Monthly Archives: April 2019

Good Friday Service

churchEach year the Vicksburg Ministry Alliance comes together to lead the worship on Good Friday at noon for the greater Vicksburg community. The Alliance is composed of the following churches: Vicksburg United Methodist Church (where the service will be held), Chapman Memorial Nazarene Church, Country Christian Evangelical Free Church, Grace Community Church, Lakeland Reformed Church, St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, and Vicksburg Bible Church.

Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center Reimagines the Future

Sponsoring an Art Hop for several years, Syd Bastos and Lisa Beams will be stepping down from day to day work at the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center. They have been very influential in creating events and fundraising during their three-year involvement which first began at 200 S. Main Street.

See what a little independence can do: A new home, new faces, new programming for the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center. Previously a project under the Village of Vicksburg and its Downtown Development Authority, the center was designated as a 501c3 non-profit organization in November. On Jan. 1, it entirely separated from the Village and Authority.

This change has spurred a tremendous amount of activity for the three-year-old cultural arts organization. Chief among the changes is a new location at 105 S. Main Street in downtown Vicksburg previously occupied by Coco’s Gallery. Frederick Main Street Properties, LLC, is in the process of preparing the space and occupation is expected in April. The new Cultural Arts Center will accommodate exhibits, classroom space and room for live performances. “The new space will provide a great backdrop for both visual and performing arts,” said Rex Cummings, board treasurer.

On the staffing front, Syd Bastos has resigned as executive director and was appointed by the board as board president. She’ll stay on as acting director until a new director is in place. “At this point in the organization’s life cycle, it’s time for a new director with a different set of skills” she explained.

Lisa Beams has also left her role as gallery manager. She won’t be far away, staying on to chair the South County Fiber Arts program. It’s been in existence for two years, but is newly minted as a program of the VCAC. She will also teach classes in fiber arts and pottery for the VCAC. In February, Kelly Bergland and Deb Christiansen, both very active in the Schoolcraft community, joined the Board of Directors. These ladies bring a special set of skills and an abundance of enthusiasm to the organization.

On the education front, four classes designed for adults will be offered this spring: Knit Fix, Spring Flower Arranging, Basket Weaving, and Mosaic Design. An Arts Exploration Lab for Teens, held March 28, will help identify what teens are looking for as they grow into fledgling artists. “Although the Vicksburg Community Schools has great arts programming, teens are looking for opportunities to experience all forms of art, either not available in the schools or to concentrate more deeply on a particular subject,” explained Jake Munson, VCAC Board member.

One of the outcomes of the Exploration Lab will be a week-long Arts Day Camp for teens, designed by teens, adding to the Arts in the Burg camp for 8-12 year old students. The VCAC has also joined South County Community Services’ Wednesday Winners, a program for adults with disabilities, to provide arts experiences. Nancy Smith, a retired arts educator and experienced artist, has participated and says, “It has been my pleasure to present two lessons to my new friends at Wednesday Winners. Their enthusiasm for art is contagious and I can’t wait to create with them again.”

For more information on the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, check out their website at, follow them on Facebook, email them at or call (269) 200-2223.

Destination Latvia: Thinking Globally, Living Locally

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Intra Staders wrote the book that she is sharing with Syd Bastos, Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center president, in preparation for her talk to those who wish to attend Destination Latvia on April 28.

Latvia celebrated 100 years of independence last year. But it was a tumultuous hundred years, with half of that time occupied by either the Soviets or Nazi Germany. During these years, many Latvians fled their home country and settled in the United States, including many in Kalamazoo and St. Joseph Counties.

The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center is bringing the story of Latvia to Main Street Pub on Sunday, April 28 from 1-3:30 p.m. Maira Bundza, past president of the Kalamazoo Latvian Association, will begin the presentation of Latvian history. Inta Srader, who just recently published “Choices and Serendipity – My Family’s Journey out of Chaos” will also speak. Although her book does document some of the traumas endured by her family, Srader explains that her book focuses on “the resiliency of Latvian peoples and the love of their country and its heritage.” Anita Gauthier Spolite will be collaborating with Mike Moore, chef at Main Street Pub, to create an authentic Latvian meal.

