Rotary Club Showcase Features Many New Acts

By Sue Moore

After 65 successful years of presenting Showboat as a fundraising musical romp to the delight of local audiences, changes were needed, according to the show’s chairman Mike Tichvon.

A new format has been developed that plays to today’s audience of young and old alike, Tichvon said. The script promises a trip to the moon in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 NASA expedition. How the cast gets there will be the intriguing part of what is still a musical celebration of local talent. Performances are scheduled at 7 p.m. March 1 and 2 and at 2 p.m. March 3 at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center, Tichvon said.

A significant change to the show’s foundation is an increase in featured acts and a requirement for all acts to audition in front of a five-person panel, said Syd Bastos, director of the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center. The acts guarantee a new level of entertainment for audiences, she said. With performances ranging from pop, old rock, classical, soul and even barbershop, there is something for everyone.

Some of the featured acts include Dusty Morris singing “Fly me to the Moon”, The Maxson Duet’s “Bring it Home to Me”, Bob Donelson’s “Your Song”, Kathy Forsythe’s “You’re No Good”, Caleb Dziepak’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and John Carpenter playing “Star Wars Fantasy” on the Steinway piano. Bastos said you can follow the Vicksburg Rotary Showcase on Facebook to learn more about these acts.

The stage crew has constructed its version of the moonshot rocket to be launched from the PAC stage. They had a little help from the electronic wizards that populate the Rotary Club’s back of the house construction gang.

The Rotary Club of Vicksburg has been able to raise over $641,500 to put back into the community since the inception of the Showboat that began as a minstrel show in 1953. It wasn’t real professional back then, but it was a lot of fun and attracted standing room only audiences. At one point the fire marshal had to close the doors of the old gymnasium because it had reached capacity. The show moved to the new Performing Arts Center at the high school in 1994. It took on a new dimension of production and presentation according to Larry Forsyth, this year’s show director. He has been a part of the show in one capacity or another for at least 50 years. His wife, the former Tina Schneider, was brought to the first performance in ‘53 in a baby basket as her father Arle, was one of the early performers and script writers.

The evolving show has included singers from the high school Simply Men chorus. The Showcase chorus is an all-male singing group that began rehearsals the first Sunday in January. They will be performing “Come Fly Away with Me” this year.

For the last four years, Boy Scouts from Troop 251 have offered a spaghetti dinner on the Friday and Saturday nights of the show in the high school cafeteria. They have enlarged the offering to a brunch for the Sunday matinee that has been well received. Tickets for the meals may be purchased from any Boy Scout and at the door which opens at 5 p.m. before the evening shows and at noon for the matinee.

Tickets are on sale at the Church Insurance Agency at 125 East Prairie Street from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and online at They will also be available at the box office the night and afternoon of each performance.

Miracle Field Concept Alive and Well in Schoolcraft

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Some of the board members who are working on bringing the Miracle Field to Schoolcraft are seated: Jud Hoff, president; standing, from left: Josh Baird, vice-president; Heather Meyer, marketing and public relations; David Olson, founder; Lisa Anspaugh, treasurer; Bill Deming, secretary; Josh Will, fundraising.

By Sue Moore

A field of dreams is coming to Schoolcraft. It’s to be called the Miracle League of Southwest Michigan. devoted to a baseball field for children with disabilities.

To Dave Olson of Vicksburg, it’s simply the Miracle Field. He and many others have become the driving force behind planning the layout and recruiting children who would benefit from having a place of their own to play baseball.

They have submitted an application to the IRS for 501c3 status and should know soon if their dream qualifies as a nonprofit. The group Is on Facebook as Southwest Michigan Miracle League.

Olson witnessed such a field in Grand Rapids last summer and vowed to bring a similar structure to the South Kalamazoo County area. With the help of Bill Deming, former parks and recreation director in Portage, they found the perfect place to locate such a field; at the Dome in Schoolcraft, owned by Josh and Amber Baird and Jud Hoff.

A more dedicated group of people could hardly be found anywhere, Olson says. He personally helped to recruit Deming, Jud Hoff and Josh Baird. Others quickly said yes when they heard his dream. “We don’t want to turn away any child that is interested. The kids in the Grand Rapids area say they live for the days they get to come and play baseball. There are so many disabled kids out there – it’s a whole demographic of people not being served. I have an army of people who want to help with this project,” Olson claimed. He is the owner of The Postman on Sprinkle Road.

Olson is passionate about the opportunities the Miracle Field will provide for people with disabilities. He believes it will offer life-changing activities including camaraderie and a sense of teamwork for kids who don’t get that in the real world. One of the unique aspects will involve a buddy system of volunteers that will assist the players, Olson said.

