Monthly Archives: June 2019


Cari Virginia Benko, 34, Vicksburg, formerly of Mt. Olive, Ill., passed away May 13, after a year-long battle with cancer. She was born June 5, 1984 in Staunton, Ill., to Mary Ann Taylor Hagerman and the late Oscar Virgil Hagerman of Mt. Olive. She married Andrew James Benko on September 29, 2007 after graduating from from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a bachelor of science degree in business and administration. She also earned her private and commercial pilot licenses as well as an instrument rating. She was a homemaker, homeschool teacher and chestnut farm operator. She enjoyed cooking, gardening, entomology and being outdoors. Memorials may go to her children through Becker and Son Funeral Home. Survivors include her husband, Andrew, and children Evan, Terra and Althea Benko of Vicksburg, sisters Jennifer Monke (husband Nate and son Oliver) of Mt. Olive, Ill. and Erica Minton (husband Randy) of Spokane Valley, Wash. She was preceded in death by her father, Oscar Virgil Hagerman and niece, Anna Dolores Monke. Condolences may be left at

Betty Jane (Zausch) Braymer, 94, passed away May 19 of cumulative heart congestion with little pain and family at her side. Betty was born in St. Louis, MO on Jan 8th, 1925 to Alphonsus and Evelyn Zausch. Betty had an older brother, Al and twin younger siblings Larry and Florence. Betty’s siblings all preceded her in death. Betty was the wife of Donald George Braymer. Don and Betty have lived the past 32 years on Sunset Lake and resided the previous 28 years on Gourdneck Lake in Portage. They were married on August 8, 1945 and were inseparable for nearly 74 years. Betty had 4 children and is survived by her spouse Don Sr. and 3 children, Don Jr. (Carol) Braymer, Kathy (Charlie) MacDonald and Bill (Susan) Braymer. David (Kate) Braymer passed away 13 years ago. Betty is survived by 13 grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren. Visit her page at

John W. Brown, Sr., passed away after a brief battle with cancer on May 10, surrounded by his family. John was born in Kalamazoo, on September 4, 1935 to Jay Brown Sr. and Lola (Rowley) Brown/Bauer. He grew up in the Oakwood area and graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School in 1953. In 1960, John opened Park Lane Florist in Vicksburg, where he developed a longtime following of customers and friends. His artistry with flowers and care for others was evident in each arrangement. He was an active member of the Vicksburg Rotary Club and was a member of the Vicksburg Village Council in the 1980s. He maintained Park Lane in various locations throughout southwest Michigan for over 40 years with a dedicated following of many who cherished his work. When John wasn’t working, he loved to be out golfing with his friends. A Portage resident and longtime business owner, John was preceded in death by his wife, Jill, in 2015, his parents, a brother, Charles Riddle, a sister, Betty Buddemeyer, and a brother, Jay Brown Jr. He leaves behind four children, Constance Brown Hammond, John Brown, Jr., Tina Brown (Hassan Al Jubran), and Robert Brown (Maureen Brown), grandchildren Ashley Brown, Jasmine Moskalik, Jessie Sadiku, Maizie and Hailey Brown, and a great-grandson, Joseph Franzone. John requested his ashes be scattered at his favorite lake. Donations in John’s memory can be made to Rose Arbor Hospice.

Alberta Chesser
, 88, Vicksburg, passed away May 12. She was born to Albert and Gladys (Ryan) Hudson on February 9, 1931. She married Ray Chesser on March 21, 1948 and settled in Vicksburg. Once their sons were grown, she returned to work at Stewart Sutherland where she was happily employed for more than 20 years. Well-liked by her clients and co-workers, she made a life-long friendship with Jan Applebey who worked there and was also her next-door neighbor. Outgoing and friendly, Alberta never lacked for people to accompany her on local shopping trips or activities. She is survived by her sons, Kenneth (Vicky) Chesser, of Vicksburg; Kevin (Sherry) Chesser, of Vicksburg; eight grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and several special nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her loving husband, Raymond, in 2014 and her siblings, Mary Boucher, Doris Boucher, Dan VonSchriltz, and Betty Lou VonSchriltz. Visit Alberta’s page at Donations may go to Kairos Dwelling.
Jackie Coburn, 89, of Concord, Calif., passed away April 23. She was born June 18, 1929 in Saco, Maine, the daughter of Hazel and Ralph Lamb. On August 31, 1946, she married Donald Coburn, who preceded her in death. She worked in Saco, Maine at Sweetser Children’s Home, a residential home for emotionally disturbed children, for 18 years. After that she was a bank teller and then a manager in Portland, Maine. She was a member of the Eastern Star and Red Hat Organizations. She became a basketball referee when her two daughters were in high school. She is survived by daughters Donna Parker (Don) and Patti Bowen (Mike) of Vicksburg, grandchildren Tatum Odell (Brian), Sommer Priester (Jammie) and Shane Bowen (Selena), great-grandchildren Brayden Odell, Courtney and Audrey Zielinski, Jaxon and Megan Priester, Evan and Olivia Bowen; and a great-great- grandson, Mason Faulk. She was cremated and will be buried in a double urn with her husband, the love of her life, in a military cemetery.

