Infrastructure Grant Submitted by Vicksburg’s Village Council

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.58.11 AMTo many people the word infrastructure means roads and bridges. For Vicksburg’s Department of Public Works (DPW), it means sewer lines, pumping stations and water pipes.

For over a century, these vital pieces of infrastructure in the village have been mapped in the brains of those who dig them up and repair the broken parts, according to Ken Schippers, acting Village manager and head of the DPW.

To get a handle on the entire underground infrastructure, the State of Michigan is holding out an incentive to cities and villages. They have set up a competitionfor grants that total two million to each entity to conduct a study, map the existing pipelines and thereby plan for future upgrades.

The grant money is being pro-offered with the usual carrot and stick according to village engineer, Michael Schwarz, of Pein & Neuhoff. The Village portion of the survey and planning phase is 90 percent funded by the State. What is generally conceded by those in the business, is that the state cannot come up with the major funding needed to improve infrastructure across the land, thus any remediation or upgrade costs will need to be taken on by the municipalities.

If Vicksburg should qualify for the grant, the State would pay $1,126,199 and the village $153,177, some of which could be offset by ‘in-kind’ contributions of the Village DPW staff and take three years to complete. “This would be a major rate study concerning capital improvements for the village,” Schwarz said. “The kicker is that the Village might have to adjust rates after the three years if they find they aren’t charging enough now,” he warned.

There are 121 miles of underground pipe, 98,000 feet of sewer lines and 380 manhole covers that we know of, according to Schippers.

“The survey would allow us to computer model the system and even include the pumps, capacity of the system and show the leads into each house. You will find stuff because much of the system is 20 years or older. Ultimately, Kalamazoo will have to require an asset management plan for any municipality that connects to their system,” Schwarz said.

There is no guarantee that the village would receive the grant as it will be competing with many others for the 450 million that has been set aside by the State for this program, Schwarz told the Village Council, but warned that if they didn’t get started on applying now, they might have to end up paying out of pocket in the future.

Norma Tackett Does Christmas “Big” for Schoolcraft

By Sue Moore

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.52.51 AM“It’s amazing what 80 year old Norma Tackett, an antiques dealer on Grand Street in Schoolcraft, can do to galvanize our town into a Christmas wonderland for two days,” said Wes Schmitt, former Village president. She will lead the 25th annual Christmas Walk in downtown Schoolcraft on Friday, Dec. 6 from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Dec 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

She came here with her husband, Carl, in 1985 after 17 years doing business in Portage Plaza on South Westnedge. Since then the town’s antique businesses have become the staple of retail offered here, Schmitt continued.  “She and Carl had a vision to bring customers into the village at Christmas to see the charm and history that we have to offer.  The magic was that she got all the other merchants to join in her quest.”

People come from all over the area to shop and walk between the stores to quaff hot drinks, eat sweet treats and win door prizes. More importantly for Norma is seeing the old friends, visiting with each other and just having a good time. One lady from California plans her vacation around being in Schoolcraft the first weekend in December for the Christmas Walk, according to Tackett. She does all the advance work of organizing the merchants, the publicity and even brings in Bob Rowe & the Green Valley Boys Band to play upstairs in her shop on Friday night.

“I started the ‘Walk’ on my own. It went three years before the others in town picked it up and made it what we have today,” Tackett said.  At least 1,000 people come through her shop and probably many more go elsewhere during the two days, she claimed.  Red bows and posters on front doors mark participating merchants. The United Methodist Church, further north on US 131, has a bake sale, craft sale and silent auction both days, as does the Presbyterian Church on Cass Street.  New businesses included this year in the Walk are The Grinder, Pizza Hut, American Legion and Beginnings.

“You can’t just take from your customers who are giving you their business,” she said, “you have to give back.  That makes us feel good, so we continue to make the Christmas Walk our special way to thank everybody.  It gives us great joy.”

The Tacketts started as T & W Coins, Stamps & Antiques. When they came to Schoolcraft they added Norma’s Antiques and Collectibles.  Her knowledge of antiques is well known.  “I love old things and many of the items that mean the most to me are on display in our cozy apartment right next to the store on Grand Street.”  The objects in the store can come and go, she said while telling the history of a glass jar that was owned by her great-grandmother. You just have to draw the line with what you sell versus what you want to keep.  Carl has a particular interest in rare coins, jewelry and paper.  His part of the business is housed in the back of the first floor shop, while many of the antiques are on display upstairs in what was at one time an opera house.  He has served on the Schoolcraft Village Council since 1992 as his contribution to the community.