Jud Hoff, president of the new board of directors, aims to bring the field to reality. Deming has been researching the requirements for a field that will work for kids with disabilities. It will be asphalt with a rubber matting over the top and maybe Astro turf shaved down so the surface area will accommodate wheelchairs and walkers so they won’t roll over. It will need dugouts that wheel chairs can access along with a pitching machine and other amenities, Deming said.

Other board members include Lisa Anspaugh, treasurer and an accountant who lives in Schoolcraft and Josh Will, vice president and wealth management officer with Southern Michigan Bank & Trust, in charge of fundraising and Heather Meyer, public relations and marketing with her business of HMM Consulting. Although this small group has been working together on planning for six months, it has just added two new board members, Dr. Luchara Wallace from Western Michigan University’s special education department who specializes in learning disabilities, and Wade Rutkoskie of Schoolcraft, who will lead construction efforts and is senior business manager at Tekna Corp.

The board members have formed a Youth Corps to support the organization. It consists of Baird’s son, Jacob, at Vicksburg, and Hoff’s son, Bryce, at Portage Central, and the friends they have recruited.

Damaged Cars Look Like New at Dunshee Body and Frame

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Brock Stephenson, the painter specialist at Dunshee Body and Frame, points to a repaired bumper that he just finished painting. Dunshee’s owner Joe Townsend inspects the work.

By Sue Moore

It isn’t as easy to fix dinged up cars as it used to be, according to Joe Townsend, owner of Dunshee Body and Frame. His company just set up shop in Vicksburg at 1728 E. VW Avenue, its second location. “The science behind all the computers that are built into the newer model cars and trucks has changed,” Townsend explained. “It means we approach our estimating and actual work much differently than 45 years ago when Dunshee started in business in Kalamazoo.”

“We start any repair job with a pre-scan to determine the amount of damage and pinpoint where it has occurred,” Townsend said. “Then we do another scan once the car is fixed to authenticate that the work has been done right and the car is safe to drive. Not every automotive repair shop invests in this kind of sophisticated equipment, but we believe it’s the best way to do the job and get our customers safely back on the road.”

Townsend ought to know. He started at Dunshee in Kalamazoo while in college sweeping floors. “I loved construction and fixing things when I was a kid. My uncle worked at the shop so when I was in college I got a job there prepping cars for the paint shop and washing them too,” Townsend said. He ended up graduating from Western Michigan University with a business degree and took a sales job elsewhere. He hated it.

“I went back to Dunshee and the owner, Ken Draayer, started me as parts manager. Then he moved me to estimator and finally general manager when Ken was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2003. I ran the shop for Draayer’s widow, Sherrie, for 10 years and then purchased the business in 2015,” Townsend said.

“I’m not unique with having worked here for so many years. Don Carlson moved to Vicksburg to work when we opened and he’s got 40 years in,” Townsend said.

“There is a great need for young technicians to enter the field as there is a huge shortage. We try to grow our own and keep them here. In fact, the day of our open house last fall, Mercer Hardy, a Vicksburg High School senior, walked in and asked for a job. I was happy to have him and he brought another of his buddies from the high school Education for Employment class. We are growing our business in Vicksburg with eight employees here and 29 at our Kalamazoo shop.”

“Training our staff is a big investment but one we strongly believe in,” Townsend said. “Our shop in Kalamazoo is I-Car Gold Class and certified for makes such as Volvo, Chrysler, Hyundai, KIA and Nissan. We are in the process of getting certification for Chevrolet and Subaru. Then this summer, we will get our Vicksburg location certified too. We have gotten busier each week after our opening day. I reached out to the various insurance agents in Vicksburg and surrounding areas to explain our business model. It’s important that they feel comfortable with our work ethic and the results we can achieve.

“Folks here in Vicksburg have been wonderful. It’s a great new location for us between Vicksburg and Schoolcraft.” Townsend lives in Mattawan with his wife Erin and children Tyler, 13, Emma, 8, and Elizabeth, 6. He has coached in the Mattawan Little League and Rocket football and been a sponsor of teams as well.

Carlson may have said it best about his move to the Vicksburg location: “There is no place better to work. Their reputation is great and they treat me right.”

Chamber of Commerce Continues to Grow

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Members of the Vicksburg Area Chamber of Commerce board gather behind the bar at Distant Whistle where their monthly meetings are usually held. They are standing in front from left: Sue Moore, President Mandy Miller, Secretary Christine Butcher. Standing in back, from left: Treasurer Dane Bosel; Brian Pitts, Vice-President Nick DeVito, Kim Critz.

