A ‘family reunion’ at the Mill

By Leeanne Seaver

Many of those gathered to see the herculean renovation and restoration at the Mill in Vicksburg echoed the reaction of former accounting department staffer Guila Hoehne Harrison: “It’s kind of hard to even call it the ‘old’ mill anymore!”

Harrison was one of nearly 400 – including 150 former employees – who came to the “Family Reunion” at the Mill on a Saturday in early October.

“Family” was very much the feeling amongst the crowd; in some cases, literally. Many brought their families with them, including parents and grandparents who’d been employed over the span of mill operations from 1904 to 2001. “It’s ‘old home week’ for many of us,” said Guila’s husband, Mike Harrison, who worked there during summer breaks from college. Beyond genetic ties, the bond was palpable as a community.

That’s how it felt to Dick Moyle who started as an hourly paster helper in 1977. “The Vicksburg mill was a tight organization within the ranks. We wanted to do the right thing and take care of each other. We wanted to make the mill successful. Everyone took pride in the work and the product we were producing. Over the years, we grew to know each other and everyone’s family,” he said.

Moyle remembers picnics, softball teams, volleyball teams, and get-togethers away from mill business. He also remembers how work would on occasion turn into play. “On those hot summer days when the outside temperatures were pushing 90-plus degrees, the paper machine room would be unbearable. If you were walking through the area during ‘housekeeping’, you ran the risk of ‘accidentally’ getting sprayed by whoever was hosing down the floors,” Moyle recalled. “Well, it helped them cool down! It was good for a laugh!”

Moyle also remembers the day in January 2001 when then-owner Fox River – once the mill’s top competition – called a meeting of upper management. Moyle, converting superintendent of the mill by then, was present. “They got right to the point. They were closing the mill. You could’ve heard a pin drop… my heart stopped,” Moyle said. The process took months, but “in the end, I was probably the second to the last guy out of the building. It was a hollow feeling to walk out of there knowing this place had been my life for 23 very good years. I poured everything I could into it, and it was tough… like having to leave your family, your home, and just move away.”    

The last guy out was Gary Jones who was production scheduling manager. After the mill shut down, Gary was kept on as a caretaker. “The building now was just a shell with just empty rooms. No humming of machines, no people laughing or talking. Just silence and the sound of my footsteps. Very sad….”

Fast forward 20 years, and the Mill is again bringing the community together in new ways. The mood was festive at the reunion event as folks shared mill memorabilia and reconnections over food and drink provided by host Paper City Development, the company that’s redeveloping the site.

Paper City owner Chris Moore is very much a part of the past and present life of the Mill. Grandson of Gordon Moore, who was the mill’s chief engineer during the 1940s, and son of retired mill Purchasing Agent Tim Moore, Chris’s own history goes back generations there. In some ways, it was the family business, but not always business as usual. “Both of my boys went to work at the mill,” Tim Moore said. “Chris worked in the sample room. They’d have reams of colored paper. He took upon himself to make some signs for his team… and Michigan fight songs. He’d leave a note in my mailbox to go look for a certain ream of paper, and there it’d be – a big GO BLUE sign!”

Stories of the antics and the angst were plentiful under the tent and on-camera as the Mill documented its living history. “One of the most entertaining things about this event is the opportunity to be a fly on the wall as old friends reminisce with each other,” said Jackie Koney, Paper City chief operating officer. “The Mill Family Reunion is one of the highlights of my job.”

Guided tours provided more opportunities for sharing memories of what once was alongside what will be in the vast spaces being repurposed as a music venue, a brewery museum, restaurants, a conference site, and more. Guila Harrison says “It’s just really exciting to know there’s more ahead for that Mill in our community.”

Metal detector makes emotional find

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Mike Walker for more than 25 years has enjoyed hunting with his metal detector, finding all kinds of interesting and lost things. The hunts have touched lives as well.

As reports of his successes spread, people regularly call him for help. He has located property stakes, lost wedding bands and engagement rings. He’s assisted in law enforcement evidence recovery – including locating items essential for conviction in several murder trials.

These activities have been rewarding. But recently, Walker’s successful hunt took on a deeper meaning.

As Walker tells it, Vicksburg resident Margo Wyman called him, saying, “We need your help.” Her brother-in-law had died in a fatal car accident on 34th Street. A pendant he was wearing, containing his wife’s ashes, was lost at the scene. Walker wanted to help, but when he went to the site and saw the ditch full of poison ivy and other hazards, he wasn’t sure it would work. Walker persevered, and during the summer was able to present Wyman with the lost piece so special to Wyman’s family.