The Kalamazoo Latvian Association was founded in 1950 by Latvian refugees from WWII. Most had narrowly escaped their homeland after the Russian invasion of 1944. There is now a third generation of Latvians continuing to gather and celebrate their culture in Kalamazoo.

In addition, participants will hear about Garezers, a campground and education center in Three Rivers. Garezers prospers as a meeting place for Latvians of all ages, to raise and educate Latvian youth, to strengthen the Latvian language, culture and spiritual values, to promote the Latvian heritage and develop links with Latvia.

The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center will also feature a very special exhibit of artifacts and artworks from Latvia and local Latvian artists. The exhibit will be located at 101 E. Prairie in Vicksburg and will open on Friday, April 19 at 6 p.m. Additional hours are listed at You can also request a special viewing by calling (269)200-2223. The exhibit will close May 3.

Tickets to Destination Latvia are now on sale for $28 and can be purchased on line at, on Eventbrite at or reserve by phone at (269) 200-2223.

District Addresses Air Quality at Sunset Lake Elementary

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Vicksburg School Superintendent Keevin O’Neill and Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss present the findings on the air quality study at Sunset Lake Elementary during a press conference.

By Travis Smola

Concerns about air quality at Sunset Lake Elementary have prompted air quality testing at the Vicksburg school. The result? Recommendations for improvement but no findings of contaminants or toxic substances.

The testing was prompted by the illness of a teacher in a pre-kindergarten classroom.
Vicksburg Superintendent Keevin O’Neill and Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss recently addressed the issue.

“Vicksburg Community Schools is committed to the safety, security and health of all our students and staff,” O’Neill said at a press conference. “That is our priority and will always be our top priority.”

The ill teacher returned to work briefly before her doctor sent her home for more recovery. She’s currently awaiting clearance to return to work. Due to confidentiality reasons, O’Neill and Goss wouldn’t identify her or comment on the specifics of her illness, noting only that she exhibited a wide range of symptoms.

The district conducted air quality testing on January 31. While the district was waiting for results, rumors about Sunset Lake began circulating on social media.

Ann Arbor-based Nova Environmental performed the air quality testing. Nova President Kary Amin said he focused his initial investigation on testing for carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide and chlorine. The tests did not detect a harmful level of contamination. He said he also did a visual inspection for signs of mold.

“I didn’t see any discoloration or water infestation or moisture infestation that may have caused mold,” Amin said.

He also conducted TO-15 testing, which measures for volatile organic compounds. While the test did show approximately 54 compounds detected, Amin doesn’t believe they were related to the teacher’s illness. “They were at very low amounts,” Amin said. “Each one was thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times lower than the permissible exposure limits established by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).”

Amin made recommendations for improving air quality. He noted air ventilation in the room was likely not as efficient as it could be due to older equipment. Amin said items were stacked on the vent when he first inspected the room, which likely affected air circulation.

He also recommended the district clean and maintain the ventilation units and change the air filters. Other Nova recommendations included more frequent cleaning of the carpets in the room and removing paints from storage under the sink in the room that were causing an odor.

The room in question is still being used. O’Neill said he was unaware of anyone else in that room getting sick. But Goss did say it isn’t definitive that the teacher’s illness did not originate at the school. “The initial concerns appear to be related to air quality, so we investigated that,” Goss said.

Amin said in his experience, cases where an environmental hazard is affecting health are often much more obvious. He said multiple people will often exhibit symptoms such as dizziness and vomiting. The district is currently inspecting attendance records, but its first look at the data hasn’t revealed anything abnormal in student attendance.

But the district wants to address community concerns; O’Neill also announced it will be forming an environmental safety committee comprised of local health care professionals, environmental safety experts, teachers, parents and community members to study the district’s current practices and make suggestions for any changes to the school board. O’Neill said they hope to have this committee formed before the end of April.

The district will also be adding an environmental safety section to its website for the public to get information and reach out to the district with their concerns. They will also perform additional tests to look at additional parts of the building for problems.