By Sue Moore

Events help to bring people to this corner of Kalamazoo County, many people believe. When the Vicksburg Area Chamber of Commerce was reconstituted in 2008, the officers, headed up by Dr. Dustin Morton, decided to specialize in events.

Thus, the Chili Cook-off was created, mostly led by Jill Lindley, who owned a downtown flower shop. The village already had a big event, the Old Car Festival, begun in 1980 by the Vicksburg Community Association which was a precursor to the Chamber. The Old Car portion is still going strong, due to Skip and Carol Knowles who have never let up on the throttle. They have kept it going although the community association has become extinct.

A block party was suggested by Steve McCowen, who was one of the early presidents of the Chamber, along with the Taste of Vicksburg, which were both organized in the summer of 2013. The Taste survived as one of the regular Chamber of Commerce events, as has the chili cook-off. All the while, the leadership of the Chamber was ebbing and flowing. It was dependent upon volunteers to get the job done. One was Tanya Delong, who was active until she closed her knitting shop on S. Main Street.

Businesses too have come and gone with downtown experiencing empty store-fronts, while manufacturing has increased with expansion in the Leja Industrial Park. The conundrum was how to meld these two together and provide a benefit for all concerned. Enter Mandy Miller, hair stylist who owned her shop on S. Main Street, along with Nick DeVito, the barber next door. They have taken over the Chamber as president and vice-president, respectively, along with Dane Bozel as treasurer and owner of two separate businesses downtown. Brian Pitts and Kim Critz are trustees. Christine Butcher is secretary.

Together they have spearheaded chamber activities including quarterly mixers that have provided new and old businesses a chance to pitch their wares. Miller tried a job fair last spring that was minimally attended. But it was considered an important step in the right direction to help manufacturing members stay connected to the organization.
Miller is a whirling dervish of event planning. She would do a lot more if she didn’t have a full-time job, husband and family interests. She also served on the Downtown Development Authority at one time and says it’s important not to confuse the two. The Chamber exists to promote the village. The DDA exists to work with bricks and mortar that helps to spruce up the downtown buildings. That agency will be leading planning for the streetscape project, set to move ahead in 2020.

Meanwhile, the Chili Cook-off and 5K race preceding it grew to the point where it was moved to the community pavilion on Richardson Street. It will better accommodate the large crowd of attendees and chili vendors, Miller pointed out. It is scheduled on Saturday, March 9 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Lions Club Bowling Fun-raiser

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Lots of bowling teams participated in the 2018 Fun-raiser for the Lions Club. This team of Kathy and Steve Hambright, Anne and Jeremy Howard and Erin and Jeff Mohney were mocking the cover of 80s rock duo Air Supply album. They were one of the many bowling teams taking part.

“It’s that time of the year again,” Brett Grossman exclaimed.“This bowling event is something to look forward to right in the middle of this lovely Michigan frosty weather.” It’s the Vicksburg Lions Club 8th annual bowling fun-raiser, Sunday, Feb. 10, at Continental Lanes in Kalamazoo.

“The crew at Continental Lanes has been an excellent host of our events the last few years and we look forward to partnering with them again,” Grossman said. Registration begins at 11 a.m. with bowling to begin at noon. As in the last two years the Club has already filled all 32 lanes with six bowlers each. This event supports the Vicksburg Lions Club’s financial commitments to the Vicksburg community and Lions Club International charities.

Due to the popularity of this event, all teams and lane sponsors from 2018 had first crack at signing up for 2019. The event sold out in under ten days. “On the second Sunday in February each year, it feels like half the of the Village with a Vision heads north a bit to catch up for a fun Sunday afternoon for a good cause. We’d love to see as many people as possible, even if they aren’t bowling,” Grossman said.

There will be drawings for dozens of fabulous prizes graciously donated by local businesses and a 50/50 raffle. This event always makes for a great day, Grossman added.

Vicksburg Dancer to Appear at Miller Auditorium

Matt Wagner
Matt Wagner.

By Sue Moore

Diavolo – Architecture in Motion, a national dance company, is performing at Miller Auditorium on Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Parents and friends of Vicksburg’s Matt Wagner will be in the audience to witness his exploits as a member of this highly athletic and unusual dance company.

Miller Auditorium bills the dance troop this way: “Fresh from its recent success as a top 10 finalist on NBC’s ‘America’s Got Talent’, Diavolo explores the relationship between the human body and its architectural environment, pushing the limits of performance by incorporating architectural structures, gymnastics and acrobatics into its work. Led by Artistic Director Jacques Heim, this audacious and innovative company goes where no other company dares!”

