Beginnings in Schoolcraft New for the Christmas Walk

By Sue Moore

This year, the Christmas Walk in Schoolcraft on December 6 and 7, has a new twist, extending its boundaries from Beginnings Rental Hall on the south end of Grand Street across the railroad tracks, to Pizza Hut at the north end at the corner of Lyon Street.

Guests may not want to walk all that way, according to Terry Yax, co-owner of Beginnings, so they are offering plenty of activities in their new building to attract visitors all day long and lots of free parking, he said.

Since Beginnings is a new business in Schoolcraft, Yax and his wife Laura are the owners with Nate Ambroso as the events manager. They are reaching out, offering a craft show and farmers’ market during the Christmas Walk and subsequent days.  Most importantly, they will have Santa on tap to talk to children who want to list their wishes with the jolly fellow.  Children can even get their picture taken with Santa for posterity, according to Yax. Santa will be seated in a specialty sleigh, all decorated out for the occasion.

This new business got its start with Terry’s love of food preparation and desire to provide an affordable site along with catering services for any type of event or function.  The mobile rotisserie smoker grill they use was designed by Yax to meet the needs of the rental hall and give mobility to their catering services.  This allows him to take the operation to off-site events, such as Chili in the Park and catered parties.  The rental hall includes many customized services with interior and exterior spaces that can accommodate almost any size event, he said.

For the holiday season, they will extend their hours with Santa and the craft show every Tuesday and Thursday from 2 – 7 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. through Monday, December 23, from 2 – 7 p.m.

Local vendors offering crafts or sweet treats include: Pam Cowgill, handmade knitted stuffed animals; TerraLee Yax, hand-decorated frames and Christmas decorations; Ashlie Ploski, Scentsy flameless candles; Kenda Schwartz, It Works body wrap; Missy Griffioen, pasties; Kurt Wiley, caramel corn; Nila’s Lotions; Stephanie Newton, “31”; Christina Oberhein, Tastefully Simple; Jessi Crabtree, Jessi Jellies; Loran Tanner, Angry Mustard; and Margaret Ayres, jewelry.

A drawing for a free rental booking is open to those who stop in, along with pulled pork sandwiches, chili, hot dogs and soft drinks for sale from the licensed kitchen in the facility.

What if Christmas Can Mean a Little Bit More?

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.45.43 AMBy Mari Smith

“It came without ribbons.  It came without tags.  It came without packages, boxes or bags.”  Dr. Suess and the Grinch must have been watching how all of the contributions to the South County Community Services’ (SCCS) holiday donations have arrived.  It is through the enormous generosity of those in Vicksburg, as well as surrounding areas, that each and every one of the current holiday collection efforts are becoming a success to help those in need.  No fluffy packaging, but simple generosity from the heart at this high-need time of year.

Danna Downing, SCCS director, states that it is the agency’s goal this year to make better matches to the specific needs of recipients.  After speaking to past recipients about what the agency was doing right and what they could improve on, SCCS has worked hard towards achieving this important goal.    One way is by giving recipients options on when they can receive their donations and schedule their celebrations, as well as having two children’s parties instead of just one.  These changes mean less time standing in long lines, as well as flexibility for recipients when transportation can be an issue.

Downing indicated that, at this time, they are planning for approximately the same number of families served.  Although the economy is reported to be improving, SCCS has not seen the need go down, but they have found different people are affected in different ways thereby finding themselves in need of the agency’s services.   She stated that they have heard from past recipients who no longer need services, but now want to adopt a family of their own.  Downing also stated that some of her best volunteers are past gift recipients.

Downing praised the people of Vicksburg for all they do to make this program a success.  She indicated that the community never fails when there is a need, and that it truly is “. . . love in action.”  They even have people that were residents in the past and regular contributors that still send donations even though they no longer live in the area.  She further praised the efforts of churches not only in Vicksburg, but Portage as well for their generous support, as well as Meijer stores as part of their Simply Giving program.

SCCS will continue to take donations for the Tree of Life ornaments probably beyond Christmas.   Hand-crafted ornaments for the tree in honor of someone or a pet range from $10 – $100 and can be ordered from SCCS from 8:30-4:30 weekdays (and until 6:30 on Wednesdays).    Some people have even purchased ornaments in honor of a recipient for the efforts they make during difficult times.  Dr. Lloyd Appell is personally inscribing on each of the ornaments.   The Cookie Walk and Tree Lighting will take place on Friday, December 6 from 6-9 p.m. in downtown Vicksburg, with Cookie Walk bags for sale before the event for $5, or $7 the evening of the event in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce membership.

Downing reminds the community that although the holiday season is the time of highest need, the needs continue throughout the year.  Sometimes donations get low and SCCS has to expend additional funds during lean donation times.  It is also one of her goals to connect people who have things they no longer need to give those items that might otherwise be disposed of.  She expressed that some people are throwing away things that others in our community can use, and she would like to find a way to join the two.  Residents can contact the agency at 649-2901 year-round to check on current needs.

Vicksburg World War II Veterans Selected for Honor Flight to Nation’s Capital

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 6.36.58 AM

By Sue Moore

“They are running out of us guys,” said Del Charles, who along with Harris Walters of Vicksburg, departed for Washington, D.C. on an Honor Flight in October, during the government shutdown period.  The trip was free to the 70 World War II veterans chosen to participate, with several more flights scheduled every month.

Both men agreed it was a real worthwhile trip.  “It was something I never would have done myself,” Charles explained.  “There are a lot of patriotic people out in this country yet and they kept hugging, kissing and clapping for us everywhere we went; in the airport, at the luncheon at the Plaza Hotel, at the War Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

Delbert Charles displays his Bronze Star
Delbert Charles displays his Bronze Star

When we returned to the Toledo airport, there was even a band, a football team, and people lined up all along the aisles of the airport.  “When I got back from Germany in 1946, I took a bus home from Camp Shanks in Pennsylvania and nobody even knew I was coming home,” Charles offered in telling about his service in World War II.

“We each had a ‘guardian’ and were required to have a doctor’s permission to be on the Honor Flight,” Walters explained.  The guardians each paid $300 toward their expenses to accompany a veteran.  Charles’ guardian was an Ohio resident in his 60s who sent him an album of photographs he took during the course of the 14-hour trip.  The veterans were each given an orange vest to identify them, a blue jacket for the chilly air in D.C., and a motorcycle escort throughout the D.C. area, to and from Dulles airport.

“We kept thinking if the people who were held up for us to pass by in the three big buses were wondering just what politician they should blame for holding them up,” Walters chuckled.  “A family from Toledo even took time out of their plans to come to our hotel to say thank you, and we were both interviewed about our experiences by Channel 13 in Toledo,” he said.

“We were able to get right into the World War II memorial without any fuss,” according to Walters even though this was the week that the government was shutdown everywhere else in D.C.  They did have some of the tour places canceled because of the closure, but not the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was a stirring memory for Charles who said the guards reminded him of robots, so mechanical, except maybe when they would blink their eyes.

Harris Walters greets the Veterans Day speaker.
Harris Walters greets the Veterans Day speaker.

Walters, a sergeant, served in New Guinea with the quartermaster’s corps as a truck driver.  He had started out as an anti-aircraft gunner and was headed to the Philippines, but the Japanese air force had become so decimated, his role became obsolete.  After six months he moved to Leyte and was put busy loading ships that were getting ready to invade Japan.  Then the atomic bomb was launched and he was back in the states in 1946.

Harris Walters grew up in Otsego, and after graduation from high school in 1942, got a job at Willow Run to work on the B-29 bomber.  “It didn’t seem quite right not to volunteer for the service when everyone else was going,” he said.  Upon his return he worked at a little grocery store in Otsego where he had worked summers while in school.  He went to Pine Lake vocational as a disabled vet and was hired soon after as their business manager.  Walters came to Vicksburg to manage Harding’s grocery store in 1953 and has stayed in Vicksburg ever since.  He is co-owner of Vicksburg Auto Wash on Richardson Street.

Del Charles saw heavy duty in France where he was caught behind the lines with his tank crew at St. Lo shortly after the invasion.  He was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar and was found under a half-track after he had dragged his driver, who was seriously injured, under it for protection.  Charles was air lifted to a hospital in northern England to recuperate.  After five weeks, he was shipped back to Paris and fought on through France to Belgium and into Germany. He was a platoon sergeant when in action and returned to the states as a staff sergeant in 1946.  He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Originally from Fulton, Charles worked for Al Lewis and Jack Thurman building houses, then went to the Tot Shop in Kalamazoo, and retired from the Upjohn Company as security supervisor in 1985.  He now lives at Kline’s Resort.