Category Archives: Business

Vicksburg Planning Commission Reviews Details of The Mill PUD

By Jef Rietsma

Members of the Vicksburg Planning Commission appear poised to make a recommendation on whether to endorse a proposed $60 million renovation of the former Simpson Paper Company mill.

Known as the Paper City Mill Project, the ambitious plan – backed by former Vicksburg resident Chris Moore – was scrutinized by commission members during their work session Oct. 3 at Vicksburg High School. An estimated 100 people attended.

The balance of the 2 1/2-hour session was limited to discussion by the seven-member planning commission, whose members directed many of their questions to Village Manager Jim Mallery, Moore, Project Manager Jackie Koney and Paper City attorney Steve Sielatycki. The evening concluded with six public comments.

Because of the work-session format of the meeting, no votes were cast. The commission’s Oct. 17 meeting, however, could feature a recommendation for or against the proposal, which would then be fielded by the Vicksburg Village Council for a final vote Oct. 29.

Both meetings are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the high school’s Performing Arts Center.

Questions related to live-music events comprised the bulk of dialogue at the Oct. 3 assembly. Koney said Paper City is seeking in its approval, a stipulation allowing it to stage at least two major music-related events annually and additional, smaller performances regularly.

Though the majority of the audience appeared to be in favor of the plan, members of the recently formed Concerned Citizens of Vicksburg have indicated their concerns center heavily on the potential volume of music and the possible length of time into the night it would be allowed. Other issues its members have cited include the development’s impact on the area’s quality of life as well as the availability of parking.

Mallery said if the project is approved, issues related to traffic volume, flow and parking would likely be addressed in greater detail in 2019 with a separate planning commission application.

“The developer needs an opportunity to continue to develop their strategy in determining what size events are best for that property,” Mallery said. “Those discussions will take place similar to the discussions that have taken place on this development agreement. Staff will work with the developer to come to a fair and reasonable agreement that’s legally binding and that represent the core values of this village.”

He went on to note that decibel levels are included within terms of the agreement, and they vary depending on the size of crowd and day of the week. For example, a maximum decibel level of 85 is set for an event at which 20,000 or more people are present.

Also, the agreement in its current state calls for amplified sound to cease at midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 p.m. any other days of the week.

Regarding infrastructure, Mallery said the fee for Paper City to connect to the village’s water infrastructure is in excess of $2.6 million. Meanwhile, Mallery said the cost to improve the wastewater infrastructure and flow rate as a direct result of Paper City’s proposed development is $2 million.

“I want the commission to be assured that we will represent the village’s interest and impact on our infrastructure system,” he said. “Wholeheartedly, we’ll be fair and reasonable, but Paper City realizes there are going to be substantial costs to the water/sewer hook-up.”

The Paper City project is being presented as a Planned-Unit Development. Attorney Lance Zoehof of Warner Norcross, explained that a PUD doesn’t fit into a specific zoning classification within a municipality’s normal ordinances.

He said Paper City’s plan is a perfect application for a PUD considering the extent of its uniqueness and extent of its mixed-use plan.

“As long as they hit minimum requirements that don’t have negative impacts on the surrounding community … the property itself gets rezoned and reclassified, and as long as they stay within their parameters, they are compliant with the zoning,” he said.

Paper City’s proposal includes a conversion of the existing historical structure and grounds to a multi-use facility to include apartments, office space, event space, multiple food- and beverage-production facilities, a craft brewery and beer gardens.

Koney addressed the commission and said Paper City has worked hard to make the process transparent, informative, responsive and responsible. She said Paper City has opened an office in the village’s downtown and staff members have been available to answer questions and address questions in person or online.

“We have given television and print interviews, provided frequently-asked questions on our website, and shared information at local community group meetings such as the Lions and Rotary,” Koney said. “Through all these points of contact, we have heard overwhelming support from the people of this community. We want to be good citizens while retaining the rights and responsibilities to build and run our business.”

Moore will be responsible for at least a quarter of the redevelopment’s cost. A Vicksburg native who now calls Seattle his home, Moore stepped in after plans were presented to demolish the mill, which closed in 2001.

He told commission members he wanted to do something to honor the village by bringing back to life a community icon, albeit in a different capacity from its original purpose.

Still, Moore acknowledged the challenges involved with the planning and zoning for such a project.

