Community corner: Trees of Life, a local tradition

By Drew Johnson

You’ve seen the trees around Vicksburg, Schoolcraft, and Climax. They pop up towards the end of November and are filled with ornaments and names of loved ones — ornaments and names that represent a donation to South County Community Service’s annual Trees of Life campaign. But did you know that they also help support low-income families during the holidays and represent a lifeline for our neighbors who need help with food, housing, and transportation (and more) throughout the year?

I talked this month with Danna Downing, former executive director at SCCS, about the history of the fundraiser. It’s gone through a few changes — many more than I knew about — to get to where it is today. “A long time ago, real Christmas trees and lights were involved in Oswalt Park and in the community center,” Danna said. “But space and visibility were a challenge for fundraising. SCCS staff did some brainstorming and decided to try placing wooden trees on the outside walls of the agency and create handmade ornaments for community members to purchase.” Freestanding trees came after that, which allowed us to place trees in Schoolcraft and Climax — areas that we provide services for but don’t have as much of a physical presence.

Danna also told me about how the holiday traditions we put on for our families began: “At that same time, staff and volunteers committed to surveying holiday recipients to get their input about what could be done to better meet a family’s unique needs for a successful holiday season. As a result, changes and additions were made based on feedback from SCCS families. The end goal was to make the holidays more enjoyable and relaxed for donors and recipients alike.” Using that survey data, Danna and her team went to work building holiday programming that continues to this day — we continue to separate parties by age group (families and senior), allow families to meet the people sponsoring their kids for gifting, and respect the privacy of everyone involved. “We wanted to make it like a real Christmas that they were in charge of,” Danna said, “and we wanted to make it more family-like.”

This year Trees of Life continues to evolve. We’ll have trees at the Vicksburg High School, Vicksburg Train Depot, Schoolcraft Ladies Library Association, Lawrence Memorial Library in Climax, and will add for the first time a special Business Sponsor Tree outside of our building at 606 North Spruce Street in Vicksburg. The Lawrence Memorial Library will also host our “kickoff event” — feel free to stop in on December 7 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. where I’ll be taking donations, answering questions, and talking about SCCS and what we do in the community!

When I asked Danna why Trees of Life is so popular, she said that from a practical perspective it’s a great gift for far-flung families — many of our donations come from people who want to give gifts in honor of someone and want to be able to show the recipient what good work comes from their present. She also said that it “demonstrates the spirit of the holidays.”
I couldn’t agree more.

Drew Johnson lives in Kalamazoo and is the Director at South County Community Services. He has a small quarter acre homestead with chickens, bees, and hops (and more!), a wonderful wife, and three energetic children. He can be reached at 649-2901 or

For more information on South County Community Services, please check out our Facebook page at or visit

Fall Bike Celebration Weekend coming Sept. 16-18

By Paul Selden

The 4th annual Fall Bike Celebration Weekend September 16-18 offers a 7-plus-route cycling event, a kid’s Bike Rodeo, a Farmers Market Cycle-In event, guided tours of the Vicksburg Historic Village, plus fascinating live and online presentations.

The weekend also highlights attractions in and around the charming village of Vicksburg and southwest Michigan and raises awareness of the need to bike safely as the hours of darkness increase during the fall. For full details, see

Three new events are planned for Friday Sept. 16. The first 30 bicyclists to ride their bikes to the Vicksburg Farmers Market can receive a $5 coupon good for purchases at the market. Another new offering allows the public and area school groups to schedule guided tours of the adjacent Vicksburg Historic Village. That Friday afternoon a webinar will cover the City of Kalamazoo’s innovative Streets Design Manual, illustrating plans for how roadways and adjacent rights-of-way can accommodate non-motorists and motorists alike.

Also new for 2022, a free Bike Rodeo for children from the entire area is planned for the morning of Saturday Sept. 17, courtesy of Vicksburg Community Schools. This new event aims to teach and encourage kids to ride bikes safely on a closed course set up with fun and realistic educational challenges. The rodeo will include a helmet check, a bike mechanical check, and a chance to have fun and exercise while learning rules of the road. Saturday afternoon features two guided tours of the Vicksburg Historic Village, a bicycle mural exhibit at the Prairie Ronde Art Gallery and an Ice Cream Social at Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor for pre-registered riders.

