Schoolcraft council discusses economic development

By Rob Peterson

While discussing goals for 2021, Schoolcraft village council member Mike Rochholz asked what the village can do to attract more businesses to the community.

Council members suggested tracking available properties, including their condition and rental rates, so that staff could assist potential business owners in their location search. While Village Manager Cheri Lutz does not have an inventory of properties, she indicated that she is generally the first point of contact for businesses who are considering a move to Schoolcraft.

County Commissioner John Gisler noted that Indiana had success in recruiting businesses by having an inventory of development-ready, pre-permitted industrial sites. Lutz answered that “the harsh reality” is that Schoolcraft will have a difficult time attracting manufacturing businesses without a sanitary sewer system.

The Council asked Lutz to set up a workshop so that they could discuss their goals for 2021, including a conversation about economic development efforts.

Even without the goals in place, the community is seeing growth. The Council approved a recommendation from the Planning Commission to allow medical offices at 403 and 413 North Grand. Both properties have been vacant for some time but will be filled when Michele Enright moves her occupational therapy business into the village from U Avenue.

Clark Logic, which owns several buildings in the village, is considering a project that will involve services to home schoolers and virtual students. The project will require a zoning change, which will go to the Planning Commission before it is considered by the Council.

While on the subject of zoning, the council was reminded that the Planning Commission will hear public comments on proposed zoning changes that will affect the entire village. The public is encouraged to attend the session, which will be held virtually Feb. 8..

In other business, the Council discussed the challenges of considering whether to hold the July 4 festivities this year. Not knowing what the future will hold, it is difficult to ask people to expend energy in planning an event that may or may not happen. No decision was made.

Council member Tod Carlin asked if a representative from the Michigan Department of Transportation could come to a future council meeting to discuss planned reconstruction of US-131 through the village. Lutz indicated that she would invite them when they are further along in their planning process.

She updated the council on the reconstruction project, indicating that the trenching of the highway will not open up an opportunity for installing a sewer main. Village President Keith Gunnett added, “I didn’t think we could put the pipes under a street made for heavy trucks anyway.”

Vicksburg woman lived an active life

By Rob Peterson

Nona Mattheis.

Nona Mattheis lived every moment of her 109 years. “She never let much grass grow under her feet,” said her youngest daughter, Margaret Miller of Schoolcraft.

The activity may have been a habit built from a young age, since she started working as a teenager to help support her father. She worked at Elam’s Stationery for a time, and then worked raising their family and tending to the animals on their 40-acre farm just south of Vicksburg. She sold the eggs from their chickens to make extra money while her husband, Vern, worked at the Lee Paper Company.

When Vern passed in 1965, she went to work at Arco in Schoolcraft. “She didn’t give up easily,” said Margaret.

She loved physical activity, starting with her teen years when she played basketball for Vicksburg and continuing until she was 100, when she finally stopped teaching line dancing. “She loved to dance,” said Margaret. “Every Saturday, she would drive the girls to the Helen Cover Center in Kalamazoo to dance. She enjoyed the heck out of it.”

Nona traveled frequently, taking trips that often included family. She took a train to Texas, and she took a camper to Alaska. She camped up and down the West Coast and watched whales off the East Coast. “She really loved to travel,” said her eldest daughter, Phyllis Barrett of Schoolcraft.

Her travels usually centered around her family, like her visits to her son while he served in the military or the annual family reunion at Round Lake.

One of her first trips, appropriately enough for someone so focused on her family, was to elope with Vern Mattheis to LaGrange in 1932, not long after they were set up on a blind date. They raised four children in Vicksburg and remained together until Vern passed away.

Her active life also included many acts of service, first to her family and then to her community. Much of that service involved food. “She was an excellent cook,” said Margaret. “She could cook just about anything. I loved her potatoes and dumpling soup that she would make on Saturdays.”

She brought enough food to the annual family reunion to feed everyone there, and she would feed the men who came to thresh wheat on their farm every year. She spent 21 years delivering food for Meals on Wheels, making a record number of deliveries. “She enjoyed being around people and doing things to help them,” said Margaret.

Her community service also included her involvement at Vicksburg United Methodist Church, the Vicksburg Community Center, the Eagles Lodge and the Rebekah Lodge, where she served as the Noble Grand.

She kept friends and family close her entire life. “I don’t think I ever saw her get mad or lose her patience,” said Phyllis.

Thanks to her active lifestyle, her independent nature, and her large support network, she was able to stay in her Vicksburg apartment until she was 104 years old. “Everyone kept an eye on her,” said Margaret, “but she was never under their thumb.”