Cynthia Ann Corey, 74, Portage, passed away April 26. She was born to Raymond and Helen Glowaczewski on October 8, 1944. She met a young serviceman named Allen Eugene “Gene” Corey. They were married on November 5, 1966 and made their home in Gene’s hometown of Vicksburg. Due to Gene’s work, their family moved quite frequently. Over the years they lived all around the country, which gave their three daughters amazing and varied experiences. Cynthia is survived by daughters Karen (Jeff) Schaffer of Illinois, Kristine (Jeff) Keiser of Portage and Diane (Steve) Wester of Portage; nine grandchildren and one great-grandson. She is also survived by her brother and sisters-in-law, Glen “Herb” (Alice) Corey of Union City; Jerry (Susan) Corey of Dowagiac; Larry Corey of Cassopolis; Joyce Corey, of Colorado; Dennis Corey and Randy (Jodi) Corey, both of Dowagiac. She was preceded in death by her husband, Allen Eugene “Gene” Corey. Visit her page at Donations may go to Rose Arbor.

Lani Duane Diamon, 72, Schoolcraft, passed away May 8, due to heart disease. Born in Kalamazoo, he was the son of the late Clare and Virginia Diamon. In 1980, he married Margie (Adams) Nooney, and together they loved three sons, Phillip, Sean (Kristin) and Joseph (Jessica). Lani worked primarily as a resident care aide at the Kalamazoo State Hospital, and drove a school bus for Schoolcraft Community Schools. He enjoyed baseball, softball, pool, and most of all, spending time with his family. A real character, Lani had a large collection of dad jokes and enjoyed telling stories. Lani is survived by his wife and children, his three grandchildren, sisters Vicki and Teresa (Herbert), and Aunt Virginia (Marv); numerous nephews, nieces, cousins and dear friends. A celebration of life will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 23 at Nob Hill Bar & Grill in Kalamazoo.

Robert Frank Drahos, 85, passed away peacefully May 4, at Brookdale Assisted Living in Portage. He was born on July 31, 1933 at Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo. Bob grew up on the east side of Kalamazoo and graduated from Kalamazoo Central in 1952. While in school, he excelled as an athlete, pitching a no-hitter. After graduation, he went to work at Allen Electric, Buck Tool Company and Maro Incorporated. He was married to Nancy Kaiser in 1955. He became a co-owner of Valley Press Printing in Portage. In 1983, Bob agreed to relocate to North Carolina as part of a Maro Precision expansion. Bob finished his work career and retired from Walter Kidde Aerospace in 1997. Upon retirement Bob and Nancy moved back to Vicksburg. In July 2016, Bob and Nancy moved into Brookdale Assisted Living where he was better able to meet her needs. Throughout his life Bob enjoyed fishing, traveling with his family, gardening, and tending to his meticulous lawn. Bob was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Sarah, and his beloved sister, Jeannette. He is survived by his wife, Nancy, of Portage; sons Michael (Patricia) Drahos of Sherburne, N.Y. and Joel (Karen) Drahos of Webster, Wis.; daughters Chris (Craig) Arms of South Haven, Karen (Rickey) Ray of Vicksburg; grandchildren Joshua (Raquel) Willison, Dottie (Rob) Bittner, Joshua Drahos, Emily Drahos, Corey (Ashley) Ray, and Andria (Dale Warner) Ray; great-grandchildren Teagan, Brooklyn, Tyler, and Alex. Donations may go to Lakeland Reformed Church. Condolences may be expressed to the family at

Josephine “Jo” Gray, passed away April 28 after a short illness. She was born on June 30, 1934. She had resided in Scotts for over 60 years. She was preceded in death by her husband, Paul “Barney” Gray in May 2011. She is survived by her daughters, Christine Osborne of Jonesborough, Tenn. and Susan Gray of Hastings, Mich., sisters Joann Binegar and Jackie Talbert; grandsons Brian and Kevin Osborne; six great-grandchildren and other loving extended family. She requested cremation. A private service will be held at a later date with burial in Gilson Cemetery. Donations may go to the Cancer Center of Southwest Michigan or the Ronald McDonald House. Visit her page at

