All posts by justingibson

Miniature Custom Manufacturing is Getting Bigger

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Employees of Miniature Custom Manufacturing gather outside the plant in the Leja Industrial Park with the owners, Steve Shoemaker on the left next to the sign and Kevin Murphy on the right of the sign. He’s hard to miss as he stands 6’ 7”.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg’s own Miniature Custom Manufacturing (MCM) has been selected as one of Michigan’s 50 companies to watch in 2019 by the Michigan Small Business Development Center. The company will be honored at a black-tie gala May 8 at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University.

The company is also continuing to grow within the Vicksburg Leja Business Park. MCM was awarded a $175,000 performance-based grant from the state of Michigan’s Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a training grant for $82,500 and property tax abatement for 12 years from the village of Vicksburg. With the company’s investment, the expansion is worth $3 million and 37 new jobs for Vicksburg.

The company began in a pole barn in Richland 12 years ago. It moved to Galesburg and then in 2013 to Vicksburg, with one employee, six injection machines, and one customer. It’s grown to 67 employees, 17 machines and 29 customers and is still growing. “Six years ago, we didn’t expect to grow at this pace,” co-owner Kevin Murphy said. “We just knew we each had our own strengths and together we could bring value to the village of Vicksburg. And we are excited to be staying and growing here.”

“Our roles have evolved,” according to Steve Shoemaker, the other co-owner. “It’s rewarding to see others grow while working together. It’s about hiring the right people and getting them the right seat on the bus.”

“It’s our culture that allows us to continue to grow at this pace,” Murphy said. “We believe in people first, quality second, and production third. And when your values are aligned it’s amazing what people can accomplish.”

MCM believes in philanthropy. Over the past year, the staff was involved in a food drive for Generous Hands in Vicksburg, collecting over 1,200 pounds of food by all three shifts. They also adopted a family at Christmas. MCM reinforces a strong culture by bringing employees together with picnics, cookouts and plant-wide catered Christmas dinners. It offers good benefits including company supported health and dental insurance, a 401k match and paid vacation and sick pay. “Our retention rate is good, but it can always be improved.” said Shoemaker.

MCM is an injection molding company that makes parts for the automotive industry, food packaging, computer electronics and the medical industry. This leads to diversity of manufacturing while still being a Tier II supplier to automotive clients. The word “miniature” in the company name derives from early products they still continue to produce to this day, but they have continued to evolve beyond the small parts. MCM continues to secure new customers and has several product launches planned for 2019 and 2020, requiring an expansion of 24,000 square feet to its current facility and conversion of its warehouse into a second manufacturing facility.

Shoemaker is the process guy, Murphy said. “What Steve does, I couldn’t do. He is the manufacturing and software systems person who runs the facility. He’s self-taught and knows how things work.”

Murphy has developed the sales team that includes three salespersons from around the tri-state area. While they were all experienced salespeople, none had plastics experience. “It’s all about networking and building relationships. They believe in the team and are willing to take calculated risks.”

The two owners met as neighbors in Kalamazoo over 10 years ago, not knowing what the other one did for a living. Shoemaker was a one-man band when the shop was in Richland and couldn’t keep up with it all. Murphy joined him as a co-owner in 2013 when MCM moved to Vicksburg. Murphy and Shoemaker with their families both live locally now. Murphy is an outdoorsman and Shoemaker loves to tinker in his spare time. “Back in the beginning, we lived in the plant day and night,” Shoemaker said. “As owners we don’t have titles. We are coaches and mentors most of the time now.”

“The Vicksburg community has been super supportive. The village manager has reached out in every way possible, Murphy said. “Part of the allure is the environment,” Murphy said. “We have a solid foundation and aren’t the little brother anymore. It’s all about the team. They care and take pride in producing what goes out the door each day.”

Hearty Hustle is a Fun Run for Fit Families

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Runners get ready for the 5K run at the Vicksburg Stadium in 2018 on a cold, rainy and windy day.

