Category Archives: Community

Go, Little Plant, Go!

By Marilyn Jones, Schoolcraft’s Poet Laureate

Friends gave me an amaryllis bulb
With a pot, directions and soil.
I’ve planted it with loving care
(They didn’t know how many plants
I’ve managed to spoil).

My green thumb never got the message.
I love flowers, but don’t do something right,
Each time I have high hopes for them
Maybe this one will be a beautiful sight.

It’s scheduled to bloom the end of January.
Perfect timing . . . when the world is gloomy and gray,
If I get a gorgeous red blossom, I’ll dance a jig
And you’ll hear me shout . . . “What a great day!”

Cultivating gratitude in the new year

By Danna Downing

After seven-plus decades of living and learning, I know for certain that finding gratitude is not just a mental exercise. It involves the whole body and soul, the people you love and the community you live in. Not to mention never, never giving up. It is also a daily habit. What follows is not a recipe for happiness; rather it is a collection of tools I use to make a good day. Perhaps it will be useful to you also.

Calculate the reality.

No amount of wishful thinking can change reality. But reality can always be tempered. I find it helpful to face the facts of the day head-on in the morning and surrender to what cannot be denied or changed. Sometimes it is easy to do this. Sometimes it is extremely hard. More often than not, the reality changes once I start to take action. It is always an unexpected gift when it does.

Do the next right thing.

Especially when things look too hard or I do not know where to begin, I begin the morning by doing the next right thing. Usually this involves taking the dog out to do his business and a nice ice-cold Diet Coke for me. Add to that a raisin-cinnamon English muffin and I am well on my way to a comforting morning routine.

Sometimes doing the right thing involves keeping a promise I made to someone else, no matter what. It can also be a matter of re-negotiating a promise I made to myself to simplify the day. This technique is even more helpful when you are trying NOT to do something or change a long-time self-defeating habit. This technique comes from the fine folks at Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups who work hard to live one day at a time. It has saved lives and can be used by anyone who is under stress.

Create what order you can, wherever you can, in the present moment. Let go of the rest.

I find sorting my piles and creating clear spaces in my physical domain allows me to think more clearly and gain momentum on the day. I often do a brain dump of things on my mind which eventually evolves into a list that gets prioritized. Now that I am retired, it also involves taking things off the list, either for another day or because it really does not even have to be done today. Tomorrow or never is simply fine, too.

Look for harmony and synergy.

Whether in relationships or for efficient use of time and energy, life always works better. Enjoy loving and being loved.

Be of service.

It is a win for whomever you serve and makes you feel good too. Little or big acts count the same. It is one of the reasons I belong to Rotary.

Be active.

This spring and summer, I set a goal of doing a 5K dog walk at Prairie View Park most days of the week. We walked 538 miles to date and burned 57,615 calories. I treasure all the adventures and beautiful surroundings we enjoyed. I worried much less. I have never felt better.

Be mindful. Find beauty and joy.

Increased awareness is a gift from heaven and works miracles on a challenging day.

Feel the gratitude.

It comes more readily when you work with the grace in the universe, support from others, and the reward from your kind habits to yourself and others. Wishing you a Happy New Year! You deserve it!

Winter ice harvesting on Sunset Lake in 1912

At left, the Grand Trunk Railway harvested ice from Sunset Lake and loaded it up at an ice ramp adjacent to the water tower on the causeway over Sunset Lake. The railroad shipped it to a storage facility in Illinois. At right, a view of the Godshalk ice harvest on Sunset Lake, which was for local consumption. The Godshalk ice house is in the background. The ice was kept from thawing by covering each layer with “marsh hay.”

At the Mill, concrete to become roadways, sidewalks

By Rob Ball

Add “waste not, want not” to redevelopment of the Mill in Vicksburg. Since Oct. 12, a disassembly line of several machines has been crushing concrete left from the demolition of several buildings on the site.

When the crushing is complete, resulting 1-inch aggregate will be used to subsurface parking lots and driveways as redevelopment proceeds. The finished site will include several entertainment venues, a brewpub and brewery museum, dining and lodging.

Mill representatives told village residents in September via email and social media that the crushing operation would begin shortly. “We assumed it might make noise,” said Jackie Koney, the Mill’s chief operating officer. “We wanted to let the community know it was happening.”

There was another reason to tell area residents about the project, Koney said. People were curious. “So many had asked about the big rubble pile.”

The Mill received no complaints, she said.

Frederick Construction’s site superintendent, Ken Coombs, said the large chunks, some containing steel reinforcing rods, are dropped into the first machine, which crushes the chucks to 4-inch pieces and removes some of the steel. A conveyor moves the crushed material into the next machine, which crushes to two inches and removes more steel. A third machine removes the remaining steel and a fourth machine crushes to the final 1-inch size.

Although the crushing isn’t visible, steel removal is: Material emerging from the first machine moves on a short conveyor underneath a magnet. Loose steel on that conveyor visibly jumps up a few inches to the magnet and is ejected into a tangled heap on the ground below.

The crushing project is expected to end this month.

The anticipated total of 1-inch aggregate, a little whimsy included: Weight – 10,000 tons, equivalent to 1,550 elephants. Volume – 7,143 cubic yards, equivalent to 500 dump truck loads. Enough aggregate for 1.8 miles of road, 14.6 miles of sidewalk.

And it’s not enough. More elephants-worth will be needed. How much more hasn’t been determined. “We’re still designing,” Koney said of the site planning.

Most of the concrete has come from foundations of half a dozen buildings demolished since the project began last year. They include Building 17, used mostly for storage and shipping-receiving, a water filtration building, and others used for fire suppression, a powerhouse and a research lab.

Two other mounds closer to W Avenue and the creek are contaminated soil headed for special landfills.

Reuse of the concrete isn’t the only ongoing conservation effort. Koney said water from leaky roofs caused deterioration of interior wood beams and flooring. The wood is being removed carefully; as much as possible will be repurposed. “There’s a chance some wood can be used somewhere else. It could be used for interior design, furniture, some wall decoration.”

And if not used in construction, Koney said, it might be held for a woodworker to turn into products for sale. Some of the machinery is also being saved, perhaps for a display about the mill operation.

Salvaged brick is finding new uses, some of it in a retaining wall along the creek. “We haven’t had to buy new bricks. We’re using bricks from a race track being torn down in Chicago.”

There’s more to conservation than reuse of materials on the site: “We’re pretty sure we’ll use geothermal instead of standard heating,” Koney said. But solar power is a no-go. It’s prohibited for use on buildings on a historic registry.

And on the 80-acre site west of the buildings, Vicksburg High classes have planted a pesticide-free edible forest and pollinator garden. A local farmer has placed beehives on the site. And this year, Koney said, the High School has received a grant to continue the project.

Gaspare Scavone built a legacy with Jaspare’s

Training and support employees received in the restaurant led to a ‘funnel’ of successful businesses and pizzerias in the Portage and Kalamazoo area. Many … had worked in their youth for the Scavones.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Some people leave a lasting mark on a community and the people around them. Gaspare Scavone, known locally as simply “Jasper,” and his wife Bina were people like that.

The Scavones learned their work ethic during their early years in Sicily. It was there Gaspare learned to work hard at whatever he could find, eventually meeting and marrying his beloved Bina in 1977. Soon after their marriage, the young couple emigrated to the United States where they joined Bina’s family already operating a pizzeria in Kalamazoo. Gaspare and Bina started Scavone’s Pizza on Burdick Street. In 1983, they bought Jaspare’s Pizza in Vicksburg.

Todd Glenn, the present owner of Jaspare’s Pizza in Vicksburg, worked for the Scavone family while in high school. He remembers his time working with them fondly. “Gaspare and Bina were hard-working people. I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about them.” Glenn remembers Bina bringing the Scavone children to the restaurant after school and described the environment the Scavones created as firm but also nurturing. Glenn is confident the relationships the Scavones built with employees and customers solidified the business’s success.

Gaspare continually offered guidance to his teenage employees, saying things like “Go to school. Study hard.” According to Glenn, the training and support employees received in the local restaurant led to a “funnel” of successful businesses and pizzerias in the Portage and Kalamazoo area. Many of these restaurant owners had worked in their youth for the Scavones.

Bina died in 2004, and not long after, Gaspare sold the business. He traveled extensively, met and married Alla Aleksa, and returned to the area. And until recently, Gaspare was still a familiar face in the restaurant, often coming into work and visiting with Glenn and the employees. After a difficult illness, Gaspare died in mid-September. Glenn and his employees still can’t believe he’s gone.

The Scavone’s life together is a love story of commitment to their children, extended family and community. It’s also an inspiring story of possibilities: of building a successful business, of mentoring employees, and of encouraging future business owners.

Theirs is a legacy of honesty and hard work.

KidFit Daycare opens in Portage

Kidfit accepts children from infancy to age 12.

By Kathy DeMott

KidFit Daycare is a brand-new center that provides a hands-on approach to learning while also focusing on movement and wellness. It provides safe and developmentally appropriate care for children ages six weeks to 12 years of age. It is located at 8146 Merchant Place in Portage adjacent to Kingdom Soccer. Hours of operation are 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Opening a business during COVID-19 has its challenges, said owner Stephanie Keenan. She and her husband, Chris, also own Kingdom Soccer. Multiple soccer families who work at Stryker expressed a desire for a nearby day care. “It made sense to extend our commitment to healthy, active living by opening a day care that would promote movement.”

In November 2019, they broke ground and posted the KidFit sign. Within weeks, they had 55 families on a waiting list. Then COVID-19 resulted in area layoffs or parents working from home which has decreased the immediate need for day care. Currently, KidFit has open spots in each of their classrooms.

Kari Momcilovich, director of KidFit, has a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and has been working in the field in various positions for 10 years. “I want to make a difference and am passionate about helping and supporting families. Children are fun and there is never a dull moment!”

Kari explained they use the HighScope Curriculum which focuses on children’s interest and level of development. They provide observational assessments to provide interactive, hands-on play which is age appropriate and educational for each child. They partner with parents and welcome visits and participation.

Each age group from infant to school-age has its own classroom filled with games, toys, learning materials, art supplies, large group areas and books. The center provides virtual school support for students which includes a teacher in the classroom. They also have before and after school programs available. Currently there is busing available for students attending Central Elementary School in Portage.

One of the benefits that sets KidFit Daycare apart: The children all have access to the Kingdom Indoor Center next door. The children can play outside as well as enjoy the large indoor sports complex. Encouraging active play and gross motor activity is a priority. Having a 60,000 square foot recreational area provides plenty of room to play regardless of the weather. All children age 4 and up receive a free six-week session with a soccer coach as part of the enrichment activities. KidFit members also receive 50% off soccer programs throughout the year at Kingdom Soccer.

Other benefits include daily breakfast, lunch and snacks. Each day is filled with free play, group time, quiet time for younger children, and daily movement. Stryker employees receive a 10% discount at KidFit.

To explore more about KidFit Daycare, visit www. or call 269-775-1311.

Tree Of Life: Spreading boughs, support across South County

South County Community Services staff and volunteers with the refurbished trees.

By Danna Downing

South County Community Services (SCCS) has a long history – over 40 years – of being available to serve families who live in the six townships referred to as “South County.” Typically, a third of these residents live below the poverty line or have serious difficulties meeting basic needs such as food, utilities, housing, transportation and health care expenses on a dependable basis. Holidays are always a special challenge for families with limited resources. This year, with the pandemic, more families than ever are needing help.

The Tree of Life fundraiser was developed eight years ago to support seasonal and yearlong needs of those who have trouble making ends meet when life-altering circumstances create new challenges for their families. The intention of Tree of Life is to provide community members a way to express love and appreciation to family and friends while giving the gift of timely emergency assistance to those who need it most. A decorated ornament and recognition of affection and respect in the South County Newspaper is an affordable gift that never requires a gift exchange after the holidays – that’s a frequent observation from those who purchase ornaments.

For 2020, the trees have been refurbished and brand-new hand-decorated ornaments will be available for purchase. “We are excited to announce that the Village of Climax and the Climax United Methodist Church are partnering to sponsor a tree at the four-corners in the Village of Climax,” said SCCS Executive Director Drew Johnson. The agency has always enjoyed strong support from area churches and at the township and municipality level. However, this year, Donna Smith, project chair from Climax, reminds us, “it is more important than ever to be sure all residents know that there are resources available to help during these critical times.” It is also important for those in a position to donate some relief to know that SCCS is a United Way agency dedicated to connecting the funds raised with the families who have the greatest needs. The Ladies Library in the Village of Schoolcraft is also sponsoring a tree again this year in front of its historic building just to the south of the Schoolcraft post office. The contact person in Schoolcraft is Jackie Skinner.

Call 269-649-2901 to obtain an order form, place an order or learn more about this project. There is a downloadable order form online at as well. Persons who would like to help decorate ornaments are also welcome to call the same number.

‘The Shortstop From Kalamazoo’ now in print

Christiansen with his book and a sampling of Berry’s memorabilia.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Bill Christiansen met Neil Berry in October 2013 when Berry was 91. Christiansen had recently met Berry’s daughter, Linda, and when she mentioned that her father was the “oldest living Detroit Tiger,” Christiansen had no qualms about asking to meet him.

The meetings and research that followed became a book: “The Shortstop from Kalamazoo.”

In preparation for this first meeting, Christiansen combed eBay for any memorabilia suitable for this former Tiger player to sign. To his surprise, when he handed over a vintage photograph of a play at the plate, Berry was immediately able to recognize the team and face of the catcher he had played against 65 years ago. He remembered his life in amazing detail. His anecdotes were colorful and razor-sharp.

Neil Berry was a star athlete for Kalamazoo Central and made the majors in 1948. Berry is not a household name, even among the most ardent Tiger fans, but he played with or against many of the greatest players in the game: Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser and Don Larsen, to name a few. Through the ups and downs of his seven-year major league career, Berry witnessed many unique or onetime events in the history of the sport. Berry was playing shortstop when the shortest player in the history of the major leagues made the only plate appearance of his short (pun intended) career. Berry witnessed a teammate throw a no-hitter in his first major league start, and another teammate set a record with 12 consecutive hits. Berry’s favorite game forced the first playoff game in the history of the American League.

From that first meeting, he shared his stories and scrapbooks with Christiansen almost weekly until Berry passed away in 2016. These scrapbooks had been dutifully and lovingly compiled by Berry’s wife Gloria. She collected every word the press wrote about him starting with his high school days until his final days playing major league ball. From the perspective of the sportswriters of the time to the hours of recorded conversations from the “oldest living Detroit Tiger,” Christiansen presents the life and times of “The Shortstop From Kalamazoo.” More information is available at

Agencies pair to help families for holiday season

By Paula Schriemer

Generous Hands and South County Community Services will once again be partnering to support local families during the upcoming holiday season. Due to COVID-19 concerns, there will be no group holiday celebrations this year. Instead, gift bags and other goodies will be made available to all the families who are enrolled.

Families with school age children who return their registration forms by early November will be eligible for holiday gifts for their children. Church groups and other community groups will be providing these gifts.

The two agencies will not be confirming these arrangements by phone or mail this year but will instead be contacting families in mid to late November to schedule pickup/delivery of gift cards, food certificates and gift bags.

For more information or to donate towards these gifts, please contact Sheri Louis at Generous Hands or Austin Wiggins at South County Community Services, both at 269-649-2901.

“Kindness is like snow. It beautifies everything it covers.” – Khalil Gibran

‘Miracle’ accessible baseball field due in spring

Local nonprofit Southwest Michigan Miracle League (SMML) hosted an event to celebrate the special baseball field that will help area kids with disabilities enjoy America’s favorite pastime. SMML has been working to raise funds to build a custom-designed baseball field in southwest Michigan for kids with physical, visual and other disabilities. The Miracle Field is located near The Dome Sports Center at 12733 US-131 in Schoolcraft. A Miracle Field is a custom-designed baseball field with a cushioned, rubberized surface to help prevent injuries, wheelchair-accessible dugouts, and a flat playing surface to eliminate barriers to wheelchairs or visually impaired players. Community volunteers called “buddies” work with each Miracle League player, helping them enjoy the game, allowing players’ families to watch and cheer from the stands as their child plays. Jud Hoff, president of SMML, thanks donors and the community for making it possible to bring the dream of the Miracle League to southwest Michigan. “Unfortunately, due to COVID, we have to delay our official opening until the spring. But we didn’t want this major milestone to go by without thanking and acknowledging the many people and organizations who helped us get here.” The organization continues to raise funds to complete the field.