Thomas Michael “Tom” Millard, 77, Mendon, died peacefully at his riverside home May 22. He was born in Three Rivers on Dec. 29, 1941, the son of the late Kenneth A. and Mercedes A. (Truckey) Millard. Tom graduated from Mendon High School in 1960. He was married to Karen Osgood on Dec. 12, 1970 in Mendon. Tom was a professional truck driver. More recently he was the proprietor of Crossroads Auto Sales of Centreville and a representative for Country Clipper Mowing Equipment. Tom was recognized for being in the top 10 percent for 12 of the last 13 years for all Country Clipper dealerships. Tom was married to Louise Weinberg on March 2, 1990 in Louisville, Ky. She survives along with daughters, Nikki (Colby) Furey and Traci Millard, both of Mendon; granddaughters Ashley and Ella Millard; grandson Devyn Furey; stepchildren Shane (Vanessa) Leech and Melissa Leech; step-grandchildren Kaden and Kaleah Leech; a sister, Kathy Stump of Leonidas; brothers, John (Mary Jane) Millard of Caledonia and Kenneth (Kathleen) Millard of Indian River; several nieces and nephews. Donations may go to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. Visit his page at

Dennis Osterhouse, 75, Vicksburg, passed away May 18. Dennis was born on June 25, 1943, in Battle Creek, to George & Leora (Root) Osterhouse. A private memorial service has taken place. Dennis’ family includes his wife of 18 years, Julie; stepchildren Jody (Mike) Tuinier, Deborah Gay; Chris Ringler; several grand and great grandchildren as well as several cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents. Dennis grew up in Galesburg and attended local schools. He worked as a custodian at the Galesburg-Augusta School system until he retired in 1989. He loved animals, especially his dogs CB and CJ. Dennis was a great mechanic and loved Nascar and all things racing. He was an avid bird watcher and reader but lived for his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Visit his page at Donations may go to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

John R. Ranes, 65, Vicksburg, passed away May 10. He was born to Johnny and Shirley (Miller) Ranes on February 19, 1954. He grew up in Galesburg, graduating in 1972. He went to work for Checker Motors for 20 years. He left for K&D Environmental and later bought Country Food & Beverage in Vicksburg. He called Indian Lake his home for many years. He will be remembered for his kind heart, warm spirit, and ability to model a lifetime of hard work providing for the family he loved. John is survived by his wife, Linda; children Jimmy (Sondra) Strong, of Sturgis; Angie (Justin) Smith, of Scotts; Mendy (Dave) Witt, of Vicksburg and Pam (Shawn) Sackett, of Scotts; and 14 grandchildren. He is also survived by his father, Johnny Ranes; siblings Shirlene Ranes, of Kalamazoo; Jerry (Sheri) Ranes, of Galesburg; Mike (Becki) Ranes, of Battle Creek; and Doug Ranes, of Kalamazoo. Visit his page at Donations may go to the Chapman Memorial Church of the Nazarene, Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan or West Michigan Cancer Center.

Keith Ritter, 67, Schoolcraft, passed away at Borgess Pipp Hospital May 20. He was born in Vicksburg on August 8, 1951 to Edwin and Alois (Anderson) Ritter. Keith married Linda (Kasperek) Ritter on May 17, 1975. They recently celebrated their 44th anniversary. He retired at age 58 after a 34-year career at Upjohn/Pfizer. He enjoyed tending his garden, tracking current events and rooting for all things University of Michigan. Keith’s family includes his sons, Jeffery (Fernanda) Ritter and Bradley (Kimberly) Ritter; his three cherished grandchildren, Graham, Eliza and Leonardo; nieces and nephews Michael and Nicholas Shirk, Mia and Nicholas Kasperek; and his sister, Elaine Shirk. He was preceded in death by his parents, Edwin and Alois Ritter. A private interment will take place at a later date. Donations may go to the American Heart Association or the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Visit his page at

Timothy Francis Shook, 63, formerly of Fulton, died March 21 in Miami, Fla., where he had resided the past 35 years. He was born in Battle Creek on Oct. 4, 1955, the son of Robert and Adele Shook. Tim graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1973, and later earned his bachelor’s degree from WMU. He was a project manager for real estate development and commercial construction. He was a former member of the Florida Philharmonic Chorus. Tim is survived by siblings Lynette (Mike) Wilson of Leonidas, Christopher (Katherine) Shook of Kalamazoo, Stephen (JoEllen) Shook of Springfield, Va., Marianne (Joe) Kuiper of Mattawan, Maureen (David) Simms of Milford, Robert G. Shook of Allegan, Lawrence (Darla Cook) Shook of Battle Creek, Pauline (Mark) Giacobone of Schoolcraft, and Kathleen (Steve) Waldron of Schoolcraft; many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and an infant brother. Visit his page at