By Sue Moore

Runners, walkers, babies and loyal supporters are getting in shape for the 32nd annual Hearty Hustle 5K run sponsored by the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation (VCSF). The starting gun goes off on Saturday, May 11 at 9 a.m. at the high school. It will be followed by the Baby Bolt at 10 a.m. Awards will be handed out for the top runners in each category.

Founded in 1987, the run was intended to help folks get in shape for the summer and reduce the incidence of heart disease by getting fit. That is still the core mission, said Lucas Hillard, co-chair of the event. “We have found that whole families like to participate. It’s more like a fun thing they can do together. Even the littlest member of the family can participate because of the Baby Bolt that takes place for 4-year-olds and under.” The race route winds through the downtown streets of Vicksburg ending up at the high school stadium track.

Added incentives to sign up are the prize money for any school building in the district which has the most runners registered. When participants sign up online at: https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Vicksburg/VicksburgHeartyHustle, they are asked to designate which building they choose to support – the high school, middle school or the three grade school buildings. The prize money will go to the winning school for some extras that aren’t included in the budget, according to Superintendent Keevin O’Neill.

Each person signing up before April 29 receives a free T-shirt with the theme for the year printed on the front and the logos of the sponsors of the event on the back. Local sponsors include Lyster Roofing, Grossman Law, Edward Jones, Ozland Enterprises, Kalsee Credit Union, Fred’s Pharmacy, Stewart-Sutherland, Frederick Construction, Vicksburg Lions Club, Bub’s 73 Foundation, Printing Services, Vicksburg Rotary Club and Chem Link at the $250 level. Several other businesses have supported the event at the $100 level, Hillard said.

Everyone’s a winner when they successfully run the race, Hillard pointed out. This is a fundraiser for the School Foundation. This year’s big project has been to retrofit a school bus to make it into the “Big Read Machine” a bookmobile to serve youngsters all over the district in the summertime. The funds from the Hearty Hustle also help with the Advanced Placement Capstone Diploma program that the VCSF has initiated. Rather than teaching subject-specific content, these courses develop students’ skills in research, analysis, evidence-based arguments, collaboration, writing, and presenting. Students who complete the two-year program can earn one of two different AP Capstone awards, which are valued by colleges across the United States and around the world. Through the Foundation, this program has been instituted in Vicksburg High School.

History Day Speaker at the Historic Village

By Sue Moore

“I’m passionate about the Civil War,” said Gary Swain. He will be the featured speaker for the Historical Society’s History Day and the May Meander that opens the season at the Historic Village. His talk at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 is the first of six scheduled in the old township hall. It’s funded by a grant from the Kalamazoo Arts Council.

He will portray the Civil War through the lenses of the Michigan soldiers who fought at Gettysburg, a defining battle of the war. Michigan soldiers were well represented at Gettysburg with 2,100 men in uniform in a battle that took between 1,100 and 1,200 casualties. He will also reminisce about what happened to some of those soldiers once they returned home.

Swain is well known as an officer in Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, a Michigan fraternal organization formerly known as the Grand Army of the Republic, with regional offices throughout the state. He was regimental commander of the Kalamazoo regional camp and now serves as the Graves and Memorial registration officer for a group that covers Kalamazoo, VanBuren, Allegan and Kent counties.

The groups’ efforts are dedicated to putting markers on Civil War veterans’ graves. They take charge of cleaning the graves and keeping track of the 9,200 grave sites in the four-county area. He is the executive director of the Michigan Civil War Institute, a statewide organization. He lives in Kalamazoo.

He stresses the proper way of cleaning headstones, leading into May’s Memorial Day observances throughout the state and nation. The National Park Service recommends a product called X2 that has a biocide in it that will kill any living organism embedded in the headstone. His group uses a product made by Proctor & Gamble called Orvus. It’s a detergent that won’t harm the stone while cleaning the dirt and grime off. It’s available at most Tractor Supply or Farm & Fleet stores. It is more commonly used for washing horses.

