Category Archives: News

Doug Stafinski to Go on Talons Out Honor Flight

doug stafinski 2By Sue Moore

There were few honors for Vietnam veterans after that war ended.

Talons Out Honor flights, first organized in 2005 to take dwindling numbers of WWII veterans to Washington D.C. to see the new memorial in their honor, is now correcting this by honoring the many who came home from Vietnam without recognition.

One of the first from Vicksburg to be accepted for this honor is Doug Stafinski, who served in the U.S. Army’s Military Police in Vietnam. He’s scheduled to make the one-day all-expense-paid trip to Washington on April 20. The 1982 Vietnam memorial and those honoring veterans of WWII and the Korean War are near the Lincoln Memorial

Stafinski’s job was to guard the perimeter of a huge Army base at Long Bien. He lived in a small shelter, a “hooch,” and pulled 12-hour shifts at night with the 557th Military Police company. “We were concerned about incoming mortars and rocket attacks. These sent us to bunkers with sand bags below ground, armed only with M-16 rifles. It wasn’t about being overrun by Viet Cong infantry, just the nightly shelling. Our security guard unit was filled with military personal who had been shot up out in the field and recovered. They were sent to our company after recovery to fill out their tour of duty. They had plenty of stories to tell.” Stafinski said.

“Towards the end of my enlistment, we were given a choice. If we wanted to extend our two-year commitment with an extra five weeks in a war zone, we could check out of the military immediately upon returning to the U.S. I took that offer and counted every day until we were flown out in May 1970,” Stafinski said. “I landed at Fort Dix, New Jersey and two hours later, was processed out. I called home and nobody answered so I boarded a plane for Detroit and still nobody answered at home.

“I spent the night in the airport and called home once again to say I would be on a flight coming in to Kalamazoo that day. My brother David answered only to tell me that my parents, Frank and Thelma, were waiting for me in Oakland, California where they kept checking every incoming plane for my arrival. They never went anywhere outside of Vicksburg but had been told all returning veterans, dead or alive, from Vietnam were processed out of this facility.”

Stafinski’s route to serving his country began with his graduation from Vicksburg High School in 1964 and a business administration degree from Michigan State University in 1968. “I was drafted before the lottery came into existence,” he said. “I reported for duty in October 1968 at Fort Knox in Kentucky where they decided to make me a military policeman. My drill sergeant at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, correctly informed us that all of his recruits go to Vietnam. When we arrived at our first stop in Hawaii, the officer in charge emphasized not to even consider leaving the airport.”

He left the military as a Specialist 4th class and came back to Vicksburg when the jobs were few and far between, he said. “All my family had worked at Upjohn and I had worked there and at Burroughs in the summer. My dad was getting madder and madder that I didn’t have a real job after one year out so I decided to take the Civil Service exam.

“I did well enough on it to become a clerk or a mail carrier with the Kalamazoo Post Office. I decided on the mail carrier which was a day job so I could continue in fast pitch softball for 30 years, church slow pitch softball and Kalamazoo City League baseball playing for Norm Snyder, the manager from Vicksburg.”

This eventually led to becoming postmaster in Vicksburg in 1984 for 14 years. After 34 years with the post office, Stafinski retired in 2003. His community service encompasses 30 years as a member of the Lions Club, serving as president two times. For the last 19 years he has been the general chairman of the club’s big Summer Festival, popularly known as the B&B (for beer and bratwurst). This event has raised huge dollars for nonprofits in Vicksburg while honoring the legacy of Otto Kaak, who started the event 46 years ago.

Stafinski’s Talons Out flight is wholly paid for by donations from the greater Kalamazoo community.

It’s A Fine Life – My Hometown

kathy forsytheBy Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe

It’s a fine life. It’s true. No, it isn’t exactly Mayberry, but living in Vicksburg, Michigan is mighty fine. We are surrounded by rich farmland, small lakes, and carefully tended hardwoods. We grumble about the winter weather, but we love hunkering down for a snowstorm which closes schools, brings neighbors together, and encourages family dinners.