Bertha Denney Smith, 95, Fulton, died May 29. Bertha was born on March 14, 1924 in Marion, Ind. to Frederick and Goldie (DeHoff) Denney. The family moved to Michigan when she was five. She attended school in Mendon, Moore Park and Schoolcraft. On September 13, 1947, Bertha married Clyde Blackburn Smith, Jr. in Ohio. The couple made their home in Fulton. She was employed by Haas/Leer Corporation in Mendon, the Kellogg Co. and Eaton Corporation in Battle Creek, the greenhouse in Vicksburg and Lamb Knit in Colon. Survivors include her children, Elizabeth VanSickle of Bellevue, Joseph (Arleen) Smith of East Leroy, John Smith of Colon, Margaret Rance of Fulton and Charles (Debbie) Smith of Dowling; siblings, Mable (Elwin) Holtz of Fulton, Patricia Carter of Marshall and Dolores “Dolly” (Bruce) Loker of Vicksburg; sisters-in-law Darlene Denney of Athens and Doris Denney of Wetmore, Mich.; brothers-in-law Richard (Suzie) Smith of San Diego, Calif. and Ronald (Barbara) Smith of Pine, Colo,; 21 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren, with two more on the way; and many nieces and nephews. Bertha was preceded in death by her husband of 60 years, Clyde, in 2008; a son, James Smith; grandson, Andrew Smith; siblings Alma Guthrie, Arthur Denney, F. Dale Denney, William Denney, Doris Denney, Peter Denney and Mary Denney; daughters-in-law Jan Smith and Belinda Smith; and son-in-law Marvin VanSickle. Donations may go to the Fulton Christian Church Women’s Fellowship. Visit her page at

David Allen Thomas, 60, Scotts, passed away April 23. David was born on May 1, 1958 in Lincoln, England. He is the son of Gordon and Marian (Rawson) Thomas. He attended Vicksburg schools. He worked for over 30 years for Woolf Excavating and operated heavy equipment. He is described as unique, kind of a hippie, caring person who would do anything for anyone. He enjoyed fishing and hunting, as well as spending time with his good friend, Gary Peterson, processing meat. Although he had a few motorcycles and was considered a big bad biker, he didn’t ride very much. He had a soft spot for his rescue dog, Schaffer, a yellow Labrador retriever he cared for deeply that had been dropped off in the country by his home. David is survived by his mother, Marian Thomas; children Rachel Thomas and Luke (Katie) Thomas, both of Scotts; a grandson, Tustin Scott; a sister, Melanie (Kevin) Tyler, of Vicksburg; and his dog, Schaffer. He was preceded in death by his father, Gordon Thomas. Visit his page at Donations may go to a charity of choice.

Eugene (Gene) Gilman Toornman, 87, Long Lake, passed away May 10, surrounded by his loving family. Gene was born on October 22, 1931 in Kalamazoo, to John Henry Sr. and Cornelia (Gilman) Toornman. Gene was a 1949 graduate of Kalamazoo State High School. He served in the U.S. Navy Air Corps from 1951-1955. During this time, he was an accomplished boxer, representing both the U.S. Navy and the city of Kalamazoo. In 1955, Gene started working at the Upjohn Company in Portage and then decided to pursue a college education to advance to a higher position within the company. Gene graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in industrial engineering. He continued his career as an engineer at Upjohn until his retirement in 1988. He enjoyed his 30-year career, never taking a sick day. In 1961, Gene married Marie (Boekeloo) Toornman. They celebrated 56 years of marriage. Gene enjoyed telling his six children and many grandchildren stories from his youth. These stories included valuable advice and life lessons. Gene was interested in classic automobiles and restored several during his retirement. His biggest project and accomplishment was restoring a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr, which he generously donated to the Gilmore Car Museum. Gene was preceded in death by his wife Marie, daughter Carrie Toornman Kimble, his brothers John Toornman Jr. and James Toornman. He is survived by his son Tom (Cathy) Toornman, daughters Tammy Guzzo, Deborah Toornman, Laurie (John) Hare, and Penny Major. Gene is also survived by several nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Donations may go to local hospice services, Salvation Army, Loaves and Fishes, or a local charity of one’s choosing.