“We’ve tested and we’re going to continue to test,” O’Neill said. “We’re going to rule out anything that could cause any type of illnesses if they exist in the building.”

Sunset Elementary Promotes Literacy at Synergy Event

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Parents and vendors circle the Sunset Lake cafeteria at the community Synergy event.

By Travis Smola

“March as they say, is reading month. But we really want our kids to be thinking about literacy every single day,” Sunset Lake Elementary Principal Amie McCaw told a group of parents during a community Synergy Event in early March.

The event was a slight spin on the school’s traditional family night, with an extra focus on literacy. This year, the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation’s “Big Read Machine” bus was on display at the event. The bus will travel around the community over the summer to deliver books to children. McCaw said they are looking into ways to have the bus provide free Wi-Fi too. The idea is to combat the educational “summer slump” in reading proficiency that happens over summer break.

Derek Wheaton, a former principal and now a prominent education consultant, was a key speaker at the event. He dove more into why summer reading such an important issue. “If a child reads over the summer months, it’s a gain of one month of reading proficiency,” Wheaton said. “If they don’t read over the summer, it’s a loss of two to three months.”

Wheaton said studies have shown that a student who reads just 20 minutes a day will be exposed to up to 1.8 million words in a year. It has a major effect, as the student is much more likely to score in the 90th percentile. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a student who only reads one minute a day is only exposed to 8,000 words a year and more likely to score in the 10th percentile.

“Research studies for 25 years tell us the amount of reading that students do matters,” Wheaton said. He encouraged parents in attendance to help encourage reading by setting an example in reading more themselves. He said it was important for parents to read to children.

In order to encourage more reading in the home, he suggested making some tradeoffs with children., perhaps encouraging a child to read a specific length of time before the child is allowed time to do another enjoyable activity.

Wheaton has primarily advised schools directly in the past, but he hopes he can do more events like this in the future to connect directly with the parents.

The Vicksburg District Library was also on hand to promote literacy. In addition to its regular reading programs, this year the library is expanding its summer reading program slightly into a “Summer Adventure” program that packs in other educational opportunities. “Children have a chance to come in and do crafts or come in and socialize with board game nights or other ways to get out of that summer slump,” said Adrianne Schinkai, the library’s head of Circulation and Reference Services.

This year, volunteer parents and the school worked together to bring in multiple sponsors like Jaspare’s Pizza and Family Fare to fund and hand out prizes at the event. The event also brought the opportunity for community organizations like Generous Hands to promote their extensive work in the schools. Generous Hands helps provide food for approximately 300 children in the district on weekends.

“These children have free and reduced food at school, and they don’t always have a lot of food on the weekends,” Generous Hand’s Executive Director Sheri Louis said. Generous Hands also provides vouchers to help families get essential items like milk, bread, eggs and produce. They handed out information to families on how they could use their services at the event.

This year was the first time Sunset has involved all these local organizations in a Parent’s Night. McCaw was pleased with how it turned out. “We really had a great response when we reached out to our community,” she said.

Ice Cream From All Around!

By Schoolcraft 7th grade students Livia Ellison, Natalie Glerum, Treasure Fox, and Valerie Bauer

How much ice cream does the average American consume per year? Google claims that the average American eats over 23 pounds. Although many of us have ice cream in our freezer, we get some of this ice cream from our local ice cream shops.

A few popular ones in our area are Apple Knockers, Bella Creamery, The Big Dipper, and Treat Street.

Apple Knockers, a family-owned ice cream shop in Vicksburg, opened in 2009. The main reason behind opening Apple Knockers was “a need in the community,” says owner Paula Hochstetler. Her daughters had kids so they wanted to have flexible hours. It is relocating and will be reopening in April across the street at 220 W. Prairie Street, Vicksburg. Its ice cream distributors are Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream and Plainwell Ice Cream.

Wondering what to get? Butter pecan and salted caramel are the most popular flavors. At the new location there will be more seating available out on a new deck with a great view of the water and many new options like nachos and snow cones.