Walker says he has always enjoyed returning items he finds to the community, but this experience was powerful and meant much more. This was emotional for the family. And “to be able to locate and return the pendant was exciting to me.”
Walker also speaks at churches, clubs, and organizations, where he shares his passion for and knowledge of hunting with a metal detector.

Walker is the current president of the Southwest Michigan Seek and Search Club. This group of metal detecting enthusiasts meets from 7-9 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at the Ransom District Library in Plainwell.

Roxie’s comes to Vicksburg

There’s a new restaurant coming to town: Roxie’s will replace Michelle’s on 343 West Prairie at Boulevard St. Stephen Walantyn, owner of the Roxie’s on Gull Road, says he’s excited to have the chance to come to Vicksburg. “When Mike Leeuw approached us about taking over the Michelle’s, we didn’t have to think long.”

Walantyn is a former employee of Mike and Jane Leeuw, owners of Michelle’s. They were impressed by Walantyn’s passion for the food industry and his focus on customer service. Walantyn and his family are grateful for the opportunity.

“Michelle’s has already created a name for itself, and with our twist on the menu and focusing hard on lunch as well, we knew that Roxie’s Vicksburg would be a great home for us!”

The restaurant is named in honor of Walantyn’s late mother, the former matriarch of the family and an avid food lover.

Roxie’s will begin the hiring process for this location as early as November 8. It is seeking strong kitchen help. Interested applicants can send a resume to roxiesbreakfast@gmail.com or visit Roxie’s Gull Road location.

Vicksburg Rotary scrap metal drive funds projects

A vehicle is loaded up with scrap.

By Eric Hansen

Vicksburg’s Rotary Club has collected nearly 25 tons of scrap metal and earned nearly $6,000 since the collection began last May.

The Club is committed to funding service projects which improve the lives of Vicksburg residents. Its main fundraiser, Rotary Showboat, was put on hold by the COVID pandemic. Rotarians put hearts and minds together to find a fresh way of serving the community. Member Warren Lawrence proposed the scrap metal drive.

Program facilitator David Aubry explained, “This serves two Rotary purposes: raising funds for commitments and improving the environment. We are also helping people get rid of metal they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to be rid of.” He said the Rotary’s community improvements have included collecting metal from public roads – including a trampoline – and emptying a hoarder’s home. The largest job, he said, was clearing the metal from a barn fire, including seven garden tractors, a snowmobile, snow-thrower, and a motorcycle. The crew cleared 2 1/4 tons of metal in two trips. The work is definitely a community service for people who need to be rid of accumulated metal.

Special credit is due to Aubry’s volunteer staff of Larry Forsythe, Christina Aubry, Warren Lawrence, Mark Mitchell and Jim Bird. These and other Rotarians donated time, labor, transportation and gasoline to the cause.

The Rotary has donated to recognizable community projects such as The Miracle Field in Schoolcraft and the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation during its Big Read Machine project.

Funds from scrap metal collections go to the Vicksburg Rotary Charities Fund endowment which is invested by the Kalamazoo
Community Foundation. Investment proceeds generate a spendable account as a return on the Rotary’s investment. This is a fiscally wise choice intended to keep creating income for charitable endeavors for decades to come.

Citizens interested a free pick-up of metal waste can find more information by emailing David Aubry at daubry@yahoo.com, or by finding him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/daubry.

A legacy of kindness and generosity

Doris and Lee Weick in their Sweet Shop. Photo courtesy of Vicksburg Historical Society.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Doris and Lee Weick, longtime community members and small business owners, left financial gifts that are making a difference today.

The Weicks owned and operated Doris-Lee’s Sweet Shop” near the corner of Main and Prairie in downtown Vicksburg. They were first known for their homemade ice cream and soda fountain and for the chocolates and candies available by the pound. But times change, and like most successful businesspeople, to survive, they had to adapt. They eventually adjusted their business, closing the soda fountain and added Hallmark cards and several lines of fine gifts.

They didn’t have children, but they took an active interest in area children. Lee mentored many young people who delivered papers for him. When they closed the business, the Weicks donated the soda fountain and other artifacts to the Vicksburg Historical Society, where volunteers built a new “Sweet Shop” to resurrect the old store front.

The Weicks worked hard and lived modestly their whole lives, and in their estate plan they left sizable financial gifts to the Vicksburg United Methodist Church. These gifts were so generous, that the earnings from the invested, endowed funds provide annual scholarships to students at the church. And most recently, their planning made possible a $16,000 gift to Vicksburg elementary schoolteachers in September.

Lee died in 1990; Doris in 2005. But the kindness of this community-minded couple continues to impact the community and the future.