Norma’s knowledge of antiques is well-known to her many contacts in the industry. They often call her for advice, she related, because they can’t rely on out-of-date books and the Internet is way over-priced.  She has a regular customer in Japan who buys many things and knows he is getting good quality if it comes from her store.

She buys from individuals and has a staff that has been with her for most of the years the Tacketts have been in Schoolcraft.

Many Families Experience Christmas the Old-Fashioned Way with a Trip to Mott Farms

Mardee Mott and her Santa's helper, Kathy Lange.
Mardee Mott and her Santa’s helper, Kathy Lange.

By Sue Moore

“It’s all about the Christmas experience,” claims Mardee Mott as she gathers up greens, bows, holly, and boxes of decorations to display in the Mott Farm Christmas Barn.

Mardee Mott with statue of Santa that greets guests as they walk in the front door of the Christmas Barn.
Mardee Mott with statue of Santa that greets guests as they walk in the front door of the Christmas Barn.

For 24 years, thousands of family outings at Christmas have included a trip to Mott’s Farm south of Vicksburg on Y Ave. They come to purchase fresh pre-cut trees, or take a ride into the fields to select a U-cut family tree.  Inside the cavernous barn it’s time to warm up, sip hot mulled cider, dazzle the eyes with freshly made arrangements and tickle the nostrils with the scents of Christmas in the country, much like an old Currier & Ives picture.  They are open six days a week from noon to 7 p.m., and closed on Mondays through December 22.

The story of Mott farms actually goes back 50 years or more when Phil Mott’s grandfather was a wholesale florist in Cass County.  Mott remembers scouring swamps to find the elusive wild bushes that bear the bright red-orange berries that are Michigan holly, known to horticulturists as Ilex verticillata. 

His grandfather had a permit to cut the wild berries which he shipped out of state, otherwise it is illegal to cut the holly, even today.  In 1970, Mott started clearing the land on Y Ave. and 21nd Street just north of the St. Joe County line, to grow the holly commercially.  It took many years to start the plants from cuttings and some more years to figure out how to protect the crop from the deer that roam freely in that part of Kalamazoo County.  Wholesale is still their biggest market with the harvest taking place in late October.  They sell holly at the Christmas barn too but the real attraction is the Christmas trees that were planted with 220,000 seedlings in late 1980s on the farm that they bought from Maurice (Pete) Miller.  It took more than seven years of trimming, fertilizing and irrigating the selection of Douglas fir, Fraser fir and lately Concolor fir, that have become the biggest selling varieties these days, according to Mott.

They closed the business for two years when the trees withered from a drought suffered in 2007 and 2008 They were begged by the public to keep going as so many people missed coming to the farm.  The decision was made to install irrigation on a big section of the farm, which has been costly, but allowed them to reopen to the public with a newly-sided barn (green and white) and even greater selection of trees and trim.

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.50.21 AMOriginally from Zeeland, Mardee Mott had little experience in decorating, having graduated from Western Michigan University in 1965 to become a teacher.  She met this Phil guy, walking to her student teaching assignment at University High, at his gas station on Oakland Drive.  He took notice of her daily commute and introduced himself, asked her out, and the rest is history.  They lived in Kalamazoo when she first tried her hand at designing Christmas baskets with greens from their arborvitae tree in the back yard.  “You just learn the best design as you keep trying things,” Mott explains.  Her first hire to help with the decorations was showing her how to arrange things with a glue gun, and Mott had to tell her that was a no-no as she prefers all natural.  They offer custom wreaths, handmade centerpieces, roping and boughs, and all kinds of tree ornaments.  She has learned to do the ordering, stock the shelves with new and different items each year and stay out of the way as the staff of ten helpers is inundated with customers.  “We try to sell items at the best price we can offer from high-end décor to just a dollar, so everyone can come away with something,” she says.

“The neatest thing for us has been seeing the grandparents returning each year with the kids and grandkids to experience the magic of Christmas, and the traditions they have established for their family experiences,” Mott concludes.