Category Archives: Schoolcraft

100 years ago in South County

Children living outside the villages of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft attended one-room schools such as Strong School and Clark School, pictured here (Strong School in the first two pictures and Clark School in the last two). Clark School, District 1, was located on West U Avenue and 8th Street and is no longer standing. Strong School stood on Silver Street and was acquired by the Vicksburg Historical Society in 1996. It has been restored and is now in the Vicksburg Historical Village. The clothing and haircuts were typical of the time.

On the Corner

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

After nearly six months, our school children are returning to classrooms which are operating differently. Our communities continue to adjust our regular activities, and many of the events we look forward to have been cancelled or postponed. This current state is challenging our patience. Despite these disappointments, there are still many interesting things happening in South County.

Exciting Discovery at the Mill

Environmental researchers discovered a colony of snuffbox mussels in a section of the Portage Creek which runs along the Mill property. Native to eastern North America, this freshwater mussel is listed as endangered in both the United States and Canada. To read more about this exciting find, go to https://vicksburgmill.com/.

Pumpkin Decorating Contest

One of the joys of fall are the beautiful, bright-colored pumpkins that adorn our porches and yards. The Vicksburg Historical Society, together with the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, are hosting the ever-popular pumpkin-decorating contest. This sounds like fun! Check the organizations’ websites or Facebook pages for upcoming details. Entry forms will be available at http://vicksburghistory.org/pumpkins.

7th Annual Vicksburg Lions Club Golf Outing

The Vicksburg Lions Club supports our community with time and money. The summer festival, their big fundraiser was cancelled this year. Golfers can help fund their area projects by supporting the annual Golf Outing. This important club event will be held Saturday, September 19 at States Golf Club. Shotgun start at 11. For more information, contact Ryan Freeland (269) 290-4381 or Dawn Freeland (269) 910-2758.

Tractor Parade

Preschool-age farm kids, my great-nephew Grady and his sister Addy, were surprised and thrilled by the tractors parading down their street several weeks ago. The Kalamazoo Valley Antique Tractor & Machinery Club hosted this Tractor Ride in place of their cancelled annual show. Organized by Vicksburg resident Dale Sult, tractors arrived from as far away as Lansing, Charlotte, Three Oaks and Plymouth, Ind. The caravan of 53 tractors, which covered more than a half mile, slowly passed 12 of the quilt barns and historic buildings of the Vicksburg Quilt Trail and then drove up Main St., waving to kids (and the kids-at-heart) along the route who stopped to stare!

Fall Bike Celebration

This sounds like a perfect autumn activity! The second annual Fall Bike Celebration Weekend will highlight attractions in and around the village of Vicksburg and southwest Michigan from September 18-20. This weekend has been meticulously planned with countless activities for all ages. Registration and a complete list of details are available at www.fallbikecelebration.org.

Quilt Trail Presentation

A Vicksburg Quilt Trail presentation will be held Saturday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. at the Vicksburg District Library. Learn how quilt trails began, how Vicksburg started a trail and how to paint a quilt. Attendees will also learn about each of the 24 quilts on barns in the surrounding countryside and on historic buildings in town.

Area businesses stay productive during quarantine

By Rob Peterson

The 2020 quarantine was a significant disruption to businesses, especially to smaller ones which rely on walk-in customers to keep the doors open.

This disruption caused local entrepreneurs to work harder and get creative. It was a difficult period, “But you can’t pout,” said Rita Sertic, the energetic co-owner of Windfall coffee house and Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor.

For some, quarantine made for an opportune time to get projects done. Distant Whistle Brewery finished a planned expansion of the bar; the Hide-A-Way completed annual maintenance projects that would have required some closure to the public; and Windfall poured its outdoor patio, a project it decided to start “the Friday before we re-opened,” said Sertic with a laugh.

Virtual projects were accomplished as well. Carley Bosker, owner of Silo Chic clothing store, was already planning on adding online sales back into the mix. “I started this as an online store, but it took a backseat when I opened the brick-and-mortar shop,” she said. She has leveraged a large social media following to host live sales, where her VIP members can order items on Facebook and pay through her website.

Wrapped in Gratitude owner Kim Crites used the downtime to start an online store from scratch, even while tending to her ailing father. Crites posted 500 products on her website, most of them items intended to lift the spirits. “Most orders were from women buying gifts for other women,” she said, adding that the gifts could include a personalized note.

Apple Knockers also added an online store so that customers could order their food ahead and have it delivered to their car when they arrived in the parking lot. The owners chose a stormy Sunday to re-open, thinking it would be slow enough that they could keep up. The enthusiastic response from customers proved them wrong. “We were running from car to car in the thunderstorm,” said Sertic. Some orders took up to an hour, but customers were understanding of the predicament.

Even those who did not create online shops were creative in the ways they maintained service levels. Distant Whistle ran out of growlers, the large glass jugs that customers use to bring beer home, and they were backordered through the supplier. Some customers brought in their own growlers, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with demand. So, owner Dane Bosel started used his canner for the first time – a one-can-at-a-time canner. “I’d spend Monday filling 240 cans,” he said. “They’d sell out in just a few days.”

As restrictions eased, the retail shops in Vicksburg started meeting with customers by appointment. Silo Chic has since opened its doors for regular walk-in traffic. “It’s been busy,” said Bosker. “Including our online sales, the numbers are similar to last year.”

Workshops are a big part of what Wrapped in Gratitude offers, so Crites is working on videos that will allow customers to learn how to complete a project from the safety of their home. “I will be teaching people how to create mantra paintings,” she said. They are paintings based on a word or phrase that can inspire people when things get tough. The videos will be posted soon, and supplies will be available on her website.

Since the restaurants are only allowed to operate indoors at half-capacity, Distant Whistle and Hide-A-Way are turning to the streets for extra seating area. The Village of Vicksburg allowed both establishments to make use of parking spaces for a patio; the Village even loaned them picnic tables. “The additional outside seating brings us to full capacity,” said Hide-A-Way General Manager Jared Tinklenberg.

A continuing struggle for the restaurants is the availability of food items and the increased cost of beef. “We won’t be doing our Friday night steak special for a while,” said Tinklenberg. “I want to give people a good value, and the price of steak is just too high.” Customers will be happy to know, however, that the perch and Reuben are both available.

Apple Knockers and Windfall have seen shortages as well. “It’s a chance to expand and put some new items on the menu,” said Sertic, who is training a new cook how to prepare the family recipes they serve.

While everyone had a different approach to staying productive during quarantine, there was one common theme: The chorus of every business owner was how supportive the local community has been. Customers have showed understanding about the changes throughout the reopening process, and they showed up to bolster sales.

Schoolcraft Community Library reopening plan

A visual reminder that masks are required in the Schoolcraft Community Library.

The Schoolcraft Community Library is operating differently. This phased reopening plan is contributed by Pam Ballett, director of the Schoolcraft Community Library.

Phased Reopening Plan

MI Safe Start Phase 4: Improving

Curbside service is available Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and Wednesday from 1-6:30 p.m.

During this phase, you’ll get a notification when your requests are almost ready and we will schedule your curbside pickup. Requests can be made online at http://www.schoolcraftlibrary.org, calling us at 679-5959 or emailing us at staff@schoolcraftlibrary.org

The Schoolcraft Community Library is committed to the safety of our staff and patrons. All returned materials will be quarantined for 72 hours before being added back into our collection for checkout, and all returned materials will be checked in fine-free.

Please note that MeL and Interlibrary loan services have been suspended by the state with no definite date to resume. Once we receive information about the return of this service, we will communicate that with our patrons via our website and Facebook.

Computer Appointments, Faxing, Copying: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Wednesday from 1-5:30 p.m.

Now offering computer services by appointment: One 60-minute session per day. Copying and faxing will be available during these appointments. No browsing or additional services will be available at this time. Call 679-5959 or email us at staff@schoolcraftlibrary.org to reserve. 

Book Bundles: In lieu of our annual book sale we are selling weekly book bundles for $5. We have groupings for all ages and also take requests! You can find them on our Facebook page @schoolcraftlibrary

MI Safe Start Phase 5: Containing

Browsing Hours will resume.
First: Open hours for browsing with limited capacity
Then: Walk-in public computing
Later: Exhibits resume

During this phase, we’ll continue curbside service. You’ll be able to browse the shelves and select your own items for checkout, make copies and use our fax services. We won’t be able to offer workspace, room bookings or events, but walk-in access to public computers will resume.

MI Safe Start Phase 6: Post-Pandemic

Full service will resume.

Food trucks offer variety in South County

By Rob Peterson

Food truck rallies, previously found only in downtown Kalamazoo, are branching out to the surrounding communities, including two sites in south county.

“We wanted to try something new this summer,” said Becca Shemberger of Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center, the organizer of the events. “So many events have been canceled, and people are hungry for something to do.”