Looking for antiques? Shop local!

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Schoolcraft is home to two large antique stores, both located downtown on the west side of Grand Street: the Schoolcraft Antique Mall and the Grand Antique Gallery. The extensive offerings and unique finds at each shop are worth a stop.

The Schoolcraft Antique Mall is managed by Maria Dreon Pennington, daughter of owner Sally Dreon. Pennington has managed the business for several years and has a booth of her own. The old storefront is deep. Booths fill the space on the main floor. Collections continue in the basement as well, and unlike many old Michigan basements, the large room is well lit and comfortable. Seven different collectors have booths, each offering unique pieces. Art, pottery, china, mid-century furniture, primitives and jewelry are just a sampling of the treasures a shopper can find.

A few steps away, Sue and Dan Cooley and sons Miles and Bryce own and operate the Grand Antique Gallery, the former home of Norma’s Antiques. Sue, a retired art teacher, has collected for years, and began with running booths at several shops as well as hosting barn sales at the family’s former residence. The Cooleys’ inventory is theirs, and it is varied and interesting: salvaged lockers and architectural pieces; dishware and china; furniture and books. Take a trip up the stairs to enter the cavernous space of the former Schoolcraft opera house. This alone is worth a visit! All four of the Cooleys are artists, and their work hangs in the store, with many pieces for sale.

Looking for something unique or an item to complete a collection? Give these local establishments a try.

Trees of Life taking root across South County

Lloyd Appell and Marian Steffens pose with a Tree of Life.

South County residents will notice a few quick-growing trees popping up around three communities.

In Schoolcraft, one will sprout in front of the historic Ladies Library building south of the Post Office. In Vicksburg two: one in front of the Train Depot at the Historic Village, another at the high school. Driving through Climax, watch for one at the corner of Main and Maple.

The four trees are more than just holiday decorations. According to Executive Director Drew Johnson of South County Community Services (SCCS), the trees represent a way the community can celebrate the holidays, support area families in need and honor a loved one.

“For many, the holidays mean family gatherings, presents, snow, decorating the holiday tree,” Johnson said. “But for far too many of our neighbors, this time of the year brings incredible stress and need.”

Johnson said nearly a third of residents in the six-township region referred to as South County live below the poverty line or have serious difficulties meeting such basic needs for food, transportation, housing, health care and utilities. This time of the year, he said, SCCS sees an increase in calls for help and support. And again this year with the impact of the pandemic continuing, more families than ever continue to need help.

SCCS is doing something about it. Through the nonprofit’s year-end Trees of Life campaign, people can make a donation at http://www.southcountycs.com/treesoflife to have a hand-made and decorated ornament added to one of the trees. With the donation, donors can commemorate a loved one, remember a lost one, or honor people important to them with the names displayed on the ornament.

All funds raised through the Trees of Life campaign support areas families in need, helping to brighten their holidays and sending them into 2022 with more hope and support.

“As more families look for ways to more deeply celebrate the season with more meaning, the Trees of Life ornament campaign is a perfect way to honor loved ones while also helping area families in need have more a joyful holiday,” said Donna Smith, the project chair from Climax.

South County Community Services will hold a public Trees of Life celebration at 1 p.m. Wednesday, December 8 around the Climax tree next to Township Hall at 151 S Main St., Climax. The public is invited to attend and enjoy free holiday refreshments provided by Scott’s Corner Café. Ornaments will be available for donation-purchase at the event, and a short presentation will update attendees on campaign progress, remember those in need this holiday season, and recognize campaign sponsors.

South County Community Services for more than four decades has served area families and individuals in need. From senior services to veteran support to food pantries and other supportive programs, SCCS is the only human service agency dedicated to serving the 25,000 residents who live in the southern tier of Kalamazoo County. SCCS’s work changes lives and saves lives.

Those wishing to purchase an ornament to honor a loved one or learn about the Trees of Life project can go to http://www.southcountycs.com/treesoflife. They may also call 269-649-2901 to place a phone order or discuss sponsorship or visit SCCS’s office at 606 Spruce Street, Vicksburg. To learn more about SCCS, go to http://www.southcountycs.com.

The magnificent great blue heron

By Jeanne Church

The great blue heron is the largest and most common heron in North America. It stands 4 1/2 feet tall and has an amazingly impressive wingspan of nearly 7 feet! Despite its large size, the great blue heron weighs only about 5 pounds.

Until a few years ago, I had never even seen one of these magnificent birds.

In late February of 2017, my husband and I took our first trip to Florida for an extended winter vacation. The previous Christmas, he had given me my first “real” camera as a gift. It allowed me to take close-ups of birds and to get much better results than I had ever imagined! I was hooked!