No, it’s not perfect, but with the blessed arrival of warmer weather, life in our village is close to it.

Dear Spring is here, and she’s always worth the wait. She unpacks her unique fragrances, early flowers, and blissfully longer days. She calls to us, inviting us to shed our warm coats and our thick sweaters. We enter her sweet season, squinting and yawning from our winter hibernation. The red-winged blackbirds trill in my yard, and I watch for the bluebirds’ return to the boxes in our neighborhood. Soon my neighbor’s children will chirp happily, riding their bikes, running in their yard, and learning to work it out as all children must do. Twenty-five years ago, those were the cheerful voices of our children. Kickball, soccer, and tag games flattened our grassy yard, while the sandbox and playsets occupied the shady corners.

My four brothers and I grew up on our family farm, with the daily “you kids need to get outside” directive from our mother. Once outside, we played enthusiastically, exploring the fields and woods without much – if any – supervision. We spent our summers finding frogs in the reeds of the ditches, collecting fireflies in the June grass, and building straw forts in the old hay barn. Exhausted by day’s end, we slumped drowsily in old lawn chairs on the screen porch, listening to Ernie Harwell.

Freedom. Innocence. Simplicity.

We attended Fulton Elementary School, which still stands, abandoned and neglected. The same swing sets and concrete tiles stand vigil, alone and aging in the wild grass. I imagine the echoes of my friends’ laughter in the old hallways, the swish of the jump rope at recess, and the savory smell of Mrs. Harrison’s school lunch as it seeped under classroom doorways. Here I made my first friends, learned the playground rules, and raced through the math workbooks to re-enter the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Anna Sewell’s National Velvet.

How can it be that fifty years have passed?

Each changing season reminds me of this fast-forward of time and nudges me to slow my pace, to put away my technology, and to reconnect with the people I care about. I am determined to take a break this spring and to be thankful for simple things – the crocus’s stretch towards the sun, the warming of the sweet earth, the swans’ parades on Sunset Lake.

And to appreciate the most important things: family, friends, and our little hometown.

It’s a Fine Life.

You can follow Kathy at her blog: http://www.itsafinelife.com

Editor’s Note: Kathy Forsythe teaches 10th and 11th grade English at Vicksburg High School. She was the grand prize winner of the Tournament of Writers contest conducted last year by Friends of the Schoolcraft Library. She plans to write three first-person columns for the South County News. They will run from April through June. We will evaluate our readers’ response to her work in a survey we plan to conduct. The survey will appear in our June funding appeal envelope.

Atrophy, Sci-Fi/Action-Adventure Film at Vicksburg’s PAC

By Linda Lane

A sci-fi action-adventure film, “Atrophy” will premiere locally on Saturday, April 27, at 7 p.m. at the Vicksburg High School’s Performing Arts Center. The film was produced by Troy Smith, Vicksburg High film teacher, and Jason Slingerland, a Western Michigan University graduate. It boasts a cast and crew mostly from Kalamazoo and others from Grand Rapids and Detroit.

Cost for the tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the door or online at: http://www.vicksburgcommunityschools.org/pac.

The movie’s plot centers on a young father, Matt, who is mysteriously transported into a wasteland world, and the challenges he faces to find a portal to return home. Matt discovers he has a bounty on his head as a “newcomer” and must survive assassins, armies and a seven-foot killing robot before he loses memories of his previous life. If he fails, he will be trapped forever as others have been. There is a suggested rating of PG-13 for violence.

Atrophy was written and directed by Slingerland and produced, filmed and edited by Smith. The film premiered at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Unreeled Film series in the fall of 2017 and also was shown at the GenCon Film Festival in Indianapolis in August, 2018. The two partners have also worked together on short films, a web series and two feature films.

When people write an independent movie script, they typically steer away from difficult scenes such as filming in a desert or expensive props such as a seven-foot robot.

Not Slingerland. Instead he called Smith with a proposition.