Swain grew up in the Parchment area and worked at the KVPS/Sutherland Paper Company while in college at Western Michigan University. He spent years as vice president of marketing for Mobil Oil Chemical division in Boston and then with a plastics manufacturer that was big in recycling. He retired 10 years ago and has been active with the WMU Foundation board and the Osher Life Long Learning Institute at Western. He is currently on the board of the group that is heading up the Abraham Lincoln monument project. It is raising funds to place a statue of Lincoln in Bronson Park to commemorate his speech there in 1856.

History Day and May Meander at the Historic Village

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Glen Blenn explains the workings of the early 1920s visible gas pump on the grounds of the Vicksburg Historic Village to visitors from Japan. He serves as the docent for the Village Garage whenever the buildings are open. During the 20’s a customer pumping gas could actually see the gas coming from the pump.

By Sue Moore

Babies, kids, young and old adults alike are invited when the Vicksburg Historical Society opens its doors on Saturday, May 18, the opening day for its May Meander and History Day celebration. It goes from 4-7 p.m. at the Historic Village on Richardson Street.

“There is a lot to celebrate,” said Don Weirtella, the 2019 president of the board of directors. “We have a new director, a brand-new speaker series planned, lots of tours of the village on tap, a course on the History of Vicksburg for the Osher Life Long Learning Institute and the 10th annual Harvest Festival at the end of September.”

Displays in all of the buildings will be open for the May Meander. “If you haven’t had a chance to tour the Historic Village, this will be the perfect time to meander through the buildings and steep yourself in local history,” Weirtella said.

There will be display booths set up by Vicksburg-area nonprofit organizations and businesses. They have been invited to promote their goods and services as guests stroll in and out of the buildings that showcase historic artifacts. “We wanted to have an appropriate opening to the season for our members and the general public so we have combined it with our first-ever History Day competition for school kids,” Weirtella said. Hot dogs and water will be served for free. Chef John Polasek will do the grilling. He is the champion bratwurst cook at the Lions Club Summer Festival and a Historical Society board member and president the last two years.

History Day will take place from 1:30-4:30 p.m. with 26 Vicksburg Middle School students presenting their research papers on Michigan in the Civil War. This curriculum-based program is part of a nation-wide History Day observance sponsored by historical societies in Michigan and elsewhere. Locally it has been spearheaded by Brendan McCaw, a Historical Society board member and middle school social studies teacher. His sidekick in this endeavor is Dana Wagner, board member and event planner for the Growlers baseball team in Kalamazoo.

This History Day competition was open to students in all grades. The contestants for this first year have been drawn from the 6th and 7th grades with 26 kids joining up to make 13 presentations. They will begin at 1:30 p.m. on May 18 and end at 4:30 p.m. with the winners being announced at 4:30 p.m. before the speaker on the Civil War concludes his talk. The top three winning presentations will take home $500 each in prize money donated by the Historical Society. Their presentations will be judged by Randy Seilheimer, former history teacher in Portage; Norm Hinga, who has authored a book about one of his relatives in the Civil War; Warren Lawrence and Rick Anderson.

The History Day students have been researching Michigan in the Civil War as part of their classroom work in social studies. This provides them with a public outlet to show their work and win a prize for it, McCaw said. It is based on informative and argumentative writing, research and project presentation connected to the Civil War. On Friday, May 24 the 8th grade students will complete their studies of the Civil War with a special day encampment on the Historic Village grounds for the 21st year.

Brian Berheide, New VCAC and Historical Society Director

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Brian Berheide looks over an early Atlas of Kalamazoo County that is part of the reference materials at the Depot Museum.

By Sue Moore

Two well-known nonprofit organizations in Vicksburg have joined to share one full-time director after months of planning and interviewing for this position. Brian Berheide joined the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC) and the Vicksburg Historical Society in March.

He has been meeting with each board of directors and getting out in the community to introduce himself with the help of Syd Bastos and Don Weirtella, board presidents of the two organizations.

He comes to Vicksburg after a year in Kalamazoo volunteering at the Civic Theatre and various schools. He and his family moved here in 2017 from Chicago. He spent six years as a teacher of drama in the elementary school system in Chicago while his wife was attending law school and their children were born. They moved to Kalamazoo for her job at Stryker.