It was on this trip to Florida that I saw my first great blue heron! I returned to Michigan thinking these were just Florida birds – until I saw one here in Kalamazoo! Now, I see great blue herons everywhere; mostly because I’ve learned where to find them and also because I have a much bigger telephoto lens than I did in 2017!

You can find great blue herons in both saltwater and freshwater habitats, along the edges of marshes, riverbanks and lakes as well as backyard goldfish ponds! They are not always easy to spot, however.

In spite of their large stature, great blue herons become almost invisible as they stand motionless against a backdrop of bushes, trees, and rocks, waiting patiently to catch their next unsuspecting fish, crayfish or frog. These are the heron’s favorite foods, but they will eat almost anything, including snakes, salamanders, insects, small mammals and birds. Their ability to catch small mammals and birds explains why great blue herons can survive here in Michigan even in the dead of winter!

A few years ago, on a cold January day, while I was traipsing through a foot or two of snow looking for small winter birds to photograph, I was shocked to find a great blue heron standing knee deep in snow on a frozen creek less than 50 feet in front of me! I didn’t know that great blues were even capable of staying here throughout the winter! What could they possibly eat if the ponds and creeks were frozen? That’s when I learned that great blue herons could also catch mice, voles and birds!

If you’re interested in an easy way to observe great blue herons, go to the Kensington Metropark Nature Center in Milford, Michigan this spring. By the end of March, great blue herons will start coming back to Michigan and, by early April, they will be exhibiting their usual courtship behaviors and nest-building activities. As you stand on the boardwalk at Kensington Nature Center looking out on Wildwing Lake, you will see a small island with dozens of trees teeming with great blue herons as they build their nests in the treetops and get ready to lay eggs. This kind of communal nesting site is called a ‘heronry’.

By the beginning of May, the eggs will start to hatch and, for the next three or four weeks, one parent or the other will remain with their hatchlings while the other parent goes in search of food. By June, the young birds will be strong enough to fly short distances and, within a very short period of time, will leave the nest for good.

Kensington Metropark Nature Center is well worth the two-hour drive; not just for the great blue herons in the spring, but for all the little songbirds throughout the year who are so acclimated to people, that they will eat right out of your hand – if you remember to bring a little bit of birdseed with you!

Enjoy your visit!

A collector of Native American artifacts

James Gleason and his granddad’s original collection.

By Jef Rietsma

Collector? James Gleason

Collection? Arrowheads and other Native-American artifacts.

How did your collection begin? “Our family came to Michigan in 1849, and they purchased and cleared land that today borders Three Rivers city limits. When my forefathers plowed the land behind a team of horses, they would find arrowheads and other artifacts. About halfway to Constantine, on the east side of the road on the St. Joe River, was supposedly a pretty large Indian village. So, I have to believe many of these items recovered pretty randomly through the years in the fields that we farmed could possibly be traced to that settlement.”

Gleason went on to explain that his grandfather assembled a collage comprised mostly of arrowheads. The collection of more than 100 pieces rests on a flannel backing and hangs in Gleason’s home. In all, he has more than 300 arrowheads saved by his forefathers.

So, artifacts of this nature have been a lifelong attraction? “No. I inherited this collection that my grandmother gave me after my grandpa died. He had obtained it from his father and, to be honest, I didn’t get too interested until I retired and started to develop a greater appreciation for the historical significance of this collection.”

Where will the collection end up next? “I have a daughter who became really interested in archeology, but since then I’ve had a granddaughter who has become very interested in the collection and its history.”

Your collection is comprised primarily of arrowheads. What else is included? “The framed collection features a knife carved out of stone, as well as something called a gorget. That is another word for a pendant and I’m always fascinated how expertly they drilled holes. Anyhow, it was probably the centerpiece of a ceremonial cape. I also have stones carved into shapes that would be used as scrapers or cutting tools, which they would have used to skin an animal, of course. I also have some spear heads.”

Gleason has a well-preserved stone ax that was unearthed when digging a basement on his former Three Rivers-area farm.

Do you have any idea how old some of the artifacts are? “I’ve had a couple people look at one arrowhead in particular. I’m going to call these people ‘experts,’ and they tell me that little arrowhead is at least 7,000 years old.”

How is the value of these items determined? “The value has to do with what they’re made out of. If you go to a national show, you’ll see quite a few people there with telescopes, and they can look at one of these stones and tell you what state the rock came from. Probably the most valuable item in the (collage) is something called a lancet, which is used to lance something and it is placed right in the center. Its value, I am told, is based on several factors, including the type of stone, its uniqueness as a double-edged tool and its age.”