Helen Mildred Waterhouse, 91, Portage, passed away April 24 at Bickford of Battle Creek. Helen was born on February 14, 1928 in Oshtemo Township, the daughter of Thomas and Maude (Harvey) Branch. Helen was a graduate of Mattawan High School. On May 6, 1950, she married Edward Waterhouse. They enjoyed over 60 years of marriage. Helen was a Godly woman who served the Lord faithfully her entire life. She was a member of Lord of Life Lutheran Church of Portage. She especially loved her quilting club, where they made hundreds of quilts that have been sent throughout the world. She worked in the insurance field for over 46 years. She retired from the Garrett Agency after being there for 35 years. Helen is survived by her children, Thomas Waterhouse and Sue (Richard) Pitts, both of Indiana; Mark (Rita) Waterhouse of Battle Creek; and Bryan (Karen) Waterhouse of Vicksburg; 12 grandchildren, six great grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband, Edward. A memorial service was held at Lord of Life Lutheran Church on April 24. Burial of her ashes will take place at Fort Custer National Cemetery at a later date. Please visit Helen’s webpage at Those who wish may make contributions to the Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, or Bickford Cottage of Battle Creek.

Schoolcraft Village Council

Schoolcraft village council trustee John Stodola
John Stodola discusses the changes to Schoolcraft at the Village Council meeting.

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Village Council awarded a contract to Kalamazoo-based Balkema Excavating to install a second water main from the well house.

The main is redundant, a fail safe in case of an issue with the other main. Balkema was the only bidder on the project which was initially estimated at $178,000 by engineering firm Prein & Newhof. Balkema’s bid came in well under that at $160,455.

“We were pleased with the price. And we were very pleased with the contractor who gave us that price,” Prein & Newhof representative Thomas Wheat told the council. “Balkema is one of the better contractors in town. Especially with it being such a critical part of the system.”

Wheat said they felt confident Balkema would be able to handle some of the bigger challenges of the project, such as running the pipe through the foundation of the old block well house building.

Prein & Newhof also got an estimate on an alternative that would have dealt with the removal and replacement of hot mix asphalt at the site. But the cost of that project was bid at $52,192, causing the village to postpone the work.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Rob Coffman noted that work will also be done to some aging infrastructure in the well house where they will be adding items such as new pumps for chlorine. He budgeted $15,000 for that work.

The council also approved two new ordinances. The first, ordinance 236, deals with solicited printed materials and primarily affects newspapers. It restricts newspaper deliveries to approved newspaper boxes. It also prohibits leaving unsolicited materials on or in mailboxes or anywhere on sidewalks or public parks.

The second new ordinance, 237 now limits the dates fireworks can legally be used in the village. Under the new ordinance fireworks use is limited to December 31 and until 1 a.m. Jan. 1, the Saturday and Sunday preceding Memorial Day, and June 29 to July 4. Fireworks will now only be allowed on July 5 if the day is a Friday or Saturday. The last dates fireworks will be allowed are Saturday and Sunday preceding Labor Day. With these dates, use is limited until 11:45 p.m.

Violation of the ordinance, which is now more in line with the state, could result in a $1,000 fine. Police Chief Bryan Campbell said officers will issue one written warning with a copy of the statute. A second violation will result in the fine being issued. Campbell said they rarely see use outside of one major holiday.

“Really, from what I’ve seen, it’s mainly the Fourth of July,” Campbell said. He noted there are several other subtle changes that address adult supervision of minors and the use of fireworks that go across property lines. “Even if it’s legal to do it, if your fireworks are going into your neighbor’s yard, that’s a violation,” Campbell said.

Village Council President Keith Gunnett called the new ordinance an improvement because of the reduction of noise it would bring.

Bomb Squad Takes Over the Mill at Vicksburg

By Sue Moore

A bomb threat in small-town Vicksburg would be unsettling to village residents. But not a staged one. It turns out The Mill is a fine place to stage a bomb threat and send a robot in to find and remove it.

The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) bomb squad conducted the drill.“The Mill was a perfect location to learn how to navigate the small passages with our robot Andros-F6B. The robot would seek out the previously planted bomb and haul it to a safe place for detonation,” said Mike Kelley, bomb squad commander. “We liked the concrete walls of the mill, that the building was abandoned and we could control the situation. It could resemble a real-life situation in a building such as a hospital.”

“We serve all of Kalamazoo County with our bomb squad,” said KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas. “We had about 20 calls last year for suspicious packages. When the need is there we call all hands on deck. The five members on the squad have training in how to operate the robot and how to work with potentially dangerous and unknown contents.” The robot costs in the neighborhood of $125,000 and has been in KDPS possession since 2000. It was financed by grants and donations to KDPS. It has been used many times, most recently to secure a pipe bomb that was found in a house in the county, Thomas noted.

The crew began the exercise by planting the fake bomb within the cavernous mill, then unloaded the robot from a truck parked outside. The robot is equipped with a camera, sensors and a jaw-like device that can pick up an object and move it to a place where it can be detonated. An X-ray camera is used to survey the contents, all the while transmitting pictures of it back to the control room in the truck. The remote control was operated by Detective Sara Choi, a bomb technician. Choi was assisted by bomb technician Matt Bombich, a laboratory specialist in the Forensics Lab. Bombich is a Vicksburg resident who serves as a volunteer co-leader of the Vicksburg middle and high school robotics teams.