“Let’s write a movie that’s beyond what we think we can do and do it anyways. Let’s make a blockbuster for under $10,000,” Slingerland said to Smith. “We were daring in writing something that we knew was going to be hard to do, like trying to film the desert scenes in Michigan. But we did it anyway, and we managed to pull it off.”

“There are very few things that we cut out of the script because we could not do it. The only example I can think of was a desert motorcycle, which we did end up cutting.” Robert Couch, the production designer and one of the executive producers, built the robot out of spare parts with platform shoes for the movie.

“We wrote things without typical constraints, like ‘let’s have a car buried in the sand.’ And then we used movie magic to make it work in the movie,” Slingerland said. There’s a scene in the movie which looks like a car really is buried in the sand. “We had an old Chrysler Reliant car, so we took the door and attached it to a box and buried it. We managed to make it look like the car was buried. But the interior shots of the car were actually filmed in a driveway in Portage,” he said. They also took advantage of access to a pilot, Slingerland’s dad, who took Smith up in his airplane and allowed them to get aerial shots of the Lake Michigan shoreline, with Smith holding the camera outside the plane’s window.

A typical action-adventure film takes a full-time crew three to five months to shoot, and one to two years to edit. The group started filming in June of 2010 and finished filming in the fall of that year. But the film took almost seven years to complete, including adding the special effects, sound effects and sound mixing. And while big-screen budgets can range from $250,000-$5 million, they made their movie for $9,000 – under their goal. In fact, the film had less crew in filming and producing it than many YouTube videos.

The most expensive prop in the movie was a donkey, which they rented for four hours in a scene with a carpetbagger to lend authenticity to a scene. They managed to film the desert scenes by getting permission from a sand mining company in Grand Haven. Other scenes were filmed in a rock quarry in Rockford, in some private woods in Vicksburg, the house of one of the executive producers, and in the television studio in VHS.

“My favorite location was filming in the USS Silversides, a WWII submarine located in Muskegon,” Smith said. “One happy accident with the sub was that it worked really well as a transition from an outside shot in the desert sand. It had a circular entrance the cast entered to the inside space of the round submarine,” Slingerland said.

A DVD of Atrophy can be ordered online for $20 at: atrophythemovie.com, which includes their first full-length feature movie, Coffee Shop Kings. That came out in 2008.

Bird Feeders are a Big Fundraiser for Cub Scouts

By Bob Ball

Vicksburg’s Cub Scout Pack 251 netted $1,620 through an on-line auction of brightly painted scout-built bird feeders. Half the proceeds will go to support pack activities. The other half will be distributed among the scouts who built the feeders. Those distributions can be used for summer camp.

The pack for years held an annual Cake Bake sale. But interest began to wane, said Wolf Den leader Valerie Tassell. “It was ending up that the pack parents were just buying their own cake back or buying another scout’s cake.”

A change was needed. “Last year we decided that while we liked the auction, we needed to have something that would last and that the scouts could build and paint, so we started the For the Birds Birdhouse auction.”

This year, photos of the 60 completed bird feeders were posted on a dedicated Facebook page. Interested buyers could post bids in the page’s comment section. Buyers included family members and friends and community members, Tassell said, not just parents.

And next year? “We are debating duck houses vs bat houses.”

Final Meeting of Schoolcraft’s Boy Scout Troop 254?

BSA Group
Schoolcraft Boy Scouts and their leaders gather for a farewell photo. Front row, left to right: Keegan Lynch, Jared Lynch, Roger Lynch. Back row, left to right: Jennifer Thompson, Jim Strake, Nolan Strake, Trent Strake, Scott Macfarlane Sr., Wyatt Thompson, Colby DeVries, Clayton DeVries, Steve Dickerson, Scott Macfarlane Jr. and Phil Marks. Photo by Linda Lane.