Gleason did not speculate its monetary value. He is aware of a rare, well-preserved tool called a Popeye birdstone sold in the estate sale of a South Haven-area collector that netted $28,000.

Your collection probably has more sentimental value than it does monetary value since so many of the arrowheads came from your family farm. “That’s true. I call the items that my great-grandfather, grandfather and father unearthed and set aside ‘The Gleason Collection.’ But I enjoy going to shows and I have, on occasion, paid more than $100. In a few cases, even more than $200 for an item that I don’t already have in the Gleason Collection. But if I had to evacuate the house in a hurry, I’d grab the framed collection my grandfather put together.”

How do you acquire items to add to your collection? “There are shows for collectors, regional shows and there’s also a national show, which I went to this year … it was in Paducah, Ky. Those collector events are called ‘point shows.’ Also, there are publications that have a lot of information, like upcoming auctions, for example.”

What is your most memorable purchase? “A metate, which is a concave-shaped bowl made out of granite. The women would use it to ground up grain or seeds, or whatever. Why I found it at a garage sale in Constantine, Michigan, when these are known to originate in the Southwest part of the country, is beyond me.”

Gleason paid $175 for the item.

What would you attempt to purchase if money was not an issue? “A Clovis spearpoint. It’s named after the area of Clovis, New Mexico.”

Footnotes: Gleason, 84, is a Kline’s Resort resident. The love for his collection of arrowheads and artifacts has developed to a greater appreciation for Native American Culture. “I’m more convinced now than ever that the Indians are right. You can’t own land, you just sit on it for 80 years, eventually you die and then somebody else sits on it.”

Gleason is a Three Rivers High School and Michigan State University graduate.

Community corner: It’s that time of year again

By Kristina Powers Aubry

It’s that time again to “go over the river and through the woods to . . . whoever’s house is hosting the meal . . . we go.” Making up for last year’s mini- and non-celebrations,this year many are looking forward to returning to holiday traditions.

In my family, my brother and I head downtown Detroit to stand on the curb and watch the old J. L. Hudson — now the America’s Parade — just like we did when we were growing up. Bro and I still march to the bands, remember the old and evaluate the new floats, and wave and yell at Santa to be certain he sees us on the curb. The universal attitude of fun and friendliness everyone exhibits that morning on the streets of Detroit is amazing and reminds me that we are all one community on earth.

My husband, David’s, family gathers in the church hall down the street from his grandparents’ old home as they have for 50 years. Eighty to a hundred of his immediate family members gather to celebrate family and to sign the book to be in the count.

As the years go on and family members move, die or can’t travel, everyone’s traditional celebrations have to modify.

That can be quite a challenge, especially when things have been the same for years. Our first changes came when siblings started their own families and established their own traditions. Now that David’s and my parents are gone and the homesteads have been sold, we have lost the old central meeting place and some of the comfort we felt in “going home” for the holiday.

Changes from the things we could count on and look forward to can be not just unsettling but bring about a change in our outlook on the holidays, and life in general. Not doing things the way “we always do” can bring about disappointment and depression. Change, in general, can make one look at upcoming events and ask, “why bother?”

If the last year has taught us anything it is that there is more than one way to make things happen. Once we have time to take a good look at a problem, we have a chance to see there are ways to let things continue even in the face of an ugly bug that had serious effects on daily life. And this can be a way to handle changes in the holiday traditions, too.

One of the things I love most about fall is the beauty all around; color, sky,clouds, flowers, fields, smells. There seem to be people everywhere; all the raking and plant pulling and decorating. The clear, clean air seems to amplify the sounds of talking, laughter, playing and machinery. It also gives us a chance to see who is around us. How many people on your block have you never really noticed before? Seniors, children, single adults, widows and widowers, folks who are disabled in some way living just down the street. How often do you see the Metro van stop to pick up or drop off someone, or see a neighbor load a wheelchair or walker into a car?

The pandemic fallout has given us the opportunity to make changes in our relationship to the community we live in. Taking the first step to meeting someone new, a wave, a smile, a “hi” from across the street can be a start to knowing more. Think about calling a friend or neighbor before you head out to the store to see if they need a loaf of bread, some milk or prescriptions picked up. Send a card to someone you just met or volunteered with or who lives a little farther down the street. Watch for things that might mean someone could use a little help. South County Community Services is a wonderful resource for all sorts of assistance, from simple items to more complex help working through life’s critical needs. A call, a note, a smile (even from behind a mask) can make each day a holiday of sorts by celebrating being part of your community.

Visit the South County Community Services website at southcountycs.com or by using this QR code: