Like no doubt every member of the Vicksburg-Schoolcraft community who knew anything about Sue Moore, I was initially consumed by a sense of disbelief, and perhaps denial, when I heard of her death. How could this be so, I questioned? How could this epitome of the Vicksburg Energizer Bunny on Steroids have so suddenly just left us?
Having had a few weeks now to reflect on Sue, and my experiences with her, I’ve finally been able to compose a few of my thoughts and actually write them down for Kathy Forsythe to share with others, if she wishes to do so. Here goes:
Sue the Journalist. I likely first became aware of this Sue on a professional level when Sue was covering area township meetings at which I was serving as legal counsel. I remember being quite taken aback the first time Sue sent me her actual draft copy for an article and requested I offer any pertinent suggestions or corrections. After first resisting this invitation, and thinking “Gee, Sue, isn’t this YOUR job”, I eventually realized this was merely part of Sue’s determination to “get the story right”. Upon accepting the strive for perfection as her motivation for allowing the subject of a story to check her work before the story was buttoned-up for publication, it was easy to work with Sue the Journalist. More recently she might ask me to actually write the copy for an article on something involving The Big Red Machine, which I would happily do, but with some apprehensions about HER editing of MY story!
Sue the Photographer. You may initially think this is just a variation of Sue the Journalist; but I beg to differ, especially after Sue discovered that new-fangled invention — DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY! I dare say that new technology was made for Sue. I would often watch her at local athletic, band, or other events, such as Showboat rehearsals (yes, I mean ShowBOAT), and wonder, sometimes aloud: “Geez, Sue, how the heck how many pictures do you need to take of the same thing?” Of course, in reality all of her seemingly endless clicking of that shutter button captured many often slightly different shots, from which she would deliberately and thoughtfully choose just the “right” photo to visually complement the narrative part of her SCN story.
Sue the Historian. I only came to know this Sue quite recently, in the context of the efforts of the Vicksburg Historical Society to reach a new arrangement with the Village to continuing operating and administering the Historic Village. As part of those efforts Sue produced an extremely detailed roster of all the various buildings, structures, and railroad rolling stock the Society has either acquired or constructed, complete with dates, exact itemized costs incurred by the Society, and the history of the original historical buildings the Society brought to the Historic Village as part of its mission to preserve and celebrate the history of our community. Sue the Historian had an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge about the Vicksburg area, which we can now only hope was sufficiently recorded so as to be perpetuated for the benefit of all of us alive now and those who will join this community years from now.Lastly,
Sue the Vicksburger (yes, that IS a real word). In my lifetime the Vicksburg area community has been fortunate to have enjoyed the talents, energy, and special gifts contributed by several individuals whose love for this community was expressed in so many ways. For Sue, as with Mercer Munn before her, Vicksburg was indeed “the center of the universe”. However, in so many respects Sue Moore was the very CENTER of that universe. Her life is a shining example of how much of a difference one individual can make in the history of a community, and the lives of the people comprising that community, through commitment, dedication, skill, and an abiding endless love for what they do.
Sue may have had some sense of her contributions to this community, through the founding of and operation of the South County News, and otherwise, but I lament the utter loss of the opportunity for this entire community to actually TELL HER just how beloved she was. So, in closing, I challenge each of you to look around and see the other individuals who always seem to be “the doers” in our community, and thank them — while you can. You know who they are. Better yet, honor Sue by offering to dig in and help do the things that need to be done.
It was the summer of 2018 when a few friends decided to go to Martell’s for lunch and celebrate the day that the South County News went to press. We ordered wine and delicious entrees. It was so enjoyable that we decided to do it each month. We named our small group “The Wild Women of Schoolcraft.”
I loved meeting them each month at a nice place and have missed them during the stay-at-home pandemic. We had intelligent and knowledgeable discussions but there was plenty of laughter and camaraderie … just what everyone needs.
Sue was usually a bit late, but we were happy, sipping our wine and waiting patiently for her big smile to come rushing in. When the articles went to the press each month, Sue said she had that one day to relax before starting on the next issue. Sue told me on the phone that when she died, she hoped to be working on the paper.
She had just finished the last item for the June issue. How appropriate was that?
