachel wrote. After 45 minutes of tail wagging and face licking, the Hostetlers couldn’t put him back in the cage. A visit to the vet revealed that little Otis had a bladder infection and a fever. “He sat in the shelter for months. No one wanted a dog that pees all over the place. All he needed was some love and antibiotics,” Rachel wrote.

They next rescued Boots, a Yorkie. Typically an expensive breed, Boots was born with a hernia, so the breeder dropped him off at the shelter. “He was in a corner shaking. He wouldn’t come to us, wouldn’t play. I looked at him and said, we’ll take him. I knew he couldn’t stay there,” Laura said.

“I thought I wanted a girl dog and I was sure I didn’t want a Yorkie. But life has a funny way of showing you what you want. I guess Boots is another example that you can’t judge a dog by its breed… There are dogs just like Boots in shelters waiting for a happy ending. Every animal has a voice, only some of them are lucky enough to be heard,” Rachel wrote about Boots.

While her husband, Craig, jokes about adding a “No Vacancy” to the Rescue Ranch sign, Laura said, “Our motto is, ‘There’s always room for one more.’”

Rescue Ranch now has four cats, (“that I know of,” Laura said), four dogs and two mini-horses. Their fourth unplanned dog, Chewy, is a Shih Tzu. Laura’s defense of having four dogs? “I tell Craig, if you go by poundage, I’ve only got one huge Lab.”

The Hostetlers expanded past cats and dogs when they learned of Eli, a draft horse with an injured foot who was going to be put down. They scrambled to adopt the horse in need and soon knew he needed a companion. Next came Eeyore, a mini-horse with a bad tooth which stabbed his mouth with every bite. A vet filed down the tooth and that was all it took. Eli and Eeyore instantly bonded. Rachel wrote, “Eeyore has taught me that it’s not the size of the horse that matters. It’s the size of his heart.”

Rachel describes her family’s method of finding the animals they choose to adopt, “When searching for a new horse, everyone wants a healthy one. That’s not what we look for. We look for the ones that need us the most.”

That’s no exaggeration. Twinkie, their second mini-horse, had not been cared for appropriately at all. He had “hoof rot, worms, fleas, black teeth, a bloated stomach and cataracts in both eyes. He seemed sad, sick, dirty and had no giddy up at all,” Rachel wrote. Twinkie was perfect for Laura and Rachel.

“When animals know they’re going to be safe, they flourish. Rescue pets are friends for life. They’re grateful and appreciative. They deserve a second chance,” Laura said.

What’s next to rescue? “We don’t plan it or do it on purpose… we hear about a need. I really wanted a goat with a bell but my husband said we didn’t need one… So we’ll see!”

Vicksburg’s Train Crossings Could Become Quiet Zones

train with kids
School children from Indian Lake were touring the Vicksburg Historic Village when a train came by, blowing its whistle before it crossed the tracks on Richardson Street.

By Sue Moore

Train whistles — you either love them or hate them, especially if you live in Vicksburg, which has five train crossings in the village and two just outside it on V and W Avenues. The train engineers are required to blow the whistle for a minimum of 15 seconds or maximum of 20 seconds before coming to each crossing, making it almost impossible to carry on a conversation if anywhere near the train tracks.

Nobody thought it was possible to change this rule in the village until Dan Oswalt began to research the rules. His family’s newest endeavor, Rim & Rail, sits almost on top of two train crossings in the village.

He was astonished to find that Larry Bowron, an expert on train crossings, lived nearby in East LeRoy and worked for the city of Battle Creek. He was responsible for transforming that city’s 11 rail crossings into “Quiet Zones.” Oswalt and Bill Adams, Vicksburg’s village president tapped into Bowron’s expertise by inviting him to be the speaker at a Rotary Club meeting in October where over 100 people showed up for lunch to hear more about Quiet Zones.

The audience was delighted to find out that perhaps there is a way to work with the railroad to quiet the whistles. But listeners had trouble getting a fix on what it would cost and how long it would take to get something done. Congress in 2005 had passed legislation that allowed communities to create “whistle bans” where a train horn is not routinely sounded. Not many Michigan municipalities have instituted the ban but Texas has 142 Quiet Zones.

Bowron was dealing with approximately 35 trains per day traversing the central half-mile-long business district and those 11 crossings. The cost was estimated at $3.6 million. The city issued a capital improvement bond in 2013. “It ended up costing $1.7 million, but you have to bird-dog the whole project from start to finish,” Bowron advised. The city was able to close three crossings. The railroad will compensate the city approximately $600,000 for the closings.

The Battle Creek increased the safety measures at each of the crossings with construction of two 4-quadrant gate systems. Six crossings were treated with supplemental or alternative safety measures. The whole process took three years to complete, starting with a diagnostic study team review in 2015. His team analyzed the potential crossing treatments needed to satisfy the Federal Railroad Association’s safety standards. After construction was completed, their effective date to transition into a Quiet Zone was December 28, 2016. That’s when the train engineers were instructed not to blow their whistle unless they see someone or something on the tracks that might be in their way.

The sound levels in the downtown area have decreased from about 110 to 85 decibels to between 66-75 decibels. There is still some noise just because the train itself rumbles on the tracks at various speeds.

There are many more questions than answers coming from Bowron’s presentation, said Adams. “I think it would lead to a better quality of life for our village residents. In the meantime, we can gather at the Distant Whistle and see if there are any answers in a pint of beer.”

VHS Homecoming Court

2018-10-05 05.47.11Vicksburg’s Homecoming Court, seated in front, from left to right: Sydney Andres, Hailey McConnaghy, Grace Wile, Isabelle Oswalt, Abbey Lafler. Standing, from left to right: Zachery Russe, Jonathan Warner, Mason Glerum, Trenton VanDerBor, Joey McCowen. Joey McCowen and Grace Wile were chosen as king and queen at the halftime of the Vicksburg-South Haven football game.

Ward Lawrence Honored by the Sheriff’s Department

ward lawrence 3By Sue Moore

Sheriff’s Deputy Sergeant Ward Lawrence of Vicksburg says the Medal of Valor he received from Sheriff Rick Fuller is all in the line of duty. What he doesn’t say at first is that he received it for negotiating with an armed, irrational man for an hour and 20 minutes, securing the safety of the man’s girlfriend originally standing nearby, then containing the situation until the Kalamazoo Metro SWAT team and state police arrived.

The confrontation took place in Pavilion Estates Mobile Home Park in Pavilion Township where trouble has sometimes erupted – but nothing like this standoff, according to area residents. The assailant was pointing a gun when the sheriff’s department was called to the scene. It appeared that he and his girlfriend had been living in a van as a squatter inside the park.

They were hoping to apprehend him with bean bag ammunition (knocks the wind out of the person but is not lethal) but he lifted his gun and four police officers shot at the same time to bring the man down. “There were many officers at the scene who acted courageously,” Lawrence said.

“It was a delicate situation,” Sheriff Fuller said. “A life was lost, due to the actions of the man himself. It was a valiant effort which we felt was worth recognizing. We have a board of review of several law enforcement people who went over the list of candidates and what specific award they should receive. The Medal of Valor is our highest award. As far as I know, Lawrence is the first person to receive it.” Lawrence has been a sheriff’s deputy for many years. Previously, he served as an officer in Texas and Ferndale, Michigan. He has been a member of the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Mounted Division since 1996.