The rallies make for a unique dining experience. Shemberger and her staff invite five food vendors with different styles of street food to make sure patrons have options. The vendors rotate, so each rally offers a new combination of cuisines. It’s not uncommon to find a dish from a mobile food vendor that can’t be found at a local restaurant.

The June 30 event at Chem Link in Schoolcraft included Motor Mouth BBQ; Coffee Rescue hot and cold beverages; American fare from Freddy’s Food Hut; churros from Eli’s Doces; and paella from Fire & Rice.

The mobile food businesses are typically chef-driven enterprises. Owners are eager to talk about their food.

Nick Neveau, owner of Fire & Rice, was happy to describe his paella, a traditional Spanish rice dish that is hearty enough for a meal. “The rice we use comes from Barcelona, and we make it with vegetables, meats, or seafood,” said Neveau. “We use imported saffron to season the rice. It’s the most expensive spice in the world.”

Due to the implications of COVID-19, the events have been carry-out only so far. “We are hoping, as restrictions ease, that we’ll be able to have on-site dining, games and even live music,” said Shemberger.

The vendors and staff are following the safety guidelines provided by the CDC and the Kalamazoo County Health Department. All trucks are spread out 15 feet or so, hand sanitizer is on site and the ground is marked with “X’s” to ensure those waiting in line can maintain a safe distance from each other. They also encourage attendees to wear masks so that everyone feels comfortable at the events.

The food truck rallies are just one part of the work that Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center does. The organization’s goal is to provide hands-on learning for college students to give them entrepreneurial experience. The students, many of whom are studying event management at WMU, work with non-profit groups to put on events and fundraisers.

The rallies will return to south county for three more Tuesday events this summer, each from 5-8 p.m. They will be at Chem Link on July 28, Oswalt Park in Vicksburg on August 11, and back to Chem Link on August 25.

Schoolcraft resets village clean-up day to Sept. 19

By Max Hutchison

The Schoolcraft Village Council at a July meeting rescheduled the village-wide Clean Up Day previously scheduled for June, to Saturday, September 19th, from 8 a.m.-noon. Residents can bring items to Clay Street across from the Ken Krum Recreation Center.

Details regarding what items residents may drop off can be found on the Village’s website or in the Summer 2020 newsletter.

The council’s meeting, its first since the lockdown in March, was its first-ever online session via Zoom. All members were present and visible in the conferencing app, along with several resident attendees. Also present was Johnathan Ballentine from the village’s information technology staff. While the virtual meeting was conducted largely in the same manner as the council’s in-person meetings, council members cast their votes using the Zoom app’s internal electronic voting tool.

Two budget items kicked off the meeting’s agenda. An amendment to the budget transferred funds to balance the budget. Revenues were higher than expected for the 2020 fiscal year, allowing the Village to shift funds without dipping into its general fund. “Really, we did pretty good,” said Finance Director Tammy Young. The Council also opted out of a state law which sets limits on contributions to employee medical benefit plans.

In an attempt to ensure the timeliness of the Village’s newsletter, the Council approved an expedited method for reviewing President Keith Gunnett’s standing article. Previously, the article was not subject to the Council’s oversight; the Council began reviewing it in October, 2019 when the viewpoints of council members diverged on the necessity, process, and costs associated with approving a village sanitary sewer system. While the process has since involved a month-long review by Council members, the new process will allow Village Manager Cheri Lutz to approve Gunnett’s article on shorter notice, raising issues with the full Council only when she identifies a potential issue.

Rounding out the agenda, Trustee John Stodola made known his desire to keep the Village active in the County’s Disaster Mitigation Plan with the pandemic in mind. “Things are profoundly different now than they were six months ago when we last got together,” Stodola commented. Lutz informed the Council that she had been in contact with the County, and a representative would soon be attending a village meeting to give the Council an update on the Disaster Mitigation Plan.

While the sanitary sewer project was not listed as an agenda item, it was briefly discussed in the council’s committee reports. Stodola remarked that a Wightman engineering consultant will be visiting the Council in the coming months to discuss an alternate proposal for the sewer plan. While Stodola was unsure of the details, he said he believes that the new plan will involve a sewer line running down Route 131 toward Kalamazoo. A longtime Wightman employee, Alan Smaka, who has advised the Village in the past, has since left the engineering firm to work as a project consultant for the South County Sewer Authority. Stodola also confirmed what had previously been discussed at Council meetings, that Vicksburg would not be joining Schoolcraft on a sewer project. Stodola did note, however, that Lockport Township has expressed interest in joining the project and would be discussing the possibility with the South County Sewer Authority going forward.