Wagner, 30, one of 12 performers in the group, grew up in a home on Barton Lake. He started dance lessons at the age of five, attended Howardsville Christian High School and Vicksburg United Methodist Church and took gymnastics in college at Oakland University. He auditioned in Dallas and was first selected for the second company’s apprentice program. He has moved up to being on the touring company for three seasons with a home base in Los Angeles.

“There is lots of gymnastics and intensity in their dance moves,” Wagner said. “We don’t use safety nets or harnesses. The audience can just feel it along with the epic music that has been composed and commissioned for our performances. Our founder and director is a mad genius. He directs the presentation like a movie; frame by frame.”

“There are six women and six men performing, climbing all around a tower type of apparatus,” he said. “It’s a very mixed group of shapes and sizes with lots of athleticism and acrobatic skills involved. To qualify I had to pass rigorous strength tests; 30 slow pushups with three counts up and down, 10 pullups and handstands, and that was just for starters. We consume a lot of food before the show. There is never too much food for me. I’m also in charge of our education outreach while on the road so this life is never boring.”

The Big Read Machine Off to a Good Start

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Announcement of the Big Read Machine took place during the parade for Christmas in the Village with the Bookmobile taking second place, sponsored by the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation.

By Sue Moore

Summer is usually the time for kids to run and play outdoors, unstructured and free. What is known to educators is that students in the early grades suffer from “summer slide”. That doesn’t mean they don’t have playground equipment to utilize. It means they often forget what they learned most recently in school. When they come back in the fall, these lessons in reading, math and English have to be covered all over again.

Schools have long sought ways to keep the learning light burning for children over the summer months, particularly when it comes to reading skills. If students can read and comprehend, they can fly more successfully through their lessons in the fall.

One way is to offer summer school. But not enough children can take advantage of this opportunity in the Vicksburg school district according to Superintendent Keevin O’Neill. “We have a need to address this issue where kids are during the summer in their development. It seemed like a bookmobile could be part of the answer. But how to fund it and get it operative?” In stepped the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, chartered 36 years ago to provide some of the extras for the school that taxpayers didn’t have to support.

“The answer for the Foundation board to the “summer slide” seemed like a bookmobile on wheels,” said Lucas Hillard, vice-present of the board. “It could come directly to where the kids are and make reading fun and exciting, almost as good as seeing the ice cream wagon round the corner to their house.” Thus was born The Big Read Machine to serve kids in the three Vicksburg elementary schools during the summer of 2019 and beyond.

An older school bus that was still in good condition was taken out of service and provided to the cause. A plea went out to parents and teachers to donate books of all types to be placed in the bus. Literally tons of them were dropped off at each elementary. They have been sorted by volunteers and school librarians, while still other, newer books have been purchased that are grade-related by the Foundation. The bus has been painted red and white so it is easily identifiable when it comes jingling down the many streets in the 115 mile school district.

Lots of volunteer hours have already gone into the building of the bus. Frederick Construction has offered to help with remodeling the interior so the books can be shelved and will travel without falling off. The cost of all this work will be born by the school’s foundation to the tune of an estimated $40,000. for the start-up. Another $2,500 will be needed each summer to keep it running. The Foundation exists on donations to a great extent and this project is no exception according to Bob Willhite, president of the board. Raising the necessary funds will be his duty as he finishes out his second term in office after being on the board for seven years. They are asking for corporate, service clubs and individual donations to support the project. The money needs to be in the Foundation coffers when the Big Read Machine starts rolling by the middle of June, Willhite said. The website is Further information is available from Beth O’Roark at 269-321-1006.

Honoring Laura Howard

laura howard.JPGLaura Howard holds several firsts in the Vicksburg Rotary Club: First woman member – 1993? Check. First woman president – 2000/2001? Check. First person in the club history to hold the office of president for two terms – 2001/2002? Check.

When she was asked to join Rotary, two members told her how glad they were to have her in the club, but added: “You understand that you can’t sing in the chorus,” choosing their words carefully.

When she was recruited to join the board of directors, they didn’t exactly mention that it was a six-year commitment. She went through all the chairs of responsibility: trustee, treasurer, secretary, vice president, president and past-president and proved her mettle so well that plenty of other women have been able to follow in her footsteps since then.