Bella Creamery is also a family-owned ice cream shop, located at 10098 Shaver Road in Portage. Unlike many, Bella Creamery makes its own ice cream. In 2005, Bella started serving our area because owner Jolie Warnaar and her aunt wanted to bring it to the area where she lived. As she was a stay-at-home mom, she also wanted make her own hours.

Jolie was asked if she thinks it’s too early in the year for ice cream. “It’s never too early for ice cream,” she responded. This year, Bella Creamery is planning on serving ice cream sandwiches as well as adding more mix-in options (like Girl Scout cookies). And it’s planning on catering for events such as weddings and parties.

Big Dipper is an ice cream shop that serves Hudsonville ice cream and opens each summer at 104 E. Eliza Street, Schoolcraft. Big Dipper started in the summer of 2001. Bethany Blodgett was asked what inspired the Big Dipper to first open. “My dad worked at an ice cream shop as a teenager, and always dreamed about owning one. So, when it went up for sale, he and his brother bought it for his brother to run. Now going on its 19th season, they never thought it would become a summer job for their kids, nieces, nephews and now grandkids.” Many local people come to Big Dipper on the 4th of July and get the most popular flavor – Super Scoop.

Treat Street is an ice cream shop located at 3023 Oakland Drive in Kalamazoo. The business opened in 2011. Manager Steve Walantyn said the owner, Mike Leeuw, “saw an opportunity to get out into the community and start a family-friendly business.” Treat Street serves Sherman’s Ice Cream. Its best selling flavors are Blue Moon and Superman. Like Bella Creamery, Treat Street is adding ice cream sandwiches to its menu. Employee Carson Finch reported that they will be having soda floats available too.

Have a craving for ice cream? Consider stopping by one of these local ice cream shops to help contribute to that average 23 pounds of ice cream per person per year.

Also remember, that ice cream is not the only option to get at ice cream shops. They have different menu items for you! Remember to support your local ice cream shops this summer!

The Challenges of Facing Cancer

Amy Seager about six years after she was diagnosed with cancer.

By Schoolcraft 6th grade students Sophia Orton, Ariana Pillot, Lukas Rinderspacher, and Macalea Wagner

Have you ever wondered what people felt like when they had cancer? This article is about one woman battling cancer and showing herself and others that cancer can’t beat her. Here’s her story:

In 2013, Amy Seager was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was in utter shock. She could not believe that it was happening to her. When she got her first chemotherapy, she wasn’t even worrying about herself! “My biggest concern was my hair, because a) I’m a teacher and b) I have four kids. Now, I don’t know if you’ll admit it or not, but you and I both know that middle school is a time that even if you have the coolest parents, the last thing you want is a bald mom walking around,” Seager said.

Even after her chemotherapy, she kept going to work. But she ended up having to quit because the chemo was wearing her out. “I had a great big surgery, and after that it required me to take a year and a half off of work,” she said. “And when I tried to come back, I wasn’t able to because my body just still didn’t have the stamina or the energy.

“So I had to retire. I was forced to retire, and it wasn’t until just recently, this September, that I came back into the working environment part time, here in Schoolcraft.”

Seager has many emotions that she goes through with this. “It’s like riding a roller coaster, lots of different emotions. First and foremost, denial, that it can’t be happening to me. With it came surprise, shock, anger, frustration – all of those at various times.”

She is still dealing with cancer. She’s had cancer since she was diagnosed February 28, 2013. Since there is this special cell in her body, she will always have cancer.

She thinks of herself as strong, and here’s what she said: “I feel very strong. You know, one of my very favorite quotes, is ‘Sometimes we don’t know how strong we are, until strong is the only choice we have.’”

Seager is very grateful for her therapy dogs. “I have two golden retrievers. My therapy dogs were really important to me, because when I was at a really low point, after being really sick – and you know, feeling like I just didn’t want to get up off the couch, I just didn’t have the energy – they were so helpful. They made me get up off the couch to let them out. They made me get up to go feed them.”

One thing that she would love to share with everyone: “Live today; find your blessing in every day and live it and enjoy it.”