Once the suspect bomb was safely out of the building and in an open space, the robot and any people were out of the way, the squad detonated the object. The sound was as loud as a 12-gauge shotgun. Commander Kelley joked that birds in the area can expect a feeding frenzy with the bird seed packed into the practice bomb.

KDPS has also been active in the Mill conducting 3D laser scanner training in recent weeks.

The 3D laser scanner initiative was started to provide training for the Kalamazoo Crime Lab in the use of its equipment. They also plan to provide three dimensional and scaled data to the Vicksburg High School engineering class, which has been doing 3D mapping of the Mill for its project-based course work.

After the practice was over, Chief Thomas made a pitch for recruits who want to become police officers. She said the ideal candidate might be looking for a new and different line of work. Starting pay increases as certifications and training are completed and increases with tenure within the department. The defined pension plan is good too, she told the crowd of camera operators and reporters from MLive, WOOD TV and Fox 17 News.

Vicksburg Reviews Downtown Infrastructure

streetscape 1
Matt Levandoski, a consultant from Prein & Neuhof, presented five different options for the downtown streetscape to business owners at a meeting on May 14. These have now been narrowed down to two and will be reviewed at the June 4 meeting at R & R for the public.

By Sue Moore

Some downtown Vicksburg property owners and businesspeople appear dubious about proposals to reshape the main business block of South Main Street with changes to sidewalk widths, parking and traffic flow.

Several alternatives were presented by Village Manager Jim Mallery at a May 14 meeting, as the village prepares for a two-year program to upgrade underground utilities, including the block of Main Street between Prairie and Washington.

Digging up part of the street provides an opportunity to reshape it to meet needs for several decades to come, Mallery pointed out.

Some of the five alternatives presented at the meeting included widening sidewalks for more of an outdoor cafe-like setting, changing angle parking to parallel parking or vice versa, providing a bike lane and restricting traffic to a one-way southbound lane. The proposals reduced parking on the block, from the current 36 spaces, some more than others.

The loss of parking concerned several businesspeople, although Mallery said opening a village parking lot adjacent to the Post Office would make up for the difference.
Mallery attributed the need for changes to change in peoples’ habits in transportation and the trends the planners believe are happening in cities and villages across the country.

“The trend is in non-motorized transportation, livability, walkability and a safe environment for core business districts,” Mallery said.

He added that studies show development in Kalamazoo County moving toward the southwest. When that land is gobbled up, it’s predicted the next movement will be southeast toward Vicksburg. For a number of years until 2010, population of the village was steady at 2,200. Since then it has grown by about 50 percent to 3,400. “We are sitting in a positive way for attracting business to downtown Vicksburg,” Mallery said.

The state of Michigan provided grant funding to study infrastructure throughout the village. The study came back with a list of projects estimated at $30 million, much of it for sanitary sewer improvements.

This is especially imperative on 22nd street, in the Allen-Edwin development which has fueled much of the population growth. A six-inch sewer needs to be replaced along with a lift station. The downtown has the oldest sewers in the village; they need replacement.
Sewage which now flows from 22nd Street to Highway Street will be redirected through Washington Street to S. Main to E. Prairie and on out to Spruce Street. There it will intersect with the rest of the village sewer system and be pumped through Portage to the Kalamazoo City sewage treatment plant.

The project would not be doable without a 40-year USDA loan available to municipalities of less than 10,000 population. “This will increase costs for rate-payers of the system,” Mallery said, “but the need is so great, we can’t afford not to finance it in this way.” It will add another 30 to 40-year life span to the current system.

Plans for the sewage system improvements are to be prepared by a June 6 village council meeting. Bids for underground work need to be let in August so downtown work can begin by July, 2020.

Before the public meeting Mallery had formed a committee of business owners. He said he will take comments about Main Street changes from the public meeting back to the committee for further refinement before it goes to the council for review. The design sketches for the five alternatives are available on the village’s website.

Fire Authority Presents to Schoolcraft Village Council

By Travis Smola

The South County Fire Authority presented an overview of its budget and operations to the Schoolcraft Village Council ahead of the council’s second May meeting.

Both parties have been trying to set up the presentation for a while. The meeting was spurred by a late payment by the fire authority back in January that was eventually resolved. But it did result in the council sending a letter asking for more clarity from the fire authority.

Fire Authority Treasurer Tracey Locey was on hand to give the presentation and answer questions by the trustees, mostly about the authority’s accounting practices.

Locey acknowledged there were some weaknesses in accounting practices it is trying to fix. She also attributed many of the weaknesses to the small size of the organization. Locey told the trustees that prior to 2015, the authority had not done any capital planning for future purchases, which made things awkward when a truck broke down and a replacement was needed. “It wasn’t planned for in our budget. We hadn’t been saving for it,” Locey said.

The authority was able to find the money needed for that truck. However, they then took the advice of village Manager Cheri Lutz to start planning and saving for big purchases ahead of time. Locey also said they started to do more inventory and cross-analysis of the equipment the authority used to better determine expenses and what it needs every year.

While the allocation costs to the village of Schoolcraft have gone down this year, Locey said costs of operation for the authority have stayed mostly the same in recent years. There was one year recently that was more expensive due to workman’s comp claims. Trustee Michael Rochholz wanted to know more about the claims and if they had any correlation with new training the department is doing now.

Locey explained that the claims were mostly bad luck. One was from a firefighter slipping on a patch of ice. In another incident, a firefighter was injured when a nail punctured protective gear.

The hiring of a full-time chief has been vital in cost savings. Locey said the call volume in the village is increasing every year, but with the chief monitoring calls in the station, he can call off firefighters from responding to basic medical calls where they aren’t needed. “We think that we’re better managing our manpower with that full-time chief,” Locey said.

Locey couldn’t answer all the council’s concerns at the meeting. Kathy Mastenbrook asked about the auditor’s management letter that identified a number of material weaknesses resulting in significant adjustments to account balances. Locey said she couldn’t address many of Mastenbrook’s concerns immediately, but she agreed to bring the auditor, Siegfried Crandall, into a discussion with Mastenbrook later for more clarity.
The two sides agreed to continue discussions to try to smooth out any differences going forward.

Vicksburg Village Seeks to Add Staff

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery has proposed adding a full-time staff member to communicate with residents, attract new business and serve as liaison with village boards and committees.

The village will seek a grant from the Vicksburg Foundation to fund $37,500 per year, half the cost, for three years. This person would also be responsible for the village website and social media.

A new policy for appointed boards and commissions was enacted by the Vicksburg Village Council at its May 6 meeting that was praised by council members for being open and transparent for anyone seeking one of these positions.

Road work on major streets in the village was announced for W. Prairie, Richardson Street and north and South streets in the Leja business park at a cost of $185,485. Local streets to be repaved include E. Raymond, Hamilton, Adams, and South Davis at a cost of $144,200. Mallery explained that the money comes from state Act 51 road funds only. No local tax money is included in the work plan.

Work on two railroad crossings is expected to start in June and be completed by Canadian National Railroad by July. This includes the W. Prairie and N. Main crossings but not the one on Boulevard.

Another grant request was approved to seek $2,000 from the Vicksburg Foundation to help with the cost of the June 6 state of the village luncheon at the R&R Event Center. The public is invited.

Seniors Honored at Reception by Rotary and Lions Clubs

senior honors 4
From left to right: Kyle Kelly, Sam Gearig, Joey McCowen, Casey Hall, Grace Wile, Maia Flect, Kali Yant, and Mia Mulhern.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School was fortunate to have 12 seniors recognized by Education for Employment and Education for the Arts, (EFE/EFA) for Outstanding Senior Awards. Principal Adam Brush reported on the recognition as he introduced the students to the school board at its May meeting.

Approximately 2,500 students from 10 area schools are in more than 30 EFE/EFA programs. This year, 64 students received $64,285 in scholarships.

The 12 Vicksburg students won scholarships in computerized manufacturing, law enforcement, cooperative education, marketing, accounting, health science, veterinary science, creative writing and dental assisting that totaled $11,000.

A week later, the Vicksburg Rotary and Lions clubs banded together to honor 91 graduating seniors from the class of 2019 at the annual Honors Reception. The seniors received awards for academics and sports with a grand total of $68,000 in scholarships handed out by local organizations.

The board heard Transportation Director Karen McKinstry’s annual report on school buses and drivers. They began the year needing three more bus drivers. Eric Rietsema, in charge of recruiting, came up with three to fill these important slots. “We have had three people with perfect attendance records for the three years I have been with the school district,” she said. “That shows dedication and loyalty to the job and to the kids.”

The board voted to buy three new gasoline buses at a cost of $201,890 on McKinstry’s recommendation. “The emissions systems on diesel buses are costly to repair, so we have had to start using premium fuel to unclog them. Gas-powered buses will give us more savings,” she said.

All buses were inspected by the state at the end of April. All passed with only one yellow tag, McKinstry said. “It was a team effort.”

Schoolcraft School Roofs Need Work

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft Community Schools recently teamed with Tremco, Inc., to do thermal surveys of the district’s roofs. The results were concerning.

The school board was shown results of the survey at its May meeting. They showed stress fractures and seams in every roof in the district. Another big concern is areas of wet insulation in the high school gym and athletic hall. Some problems were known to the district, but the survey revealed new problem areas. The recommendation is to replace the roof.