Howard began her Vicksburg sojourn as a social worker and rehabilitation program coordinator at Franklin Community Hospital in 1983 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Michigan University. As Bronson Vicksburg Hospital director in 1986, she had an expanded role that included all Bronson hospital-based rehabilitation services and occupational medicine services, which continues today with responsibility in Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

She has chaired the Vicksburg United Way effort for over 25 years and served on the Greater Kalamazoo United Way board until 2016. She served on the Goodwill Industries board from 1997-2003.

Even though she doesn’t work in Vicksburg any more, she can be found helping out behind the scenes with Showcase. She will be in the light booth, high above the audience, in charge of the spotlights. She and several others who have pulled this duty for years are never seen during the show. But if they mess up, suddenly everyone is aware, she said.

“Sometimes we turn off the head sets so we can have our own private conversations about what’s happening on stage. We got busted one year when it was found out that those in the makeup room were listening in. Mostly, we have to pay very close attention and get our direction from Tina Forsyth, the stage director who knows everything! She gives us all the different cues. It’s like conducting an orchestra for her,” Howard said.

One year Howard’s spotlight jammed and wouldn’t turn or move and Lori Tichvon had to quickly turn hers on to spot someone on stage. Another time she was needing to explain to someone (she’s not saying who) why some of the newspaper jokes were funny. And all of those in the booth finally getting one of the newspaper jokes and laughing so hard they could be heard in the audience.

Black History Month – a Month of Remembrance

By Schoolcraft 8th Graders Alivya Mandigo (Writer/ Interviewer),
Brandon Machinski (Photographer), and Aidan Flinton (Copy Editor)

Black History Month was established in 1926 and has been celebrated in February by many Americans ever since. It’s a month when schools, libraries, businesses and other organizations honor African Americans who fought for their rights. Many schools use the month to further educate students about the people who represented themselves and their beliefs in a way that made a difference in the world.

African Americans are honored because they did what everybody thought was undoable – they stood up even when they were told to sit down, because they believed they could make a difference for themselves and others.

The observance goes beyond our own borders; It’s an annual observance in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands. The European nations observe it in October.

The Schoolcraft Community Library purchases and sets out books that highlight achievements of African American men and women to help people become more aware about black history. A librarian points out it’s not a topic generally addressed.

An 8th grade student from Vicksburg says that her school doesn’t really do anything to acknowledge this month or educate the students about these important people. This student was asked if she thought this month was important to celebrate. “Yes, because we need to remember important people.” She also says that she thinks her school should start a club for students that are curious about the topic of black history instead of stopping current units to learn about it.

Black History Month is a time of honoring and celebrating African Americans, though a lot of schools and businesses in our area still don’t do enough to acknowledge it.

Love Warms the Hearts of Vicksburg Couple in Iceland

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Erika Fojtik and Drew Mallery look forward to their wedding day in September. Photo by Steph Murray Photography.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High 2012 graduates Drew Mallery and Erika Fojtik became engaged during a camping trip to Iceland this past summer.

Drew, currently living in Oklahoma City, presented a uniquely designed ring to Erika on top of a mountain the first night in the remote country overlooking the Geiser national park. “I know what Erika likes and that was the inspiration for the ring. Simple and elegant,” said Mallery who also pointed out that his soon-to-be fiancé would enjoy this moment even more while doing an outdoor activity.

“Everything was perfect,” Erika remembered, “and the ring is just beautiful. He designed it himself and did a great job. Very classy.”

The two have been together for seven years, since they first started dating at VHS in 2011. They continued a long distance relationship while Mallery went off to Hillsdale College, graduating with a degree in financial management and mathematics, and Fojtik attended Western Michigan University, getting her undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. “I’m definitely marrying up with Erika,” said Mallery. “She is way smarter than I am!” Currently both are employed by Stryker Corp., Mallery as a sales representative in Oklahoma City and Fojtik as a design engineer for the research and development team in Kalamazoo.

When not working, the couple enjoys spending time together traveling to different parts of the country and the world, biking, and finding new recipes to cook together. “Iceland will always hold a special place in our lives” said the couple. “It’s where the story about us officially got started.”

The couple plans on getting married on Saturday, Sept. 7 at Cityscape in Kalamazoo. “Growing up just outside of Kalamazoo, we knew that we had to get married in this city,” Fojtik said. She will be joined by her best friend from graduate school as her maid of honor, as well as her sister, a college roommate, and lifetime Vicksburg friend Audrey Jensen as bridesmaids. Mallery will be joined by his two younger brothers and three former college roommates and teammates as his groomsmen.

The couple plans on relocating to Oklahoma City after their wedding, where Drew will continue as a sales representative for Stryker and Erika will work remotely, continuing her design role with the company. Their shared desire is to do work that positively impacts people’s lives through their professional work and through personal interaction.