All posts by justingibson

Deb Reynolds Named Schoolcraft Citizen of the Year

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Deb Reynolds with her granddaughter, Elizabeth Reynolds, as she shepherds the parade floats into line.

By Sue Moore

“Deb Reynolds is truly an amazing person who has taken on a tremendous responsibility by organizing the best 4th of July parade in southwest Michigan,” Cheri Lutz, Schoolcraft village manager said. The Village Council agreed, naming her to receive its first Citizen of the Year award at its June meeting.

“Deb has been assisting with the parade since 1981 and took it over completely in 2002 while serving as president of the 4th of July committee,” Lutz wrote in her nominating letter. “Many people know her name but do not know her as a person. Deb spends hundreds of hours as a volunteer each year, organizing the parade, communicating with participants, either by phone or email. She is responsible for parade line-ups, securing the Master of Ceremonies, decorating the judges stand and making sure all entries are lined up and in place. In recent years, Deb has worked with the Air Force to arrange a fly-by from the Air Forces’ A-10 Warthogs which is the signal for the parade to begin,”
Reynolds tried to hand the reins of the parade to someone else several years ago but didn’t get many takers. “She appeared at a village council meeting to see if anyone else would volunteer,” Lutz said.

“I was born and raised in Schoolcraft, so I just couldn’t let the community down when nobody else stepped forward,” Reynolds said. TJ Gill and Courtney Adams have been helping her the last several years on the day of the parade. Reynolds has it so well planned she can leave and go home to rest on the actual day if she wants to.

The secret to her success is plenty of organization, she said. She sends out parade entry cards on May 1 to the list of prior participants, those who have been in the parade in the last two years. Reynolds has it so well planned that she knows exactly how many feet it takes on the road for each float entry. She stages them on Eliza Street and then branches off on all the feeder streets such as Pearl, Osterhout and Cass.

The day of the parade, Tom and Mary Carol Clark are stationed as volunteers at the corner of 14th and Eliza to direct traffic. “I can count on them to manage the chaos,” Reynolds said. “Schelley McMillan is in charge of the tractor lineup and that’s a big help too. Another thing that really helps is the bank where I work, Kalamazoo County State Bank, lets me do the planning work on its time and they cover the expenses too.”

As Citizen of the Year, she is going to be required to ride in her very own parade. Reynolds said she was honored to be chosen but doesn’t want to be featured in the parade itself. Instead she would prefer to be home with her feet up and a cool drink in her hand.

Schoolcraft Names Marilyn Jones Citizen of the Year

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Marilyn Jones with her plaque presented by the village of Schoolcraft.

By Sue Moore

Nominations came flowing into the Schoolcraft village office for Citizen of the Year, a new award established by the Village Council. Two people were tied in the estimate of the committee reviewing the qualifications. It decided to give the award to both Marilyn Jones and Deb Reynolds.

They will be honored by riding in the Schoolcraft 4th of July parade and praised for their volunteer work for the community. The two have been employees of Kalamazoo County State Bank (KCSB) and have been friends for more than 40 years.

Jones hasn’t slowed down one bit since turning 92 this year, said Deb Christiansen in her letter of support. Jones was also nominated by Library Director Faye VanRavenswaay, who wrote: “Marilyn is an active supporter and local author who happily shares her love of books and writing with the community. Most recently she has been reading her original poems to 2nd and 3rd grade Schoolcraft students and has submitted her work to the Tournament of Writers (which Christiansen instituted) the last four years of its inception and won a prize each time.”

Jones contributes her written work in selected readings, much of it with a sense of humor, wherever she goes, especially to the six clubs she attends monthly. She is always writing poetry and has won many awards. She has written three books. The first, in 2000, is titled “One Lump … Or Two.” She wrote the second, “Tea Time Again … Have Another Lump” in 2013. She was hospitalized with broken bones from a fall. “I laid there thinking about all of my poems and asked my granddaughter, Angel, to help me put them together in a book. She said ‘No, just wait until you come home and I will help you.’” The third, published in 2017, is “Are You Ready?”

In Jones’ earlier years of giving back to the community she was active as a band parent for her five children. Son Ken is a percussionist for the Kalamazoo Symphony and a music director in the Kalamazoo schools. While working at the bank, she volunteered to co-ordinate the three-week visit of two visiting Russian bankers. “They left Schoolcraft with admiration for our way of life and the capitalist system,” Jones said. For five years she wrote the KCSB newsletter. She also taught “Project Business” to Schoolcraft 8th graders. “Many students remarked that it was their favorite class,” Jones said.

She spent several years as a court appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children in Kalamazoo County. She also adjudicated Remynse scholarship applications for the Kalamazoo Foundation.

VanRavenswaay concluded her nomination by lauding Jones: “Marilyn is a jewel in the community, sharing her gift as a poet and helping to spread the word that writing is a pursuit for everyone to enjoy.”

Big Parade Brings Thousands to Schoolcraft

By Tanner White

Schoolcraft’s 4th of July celebration, one of the largest in southwest Michigan, draws thousands of spectators from Michigan and beyond with its time-honored traditions.
What causes the population to explode during these festivities?