By Linda Lane

What may have been the final meeting of Boy Scout Troop 254 in Schoolcraft was held March 13 with a celebration dinner honoring the last scout to earn an Eagle Scout rank, Colby DeVries. It was combined with the dedication of a core group of active scout leader volunteers.

The troop was forced to request that they be moved to a suspension status by the Boy Scout headquarters because there aren’t any scouts passing from the Cub Scout rank – “Webelos” – to cross over to the troop’s Boy Scout ranks. The troop can remain in this status for two years. If no other scouts and parent volunteers come forward to reinvigorate the troop in that time, it will be permanently abandoned and the troop number reassigned to another new group. One remaining scout, Trent Strake, will join the Boy Scout troop in Three Rivers, hoping to finish requirements to achieve his Eagle Scout rank. Just a year and a half ago, the troop honored five scouts for achieving their Eagle Scout ranks.

Seven Boy Scout leaders were honored for the past 14 years of volunteering with the scouts since the boys were Tiger Cub Scouts in first grade. The leaders honored were Scoutmaster Scott Macfarlane Sr., Steve Dickerson, Phil Marks, Jennifer Thompson, Jim Strake, Roger Lynch and Nancy Mora, who was not present.

DeVries achieved his Eagle Scout rank with a project consisting of exhibit shelving, display stands, and a new sign board for the Vicksburg Historical Society. Eight young men, three of whom had achieved their Eagle Scout rank in 2017, also attended the dinner: Scott Macfarlane Jr., Clayton DeVries, Jared Lynch, Keegan Lynch, Wyatt Thompson, Trent Strake and Nolan Strake, in addition to Colby DeVries.

Having earned his Eagle Scout rank last summer, Colby DeVries volunteers on the Eagle Scout Review Board for the Southwest Michigan Boy Scout Council. “Scouting has made a big impact on my life. I’d like to help other scouts and think I’ll probably volunteer as a junior scout leader,” DeVries said.

“We’ve had such a great group of kids and scouts to work with over these years. It’s been so much fun and we’ve made so many good memories,” Scott Macfarlane Sr. said. Laughter erupted throughout a slideshow playing pictures from the many years the scouts enjoyed outings, hikes, camps and events. The troop has explored caves in Indiana, hiked 80 miles in northern New Mexico at the Boy Scouts’ Philmont Scout Ranch, visited Isle Royale and Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula, endured winter camping on the dunes of Lake Michigan, enjoyed many canoeing and camping excursions, and stayed overnight on the USS Silversides, a WWII submarine moored in Muskegon.

The Schoolcraft Boy Scout leaders have been such dedicated volunteers and love the outdoor activities and enjoy working with the young men so much that several leaders, including Phil Marks and Nancy Mora, continued to volunteer for years after their own sons had achieved Eagle Scout ranks.

“I enjoy it so much I think I’m going to join another troop as a Scout leader too,” Steve Dickerson said. Although his son, Matthew, earned his Eagle Scout rank in 2017 and has been attending Calvin College, Dickerson has remained active with the Schoolcraft troop.

H-2A Visa Workers: A Positive Impact on Local Farms

By Linda Lane

Often referred to as a “guest workers program,” migrant workers entering the United States with an H-2A visa help Michigan farmers contend with labor shortages encountered due to the short planting and harvesting seasons in agriculture.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy process, or inexpensive.

Farmers may need seasonal workers for as short a period as 4-6 weeks to harvest the area’s fruit and vegetable crops. But it means workers are needed for long, tiring shifts.

Local young people can do some of the work. Considered a badge of strength and rite of passage for many local high school and college students, farms hire them to help with the de-tasseling of seed corn. But area fruit and vegetable crops such as asparagus and apples are harvested while students are in school. Other temporary and short-term jobs require more experience and knowledge of heavy machinery. Today’s tractor, for example, is a very sophisticated machine.

“With the technical, high-level and complex equipment being operated in the fields today, a high level of technical training is required to operate it, often with GPS or other operations,” explained Kevin Storm, general manager of a local farm. “Guest workers are extraordinarily expensive to employ, but without access to that labor source, we would be crippled in producing and harvesting our crops.”