Berheide’s principal at Portage Park Elementary school on Chicago’s west side gave him the highest possible recommendation; that caught the interviewers’ attention, Bastos said. “Time and again, Brian shows that he is an exceptional communicator and gifted teacher,” the principal wrote. “He is a highly dedicated professional who knows how to motivate his students to strive for excellence. He is a humble and approachable person who loves to share his love of theater with others, especially his students.”

“The passion for the arts and history is great here in Vicksburg,” Berheide said. “As an outsider, I see the potential for both and I’m not the only person who sees this. The Mill project is mind-blowing. It will transform the community in a positive way. People will be drawn to it and want to come here. The potential is incredible. In the meantime, I expect to be the liaison between the boards of both organizations and the volunteers. I’ll focus on everyone’s capacity and then try to scale up to keep both groups [in the thick of things].”

The volunteer boards of VCAC and the Historical Society knew they needed a talented person to guide both through expansion, Bastos pointed out. They worked together to refine the needs of each organization and set parameters for the job descriptions. It turns out they fit Berheide to a tee, she said. Neither group could afford to pay a professional but together we could make this happen, Weirtella said. “Our goals for both groups are to increase membership, offer exceptional programming and events that the community will take part in. The skill set that Brian brings to the table is extraordinary for our two organizations.”

Berheide grew up in the small town of Berea, Kentucky where his father was a professor of political science and natural science at Berea College. He graduated from Findlay College in Ohio while playing club hockey and majoring in drama after he had a taste of performing in a college play. He loved the theater and spent his first few years out of college as a ‘transient troubadour’ on the regional theater scene. In 2005-2006, he moved to Chicago to test the waters in theater there and became a starving artist working the restaurant scene as a waiter. Needing a real job, he went back to school to get his master’s degree and teaching certificate. This led him to teach fine arts in two different Chicago elementary schools. As the drama teacher, he was able to build a program from the bottom up. He staged plays, built sets, coached acting for young children and became immersed in helping his students.

He will divide his time as needed with offices in the Depot Museum and the new Cultural Arts Center’s gallery at 105 S. Main Street in Vicksburg. He may be reached at 269-649-1733 or 269-200-2223.

Vicksburg Farmers’ Market Opens for its Tenth Season

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The Vicksburg Farmers’ Market will feature fresh lettuce, asparagus, rhubarb, green onions, honey, maple syrup, cupcakes and cookies in the early weeks. Strawberries will follow by June and then all kinds of garden produce will be available during the summer months.

By Sue Moore

Beginning Friday, May 17 and every Friday stretching through September, great locally produced vegetables, fruits, bread, homemade soaps, cut flowers, beefalo, pork and eggs will be on sale from 2-6 p.m. at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market at the Pavilion on N. Richardson Street.

“Folks want to attend a farmers’ market because the offerings have arrived from less than 50 miles around, rather than 2,000 miles,” said John Kern as he addressed the vendors at their inaugural meeting of the season in April. “What’s locally grown and picked could be put side by side with what’s traveled from afar in your stall as a demonstration of the quality you provide. That could make a great taste test for your customers,” he explained.

Kern, now a member of the market’s board of directors, has been a loyal customer of the market for the last three years, once he and his wife arrived in the village. “I shop at the market because the food has fewer chemicals, more taste and I can speak with each vendor to understand how they have been growing their products and the non-food items that are custom made.”

A new wrinkle at the market this spring, when fewer vegetables and fruits are ready for harvest, will be the students from Vicksburg High School’s Horticultural science class as vendors. They will be selling plants they have grown in the school’s greenhouse along with fresh and dried herbs for the first two weeks of the market.

Other vendors will showcase the maple syrup they produced this spring, honey gathered from local bees, meat and pork that has been raised on local farms and homemade bread from Didik Soekarmoen’s bakery ovens. The traditional cookies, cupcakes, cakes and pies, all homemade, will be on sale beginning the very first week when the veggie vendors are waiting impatiently for asparagus and rhubarb to sprout.

