MacKenzie’s Bakery coming to Vicksburg

MacKenzie’s Bakery, which closed in Kalamazoo at the end of 2020, will open later this year in downtown Vicksburg under the ownership of Vicksburg native Chris Moore.

Moore acquired the bakery’s assets, including the brand, recipes and equipment, from Water Street Coffee Joint owner Mark Smutek in a deal completed April 19 on undisclosed terms. The new company will produce wholesale bread to area retailers and restaurants.

Mackenzies Vicksburg – the business will drop the upper-case K and the apostrophe – will open at a Moore-owned property 103 E. Prairie Street. The 1,700-square-foot location will primarily serve as a kitchen and distribution facility, but the bakery may eventually offer retail products via a small storefront space. The building is attached to 101 E. Prairie, also owned by Moore. The facades of the adjoining two-story buildings have been restored as part of Moore’s stated mission to revitalize downtown Vicksburg and restore many of its original buildings into historic centerpieces.

Moore, owner of The Mill at Vicksburg, an $80-million mixed-use project in development on the west end of the village, said he grew up enjoying MacKenzie’s baked goods and jumped at the chance to revitalize the brand and help bring more business to the village. Moore has said his vision is to create a “thriving Vicksburg.”

“Downtown Vicksburg is going to smell great with the aroma of Mackenzies bread,” Moore said. He resides in Seattle where he operates Concord Technologies and Old Stove Brewing, but frequently visits Vicksburg for extended periods.

After MacKenzie’s closed, the brand, web domain name and equipment were purchased by Smutek. Moore’s Vicksburg leadership team, led by Chief Operating Officer Jackie Koney, was approached by a mutual acquaintance who connected them to Smutek, leading to the acquisition.

The MacKenzie’s equipment has been transferred to Vicksburg, where Koney’s team will work to complete renovation plans.

Former owner John MacKenzie has signed on to help consult the new owners during startup. Additional full- and part-time staff will be hired to manage daily operations. The focus at first is on wholesale bread.

“We are looking to bring Mackenzies bread into store and dining establishments across Southwest Michigan, so our immediate focus is to gear up for large-scale bread production,” Koney said. “Once we get settled, we’ll evaluate expanding product offerings and delivery channels.”

The move into downtown Vicksburg was welcomed by Village leadership. “We look forward to welcoming a new iteration of MacKenzie’s into downtown Vicksburg,” said Village Manager Jim Mallery. “There is a lot of potential for growth with Mackenzies Vicksburg’s products and sales channels, so we are excited to have them up and running and adding to our downtown charm.”

Mackenzies Vicksburg expects to share more information on opening dates and product offerings later this summer.

Generous Hands launches Blessing Box program

By Paula Schriemer

Larry Forsyth and Sheri Louis present a Blessing Box.

Generous Hands provides food, grocery vouchers, school supplies and menstrual products for families in Vicksburg. The pandemic has increased the need for food and presented obstacles to food distribution. In order to overcome these barriers, we have adapted the way we operate and are launching a new program called “The Blessing Box”.

The Blessing Box concept (also termed Little Free Pantry) is a take-off on the “Little Free Library” idea in which volunteers place and tend a “library” to encourage the sharing of books among neighborhood friends. Several of these libraries operate in Vicksburg already.

As explained on their website littlefreepantry.org, “Jessica McClard launched the grassroots mini-pantry movement in May 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when she planted the Little Free Pantry Pilot, a wooden box on a post containing food, personal care, and paper items accessible to everyone all the time, no questions asked. She hoped her spin on the Little Free Library concept would pique local awareness of food insecurity while creating a space for neighbors to help meet neighborhood food needs. A little over a month later, Crystal Rock Cathedral Women’s Ministries planted a Blessing Box in Ardmore, Oklahoma. By August 2016, the movement was global. Throughout the US and internationally, the grassroots mini-pantry movement continues growing and moving. Whether a need for food or a need to give, mini pantries help feed neighbors, nourishing neighborhoods.”

Currently, littlefreepantry.org provides a listing for the location of over 1800 Little Free Pantries in the U.S., allowing easy access for people in need.

In that same spirit, Generous Hands has begun providing non-perishable food as well as hygiene items (including shampoo, soap, toothbrushes/toothpaste and toilet paper) in our first Blessing Box. Local volunteer and woodworker, Larry Forsyth, assembled this sturdy box and installed it in front of Generous Hands and South County Community Services’ location at 606 Spruce St in early March. It is labeled with the Little Free Pantry motto: “Take what you need, give what you can.” Supplies are replenished daily.

A second Blessing Box will be opening soon at Portage Terrace off Portage Road. Sheri Louis, executive director of Generous Hands, notes, “We are so excited to launch the Blessing Box program. We hope this will be a way for our neighbors in Vicksburg to access nutritious food when they need it.” Additional locations are being considered as the program expands.

If you would like to help with the Blessing Box program, or have ideas for new locations for Blessing Boxes, please contact Sheri Louis at 269-370-7965 or slouis916@aol.com.

Calling all collectors!


We are adding a monthly column, “South County Collectors,” by Jef Rietsma, featuring area residents and their collections. Do you have something you collect? Bottle caps? Beer cans? Fossils? African violets? We will feature a different collection each month.

Send your feature idea to kforsythesouthcountynews@gmail.com.

Harbingers of spring

By Jeanne Church

When I first started thinking about this month’s nature article, we were still in the waning days of February. It was unseasonably warm and easy enough to imagine a day in the not-too-distant future where migrant birds and other fair-weather creatures would return.

For many of us in Michigan, the American robin is considered the quintessential “harbinger of spring.” I grew up believing this as well; that once the robins arrived, spring would officially be here. It wasn’t until I started taking pictures that I discovered some robins never leave! Other spring enthusiasts consider the eastern bluebird to be a harbinger of spring, but they too are in this area throughout the year.

Both robins and bluebirds can survive the cold winter days of Michigan by eating wild fruits and berries that have been left on various shrubs, trees and vines. It came as quite a surprise, though, to learn just how many different plants we have that provide this critical food source for robins and bluebirds as well as others who overwinter here. Some of those fruit-bearing plants include red cedars, dogwood, hackberry, sumac, wild grape, holly, juniper, mistletoe and poison ivy!

My spring harbinger happens to be the male red-winged blackbird. It shows up in late February or early March when temperatures sometimes creep into the 50s and 60s and we are lulled into believing that winter is finally over.

What first grabs my attention, before I even see the first red-winged blackbird, is its song; an unmistakable sound that’s familiar to many, but one that is difficult for me to explain. The Cornell website, allaboutbirds.org, describes it this way: “The male red-winged blackbird’s conk-la-ree! is a classic sound of wetlands across the continent. The 1-second song starts with an abrupt note that turns into a musical trill.”

It is that musical trill that first alerts me to the coming of spring.

Not long after the red-winged blackbird makes an appearance, you’ll undoubtedly hear the “singing” of the spring peepers, an extremely small chorus frog that lives in moist, wooded areas and grassy lowlands near ponds and wetlands. It is about the size of your thumbnail and weighs only slightly more than a tenth of an ounce. Compare this to the American bullfrog at eight inches in length and a whopping two or more pounds!

I love nothing better than falling asleep on a warm spring evening to the joyful noise of all the spring peepers down by our creek.

Whatever your particular “harbinger of spring” happens to be, warmer days are definitely ahead! You can shed your
winter coat for good and breathe in all the wonderful sights, sounds and smells that the perfect spring day has to offer! Enjoy!

https://picturewalks.org

Tournament of Writers competition now open

A collection of Small Town Anthologies containing the work of winning Tournament of Writers contestants.

By Jake Munson

The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center is now accepting submissions for the Seventh Annual Tournament of Writers. The tournament is a local writing competition for writers in the genres of fiction, nonfiction and poetry and is open to eligible authors in the four age groups: Youth – through 7th grade, Young adult – 8th grade through 25 years old, Adult – ages 26 through 50, and Senior – ages 51 and above.