With the issues of immigrants and “The Wall” forming a contentious national debate, local people are leery of being quoted by name or farm when discussing guest worker and visa issues.

Contrary to what many people believe, hiring the H-2A agricultural guest workers is more expensive than American workers and a complicated proposition as well. All of the local farms contacted (for this story) hire outside agencies in other states to guide them through the process. The number of H-2A visa workers which are brought in can range from year to year. One local farm may need 15-20 workers. A larger operation with multi-state sites might need 60-70 workers or as many as 100 guest workers for crops harvesting hand-picked fruits or vegetables.

“The domestic workforce which used to travel around to harvest crops is dwindling because the workers are aging and their kids aren’t willing to uproot their families to follow the agricultural jobs,” said a second-generation farmer.

“Who can blame them? It’s hard work, long hours and physically demanding jobs. Because we only hire the workers for five weeks in the spring and six weeks in the fall, their families are constantly forced to move for the next ripe crop. We can’t find people who are willing to take those temporary and physically demanding jobs,” the farmer said. His family’s large southwest Michigan farm requires lots of workers to hand pick asparagus and apple crops. This will be its second season using the H-2A guest workers.

“Because it’s so expensive to hire the H-2A guest workers, we’re being forced to change our business practices. The fields with lower yields and trees which aren’t as productive are no longer being harvested. We’ve had to downsize our apple production by 25 percent because of these higher costs. And we may have to keep downsizing our farm crops because of it,” he added.

“Our 400 full-time employees are Americans, but to find people to do the temporary, 4-to-6-week jobs, those people don’t exist anymore,” another local farmer explained. “We’ll occasionally have some people apply but when they learn what the limitations and demands of the jobs are, they’re not interested. As the labor market has tightened, it’s been harder and harder to find workers for these jobs. When people hear we hire Mexican workers to help with our farms, the presumption is that we’re hiring cheap labor.

“But the opposite is true,” he said. “The requirements for H-2A workers, such as housing and transportation, add an additional cost of almost 50 percent in addition to their wages. But without those seasonal planting and harvesting employees, we don’t have a business,” another farm owner explained.

“When you know the equipment and how it works, it has a real impact on the products’ quality. If a potato is dropped over four inches it becomes bruised. We pay attention to making sure our potatoes are of the highest quality for our customers and consumers. So honestly, we’re fortunate that we have a visa work program in the U.S. that allows us to hire the guest workers. Because without that percentage of our labor force, our business would have difficulty raising our crops and producing food,” he said.

Farmers say they are lucky to have a lot of repeat workers because of the learning curve in the jobs. Once they learn the system, farmers really want them to return each year. From day one, they can jump right back in to the job.

“It’s been a good mutual arrangement. We go way beyond what is legally required for the workers, and they go way beyond what many people would do to get the job done. And that is crucial for harvesting quality fruits and vegetables products,” a farmer explained. “Without these workers and labor source, Americans would end up getting our foods from outside our country. It’s good for America and it’s good for individuals.”

Nikki Callen Named a Presidential Scholar at WMU

Nikki Mei Callen of Vicksburg was one of 46 students at Western Michigan University recognized as a Presidential Scholar at a convocation in late March. At right, she’s flanked by Faculty Senate President Richard Gershon, left, and WMU President Edward Montgomery. Callen, the daughter of Rudy and Fawn Callen, was recognized as the “presidential scholar in teaching, learning and educational studies.” The convocation program notes that the scholars “are chosen by the faculty on the basis of academic and/or artistic excellence in their major programs, as well as their overall promise of success. In addition to being exemplary scholars, the students being honored… are notable for their involvement in our broader community and impact upon society.  They are volunteers, athletes, musicians, researchers, actors and entrepreneurs. These are true leaders in every respect…” Callen is completing student teaching at Portage Central and will graduate in April. She’ll miss the graduation, her father said. She’ll be running a marathon that day.