One of the more spectacular facets of the 4th of July celebration is the parade.

Participants line up beginning at 10 a.m., the parade steps off at 11. The route extends from Eliza St. to the corner of Clay and 14th, a distance of about two miles. An estimated 10,000 people view the parade every year. An event that fun for the whole family, the parade often consists of over 100 organizations and other entries.

Equally as exciting as the parade is the annual firework display, held at Schoolcraft High School. The display is set to begin at 10 p.m. and lasts approximately 20 minutes. Crowds often surround the high school for miles in every direction, with each viewer seeking the perfect location to watch the spectacle. Arriving early is recommended to ensure the best close-up view.

Ultimately, the entire Independence Day celebration is a time for family, friends, and fun. The most common factors cited as attractions to the festivities are the friendly nature of Schoolcraft locals and the huge variety of activities to suit visitors of all ages. Visit Schoolcraft this 4th of July and be a part of the celebration.

Dine and Listen to Music at the American Legion Hall

American Legion Post 475 of Schoolcraft has big activities for this 4th of July celebration, according to Post Commander Dan Vansweden. “This year we are again offering our traditional favorite barbecue chicken and ribs with sides and drinks from noon until 4 p.m., in both indoor and outdoor dining facilities. This year’s entertainment will feature the live band Latitude who will be playing their country-blues-classic rock sound from 1-5 p.m.” An outdoor inflatable obstacle course will be available for kids as well as an outside beer tent for the adults. The Legion post offers two air-conditioned levels with bars and dining open to the public.

Parkers are Grand Marshals for the Parade

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Kim and Mark Parker at their desk at Mark’s Sales and Service in Schoolcraft.

By Sue Moore

“The 4th of July is my favorite holiday!” That’s Kim Parker, readying her latest idea for a float to put in the annual parade in Schoolcraft. This will be the 20th year Kim has designed a float and her husband, Mark, and family have built one.

Kim and Mark have been named grand marshals of this year’s event, not because they have been contributing a float but because they do so much else for the event, according to Virginia Mongreig, treasurer of the 4th of July committee.

The couple own Mark’s Sales and Service on U.S. 131, where they repair vehicles, sell used cars and provide a towing service. They have been in business in Schoolcraft since 1997, having begun in 1994 in Vicksburg. Mark started at Kendall’s gas station on Portage Road in 1976 as a mechanic for Charlie Kendall, whom he credits for mentoring him in the business.

Their wrecker serves as the judges reviewing stand on Grand Street each year. The fireworks committee has made use of the company’s van to transport fireworks from where they are purchased out east and brought back to Schoolcraft, Mongreig said. He has also served as a judge for the car show in Burch Park. They have a ready-made pole barn to build the float and have loaned it out to other community groups when extra space is needed.

The parade float is almost always a winner because it is so creative. Kim comes up with a theme each year and then executes it to perfection, her husband said. For the 2018 parade it will be “Grease” with 50s live music emanating from the 50s diner designer float. The couple as grand marshals will be riding in a 50s-era car next to the float, Parker said.

“It usually takes a week to build the float so it’s a very busy, long week,” Kim said. The whole family of six grown kids and their spouses and 11 grandkids all help. Their reward is a dip in the family pool near Barton Lake on the 4th. The Parkers provide a cookout after the parade to their family. It works because they all live nearby. Kim also does a family gathering each Sunday and posts the meat dish of the week on Facebook. The rest of the contributors then tailor their potluck dishes to complement the theme for that Sunday, she said.

Those who attend the parade regularly will recognize the Parker family float as it is usually the most elaborate offering, easing its way from Eliza Street, down Grand, Clay Street and circle back on 14th to the garage. Mark has worked on Deb Reynolds throughout these years to slowly move their float up in the parade so the family is done by 11:45 and able to hit the pool shortly thereafter. “It stinks being at the end of the parade,” Mark said.

The kids and grandkids will take in the fireworks at 10 p.m. but the Parkers would rather stay home and relax. “I’m pooped by the end of the day,” Kim declared.
As well she might be.

Sammi Fritz to Represent the USA in the World Cup

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Sammi Fritz with her horse, Crackers, in the show ring at the family farm.

By Sue Moore

Samantha (Sammi) Fritz from Fulton is one of two American youths who will compete in the World Cup Barrel Race in Brazil next month.

She and John Ball, of Lexington, Ky., were chosen by the National Barrel Horse Association to represent the U.S. Bob Hess, a coordinator from the association from Indiana also recommended her.

Two youths from every country competing have been selected to participate in the World Cup Barrel Race to be held in Londrina, Brazil, July 16 – 20.

“She rides well,” said one of the selectors in describing Sammi (15), who will be a sophomore at Vicksburg High School. She is the daughter of Ben and Shawn Fritz who farm in Fulton. Sammi’s two older sisters, Becky Barton and Betsy Barrett, raise quarter horses for barrel events at their horse farm, Raise The Bar Performance Horses. They started their own show grounds last year for barrel shows with riders coming to compete from all over the Midwest.

