Category Archives: Community

Memorial Day Observances in the Area

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Vicksburg Pack 251 Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts march down Vicksburg’s Main Street in the 2018 Memorial Day parade.

By Sue Moore

Memorial Day, observed Monday, May 27, is a time to remember those who fought and died for our nation with ceremonies and a parade. Vicksburg kicks off its parade at 10 a.m., Schoolcraft at 10:30 and Fulton at 12:30 p.m.

The Vicksburg high school band will lead the parade with the Boy Scouts, the high school equestrian team, fire trucks and children decorating their bikes in red, white and blue. Each observance will have a featured speaker. In Vicksburg it will be Jim Hamrick, the quartermaster from the of the Charles Osborne 5189 Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Anyone who would like to join the parade should meet at Vicksburg Middle School at 9:45 a.m.

Fulton’s parade draws the largest crowd with fire trucks from many departments and lots of kids participating. The American Legion Wally Coon Post 475 will lead the Schoolcraft parade and ceremony.

Another group, the Blue Star Mothers of America, has a mission to remember today’s servicemen and women. It has a chapter in Kalamazoo that includes mothers from all over southwest Michigan. Its purpose is to send care packages as often as possible to the troops, Trudy Johnson told the Vicksburg Rotary Club in April. “We want to be a support group for those in the service of our country.”

“Our biggest joy is getting told by a soldier that he or she appreciated our specialty packages. It came at a good time,” they will tell Johnson. They love to receive gum, beef jerky, tuna packets, diaper wipes, Oreo cookies and homemade pillow cases, she said. This is the group’s major project. It depends entirely on donations for food and mailing costs.

“As mothers of service people, we want to give back to our community and support each other, perhaps with a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. You have a different feeling if your child is putting him or herself out there,” Johnson said.

“It’s a little bit of love coming from home but it helps us to be notified of who needs help,” Johnson said. The Blue Star Mothers is a nationwide organization and has chapters such as the one in Kalamazoo. Johnson is from Paw Paw and hopes to recruit other mothers from the Vicksburg and Schoolcraft area. She may be contacted at or at 269-343-4540.

Tradition Ended with Last Senior Girls Tea at LLA

By Sue Moore

For 90 years the Vicksburg Ladies Library Auxiliary has invited the girls from the high school senior class to a tea at the library. Sadly, the tea will not go on for another 90. Officers of the association have decided it might not be as relevant anymore.

“There are so many events going on at this time of the year in seniors lives,” Sue Opalewski said. “We’ve had trouble scheduling the tea the last few years, plus it takes the young women out of school just when they most need to be present to finish up graduation requirements. There were 55 out of the 80 senior girls in attendance.”

The speaker for the day, Kenzie Pridgion, ended the tradition with words of wisdom culled from her own experiences growing up in Schoolcraft and becoming an aviator. “The race is long and in the end it’s only with yourself. Oh, and don’t forget to wear sunglasses!”

After graduating from Schoolcraft High School in 1999, Pridgion headed to Western Michigan University where she said she majored in “socialization” her first two years while still wanting to be an aviator. After she got serious about her major and graduated, she became a flight instructor, then took a job with a regional airline, Com Air, based at JFK airport in New York. “Commuting was hard but the flight benefits outweighed it as I got to travel the world,” she said. Then she was furloughed and had to cast about for the next job. She decided upon the military. The competition was highly competitive and challenging in the Michigan Air National Guard where she flew a C-47.

She now is flying for Stryker Corporation, one of its 10 pilots and its first female pilot. She is still training students on the MQ9 remotely-piloted aircraft in Battle Creek for the Air National Guard, which Stryker supports, she said.

“Don’t expect things to be handed to you. College doesn’t define you, it shapes you personally. You don’t always have to be the best, but you have to give your best,” she cautioned the audience. “Attitude and desire will carry you a long way.”