On Sunday Sept. 18 the Bike Celebration Bike Tour will offer routes that take cyclists back in time, starting and ending at the lovingly restored Vicksburg Historic Village while featuring views of Vicksburg Quilt Trail paintings. Cyclists can pick from scenic destinations all the way to Shipshewana, Ind., over Michigan’s longest covered bridge, along the Vicksburg Quilt Trail, visiting Scotts Mill Park, through the village of Climax, as well as more bite-sized family-friendly routes.

Bill Adams, former Vicksburg village president and honorary event co-chair, said, “Vicksburg welcomes bicyclists and encourages everyone from the region to enjoy the Fall Bike Celebration. We are grateful for the support of the generous sponsors and wonderful in-kind supporters who make this fantastic fall bicycle festival possible.”

The weekend-long event is organized by civic leaders, local charities and bike-related organizations, packing the weekend with dozens of reasons to ride, showcase local amenities, provide ways to support bicycling, emphasize the need for motorist and bicyclist safety and have fun. Some activities are free, some require waivers and some may require children to be accompanied by an adult. The latest updates can be found at

“This year the Fall Bike Celebration will be more exciting and enjoyable than ever,” said Bike Friendly Kalamazoo President Paul Selden. “We welcome everyone to enjoy the entire weekend at any level — bicycling or virtual.”

Bike Friendly Kalamazoo (BFK) is a Michigan non-profit organization with a mission to help make our greater community even more bicycle-friendly. Its programs include funding the All Kids Bike Kindergarten PE program, public murals, grants and scholarships to support bicycle/motorist safety, education and infrastructure, all while fostering collaboration among local leaders and organizations to improve the quality of life. For more information and downloads of our fantastic, artist-designed posters, please see

Vicksburg soccer crushes Niles on senior night

Vicksburg’s soccer team celebrating on senior night. Photo by Kris DeVries.

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg varsity girls’ soccer team only needed one half to beat the Niles Vikings 8-0 on senior night, and they did it without their goalie touching the ball once through the whole contest.

The Vikings only got past midfield three or four times the whole game as the Bulldogs dominated with ball control and continuous, unrelenting pressure on the net. Cate Curtis opened the scoring for Vicksburg after a nice pass from Bella Hillard. It wasn’t long after that before Hillard scored a goal of her own, lofting a perfect shot into the top left corner of the net where the goalie couldn’t reach it.

Malorie Heflin was the next Bulldog to score with an assist from Madison Ames. Vicksburg went up 3-0. The one consistent throughout the night was the excellent teamwork.

“They did good. My starters were passing the ball today, I was really pleased with that,” Head Coach Lahou Boulnemour said. “We have three or four really good players, and they were dominating the whole game, basically.”

One of those players was Curtis, as she managed a hat trick with the next two Vicksburg goals, both coming on assists from Hillard. Curtis’ third goal of the night came from a perfectly placed corner kick that she blasted into the back of the net past the goalie before the ball could ever touch the ground.

The last two goals of the night were scored by Rebecca Amabili, on a wild scrum near the front of the net, and by Emily Ouding. Her game-ending eighth goal of the contest came with about three minutes left in the half. Officials decided to run the half out before calling the mercy rule. The Bulldogs nearly put another goal or two in the net before the game finished.

“Niles, they’re pretty young. They’re like us, they’re rebuilding,” Boulnemour said.

Because the game ended early, the team celebrated senior night for Amabili, Curtis, and Madison Foster at the end of the game. The Bulldogs are set to face the Vikings again in District play. They finished the regular season with a 6-9-3 record, ending with a 5-1 win over Three Rivers. After a slow 0-5-3 start to the season, the girls picked up wins over Edwardsburg, Allegan, Sturgis and Otsego in the second half of the season.

With Vicksburg losing just three seniors this season, the rest of the squad is composed mostly of freshman and sophomores, giving the team lots of room to grow in the coming seasons.

“Our team is coming along. They’re still a young team and they’ve got a long ways to go, but they surprised me, they really did,” Boulnemour said. “Our players today wanted this game and we’re going to get ready for the districts now.”