Each writer may submit one piece per category for a maximum of three entries. All entries must be received by midnight on Friday, June 4. 

Prior to the submission deadline, the VCAC will host writing clinics for participants to receive both creative and critical feedback on their work. Guest authors are also being scheduled for live Zoom events in order to share insights into their own creative processes. Watch the VCAC social media accounts and website for dates and times of these clinics and guest speakers. 

Once the entries are received, local authors, educators and book lovers will evaluate all submissions using an established rubric. Winners will be announced on Friday, July 2 with prizes awarded for first, second and third place in each category and division. The location for this announcement has yet to be determined, but the VCAC has made provisions to make the announcement virtually if pandemic restrictions persist.

One special feature the tournament offers is the publication of the “Small Town Anthology,” a compilation of all works accepted into the competition. A celebration and book signing event is scheduled for September 16. The Judges’ Choice winner, selected from the first and second place entries, will be announced at this time. The VCAC is prepared to hold the event virtually if pandemic restrictions persist.

Writers can access the new, improved submission form online at the VCAC’s website, vicksburgarts.com. Those who wish to enter the competition but prefer an alternative to the online process may call the VCAC for instructions. There is an entry fee of $10 per writer this year. This provides writers with access to the writing clinics, submission of up to three entries, scores and feedback from the judges and a copy of “Small Town Anthology, vol VII.” Scholarships are available.

The Tournament of Writers isn’t the only program the VCAC has planned. A student-led art exhibit, “Mind of Mine: 2021, A Collective Exhibition of Vicksburg High School AP Art Students,” will be opening Saturday May 14. For the younger set, another exciting “Arts in the Burg” day camp returns this summer. The camp for 8 to 12-year-olds is a unique multi-disciplinary art experience and can’t be missed. Until then, happy writing!

Information for the Seventh Annual Tournament of Writers can be found on the VCAC website at vicksburgarts.com/tournament-of-writers or by calling (269) 200-2223.

South County vaccine clinic a success

Nearly 500 people were vaccinated at Vicksburg High School gym.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

The Kalamazoo County Health Department vaccinated nearly 500 South County residents in a March 30 clinic at the Vicksburg High School gym. Recipients received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine free of charge.

Executive Director Drew Johnson of South County Community Services (SCCS), said 487 vaccines were administered. The agency made the vaccine available to 18-and-older residents of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft villages and townships of Pavilion, Climax, Wakeshma, Brady, Schoolcraft and Prairie Ronde townships. The clinic used the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because the targeted recipients were those who might be unable to travel to the bigger clinics in Kalamazoo. The one-shot vaccine has been shown to be extremely effective at keeping people safe.

Johnson, whose agency was actively involved in the scheduling and outreach, was pleased. “We were very happy that we didn’t fill up until the day before the clinic, which to us meant that we had the correct number of vaccines available for the area.”

Johnson indicated the agency had adequate time to reach out to clients, many of whom are “older or living with conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.” SCCS personnel contacted over 350 seniors and provided transportation as needed.

“This was a true partnership,” Johnson said. “The County of Kalamazoo was great to work with throughout the process and very well-organized.” Johnson also expressed appreciation for the Vicksburg Community Schools who made available a space with plenty of room for social distancing.

Behind the scenes of the library in a pandemic

Librarian under glass: Adrianne Schinkai behind the plexiglass.

By Adrianne M. Schinkai, Head of Reference & Circulation Services, Vicksburg District Library

It’s one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and the employees of the Vicksburg District Library are holding their own. However, the pandemic has left them all enervated.

A year ago, the Library closed down for over two months as numbers of cases for the virus quickly rose throughout the country and the state of Michigan. Since then, the Library has gone through various phases of being open and closed. The whole process, however, is cumbersome and very detailed. Libraries across the nation have never had to run this way before. “The circumstances of the prior year have been singular and completely unexpected,” states Library Director Eric Hansen. As a result, staff of the Library acknowledge that while they are still working to give the best service possible for the community, they have hit a wall with the pandemic, just as their patrons have.

Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby shares these sentiments. “It’s been hard not being able to see and interact with children and teens. I have been unable to visit school and daycares to lead live programs. I’m like so many of our children with being burned out on virtual programs.”

What exactly is going on behind the scenes at the Library during the pandemic?

Since late October, the Vicksburg District Library had been providing services at a limited capacity strictly by appointment only. The Library is currently operating at 25% capacity with a strict face mask policy in place. Changes have been abundant since last year.

With each new announced press release, mandate, or executive order issued by the Kalamazoo County Health Department, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, or Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Library has needed to tailor its services to meet the latest guidelines. This is no easy task as it involves updated availability on circulating items, hours the library can provide services, and how those services are specifically handled. All programming has been changed from in-person to virtual/online. In addition, when items are returned to the library, they all are immediately quarantined for a period of seven days before they are checked in and available for patrons once more. All of this has been done with the safety and health of the staff and patrons in mind.

Hansen says, “The staff of the Vicksburg District Library have worked to incorporate the best advice from doctors and medical researchers, as well as legal requirements issued by the local and state governments, to assist in protecting our community…we have tried to be diligent in continuing services that we can safely offer.”

With each change put in place because of the pandemic, whether involving face mask policies, switching to curbside service only, or closing physical buildings entirely, libraries across the nation are in a constant state of adapting. They are universally sharing the same issues when it comes to quarantining items, adjusting services, and assisting patrons from a distance. Depending on the changes needed as stated by the government, the work can be tedious. With the vaccine rollout across the nation, some librarians have been left disheartened that they don’t qualify to receive the injections. Libraries are sometimes classified as educational, governmental, and/or retail institutions, but the State of Michigan has ruled libraries as non-essential at this time.

Locally, Vicksburg District Library staff is striving hard to serve the community as best they can through online programming, in-person services, and protocols that have everyone’s safety and health in mind. Hansen smiles. “We fervently look forward to a time when we can see all of our patrons again…we really look forward to providing a place where the community can gather.”

Willoughby agrees. “It certainly has been a year of throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks!”

Those with questions or concerns about what is currently being provided by the library can contact the Vicksburg District Library at (269) 649-1648. The latest information is also always posted on the library’s website at vicksburglibrary.org and on its social media accounts.

How Vicksburg got its name

Provided by Vicksburg Historical Society and dedicated during the 1980 Sesquicentennial celebration, this marker is located high on the exterior wall directly to the left of the front entrance to the Vicksburg Schools Administration Building on Kalamazoo Avenue.

By Maggie Snyder, for the Vicksburg Historical Society

While the history of Vicksburg has been well recorded, some things need to be repeated every so often. And what better time to tell the story of how Vicksburg got its name than during the celebration of its 150th birthday?

One of the first settlers to come to the area was John Vickers. Vickers journeyed in 1829 from Ohio to Prairie Ronde, where he built a grist mill. Around 1830, Vickers moved to a location within the Nottawaseppi reservation on Portage Creek. He asked a friend, Joseph Frakes, who was on friendly terms with the reservation’s Potawatomi Indians, to help him obtain their permission to build a grist mill. Permission was granted, and Vickers built his mill on the southwest corner of present-day West Prairie Street and Michigan Avenue.

By 1834 Vickers had enlarged his mill and established a distillery, and a little community was forming around these two enterprises. The community needed a name and, he thought, why not Vicksburgh?

In 1836, Clark Briggs and John Noyes built a store on the present-day intersection of Main and Prairie Streets, and settlers for miles around started coming to Vicksburgh for groceries and supplies. Charles Kimble opened a blacksmith shop in 1837, Samuel Hawkins built a tavern and boarding house, and soon a log school was constructed on a parcel of land near today’s school administration building on Kalamazoo Avenue.

When the former reservation lands were offered for sale in 1841, John Vickers filed a property claim with the government. The land was surveyed by William Watson, who laid out 30 lots in what was commonly known as Vicksburgh. John Vickers received his abstract of title for 160 acres in Section 13 in February of 1843, but in July of that same year Vickers died. He was laid to rest in a grass-lined grave in a cemetery near the log school.
Then suddenly, Vicksburgh wasn’t Vicksburgh anymore.

At the time, the U. S. Post Office was using “Brady” as a designation for the little village – it was the largest settlement in the township of the same name – even though ‘Vicksburgh’ was in common usage. Unfortunately, it turned out Vickers had neglected to record the platting of his town, so the name Vicksburgh was not official.

Enter Hugh Finley, who located here around 1846 and built a two-story building on the southeast corner of Main and Prairie where he operated a store for a short time. Mr. Finley was determined the village should be called Brady, and the first legally recorded plat was acknowledged in 1849 with Hugh Finley listed as proprietor and the name of the village listed as “Brady.” It is believed Mr. Finley wanted to honor General Hugh Brady, the man given the responsibility for the western relocation of the Potawatomi after their reservation land was sold to the Federal government.

Between 1849 and 1871 the village grew considerably, with the establishment of more mills, a post office, additional stores, an expanded school program, the introduction of mint as a local agricultural specialty, the beginning of regular stagecoach service, and, eventually, the coming of the railroad.

A petition was presented to the Kalamazoo County Board of Supervisors in October of 1871 asking for, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported, “…the incorporation and organization of a village….to be known as Brady.” But the next day an amendment was adopted to change the name of the village from Brady back to Vicksburgh, and the Board of Supervisors approved the change.

And what happened to the ‘h’ in Vicksburgh? It was in common usage as late as 1880, then just seemed to fade away.

Vicksburg video files available for promotions

Alex Lee holds thumb drives containing Vicksburg area video files donated by Bike Friendly Kalamazoo to Vicksburg-area civic organizations.

By Paul Selden

Bike Friendly Kalamazoo (BFK) has donated 300 professionally produced video segments featuring highlights of Vicksburg and South County on thumb drives that will soon be available at the Vicksburg District Library.

The segments, or “B-Roll” as they are known in the industry, were shot by Public Media Network (PMN) as part of BFK’s annual Fall Bike Celebration Weekend. Bike Friendly Kalamazoo engaged Public Media Network to shoot the segments with support from The Vicksburg Foundation and PMN. The video files consist of brief scenes that can be woven into creative productions, copyright free.

Paul Selden, chair of Bike Celebration, presented thumb drives in February to Alex Lee at the Vicksburg Village offices and Kitch Rinehart, co-founder with husband Hugh of the Vicksburg Quilt Trial. Selden said, “I want to offer special thanks to The Vicksburg Foundation and Public Media Network for their role in making possible these very contemporary video segments, and to Tim Fuller and Charlie Church of our Fall Bike Celebration planning committee for suggesting a list of area highlights to be shot.”

Kalsee Credit Union branch coming to Vicksburg

Kalsee will occupy this former PNC branch.

Kalsee Credit Union has purchased the former PNC bank branch at 119 North Main Street in Vicksburg. After remodeling, it’s set to open this fall.

The remodel will include changes to the drive-through with interactive teller machines and some updates to the interior décor including new lobby flooring. Kalsee is currently hiring tellers, a member service representative/loan officer, and branch manager for this location.

“Vicksburg exemplifies the midwestern small-town ideal,” said Kalsee’s chief executive officer, Matt Lahman. “The community is a great fit for the way we do business, where we get to know our members personally and invest ourselves in their financial well-being. It’s our privilege to contribute to the community’s growth and wellness.”

“We look forward to welcoming Kalsee into our community and appreciate the opportunity for our residents to bank with a truly local, mission-driven financial institution that values community involvement,” said Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery.

Vicksburg will be the first of three new Kalsee branches opening soon. Two new construction projects include branches in Kalamazoo at the northeast corner of Portage Road and Cork Street in late 2021 and on Gull Road west of Sprinkle in 2022.