Michelle DeGroote New LMCU Mortgage Loan Originator

Michelle DeGroote
Michelle DeGroote.

By Emily Kraft

Lake Michigan Credit Union (LMCU) is pleased to announce the promotion of Michelle DeGroote to its team as a mortgage loan originator from its Schoolcraft home mortgage office. She reports directly to Kelli DeWitt, LMCU’s Vice President for Regional Mortgage Production. She will be serving the southwest Michigan area.

DeGroote graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Design and Merchandising from Louisiana Lafayette University and earned her master’s degree from Indiana State University. She was originally hired in at LMCU as a Loan Officer Assistant and has over 18 years of experience specializing in construction loans.

“We are privileged to have Michelle on our team,” DeWitt said. “Her knowledge of the mortgage and construction industry, attention to detail, and communication skills leave our members, Realtors and builders with a positive, lasting impression.”

DeGroote said, “I chose LMCU because they offer the best rates. I genuinely care about my clients, and it means a lot to know that I’m getting them the best possible value for their mortgage.”

When she’s not in the office, Michelle enjoys coaching and spending time with her husband, three boys, and their family dog, Lulu.

DeGroote grew up in Kalamazoo and currently lives in Schoolcraft.

Girl Scout Cookies Donated to Local Kids

girl scout cookiesGirls from Scout Troop 80826 in Schoolcraft regifted boxes of cookies that customers bought and gave back to the girls. The 15 boxes of cookies, worth $75, came from the 2018-19 cookie season. The girls donated the cookies to the Eagles Nest Food Pantry and the teachers and staff at Schoolcraft Elementary School. The girls decided those were the two places they wanted their troop’s donated cookies to go to this year, said their leader, Nikki Hulinek. While at the Eagles Nest, the girls helped pack Friday snack packs for local kids. Shown in the photo, from left, are Kennedy Beaghan, Aubrey Tuesley, Lucy Spell, Dilynn Burson, Andersen Brown, Lula Stull and Jackie Hulinek.

Local Volunteers Reach Out to Ministry with Community

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Bill Oswalt, Maureen Dobbie, Mike Hardy, Kaye Bennett and Jean Philport help serve lunch at Ministry with Community honoring Chuck Corella.

When Vicksburg resident Kathy Corella wanted to honor the memory of her husband, Chuck, who had died in 2009, she decided to sponsor a lunch at Ministry with Community (MwC), a daytime shelter and resource center in Kalamazoo.

Since the date she chose to sponsor that lunch was a Thursday, much of the volunteer crew serving it was also made up of Vicksburg residents, including Bill Oswalt, Jean Philport, Maureen Dobbie, Mike Hardy and Kaye Bennett, a large part of MwC’s lunch volunteers known as the Thursday Group. (Other Vicksburg people, like Dee Dee Hoy and Jim and Madonna Nimmo, volunteer on other days.) On Thursday, April 11, Corella’s donation and the Thursday Group’s toil served a three-course fried chicken dinner to 245 members.

Members is the term MwC uses to refer to the people they serve, upwards of 2,500 individuals a year, who are struggling with challenges such as homelessness, poverty and mental illness. The organization provides breakfast and lunch every day of the year, and offers daytime shelter and services such as laundry, showers and phone access. Staff social workers help members with issues ranging from domestic violence to obtaining birth certificates and ID.

The staff of Ministry with Community could not do all it does without volunteers and community support. That’s where South County people like Corella and the lunch volunteers come in.

“Chuck used to talk to homeless people to find out their pressing needs,” Kathy Corella says. Then he’d go shopping and deliver the purchases to people living on the streets. Supporting Ministry with Community in his name was a natural step. Like Corella, many people sponsor a meal at MwC to remember a loved one; others do it to thank someone or to celebrate a milestone. A $300 gift provides a full lunch that day; the daily lunch count is usually between 200 and 250 people. For more details on meal sponsorship, call Janet Karpus at 269-343-6073, ext. 138, or email

Once you’ve got the meal ready to serve, you need people to plate it and deliver it, family style, to diners. That’s where volunteers like Bill Oswalt come in. Not long after Oswalt’s wife, Pat, died, in 2015, he agreed to ride along with other Vicksburg friends for their weekly trip to MwC. He found that he really enjoyed the work. “There’s obviously a need,” Oswalt says, “and it’s good to be a part of meeting that need.” Like others from Vicksburg who volunteer at MwC, Oswalt has a long history of community involvement in South County. Among his many activities, Oswalt is a trustee of the Vicksburg Foundation, where he’s been on the Board for 40 years and was president for 29.

Dobbie, too, is a long-time Vicksburg volunteer, with involvement in Generous Hands, South County Community Services, the community gardens and more. She’s been a Ministry with Community volunteer for more than a dozen years, providing services to members including chair massages and foot and nail care. She says she keeps coming back to MwC “because of the wonderful people there – staff and members.” Then she adds, “But I receive so much in return.”

Serving lunch is not the only way volunteers contribute to Ministry with Community. A wide variety of volunteer opportunities is available, ranging from stocking and sorting donated items or wrapping silverware, to leading art and activities groups, providing music during the lunch hour, gleaning (picking up food donations from local restaurants and grocery stores), and working the front desk. For information on how you might help, either as an individual or as part of a group, call Megan Stull at 269-343-6073, ext. 134, or email

Avink Funeral Home Purchased by McCowen & Secord

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Tim Secord on the left and Steve and Jenny McCowen on the right are the proud new owners of the Avink Funeral Home in Schoolcraft.

By Sue Moore

A year ago, Steve McCowen and partner Tim Secord and their families purchased Vicksburg and Portage funeral homes from Marilyn Durham and her family. In mid-March, the partners made another big move, purchasing the Avink Funeral Home & Cremation Society in Schoolcraft.

“We plan to be very active in the Schoolcraft community,” McCowen said. “We want to give families a funeral home with full-service capabilities. John and Liz Avink were pioneers in adopting the Cremation Society and we will continue that as well as providing options to meet the needs of any family who comes to us.”

The partners also own the Marshall & Gren Chapel in Plainwell. “For many folks, Avink’s means fair and affordable, and for that reason we plan to keep the name of the business the same. People will say they don’t want anything, and our job is to find out what that means to them,” said McCowen. “People have services all the time without it being at the funeral home.

“It’s about honoring the life and meeting the needs of the family. We can provide both right here in this building at 129 S. Grand Street in Schoolcraft or find the right location to meet their needs and size of the event. We have many partners in the community to help with larger events.

“For years the funeral home was the family home of the Avinks and really didn’t have business hours where you know you could stop and visit with someone about your wishes. Now it will be open and staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. where we can meet to make plans with family members. We will write the obituaries with help from the family, take care of the many details such as pre-planning, social security and veterans’ benefits.”

Cremation has been the most used option for a family using Avink’s services in the past. At the other three locations run by McCowen and Secord, cremation is utilized about 50 percent of the time, Secord said. “When most people come in for a visitation they are rather guarded,” McCowen said. “They are truly out of their comfort zone. We tell them that just being there is what matters. The majority who attend don’t know the deceased very well, they come for the relatives. For us, it’s part of being a small-town funeral director and serving your community and their needs.”

Secord began his career in the funeral business after stints as a firefighter, minister, author and speaker. He lives in Otsego with his wife, who is a schoolteacher. They have two children. His mother lived at Barton Lake near Vicksburg and his sister Terri Secord teaches at Vicksburg High School. His real calling in life has turned out to be serving people in the time of their greatest loss, he said.

McCowen became part of a blended family when he married Jenny McKillop last year. Together they have five children and live in Schoolcraft. Jenny’s son attends Portage Central and daughter attends Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Steve’s two sons are at Vicksburg High School, while daughter Mackenzie attends Western Michigan University. Since coming to Vicksburg 16 years ago, McCowen has been very active in the community, participating with the DDA, the Chamber, the School Foundation and sports programs.

Together the partnership employs four full time people and two apprentices working to become funeral directors. They also employ around 20 part-time staff to be used for funeral services. They have purchased a new hearse to be used at any of their four locations.

“We like to have local members of the community be a part of our operation as we believe it’s better when someone is grieving to be comforted by someone they might know. All of our family members help out when needed,” McCowen pointed out.

Event Calendar


5/4 – Sat. Vicksburg Community Education Dance Recital at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center. Performances at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

5/11 – Sat. The Hearty Hustle starting at the Vicksburg Bulldog Stadium. Tickets $20 if registered in advance, $30 the day of the race. Registration ends May 10. Register at

5/11 – Sat. Highview Shores Neighborhood garage sales, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Take Sprinkle Rd. to E. UV Ave, Go East on E. UV Ave to Highview Shores.

5/11 – Sat. Horticulture Student Plant Sale, VHS Greenhouse, Saturday May 11, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

5/10 & 5/11 – Neighborhood Garage sale at Greensborough’s Angels Crossing off W Ave., 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

5/17, 18, & 19 – Fri., Sat., & Sun. Vicksburg High School Cabaret in the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center. 6:30 p.m. on Friday – Saturday, 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

5/17 – Fri. Vicksburg Farmer’s Market Opening Day at the pavilion. From 2 – 6 p.m.

5/17 – Victorian Garden Club plant sale at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market, 2 – 6 p.m.

5/18 – Sat. May Meander opening day at the Vicksburg Historic Village from 4 – 7 p.m. lots of community vendors with buildings open to the public. Speaker at 5 p.m. as part of History Day with Middle School students competing in the afternoon.

5/18 – Fri. Movie Showing: Three Coins In The Fountain at the Vicksburg District Library. 1 p.m.

5/18 – Sat. Village Clean-Up 7 a.m.

5/23 – Thurs. Senior Honors Reception sponsored by Lions and Rotary Clubs, 7 p.m.

5/26 – Sun. Gospel Concert with the Dunnemans at Kline’s Resort. Outdoor concert, bring lawn chairs and finger food to share. 6:30 p.m.

5/27 – Mon. Pancake Breakfast at Kline’s Resort from 8 to 10 a.m.

5/27 – Mon. Memorial Day Parade in downtown Vicksburg. Begins 10 a.m.

6/2 – Sun. Vicksburg High School Graduation in the Bulldog Stadium. Begins 2 p.m.


5/1 – Wed. Spring Student Art Open House, 5:30. Meet the Schoolcraft high school and middle school art students. On display through May.

5/10 & 5/11 – Fri. & Sat. Friends of the Library Book and Bake Sale at the Schoolcraft Community Library. Shoppers can fill a provided bag with books for only $3, Friday, 9 – 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

5/10 – 5/11 Fri. & Sat. Village Wide Garage Sales 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

5/18 – Sat. Village Wide Clean-up 7 a.m.

5/20 – Tue. Tournament of Writers Awards Ceremony at the Schoolcraft Community Library. Begins at 6 p.m.

6/2 – Sun. 141st Commencement Exercises in the Schoolcraft High School Gymnasium. 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.


6/1 – Mattawan High School’s alumni dinner will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Later Elementary building. Guests can come in the door to the All-Purpose Room. Wheelchairs will be provided and a cart to collect potluck dishes will be ready. Two meats and scalloped potatoes and rolls will be provided. If you have things to share and want a reserved table contact Caroline Miller Wiley at or 269 808-3353.


6/2 – Sun. Graduation at Mendon High School. Begins 2 p.m.


5/4 – Sat. Spring Garage & Bake Sale at Scotts United Methodist Church. 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. 8458 Wallene St. All items newly donated.