The majority of the six people who spoke at the conclusion of the meeting indicated their support for the project. The opponents who spoke reiterated that noise generated as a result of the live music, potential parking issues and traffic volumes were their main concerns.

Former village manager Ken Schippers received a round of applause after concluding his brief statement. He said anyone willing to take on a task as mammoth as renovating the long-abandoned mill should have the community’s support.

Schippers acknowledged Moore, Koney and Mallery for their collective commitment to the process.

“I’d just like you to know that I do put my support behind (the proposal) 100 percent … I hope it all goes well for you,” he said.

Home Again Consignments Brings in New Partner

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Kristi Lyp on the left, will be joining with Evie March as a partner at Home Again Consignments.

By Sue Moore

“I can’t talk on my phone right now because I’m driving real slow, carting a piano in my car that I want to get home in one piece.” That was Evie March, owner of Home Again Consignments at 107 S. Main Street in Vicksburg, briefly postponing an interview.

But she noted it’s atypical of her day as more often customers are bringing their items for resale to her shop. Now she will have a new partner at the store who can help her unload the piano. The partner, Kristi Lyp, will be buying into the business. They are going to celebrate the partnership with the community on Saturday, October 13 at an all-day Open House with special food for their many appreciative customers.

Lyp has been working with March for two years and says they both have the same passion for recycling objects of worth. If they can sell an item rather than clutter up landfills, that is an extra dividend, so they aren’t being wasteful. Their specialty is repurposing objects that are not necessarily antiques but vintage items that are still in good condition.

“It’s the thrill of the hunt,” March says. “Kristi enjoys the business just as much as I do, so having her join as a partner will allow us to grow and add new lines of merchandise to our selections. She has been a big help in getting us recognized on social media. We have seen a jump in our sales since she got us deeply involved on Facebook and Instagram. We are even looking at selling online as a possibility.”

March opened the first store a few doors south at 123 S. Main St. in 2004 as a consignment shop. Her market research indicated that there wasn’t a business model like this around although it was popular in the South. She had a young daughter, Elle, who is now 16 whom she would bring with her to the store. March had been teaching and been an administrator in a Christian school after graduating from Western Michigan University. She took time off to raise her two older children, then got back into the work force by starting the business and brought her youngest with her. Consignment seemed to be a solid business model, so she jumped in big time when she purchased the larger building next to Jaspare’s Pizza about 10 years ago. She and Elle moved into the apartment upstairs above the store; March loves the short commute to work. Her daughter Genevieve lives in Detroit and her grown son, Lewis Hall, lives in Vicksburg.

Lyp has lived in the Vicksburg area since 2009 and had a cake decorating business before she did a short stint with PNC Bank at its call center. She found a home with Home Again Consignments when she went to work with March and liked it so much she offered to buy in as a partner. She has two children: Tyler, a recent Vicksburg High School graduate, and Mackenzie, a freshman involved in sideline and competitive cheer at VHS.

The store is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday turns out to be their busiest day.

PJ’s Frame Up Moves from Portage to Vicksburg

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Cindy Callahan and Hannah Vitu welcome customers to PJ’s Frame-Up’s new location on Portage Road.

By Sue Moore

Cindy Callahan has moved her PJ’s Frame-Up shop from its long-time location in Portage to Vicksburg, consolidating home and work for herself and her husband, Schoolcraft-based artist Tim Callahan.

Cindy moved the framing shop in June. She and Tim Callahan had met when she was working as a server at Molnar’s in Schoolcraft after her 1978 graduation from Vicksburg High. Callahan, a former surveyor, had set up a shop in the village to paint trucks and vans. “Painting was a lot more fun than doing survey work,” Tim had told her. She admired his work. They were married. She left the restaurant to work at PJ’s, then on Gladys near Westnedge. When the shop’s owners indicated readiness to sell the store, Cindy and her mother, Janet Baas, bought it.

The new location is 13610 Portage Road, across from DeNooyer Ford and not far from the couple’s Vicksburg home. With the move, she decided on semi-retirement and opens the business three days a week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday or by appointment.
The rest of the week is filled with her other career: coaching trap shooting.

Yes, you read that right. She volunteers as a coach for the Vicksburg Bulldog’s trap shooting team as well as coaching Hillsdale College’s trap shooting adult camps near the college. “I’m not competitive but I enjoy teaching people. I got into the sport of trap shooting to advance my shooting skills for bird hunting with my husband Tim and a wire-haired pointing dog named Gracie.”

Kip Young, director of the Bulldog Clay Target team, said “When this sport was started, we were required to have an open forum community meeting. This meeting was to allow students, parents and people from the community to learn about the new clay target shooting program and ask questions.”

“It was during this meeting, Cindy walked in and said, ‘I would like to help coach.’ It was music to our ears. Having a woman on the staff has brought a great perspective to how we do things,” Young said. And it certainly helps when recruiting girls to join the shooting team. Cindy has been an asset to the incredible growth of the team and program.”

“It’s been so great to see the kids gain confidence and show personal growth. This June, the novice team that I was helping with brought their A game to the state finals. It was such a reward to see them succeed and place right up near the top,” Callahan said.

Her assistant at the frame shop, Hannah Vitu, has been with her for two years after answering an ad that said the applicant must love art and dogs. Hannah knew it was for her. Framing involves precision work, using a computerized mat cutter called Wizard. It can do all sorts of interesting mattes that would take someone doing the work by hand most of the day, she said as she set the computer measurements and let the machine do all the rest.

Callahan herself loves the work of designing picture framing with the customer. “I ask, ‘Where will the work hang? Is it for you or a gift? What is your personal style? Contemporary or traditional?’ It all starts with the questions, then to the selection of frame, mat and glass. “We try to find something that really suits the customer,” Hannah said.

“We use only materials that will conserve the art work, so they won’t degrade with time,“ Callahan said. “I ask how valuable the work is, how emotionally attached the buyer is to the piece and then try to protect it according to their wishes. There are different types of glass used in picture framing. The newest is museum glass. It is considered to be conservation quality. It has 98 percent ultraviolet protection and it is so transparent that you don’t even realize that there is glass covering the artwork.

“Of course, it costs twice as much as plain glass and something more than conservation grade glass. If its an original piece of art, it deserves the right glass.”

PJ’s also works with local artists with a separate mat and framing program designed to help artist save money and time.

The shop’s motto is etched on a sign at PJ’s: “Quality custom framing will outlast the carpeting and furniture in your home as well as all the cars, clothing, sound systems, televisions and kitchen appliances you will ever purchase. It can be passed on from generation to generation and still look as good as the day it was done.”

How Tom Olvitt Grew His Insurance Business

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The staff of Trust Shield recently got together in front of the building the company has purchased on N. Richardson Street in Vicksburg. It will house the Ralph Hayward Agency personnel that are a part of Trust Shield, along with some members of the Schoolcraft operation.

By Sue Moore

Trust Shield in Schoolcraft and Vicksburg is a family insurance business that has grown from a one-person shop to over 36 employees. It started in February 1993 in what today is the Subway shop on Grand Street in Schoolcraft.

Tom Olvitt, owner and head guru, after graduation from Western Michigan University, began his career in 1986 at Krum-Hallam Chevrolet in Vicksburg in sales. When he decided to leave after three years and go into the insurance business, Bud Hallam provided advice: “You will never make it. Everyone tries it.”

Today the independent insurance agency has just completed its purchase of Bobby’s Restaurant at the corner of N. Richardson and North Street in Vicksburg. Olvitt expects the building will house at least 18 employees, culled from both the Schoolcraft and Vicksburg’s Ralph Hayward agencies. In the meantime, remodeling is taking place to turn the former restaurant into a standard office building without the drive-in wings that identified it as a unique building. “Buying Bobby’s and expanding our Vicksburg operation represents a commitment to the community to stay here and grow,” Olvitt said.

Trust Shield is the new name Olvitt and his staff adopted for the several agencies that have become a part of the corporate name of the South County Insurance business. It covers Prairie Ronde and Wakeshma Townships as well.

The agency began after Olvitt left Farm Bureau Insurance in 1992. Initially the Schoolcraft office was affiliated with A.W. Ayres Agency in Sturgis. Olvitt and his partner bought the Mason Rice Agency in 1994. In 1999 they built the current office at 452 N. Grand St., across the street from the old one.

The Ralph Hayward Agency in Vicksburg was purchased from Kim Lathwell in 2005. Steve Brundige, as Olvitt’s partner, took over the management of this location. Jeff Olvitt, Tom’s son, opened an office in Harbor Springs to grow the business in the northern part of Michigan. They now write personal, farm, commercial and benefits business from Detroit to Grand Rapids, Traverse City to Mackinac Island to the home towns of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft.

“Insurance is all about intangibles,” Olvitt said. “It’s a necessary evil. You don’t need it until you need it! If you write the right coverage, the business will take care of itself. Our job is to build relationships and go the extra mile to advise people on what will serve them best.”

“It’s not so much about pricing as about the need,” said another son, Tanner Olvitt, who with brothers Dan and Jeff are the next generation looking to grow the agency. “The focus is on education in this agency. Insurance is confusing. It requires an agent that’s professional to keep track of the constantly changing dynamics by making sure a customer has the proper coverage. It feels good to give back to the community [in this way].”

Deana Bowman, an 18-year employee emphasized the feeling: “We care about people, so we write it right. Our staff cares about what we are doing.”

Hospital Sold to Lansing Based Health Care Developer

By Sue Moore

Several Vicksburg residents have been urging the village and Bronson Hospital to find a new use for the facility or a buyer that would renovate it. Their wishes materialized with the announcement that the former Bronson Vicksburg Hospital has been sold to Lansing-based New Leaf Management, LLC.

The purchasing company expects to do extensive remodeling as an assisted living center, to accommodate people who require 24-hour supervision but not necessarily skilled nursing care. Potential patients would first be screened to determine if there is a good compatibility fit to live in the residence according to Sami W. Al Jallad, the company’s executive director. The staff would evaluate the person’s mental and physical state and how they were functioning overall.

Admission diagnoses, according to the corporate web site, may include mental illness, traumatic brain injury, personality disorder and substance use.

Turning Leaf Residential Rehabilitation Services, Inc., is a Michigan-based assisted living provider and a sister organization to New Leaf Management, the purchaser. The parent company owns and operates 18 individually licensed programs on the west side of the state in Muskegon, Ottawa, Allegan and Kent counties. The leadership team is headed by Al Jallad and includes his wife Destiny, who is a psychologist and serves as the company’s administrator and director of operations. Sami’s brother Jamil, an interior architect, serves as facilities manager.

They are part of a team of clinicians and administrative staff who lead the organization. Jamil is the internal point person for the Vicksburg renovation. They plan to license 40 beds there, some in single rooms, others in doubles. There will be security features installed throughout, Al Jallad said.

The new owners will need to modify the facility for its use by building a new kitchen as the old one is way too large and considerably outdated, Al Jallad said. More bathrooms will be added with shower and bath facilities. Currently, they have no plans to utilize the area where the labs, ER and kitchen were located but that could change once they assess the functionality of the building. “Bronson did an exceptional job of maintenance even after the facility was closed,” Al Jallad pointed out. “They were great stewards and maintained their investment.”

The 40,000-sqare-foot former hospital and rehabilitation center was built and opened in 1969 after a successful community fundraising drive. Citizens collected donations to build the structure at 13326 N. Boulevard in Vicksburg after a hospital on N. Main Street became overcrowded. It was owned and operated by the village of Vicksburg. A few years later, it was sold to Bronson because it had more expertise in running a small 50-bed hospital and it was felt the hospital’s expertise could keep it afloat. Times changed in the hospital business. Over the years the facility was used primarily for rehabilitation, lab work, x-ray and emergency room coverage. Just over a year ago, Bronson bought Vicksburg Family Doctors practice next door to the hospital and shuttered the hospital facility completely.

According to Bronson Senior Vice President Mike Way, “Over the past several years, we have looked at many ideas for repurposing this building, always hoping we’d find a partner and solution that could make the best possible use of this facility and be beneficial to the community.  We’re extremely pleased to have found that perfect fit with Turning Leaf.”

Turning Leaf has been owned and operated by the same family for two generations. Executive Director Al Jallad said, “We look forward to the process of renovating and bringing renewed life and purpose to the former Bronson Vicksburg Hospital property. This is a very exciting moment for our employees, stakeholders, and most importantly the people who will benefit from this new residential program. We are very grateful to and could not have asked for better partners in the Bronson team, specifically Mike Way and Greg Milliken, as well as Jim Mallery and Bobby Durkee with the Village of Vicksburg during the sale and due diligence process. On behalf of our Leadership team, we look forward to continued partnerships with the Bronson organization as well as the village of Vicksburg and having the most productive impact on the local community as possible.”

Village President Bill Adams was delighted by the sale as it “completes one of the council’s major strategic goals from four years ago, in that we wanted to see the building repurposed to service our citizens, especially our seniors.”

Internationally accredited at the highest level by CARF, the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and licensed by the state of Michigan, Turning Leaf works collaboratively with community mental health agencies and other regional stakeholders to serve individuals as close to home as possible.

Turning Leaf has 185 employees throughout the state and the organization expects to employ another 60-80 individuals to serve the Vicksburg location. The Bronson Family Doctors office next door to the hospital was not included in the sale.

DeNooyer Family Car Dealership Comes to Vicksburg

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Seated in the 1955 Chevy Corvette convertible which is featured at the Gilmore Car Museum are Todd and Bill DeNooyer. Standing from left to right: Jeff and Rachel DeNooyer with son Lucas; Todd’s wife Ruth; Adie DeNooyer; Ryan with his wife, Katie, and their son, Nicholas.

By Sue Moore

To sort out the DeNooyer family car dealership family, one needs to start with a genealogy chart. One branch of the family is settling in Vicksburg, having purchased the Simmons Ford dealership at the corner of Portage Road and VW Avenue.

The DeNooyer name has been associated with car dealerships in Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Elkhart, South Bend, Holland and now Vicksburg. The Simmons family dealership was Vicksburg-centered beginning in 1946 at various locations with Rovelle Simmons the proprietor and his son Gene moving into the business in the 70s. He started with American Motors, Kaiser-Fraser and soon a Ford dealership. Meantime, the DeNooyer family was building its Chevrolet family of car dealerships nearby in Kalamazoo.

All of this came to a head when Todd DeNooyer happened to meet Gene Simmons on a ski slope out West. Todd laid the seed in Gene’s mind that if he ever wanted to sell, the DeNooyer family would be interested in expanding to yet another location. Some years later, the two exchanged phone calls at almost the exact moment when Gene decided to sell and Todd heard that he might be interested in retirement. It didn’t take much horse trading after that and the deal was done.

The DeNooyer family celebrated the purchase with an Open House for the Vicksburg area in July where they found a welcoming community for their expansion. For now, Todd DeNooyer and son Jeff are heading up the Vicksburg operation as the dealers, while his son Ryan performs duties as general manager of the operation. All the staff has been retained except for the two general managers that Simmons had employed.

The biggest change customers will see in the coming months will be a renovation of the sales room and exterior signage. Their philosophy is similar to the Simmons family, “This dealership can only be successful if the service level is the best in the business,” DeNooyer said. “If we concentrate on superb service, everything else will fall into place.
There isn’t much margin in selling new cars these days as buyers can peruse the internet for the best deals and are well-educated when they come in to buy. They know the numbers and our job is to find the best deal we can for their needs.”

Simmons owned the collision facility two doors down from the dealership. That has been sold to a Kalamazoo company, Dunshee Body and Frame on W. KL Avenue. “We want to concentrate on maintenance and service in our shop.” DeNooyer said. “This is a process-driven business. A happy customer and happy employees create a community of support. It’s the golden rule applied right here as we work to install our culture. It comes through in our heritage. We believe in giving back as it was instilled upon us early on. We give to community endeavors that impact lives like Loaves and Fishes and United Way.”

Four generations of the DeNooyer family have their roots in the car business going back to Battle Creek in the early 1920s when Jeremiah (Jerry) DeNooyer opened a car repair shop, having come from a celery fields farm family in Kalamazoo. To complicate the understanding of the family tree, this man and his wife Lena became the parents of twin boys in 1926. They were named Jerry Lee and Gerald Jacob. The older twin went by Lee all his life and the younger one went by Jerry and is the man who moved to Kalamazoo and took over a Chevrolet dealership on Portage Road. He is the father of four boys named Bill, Craig, Jeff and Todd. Craig is the only one not in the car business; he preferred real estate development. It is the Todd DeNooyer branch of the family with two boys of his own that is taking over the dealership in Vicksburg.

“The challenge going forward in the car business is keeping brand loyalty at the forefront,” Todd said. He doesn’t believe that driverless cars will take away much of his business, especially in rural America. “It’s too hard to build a network of driverless cars outside of the big cities. The logistics of immediacy makes sense in the city but I don’t see it here. The U.S. is just too large a country. The disruptor in the industry is actually Tesla, not so much because of its electric cars but how they sell their cars without a franchise system of dealers in place. Manufacturers are watching and would actually like to be more like company owned dealerships. That’s why you see so many lookalike dealer facades now that consolidation of the industry is taking place,” DeNooyer said.

The Rim and Rail to Open in September

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Megan Oswalt and Kylie Rowe point to their big remodeling effort that is taking place at the former Krum-Hallam Chevrolet dealership on W. Prairie St. in Vicksburg. They are calling their event center The Rim & Rail, after the car maker and the many trains that pass by the location each day.

By Sue Moore

The old Chevy garage and dealership, abandoned and decaying near downtown Vicksburg for the last five years, will soon be jumping with the sound of wedding bells and music, with a few loud train whistles mixed in for good measure.

It will fulfill a dream of two young women who have been best friends since grade school. Megan Oswalt and Kylie Rowe are the founders of the Rim and Rail, the new event center at 343 W. Prairie Street.

They share a vision of converting the car repair portion of the building into a beautiful hall for wedding receptions. Not a lot of people could see their vision, but with parental support they have plunged ahead. They expect to open for their first event on Saturday, September 8.

Fittingly, the bride and groom renting the space on that date plan to enter the hall through the front overhead door in an antique vehicle to announce their arrival. It is the doorway that all makes and models of General Motors vehicles entered to get repairs done since the early 1960s. Thus, the new business name, Rim and Rail.

The two ladies have an appreciation for the history of the building which housed the Krum-Hallam Chevrolet dealership for 50 years before it was purchased by Cole Automotive. Cole moved the business to a new location on US 131 outside of Schoolcraft.
Oswalt and Rowe come from farm families and have kept the uniqueness of their heritage as part of the décor of the expansive building. In keeping with the history of the building, they have left the big beams supporting the 15-foot ceiling in place. Lots of insulation has been poured into the walls and rafters of the 10,000-square-foot wide open room. The walls have then been covered with salvaged siding from an Amish barn to give the interior a rustic look. They call it “industrial meets chic.” They will furnish it with 10 eight-foot wooden farmhouse tables, cocktail tables, serving tables, 28 60-inch plastic rounds, and 300 metal bistro chairs. Rowe said, “It’s all about creating a space with small town charm, where memories can be made.”
For wedding ceremonies, there is a large bride’s room and a slightly smaller space for the groom and his attendants. They are booking for weddings, corporate events, baby showers, anniversary celebrations, proms and graduation parties into 2020.
There is a pergola constructed on the west side for an outside area in good weather. Inside there is a fireplace at one end, a catering kitchen to serve meals for events, lots of storage in a pole barn in back of the facility and parking for 150 cars to the east.
The pricing is about average for the area, Oswalt said as she explained the market research that was done in the beginning. They had help from Southwest Michigan Small Business Development Center at Western Michigan University. “We wanted to make it easy as possible for potential customers to understand so we have included all the amenities in our basic price points,” she indicated.
Food service will be from area catering entities and alcohol can be served by a licensed bartender with insurance. They will work with area photographers, flower designers, live bands or DJs.
The two girls grew up together because their mothers were close friends. They would ride their bikes to each other’s homes during the summers and stayed close even though they went to separate schools.
Oswalt grew up on the family farm in Brady Township, attended Vicksburg schools and graduated from Grand Valley State University. She taught art in the Grand Rapids area as well as Midland for five years but wanted a change. She came back to Vicksburg to work for the electrical business of her parents, Dan and Kelly Oswalt.
Rowe’s mother is Shellie (Kannegieter) Snyder, a VHS graduate in 1983 who married into a Mendon farm family. They lived near the Oswalt family’s farm. She graduated from Mendon High School in 2006 and attended Kellogg Community College. She married a Mendon fellow and moved to Vicksburg where they started their family.
“We are so thankful for the village’s support throughout the development of this project. This is a dream come true for us. We couldn’t do this without the great support of our family and friends,” said Oswalt. “We are an adaptable venue that can host everything from large weddings to small parties and accommodate your unique taste in decor and style with ease.”

Benches for Seattle Brewery Cut from Vicksburg Trees

By Jef Rietsma

The company spearheading redevelopment of the former Simpson Lee Paper Mill in Vicksburg have plans for the project’s first phase to include a brew pub.

Old Stove Brewing Co. currently has two locations in the Seattle area; the Vicksburg site will be its first operation outside the state of Washington. It is owned by Vicksburg native and Seattle resident Chris Moore, who also owns Paper City Development. Paper City is behind redevelopment of the project, simply called, “The Mill.”

As he has at the two Seattle locations, Moore plans to subtly incorporate a part of Vicksburg into the local Old Stove brewpub.

Greg Bjarko, an architect who works with Moore, said the tables and bench seats at the Old Stove locations in Seattle are made from wood harvested on Moore’s family property just outside Vicksburg.

It was a process that started more than four years ago, when the trees on Moore’s father’s property on VW Avenue and Moore’s property on 24th Street – just south of town – were cut. They were warehoused in the Mill for curing until the first portion was shipped to Seattle in 2016 for use in the first Old Stove brewery. The remaining 40 tons or so was loaded for shipment to Seattle in May 2017 for the opening of the second brew pub. Once in Seattle, a portion of the 40-ton load of wood was fashioned into the tables and chairs used by Old Stove patrons today.

“Chris was really excited to repurpose this lumber into what would turn out to be an artistic style of tables and benches … that connection to Kalamazoo County and Vicksburg is important to Chris,” he said. “And they turned out very nice.”

Bjarko said a pattern was used to maintain a uniform design, but no two tables and benches are exactly the same.

“The wood was harvested and rough milled in Vicksburg, where it did a lot of its drying,” he said. “It was fabricated here, then cleaned, sanded and the finish put on, and connected to bases and supports here.”

A team of four area men, including John Kern and Richard Barnes, were on hand the day in 2016 when the trees were eventually loaded onto a flatbed trailer. Once in Seattle, a portion of the 40-ton load of wood was fabricated into the tables and chairs used by Old Stove patrons today.

The wood pieces are nearly three inches thick and range from four to 16 feet in length. By design, the tables and benches are set up to create a communal seating arrangement at Old Stove. An average table can seat 8 to 12 people.

Kern said the wood includes white and red oak, cherry and quite a bit of walnut.

Kern added he is not surprised Moore went to the extreme that he did to incorporate family timber into Old Stove.

“Chris may live in Seattle but he is a Michigan guy through and through, he’s very proud of where he’s from,” Kern said. “The tables and benches may not mean as much to the people at the restaurant, but I know they represent a special connection to home for Chris.”

Tad Dallas and Louis Armstrong work for Moore, and were the muscle behind building the tables and benches.

Dallas said he is proud to have had a hand in such an integral component to Old Stove. He said what would eventually be the final product, however, took some time and effort.

“We met with Chris at the workshop and we had some really nice slabs of walnut. I remember we flipped the slabs in multiple directions, end-over-end, and we were kind of all over the place,” Dallas said. “We came up with a design that included an old steel plate that serves as the inlay piece, so what we had in the end was something that I’d say actually designed itself.”

Dallas said there is still quite a bit of wood left, though he’s not sure if the tables and benches for the Vicksburg Old Stove will be designed in Seattle then sent back to Michigan, or if the wood will be returned to Vicksburg and the furniture created here.

Bob Millard Has Fond Memories of The Mill

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Bob Millard, former mill manager in the 1970s, returned to tour the mill last summer. Village Manager Jim Mallery accompanied him as did several other community members. Asbestos has been removed from this area which was part of the dryers for the paper.

By Jef Rietsma

Editor’s note: We plan to feature people who worked at the mill in various capacities to provide some historical perspective to the potential redevelopment of the mill.

The tone in Bob Millard’s voice was unmistakably melancholic as he reflected on his 13-year stint at the former Simpson Lee Paper Mill that covered a portion of the ’60s and ‘70s.

Even after a series of promotions took him to San Francisco for another 20 years with the company, Millard said he always had a soft spot for the Vicksburg plant.

“I may have worked there during what were very likely its best years,” Millard said. “I started out in the customer-service department after having five years of experience in the paper-distribution business, worked up to middle management and eventually became mill manager for eight years.”

He said just about anyone who worked at the mill, regardless of in what capacity, will talk fondly today about what Simpson Lee Paper meant to Vicksburg and the region. Millard said through the balance of its 100-plus years, the plant was a community within a community.

“So many of the employees were local, either from right in Vicksburg or just on the fringe of Vicksburg, and so many were descendants of their parents who also worked there,” he said. “It had an impressive ethnicity … a strong Polish contingent who, along with people from all backgrounds, were the second-generation group of mill workers. It was just a very, very interesting place to work.”

Millard said its people were a significant component of the company’s strength. But it would be unfair to overlook the quality of paper the Vicksburg site produced.

He said the array of specialty papers set it apart from the 11 other mills within the company and among Simpson’s competitors. Its quality products filled a niche in a way no other mill could, he said.

“It was unique across the breadth of high-end paper,” Millard said.

Millard was part of a group that toured the 30-acre property last fall, around the time plans to convert the mill site into a multi-use parcel were being completed. Vicksburg-native Chris Moore is the owner of Paper City Development LLC and behind the project called, simply, The Mill.

The first phase of redevelopment includes a brewpub.

Moore owns Old Stove Brewing Co. in Seattle.

Millard said it was a treat to be able to walk the grounds and peer inside the buildings still standing, 15 years after the plant closed.

“It was kind of like stepping back in time …you think you see a lot of ghosts,” Millard said, recalling the tour. “I’ve seen the plans Chris has put together, I like the idea of the mill getting a second life. I just wish the project was moving faster because I’d like to be around to see the ground-breaking, at least.”

Millard, 86, returned to Michigan 20 years ago and lives on Gull Lake. He still meets monthly for breakfast with a number of retired mill employees, a gathering that features its share of reminiscing, he said.

Pausing to reflect, Millard shared a final anecdote about his time with the Vicksburg plant.

“My first boss was my kindergarten teacher’s husband … totally unrelated to me getting the job, of course,” said Millard, who grew up in the Grand Rapids-area community of Ravenna. “But thinking back to working there, no question whether you were hourly or salaried, it was a good place to work. Very fair in all aspects of the way they did business, whether it was with their customers or their employees. A real classy place.”

Next month’s issue will feature a profile of Jack Page.

Hovenkamp Transforms Brady Township Corner Property

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These buildings on the corner of Sprinkle Road and TU Avenue have undergone a dramatic transformation. A convenience store will be opening soon in the front portion of this building.

By Sue Moore

A commercial development transformation has taken place at the corner of Sprinkle Road and TU Avenue in Brady Township. Ken Hovenkamp purchased the derelict property as a personal storage place, then realized the collection of buildings was such an eyesore that he undertook to pretty it up.

The property is a cornerstone to a small commercial district that Brady Township designated in a five-year land use plan for business development. “It’s the entrance to the township along Sprinkle Road. I’ve worked with the township officials who have been very supportive. I’ve also reached out to the village of Vicksburg for ideas on possible leases,” Hovenkamp said.

The fire-engine red color scheme on the exterior was proposed by designer Lynn Russcher. She showed him drawings of yellow, green and red exteriors. Without hesitation, he chose the red, which motorists passing by on Sprinkle Road are not likely to miss.

The interiors and exteriors have been painted, cleaned and ready to be unveiled for potential lease options, Hovenkamp pointed out. There is 10,000 square feet of space, with 7,000 of it climate-controlled.

What used to be a convenience store has been refurbished to again house this type of operation. Also in the front of the building is an area that would be ripe for a resale type of store, Hovenkamp said. It then opens up to a quonset hut that once housed a gas station owned by Purcell Clark. “This would be ideal for storage or use as part of a resale shop. It’s actually very trendy right now.”

Along the south side of the building, stretching back to the west is a huge area that could function as a service area for vehicles of any type, a warehouse or even an upholstery shop, Hovenkamp speculates. “There are just so many possibilities and I don’t want to discount any idea that might come along.”

Plans are underway to resurface the parking lot before any of the buildings are leased. A large barn sits at the edge of the property with three overhead doors that also present possibilities.

One corner of the barn is set aside for a furniture exchange that Hovenkamp operates as part of his Chaplain ministry with the Portage Fire and Police Departments. He has made space for donations of appliances, TVs, and furniture for needy families and expects to give them to people he meets through the ministry.