Sammi has been riding since she was four years old. She broke her wrist at age six from a fall off her pony. It took her three years to get back on a horse and found she was a natural at barrel racing. “It’s a rush when you have a great run. The adrenalin kicks in, even though your run usually is around 16 seconds. You hope to do it in 15 or less depending on the pattern.” Fritz said. She rides and trains on her own horse, Crackers, at their barn with the help of her sisters.

For the competition in Brazil, the youth riders will draw a new horse every day that they have never ridden. The competitors each have five minutes in the holding pen to get acquainted with the horse and to adjust equipment to their liking, then go into the arena to race against the clock, hoping to leave all the barrels standing. She will run a total of four times, on a different horse each day. She will be scored on the average of her four runs. Sammi’s older sister and a friend, Kris Barga, will be accompanying her on this trip.

They will have a 14-hour flight to Brazil, then a six-hour bus trip to Londrina where the competition will be held for youth 18 years and under. Her other sister, Betsy, will be staying back to manage the horse farm.

Sammi also plays with the Kalamazoo Kings 14U softball team where she plays utility. She just finished playing her first year of high school softball for the Vicksburg JV team.

Vicksburg School Board Deliberates on the Budget

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Vicksburg school retirees that were honored for their years of service to the school district include: Bottom Row L to R: Joni Nichols, Sue Haines, Mary Kilpatrick, Steve Fryling. Second row from left: Charlie Glaes, Mary Hess-Quinones, Karen Hill, Elizabeth Craig. Third row: Jim Cagney, Lucia Dalla, Martie Ritter, Nanette Sperry, Henry VanTuyl. Not pictured: Linda Thompkins, Deb Homan.

By Sue Moore

After honoring the district’s 15 retirees, the Vicksburg School Board settled in to hear the annual budget review from Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss for the fiscal 2018-19 school year.

His assumptions for the $27.4 million overall budget showed a student enrollment of 2,542, seven down from the current year. The Pathways program show a decreased enrollment projection of 14 students, down from the 80 this year. All of the numbers presented were predicated on state per-pupil funding of $7,861. That’s up 3 percent, he told the board, a $230-per-pupil increase.

Salary and benefit costs were estimated at $21.1 million and $4.76 million for non-compensation expenses. Thus, he predicted a $56,000 shortfall from a balanced budget.

This did not worry Goss, saying the overall picture was essentially a balanced budget, given some unknowns that are still to be factored in.. Goss noted that one of the state budget proposals under consideration called for an increase of $240 per pupil compared to the $230 increased used in the preliminary budget. If the $240 increase is factored into the final budget, it would generate approximately $26,000 of additional revenue, which would not significantly change the budget.

Goss explained the allocation of functional expenditures, and in reference to the $9.24 million allocated for support services, Goss reminded the Board and audience that, “school districts are complex systems, and every function is interdependent with the others. Each plays a vital role in the success of students.”Trustee David Schriemer was hoping the Federal government might come through with funding for school safety efforts that are needed in many schools across the country. “There is no cavalry coming over the hill,” Superintendent Charlie Glaes exclaimed. “We had two grants in 2004-05 for cameras and initial funding for a school resource officer but that’s the extent of it.”

Goss went on to explain that in 2020, the bonds to build the auditorium and new gym will be paid off. “It is our hope to incorporate more funding for security systems in a future request to the public along with other upgrades.”“Our most recent bond issue of 2014 that we divided into three segments was sold successfully for the remaining one on May 31. The work is already rolling ahead on the $4.3 million from this issue and should be completed in the 2018-19 school year,” Goss remarked.

Evelyn Brockway Honored for Commitment to Athletics

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Evelyn Brockway is shown at the bingo hall in Kalamazoo.

For 47 years, Evelyn Brockway has been hosting bingo nights in Vicksburg and Kalamazoo to raise money for Vicksburg High School athletics. The most recent estimate? More than $1.5 million for the school’s athletes.

The Vicksburg Athletic Boosters held a retirement party for Brockway June 4 in the high school cafeteria. Several current and past coaches stopped by to express their gratitude for her 47 years in running the bingo, the primary fund raiser for the Vicksburg Athletic Boosters.

She was also honored at the beginning of the spring sports awards banquet by Booster President Josh Baird, who showed a video that included current and past athletes and grateful community members thanking Evelyn for her lifelong commitment to the children in the community.

Evelyn, 79, was joined on stage by her daughter, Carla Brockway, 44, and granddaughter Katrina Holmes, 31. Evelyn and Carla will take a smaller role in running the bingo operations and Katrina has agreed to accept the primary responsibility in running it for the Boosters.

In 1991, when Evelyn was inducted in the Vicksburg Athletic Hall of Fame, an article on the front page of the Commercial-Express indicated she had already raised $500,000, a third of the current estimate.

During a dedication ceremony two years ago while naming the softball complex after her, Superintendent Charles Glaes said, “Through Evelyn’s and others working with her over these past 45-plus years, the current generation of children do not have to pay to participate in sports, but neither will their children or their children’s children.”