At the elementary building, the recommendation by Tremco was to maintain and restore the gymnasium roof , nearly 30 years old, to try to get five more years out of it. The middle school roof is the worst of the bunch. The drains are insufficiently small and Superintendent Rusty Stitt said there were four inches of standing water on it at the time of the survey. A worst-case scenario would be huge areas of saturated insulation.
The estimated costs for repairing or replacing the entire middle school roof in that scenario would be around $700,000.

Another $600,000 is estimated for maintaining or replacing the high school roof.
Stitt said under the current language of the proposed bond issue, approved at the same meeting by the board, there is no money for a roofing project. “I think you’ll find that’s a concern, that’s a red flag for us,” Stitt said.

Stitt noted that the numbers by Tremco were not a bid. The company doesn’t do that kind of work. It is only an assessment. Board Vice President Jason Walther wondered why these issues weren’t caught by the facilities study done by C2AE and Christman Construction.

Bob McGraw of C2AE told the board that some of the issues were known. The ideal scenario would be for the district to pass the bond so the elementary and middle school roofs would become a non-factor other than maintenance to keep them going until the new facilities are built.

McGraw said this new extent of some of the damage at the high school wasn’t immediately recognized mainly because some roof repairs done via an insurance claim masked some of the damage.

The board took no action on the issue. Stitt and the board agreed more assessments to look at the issue more closely are needed before any decisions are made.

Schoolcraft Senior Tea

schoolcraft seniors
Schoolcraft senior girls stand in front of the Ladies Library Association.

Schoolcraft senior girls were feted at a beautiful and tasty brunch by the Ladies Library Association in May at their historic library building in Schoolcraft. The speaker was Jeanne Hess, head volleyball coach and chair of the physical education department at Kalamazoo College who inspired the students to find joy in being grateful.

“I am grateful for my students, because if there were no students, there would be no teachers,” Hess joked. She was serious about making sense of the puzzle of life. She used the analogy of four corners of a stool as anchors. “Ask yourself what they are: family, learning, service, your calling in this world. It’s OK to change these as you go forward as I was going to be a doctor when I went away to college at the University of Michigan.

“Your life gets richer and bigger after graduation with more things connecting the corners,” she told them. “Take time to reflect on the corners as you need to leave the world a better place than you found it. Then joy and gratitude are inevitable.”

Schoolcraft School Board Moving Forward on Bond

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Facilities Study Committee recommended the school board move forward with putting the proposed $30-40 million bond project for a new elementary and middle school on the November ballot.

This recommendation led to discussion spearheaded by Treasurer Kathy Mastenbrook, who also serves as trustee on the Schoolcraft Village Council. Mastenbrook suggested adding an amendment to postpone construction if the long-proposed sewer infrastructure project gets going.

The sewer project has been long debated in Schoolcraft, but recent talks with Portage-based Wightman Associates seem to show the project gaining real momentum. Mastenbrook felt there is a real possibility the sewer project and bond project may be running parallel to one another. “I think environmentally and for public health reasons it would be a better fit for our community (to utilize the sewer for the school project),” Mastenbrook said.

Secretary Ryan Ledlow said he understands why Mastenbrook was sharing this information, but he wanted to know more on the timeline of a sewer project. He was concerned the sewer project was years from completion.

Board President Jennifer Gottschalk agreed. “Something that the group here needs to keep in mind is we can’t hold our project off,” she said. Gottschalk said she was fine with hooking into the sewer if possible, but she also didn’t think the possibility of using it over current septic tanks was worth delaying a building project because of how construction costs increase each year.

Brian Crissman of Christman Construction, on hand at the meeting, suggested the new school building would probably take about 18 months to build and would probably be two years from actual completion. The district could choose to hook up to sewer if it becomes available.

Mastenbrook clarified by saying she was talking about a six-to-twelve-month window where the projects could potentially run in parallel. She also believes the sewer talks are further along than what the school board thinks. “I just don’t want to miss an opportunity to take advantage of that infrastructure from the school side if it aligns or if it’s six months’ difference,” Mastenbrook said. “I’m not talking about five or 10 years down the road.”

Ledlow said he didn’t want the district’s project to get locked on to whatever the village was planning. Gottschalk agreed and suggested the two issues were separate. She suggested the board simply focus on whether they would approve the issue at hand.
“Once we pass the bond, then let’s worry about that,” Gottschalk said. “Let’s get the thing to treasury and let them do their jobs.”

The board ultimately approved a move to submit a draft of the bond application to the State of Michigan. The next step is double-checking all the paperwork before the board considers voting to put the bond issue on the ballot on a later date.