Kids Plate, started by Carol LaFrance eight years ago, will now be offered each week by Carol Meyer-Niedzwiecki’s army of volunteers. “We intend to give kids a taste of fresh veggies and fruit in all manners of recipes so they can learn some new tastes,” Meyer-Niedzwiecki pointed out. Individual tomato plants were given out last year for Kids Plate in hopes they would even grow their own. The plants were donated by Foxy Acres and Ruthie Dorrance taught the kids how to plant them.

Wine sales were added to the mix in 2018 and Lawton Ridge Winery will be back in 2019. Plans for the 2nd annual Farm to Table dinner on Saturday, August 17 are in the works by the board of directors of the market. That includes Stella Shearer, president; Sheila Buitenhius, vice-president; Kim Klein, treasurer; Kay Anderson, secretary; Bret Green, John Kern and Amy Manchester as trustees. Meg Daly is serving as the new market co-manager handling the daily duties and the paperwork. Double Up Food Bucks, Generous Hands coupons, Bridge Cards and Senior Fresh coupons are accepted at the market. The Makers Market that began two years ago will run every first Friday of the month.

West Nile Virus Comes Close to Home

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Tracy Glocheski in front of the Cole-Krum Chevrolet dealership in Schoolcraft.

By Sue Moore

The weather is getting warmer in these parts of Michigan which brings on more than sunshine: It’s the harbinger of West Nile virus. Although only one percent of the population contracts it, Tracy Glocheski found herself in that tiny minority in 2012 while residing on the south end of Austin Lake, near the swamp on Mandigo Road.

The virus is spread by mosquito bites. She doesn’t know exactly when she was bitten but it took over eight weeks for doctors to pinpoint the cause of her near-paralysis. She and her husband were visiting friends in Allegan when symptoms began.

Her legs were moving uncontrollably. They were like jello, she explained, describing the first symptoms. Then she began to have a seizure, “like I was outside my body looking in,” she said. Her husband, Steve, drove her to the hospital in Allegan. They got lost on the way and had to call an ambulance to pick her up.

The emergency medical technicians kept quizzing her about drugs she might be taking. She hadn’t taken anything and couldn’t convince them of that. Her fever was 104.7 on arrival at the hospital. They were able to stabilize her with ice blankets and then discharged her, still not knowing what had caused the problem.

At home she couldn’t walk. Bright lights hurt her eyes, but her family doctor couldn’t find what was causing her aches and pains. Next it was on to a neurologist and by that time she couldn’t see or move or even turn herself over. It was going to take four weeks before she could get an appointment. Her employer, Tom Cole, at Cole Automotive pulled some strings so she could see a neurologist who fortunately had seen a lot of viruses while serving in the Navy. He knew what to test for and called her the next day with this: “I’ve got good news and bad news. We know what it is, but there is no cure for West Nile virus.”

She was told it would take time and the right medications to control the symptoms.
Glocheski began the long road back to getting well. She was able to return to work in 2014 at Cole Automotive, electing to take a position with Cole Krum in Schoolcraft selling automobiles. She had started in sales in Kalamazoo after being laid off in 1999 from Gateway Recovery Services. She grew up between Mendon and Three Rivers, graduating from Mendon High School.

She wondered why she didn’t see many women selling cars and thought she could make it in what was perceived to be a man’s world. She has succeeded, she said, because she listens to the customer and tries to give them what they need and want in a vehicle. “I show people their options and explain why my product and service is better, but never say another is worse for the customer.”

Glocheski is an evangelist for avoiding contact with mosquitos. She cautions people to wear long pants, light clothing and go inside during “mosquito hour” at dusk. DEET is the recommended repellent. Although she now has immunity from the virus, she doesn’t want anybody to go through what she did when even eight months after the onset she still couldn’t say her name. “I had to train myself to be organized and never lost my positive attitude while my mom, husband and a best friend were taking care of me.”

One warning sign of West Nile being present could be seeing a dead bird that didn’t seem to have died of any sort of trauma. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile will often bite a bird which can quickly kill it. In retrospect, she said, “There was a dead crow in my yard that I remember seeing at about the time I was bitten.”