Schoolcraft accepts Stitt’s resignation

Superintendent Stitt praised for his nine years of service.

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education approved a final one-year contract extension for Superintendent Rusty Stitt, who has submitted a letter of resignation to the district effective at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

The board also approved an athletic participation fee of $75 per student, $150 for a family.
At the meeting, Stitt thanked the original board members who originally hired him in the letter as well as many administrators, teachers and community members whom he worked with during his time in the district.

“I am extremely honored to have been given the opportunity to lead Schoolcraft Community schools for what will be 10 years by the end of the 2020-21 school year,” Stitt said in the letter.

“As a collective team, we have done some amazing work to improve the district, impacting student achievement and elevating professional practice.”

Stitt highlighted numerous changes he’s proud of from his time in the district: implementation of standards-based grading, the 1:1 technology program and most recently, voter approval of a $39.9 million bond issue to construct new educational facilities. Stitt said the contract will allow his youngest daughter to graduate an Eagle. He also added he will probably look for another superintendent post in a different state following the conclusion of his contract on June 30, 2021.

“I will always sincerely treasure the years I served here as your superintendent,” Stitt said in the letter. “It has been an honor! I thank each and every one of you for your support and outstanding dedication to the Schoolcraft community and its magnificent students!”

Board Vice President Jason Walther thanked Stitt for his years of service. “Rusty came to the district nine years ago, and at that time there was a lot to focus on and go to work on,” Walther said. “I think there is just a tremendous amount of positive things that occurred in Schoolcraft.”

Those thoughts were echoed by a few other trustees, including Wade Rutkoskie. “I also want to thank Dr. Stitt for his time. Obviously, a year-long retirement celebration is in order from the district, so [I’m] looking forward to celebrating that time with him and working on the transition, which I know he has been thinking about as well,” Rutkoskie said.

The board approved an athletic participation fee starting in the 2020-2021 school year that applies to both middle school and high school athletes. The cost will be $75 per child or $150 for a family.

The motion was approved without much discussion, but board meeting materials say the addition of a fee was to help the district avoid having to cut its athletic trainer position. Athletic Director Jeff Clark said in the meeting materials that the district will be required to pay $25,000 a year to keep the services of the trainer and the new fees will help cover those costs.

“Financial support from the State of Michigan for the operation of local schools has not kept pace with the rapidly increasing costs for school districts,” the letter to the board reads. “All districts have been forced to make adjustments in operating procedures. Schoolcraft Community Schools is no exception.”

The school is asking any parents with questions or concerns about the new fee structure to contact Clark. Families who may not be able to afford the fees are requested to contact the superintendent.

Schoolcraft alumni hand out scholarships

By Sue Hendriksma

The Schoolcraft Alumni Association had to cancel its annual banquet and meeting this year due to the COVID crisis. However, the Executive Committee announced that scholarships totaling $6,000 were awarded to two 2020 graduates.

Two local companies, Chem Link and Schoolcraft Veterinary Clinic, sponsored specialized scholarships this year. Kalamazoo County State Bank also provided a donation used in supporting these talented 2020 graduates. Alumni Association scholarships are supported through donations by many members who are encouraged to pay it forward, remembering that today’s students will be the leaders of tomorrow.

The recipients: Karson Leighton is planning to attend Middle Tennessee State University to study music business. Karson received a specialized scholarship sponsored by Chem Link, and also an Alumni Association Scholarship. Karson is a songwriter who started to become familiar with the music business when he released his first song to the public. His goal is to be involved in the business aspects of music.

Erin Lockwood will attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where she is already a college sophomore on the Dean’s List, and then enter Western Michigan University to study child and family development. Erin received a specialized scholarship sponsored by the Schoolcraft Veterinary Clinic. She has a strong desire to serve people in need.

The Schoolcraft Alumni Association awards one or more scholarships each year. Including the 2020 recipients, 96 Schoolcraft High School seniors have received scholarships in various amounts that total just over $50,520. Each year, a list of all scholarship recipients is displayed at the association’s banquet and other events.

Seniors must apply through the school using the association’s application criteria, which takes into consideration not only their GPA, but extracurricular activities as well as service projects. Students are required to provide a short essay and also provide a recommendation from another individual (generally an instructor) who knows them well. The Executive Committee determines how much can be awarded in a given year based on donations received over the last year. The Scholarship Committee screens all applicants and determines who receives the awards.