She will be missed, but “We were blessed to have her for so long,” said Margaret.

Cottage care: love over logic

An old cabin on our property’s shoreline.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

For a week or so each summer, we are lucky enough to have a place to go to beat the heat and get away. It has always been the highlight of our family’s year.

When we were kids, the station wagon strained with the five of us children, a grandmother, two dogs, sleeping bags, fishing gear, and all kinds of caged energy and excitement. Once my dad’s tanned arm draped the driver’s side door, my mom’s sunglasses adorned her face, and we had wiggled into our places, we launched, listening to Ernie Harwell or the gravely voice of Merle Haggard. Inching along, we left the humid world of corn fields and wheat stubble; just past Mt. Pleasant, the air began to thin and the lovely smell of northern pine forests began.

Our old log cabin sits on a river and protected sandy bay on the Lake Superior Canadian shore. Our maternal grandparents purchased the vacant property in the late 1930s, and our families have enjoyed it ever since.

Currently, many third- and fourth-generation cottage owners struggle to maintain, finance, and agree on what to do with older aging properties. So far, the nine families involved have worked things out pretty well, but caring for an aging vacation home is an exercise in love, not logic.

Our grandchildren are the fourth generation of young ones whose lips turn blue in the clear, icy water, whose little eyes faithfully watch their bobbers, whose necks are lined with black fly and mosquito bites. I realize how fortunate we are.

Yes, times have changed. On many lakes in South County, cottages have been sold, demolished, and replaced with gorgeous year-round-homes. The modest vacation dwellings that remain look out of place, hidden in the shadows of their fine, fresh neighbors.

It’s hard to imagine a new place. Would I miss the mustiness? The brown bats that flutter in the rafters? The snap of the mousetraps once lights are out?

Absolutely not.

But I would miss the wash tubs nailed on the sagging exterior, the familiar creak of the steps and floorboards, the sweet smell of my grandmother’s spices in the old kitchen cupboard.

Family cottages are a nostalgic journey through the years: the cast-off dishes and jigsaw puzzles, the old record players and scratched vinyl. All reminders of our history.

At the cabin, I feel a connectedness to the past and an appreciation for the dear ones no longer here: My dad and grandfather’s favorite chair sits in the shady window, my uncle’s tools hang in the boathouse, my grandmother’s bread pans wait on a shelf.

We will miss the old place this year, but she will welcome our return next summer after we tame this pandemic.

And the discussions and plans for our family place will continue.

At least for now.

It’s a Fine Life.

On the Corner

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Summer

This summer was certainly unlike any summer we remember: the cancellation of the 4th of July parade and fireworks, the postponement and eventual cancellation of the Old Car Festival.

We are saddened by this loss of normalcy, but some things stay the same: the fireflies dancing during the July nights; the smiles of children as they hold their dripping ice cream cones; the produce proudly displayed at farmers’ markets and roadside stands. I hope we can all enjoy the seasonal bounty and beauty Michigan has to offer, despite the challenges we are currently facing.

Our Appreciation

Thank you, readers, for your response to our semi-annual fund drive and request for your continued financial support. We are grateful for your generous contributions which make possible this publication.

Thanks, also, for the emails we have received with story ideas or kind supporting words. The South County News team is navigating a new course without our Sue, and we all appreciate your patience as we lift some these new sails and gradually gain some speed and confidence.

Schoolcraft Visit

On a mid-July afternoon, I spent several lovely hours with “Sue’s Women” – formerly known as “The Wild Women of Schoolcraft.” I sat with this wonderful gift of new friends in the Bergland family’s gardens; the dappled shade and the light breeze was so kind, as was the conversation and fellowship. I continue to be thankful for the gracious people who occupy our part of the county.

Fire Truck Parade

On the 4th of July, the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority vehicle parade honored our communities. Starting in Schoolcraft at 2 p.m., the procession began, proceeded to Vicksburg, then Fulton. With lights and sirens going, drivers and passengers waved at many smiling, surprised residents. Thanks to all who made this possible!

Craig Rolfe’s Tribute

Craig Rolfe sent a lovely note about Sue. (The letter in its entirety appears on our South County News website.) His words continue the praise of this remarkable woman. Thank you, Craig.
Enjoy the beauty of late summer and the anticipation of fall.

How to Help? Eimo Knows

By Gary Hallam, general manager of the Eimo plants in Vicksburg

On Saturday, April 4, I was having a conversation with Hiro Uenishi, CEO of Nissha USA, and he mentioned that it would be a great if Eimo could get involved with helping with the local pandemic response. I immediately sent an email to the Eimo Leadership Team titled “How to help,” asking if anyone had any ideas.

Jim Williams, manager at Eimo Tooling and Technology Center, came back with what looked like a winning idea. Jim is also an instructor at the local community college (KVCC) and he knew that they were already 3-D printing headbands for a face shield and developing a respirator mask. The idea would be for Eimo to mass produce these by quickly making production tooling. We could take this project from prototype stage to mass production in one week. Timing was everything as cases in Michigan were spiking at that time and personal protective equipment (PPE) was a scarcity for local institutions. Jim met with KVCC the morning of 4/6 and by that afternoon the project was a “go”.

Using materials which were already available, the TTC constructed forming and injection tools in five days. On 4/13, our engineering team of Keith Holladay, Jerry Pardeik and Kevin Bell were developing processes for injection molding, vacuum forming, and laser cutting these products. The respirator mask is being formed from Nissha piano black Type P film. Eimo made our first shipment to KVCC on 4/14 and they in turn made their first delivery to Senior Living Centers on 4/17. The production rate has been maintained – 150 face shields and 300 respirators per day.

Eimo has been at work the past six weeks since the state of Michigan stay at home Executive Order. Eimo has been named as an “essential supplier” by over 30 of our critical infrastructure customers.

The East Plant in the Leja Industrial park has been working at almost two thirds of normal capacity supporting primarily two large local medical customers. The Portage Road plant has been running around a third of normal capacity primarily supporting a large defense contract and a couple of smaller medical customers.

The Tech Center on Portage road is operating at about half of normal capacity, primarily supporting the PPE project with KVCC.

It’s definitely a new world. Everyone must wear a face covering and strictly adhere to social distancing which required reconfiguring some workstations. In total, around half of Eimo’s 300 employees remain on the job and we hope to be calling those on temporary furlough back to work as customer demand starts to increase.

At one point we needed to decide if there was a business case to produce items for COVID-19 work, to help increase our revenue, or if this was purely a philanthropic effort.

It was the latter.

But the only cost to Eimo was the time and talent of our staff and we are so proud of their heroic efforts.

Ibison Family Manages through the Crisis

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Russ and Misty Ibison with their son, Carter, stand in front of their food stand in the parking lot of the BP gas station at the corner of Sprinkle Road and V Ave.

By Rob Peterson

Ibison Concession & Catering would normally be preparing to take one of its concession food trailers to Thunder Over Louisville right now. A major event that leads up to the Kentucky Derby, it’s been moved to Aug. 15.

Due to the COVID-19 quarantine, however, the Ibison family of rural Vicksburg has had to adapt to keep themselves afloat right here at home.

They decided to think outside the box and start selling their fare – elephant ears, corn dogs, hand-squeezed lemonade – at their Brady Township home for a three-day trial. “The community response was wonderful” says Misty Ibison, who is half of the husband and wife team that runs the business. “During the first weekend, people were waiting four hours to be served. We stayed open until 10:35 that night so that we didn’t have to turn anyone away.”

It was a long day for the Ibison family, who started preparing well before they opened at 11 a.m. After seeing the turnout, the Ibisons decided to open daily. It went well until Brady Township needed to shut them down because their home is zoned for residential use. The township supervisor, however, informed them that they could continue to operate on a commercially-zoned property.

“I contacted the owner of the BP gas station (at the corner of Sprinkle and V Avenue), who lives in Chicago, and he graciously allowed us to rent the parking lot, at least through the end of May.”

It’s been a good move for the Ibisons, who have seen a significant number of new customers due to the more visible location. “We’re still doing quite a bit of business, but thanks to our longer hours, the wait is shorter,” says Ibison. Their new hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. This gives them three days each week to help their 8-year-old son with his homework from Indian Lake Elementary.

To keep them from working too hard, their neighbor has been bringing them meals. “It’s amazing to see people come together to support one another,” says Ibison. They are returning that support by serving medical staff and first responders for free.

Hard work comes naturally for the Ibisons. Misty’s husband, Russ, began making elephant ears 27 years ago at 14. Their offerings expanded over the years, and today they have a half-dozen concession trailers, each offering a unique menu.

To keep her staff and customers safe, they are going above and beyond their already rigid cleaning schedule, which includes using a disinfecting spray and washing their hands regularly. The business is staffed by two families from the same household, so contact with each other isn’t a concern for them. To avoid direct customer contact, they are only taking credit card payments and they slide orders to customers across a 6-foot table. They can be reached at 269-806-5549.

This lack of direct customer contact may have its costs, says Ibison. “I’m really worried about how this will affect the way we react to one another.”

That’s not the only worry on her mind, however; the festivals that they normally participate in have been canceled through June, and even some of the July festivals are shutting down. “We would rather not be on the front lines, but we need to provide for our family,” says Ibison. She has spent hours on the unemployment website, but support for those who are self-employed is not yet available.

“I’m concerned that it will take longer than anticipated for us to get through this,” she says. “I’m hoping we will have answers soon so that we know how we will need to adapt to the new normal.”

Fulton Little Store Keeps on Humming

mendocha 2
Janet Mendocha welcome customers to the Fulton Little Store.

By Jef Rietsma

From newfound gratitude toward healthcare workers to heartfelt thanks for essential workers everywhere, the coronavirus has sparked its share of positives.

In the small community of Fulton, Janet Mendocha has an uplifting anecdote of her own to share.

“People are going out of their way to come in and patronize our business,” said Mendocha, owner of the Fulton Little Store. “Rather than going to Vicksburg or into Meijer, they’ll come here instead and people have told me they appreciate having us here, they want to see us succeed. You can’t imagine how good that makes us feel to have that support!”

Mendocha said she knows a lot of people taking advantage of their downtime and tackling odd jobs around the house. Between caring for her cancer-stricken husband and running the kitchen area in the store, Mendocha said she doesn’t have that same luxury of time.

Staying safe and not wanting to bring home potentially harmful germs, Mendocha said the kitchen has been a good, isolated place for her to work when she’s on duty. Meanwhile, she said it’s been impressive to see most customers respecting the six-foot buffer between each other, and everyone respecting the health and wellness of others.

That’s a peculiar habit customers are developing. It could very well be a result of the fear of contamination, though Mendocha optimistically prefers to think it’s a gesture of goodwill.

“More people than I’ve ever seen are telling us to just keep the change, they don’t want it back,” she said. “So, we just keep it all there on the counter and if someone comes in and they’re short a little bit, no problem, we’ve got them covered. That’s what I love about being in a small town.”

Mendocha said one thing troubling her is the disregard protesters are showing for the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. She said the disobedience undermines the work being done by healthcare professionals and potentially puts their family members at risk.
Mendocha, who said Fulton Little Store has four employees, added that her 17-year-old son was crushed when Vicksburg High School had to postpone or cancel its spring performance, “Holiday Inn.”

“He had been rehearsing jump rope and tap dancing, and he still rehearses, hoping they’ll put on the production when school resumes,” she said. “He loves school anyhow and he has been absolutely devastated through all this.”

Local Mask Makers Do Their Part for Healthcare Workers

By Sue Moore

Have sewing machine, will work to make masks!

It didn’t take long for local seamstresses to volunteer their skills to make masks protecting Kalamazoo County health care workers. Here’s how a couple of people got started.

Sue Opalewski of rural Vicksburg found a mask pattern on a web site, printed it, then ordered elastic and flannel for the inside when it was still possible to pick up materials at the store. She was able to secure 10 yards of flannel in Battle Creek, then cut it into 6×9-inch pieces, which netted 280 mask backings. Then she went into her own stash of fabric and cut the outside pieces. She ordered elastic online, 289 yards of it; now it’s almost impossible to find elastic anywhere. She has made 536 masks thus far and has joined with nine others from her church, St. Edwards in Mendon, who are now making them. They would love to get together for a sewing bee but that is not possible under present “stay home, stay safe” rules.

One parishioner is a pharmacist at Bronson who took them to work to distribute. Another is a nurse at Borgess; she sent some there. If they don’t have N-95 masks available, they are just using anything they could get their hands on, Opalewski said.

Having turned out 536 so far, she will keep making them as long as the elastic holds out. At first it took her about 15 minutes to make one at a time. She told herself this was silly, so she ganged them up in a production line. Now she figures it takes maybe 10-12 minutes per mask.

It takes 14 inches of elastic for each mask. They can be washed. She has made them for friends and family too and wears one of her own creations when she goes out. Working from scraps, some masks are just basic and some are pretty. Some she makes for guys have stripes because she knows they don’t want to wear flowers on their face.

Marti Moore of Vicksburg is another production-line mask maker. “I really don’t pay attention to how much time it takes me for each mask because I do them in batches, meaning I usually start cutting enough elastic for a large group and continue by cutting out at least 25 or more masks from the material each time,” she said. “Then I sew the center seam on all of them, then start making each mask separately. So it’s kind of like a production line for my process.”

She has finished over 425 and had Christine Butcher take the first batch to Bronson. Since then, Ellyn Curtis from Vicksburg takes them in. She’s a nurse in the emergency unit at Bronson.

They use them for hospital staff and also patients that are coming into the emergency rooms.

Sue Hunt is close to making 40 masks. Kathy Corella made a bunch and both sent them to Bronson Hospital with Hunt’s granddaughter, Heidi Furney, who is an ER nurse there.

Nurses Combine to Help Each Other with Mask Making

carol berger
Carol Berger holds a box of masks that she has made before she sent them to the Hospice center.

By Deb Christiansen

During this time, what do you do when your healthcare company, Elara Caring Hospice, is last in line to receive PPE – personal protective equipment?

Find a friend who can sew, figured Deb Bender, RN.

This is the call that came into Carol Berger, a retired RN, in Schoolcraft. “When my friend asked me,” Berger said, “I couldn’t turn her down. Nursing is in my DNA. I couldn’t turn down a call for help.” So Carol, along with husband, Doug, and many donations of materials from neighbors and friends, began crafting masks. Lots of them, 650 in all, went to her friend’s company. “The effort gained momentum and I felt as though I couldn’t stop,” Berger said.

“Bender would come pick the masks up. None of this would have happened had she not been the impetus in this dilemma. She is a clinical manager there. We have been friends since freshman year at Nazareth College. She brought the masks to her office, then management would distribute. Nurses and aides, office staff, clergy and social workers are all wearing them. She is the one that brought me needed supplies in the beginning and taught me how to use the mask pattern. I feel she deserves a lot of the credit,” Berger said.

To date, over 900 masks have been made. The endeavor has also resulted in paid work. “My neighbor got me a paid gig,” Berger said. “I wasn’t looking for it, but now the demand is high and the materials are scarce, especially elastic.”

Berger was asked what it’s like staying at home and working with her husband. “Doug is a freelance graphic designer who was already working from home. He has been incredibly generous with his time by showing up at the sewing room once his projects are done.

“There have been some ‘workplace disputes’ in the sewing room, mostly about which music to listen to next. It has playfully tested our listening skills and patience, but all and all it’s been a very positive experience.”

The mask making has kept Berger from some of the household projects that others of us now have the time for, such as spring cleaning. “There are so many other household things I could be doing, but this mission takes precedence,” Berger said. “Besides, it keeps me from worrying about my fellow healthcare professionals and all the other worries about this time.”

It remains to be seen whether the Bergers will continue their mask project once the state opens back up, but there is no doubt it is one of the bright spots of the lock down. “I’ve seen an outpouring of generosity from neighbors,” Berger said. “I live in an awesome place.”

Yogi’s Owner Finds Plenty of Honey-do Tasks to Get Done

Greg HartBy Jef Rietsma

Greg Hart didn’t pause when asked what great discovery he has made during the quarantine from coronavirus.

“Sleep,” he said. “I’ve discovered I can sleep eight, some days even up to 10 hours at a time.”

Despite the pleasure derived from his newfound, long stretches of slumber, Hart said he would still rather be back where he is happiest and most comfortable. The owner of Yogi’s Restaurant, Hart said crazy as it sounds, being at work would bring him the most joy right now.

“We’ve gotta get our country back to work … if we go past May and things are then the way they are now, boy, as a country we would be in deep, deep trouble,” Hart said. “Things by that point could be beyond fixing.”

Hart, who said he stares daily at a stack of books he’d like to read but has yet to pick one up, said he has instead put a nice dent in a list of around-the-house tasks that had been long-neglected. During this interview, in fact, Hart was in the midst of changing the oil in his riding mower.

“My honey-do list is shrinking quickly,” he said. “I cleaned out and organized the garage – a task on my list for two years. It took two days to organize a tool chest, I have a garage in my basement that I organized and cleaned out, and I go to the restaurant every other day and do a project; I’ve cleaned out the walk-in freezer.”

Hart, a 40-year veteran of the restaurant industry, said the value of food that he ended up donating and throwing away was about $2,000. From the time restrictions are lifted, Hart said it will take a turnaround of between 36 and 48 hours to open the doors to Yogi’s again. He said that moment will feel like opening a new restaurant. “You’re starting with nothing … it’s like opening a brand-new restaurant,” Hart said.

More than two dozen people are on Yogi’s payroll, Hart said.