Schoolcraft creatively honors graduates

The SHS graduation ceremony followed recommended guidelines.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Community members and school leaders paid tribute to Schoolcraft High School’s 82 graduates in many ways throughout this unusual academic year, culminating in a socially distanced-ceremony and a coordinated “Shine the Light” parade.

In June, an anonymous donor contributed a huge boulder, a symbol of the class of 2020 graduates’ strength and solid reputation, now permanently placed at the stadium flagpole. Principal Matthew Dailey directed an event, painting hands and celebrating the 82 seniors who left their handprints on the rock.

The community continued to celebrate these students: In addition to yard signs to decorate seniors’ yards, poster-sized pictures of the SHS graduates line the athletic field fence. The highly visible gesture is another community member’s gift to recognize these students and the unusual circumstances of their senior year.

On July 24 and 25, Dailey visited many graduates’ homes to deliver diplomas and to greet students and families. Dailey appreciated the ability to personalize the moments for his students, saying each stop “was an especially valuable and meaningful experience for me, and one I will most certainly remember as a highlight during the difficulty of a pandemic.”

Following the appropriate guidelines, on Friday, July 24, the district held a graduation ceremony on the athletic field for the 147th graduating class of SHS. Recognizing students, family, and staff, Dailey addressed the students: “The unrelenting support of the Schoolcraft community has been on honoring your achievements, thanking you for your contributions to our school community, and sharing our excitement for all of the future possibilities ahead for you.”

Finally, at 9 p.m., students loaded school buses for an event called “Shine the Light.” Following a planned route throughout the village and outlying neighborhoods, area residents greeted the graduates by flashing lights and sounding horns, helping to close a meaningful and memorable day.

New Schoolcraft pastor introduced to community

Pastor Annamarie Groenenboom

By Betsy Connelly

The First Presbyterian Church of Schoolcraft has welcomed a new pastor, Annamarie Groenenboom. After holding her first and only in-person service on Jan. 12, all services since have been broadcast via Facebook Live to maintain social distancing.

Although many from the congregation have not yet had the opportunity to get to know Pastor Annamarie, she has collaborated with the presbytery and the community to come up with some creative ways to worship. Congregants can attend bible studies on Wednesdays and vespers on Sunday evenings, both hosted by Pastor Annamarie on the church lawn. Her Facebook Live services have reached congregants who are homebound or otherwise unable to be physically present at Sunday services. She has also been able to meet from a safe distance with members in nursing homes.

Pastor Annamarie says she has lots of ideas to “enrich the lives of not only those inside the church walls but also those in the broader community.” She and the church’s Christian education director and elder have been working together to create outdoor activities for children, youth and families to participate in. These activities include recreating bible stories with sidewalk chalk on the church driveway, family movie night on the church lawn, and a socially distanced scavenger hunt throughout the town. She’s also reached out to pastors of other churches in the south county area in an effort to organize interdenominational community activities.

Originally from Grand Rapids, Pastor Annamarie is glad to be back in Michigan. After she and her husband, Mitch, met at Calvin College orientation, both attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master’s of divinity and he earned his Ph.D in chemical engineering. After graduate school, they moved to Maryland where Annamarie worked as the Stated Supply Pastor for Christian Formation at Lewinsville and Mitch worked as a research fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Now back in Michigan and close to home again, Pastor Annamarie said, “West Michigan is just my people. Everyone here is so polite and nice to each other. You really get a sense of community that you don’t have in bigger cities. Plus, my family and friends are all in Michigan. It’s such a joy to be able to visit my parents for just one day. The family values are different in the Midwest and people focus more on the importance of religion in people’s lives.”

Though she’s only been in Schoolcraft a few months, she’s already felt the friendly warmth of the Schoolcraft community. “It’s nice to have people who notice that you’re present and will wave and be welcoming of a newcomer. In Maryland, we didn’t know a single person in our neighborhood and when you’d wave at someone, they’d look at you like ‘Is there something wrong with you?’ I also feel like Schoolcraft is a really safe community. I see a lot of children playing outside together.”

The youngest pastor First Presbyterian has ever had, Pastor Annamarie plans to use her fresh perspective and open-mindedness to address changing needs of the church. While assessing the needs of the church has been difficult without one-on-one contact with the members, one of the most prominent needs she’s observed is access to safe fellowship. “I’m a firm believer that the church should be a safe space for every person, no matter your age, race, gender or sexuality. My goal is to figure out how we create that safe space for every person to come in and feel welcomed.”