We are sad because we will miss her, but why should we mourn? She didn’t have to suffer or linger with a long illness. She lived an interesting and full life. She told me that “Trooper” kept her company and made her laugh every day.
Our “Wild Women” don’t feel very wild today. We may continue to meet but we will feel her absence. I can imagine her, taking pictures in heaven.
Tom Graham and Bronwyn Haltom, both of Kalamazoo, are running for the Republican nomination in the 61st state House district. The winner will face Democrat Christine Morse, also of Kalamazoo, in the Nov. 3 election for the two-year term. Incumbent Rep. Brandt Iden is term-limited. The district includes townships of Schoolcraft, Oshtemo, Prairie Ronde, Texas and the City of Portage. State representatives are paid a base salary of $71,685.
Tom Graham: I love my community. I was born and raised here. I went to Kalamazoo public schools. I’ve had a career here and owned businesses here. My family has been on the same land for 85 years. I have a commitment to Michigan’s future. After the COVID shutdown, riots and an already weak real estate market, we will need to do everything we can to get people back to work safely and as quickly as possible. The state coffers are running low and unemployment demands are still high. State revenue will need to be allocated wisely with economic support as the number one priority. The government’s only tools to support an economy are low taxes (sales, property and income taxes), as well as providing good infrastructure and an educated workforce. State college support is 25 percent of Michigan’s budget. State grants to college students may need to be restricted to degrees that are directly beneficial to Michigan’s economy, and students receiving grants may have to sign legally binding agreements to stay and work in Michigan after graduation. Student flight is a very real problem. We have a long road ahead of us. I hope you find me worthy of your vote.
Bronwyn Haltom: I have a simple reason for running for state representative: I believe in our state and am willing to fight for an even brighter future. I grew up in Oshtemo, went to Kalamazoo Valley Community College before earning my degree at the University of Michigan, and returned home to start a small business with my husband, Thomas. Our state is primed with so much talent and opportunity, but like many of us, I’m worried. Worried about our future. As our state recovers from the damage caused by COVID-19, we must focus on the things that matter to Michiganders – preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow, building better roads, and rebuilding our economy with good jobs right here in our community. My parents, my sister, and myself are small business owners in Kalamazoo County, and I understand the tough decisions being made all across Michigan as we decide how to move our economy forward safely. Our state is truly at a crossroads – do we move forward with the commonsense priorities that revived our state, or fall backwards into another lost decade? I hope to be part of the solution in Lansing that puts partisan politics aside and delivers for our community.
The effects of coronavirus are hitting districts across the state. At the Schoolcraft Board of Education’s June meeting, Finance Director Kyle Nixon told trustees how decreased revenue from the state will affect the district’s 2019-2020 general fund.
The meeting was once again held virtually due to the pandemic. Nixon said that with the state short on revenue, a cut in funding of $650-$700 per student is expected and will carry over until next year.
“We were expecting to be in the black by $300,000 and now we are expecting to be in the red in a deficit this year of $344,000,” Nixon said.
This would bring the district down to a $1.6 million fund balance, which is 14.2 percent of its final expected expenditures this year of $11.3 million.
Nixon did note that nothing has been finalized yet since the state has not balanced its budget. But he is not expecting any further cuts.
Nixon said administrators are looking at ways to operate “leaner than normal.” They are expecting to operate next year at a $70,000 deficit. That would put them at $1.53 million fund balance next year or 13.9 percent of expected expenditures.
The board also approved a roofing project for the maintenance building. Superintendent Rusty Stitt said the project just affected the flat roof portion which described as being in “dire need’ of being fixed. Stitt and the finance committee recommended South Bend-based Sherriff-Goslin roofing to do the job for $31,850. Trustee Jill Hunt asked about the possibility of adding a five-year warranty for an extra $535. Stitt and Vice President Jason Walther agreed it was worth the extra money and the measure was approved.
Hunt also gave a quick update on the status of the early stages of the bond project. She said early progress on the seventh and eighth grade classroom addition to the high school is already being done.
“We have completed a conceptual design,” Hunt said. “We had five or six options and we narrowed it to one.”
The facility planning committee has been gathering feedback from the community. Hunt said the top three concerns right now are a separation of seventh and eighth grade from the high schoolers, security and getting students into larger classrooms. She said the next step from June until the end of November will be the engineers and architects completing blueprints. These will be turned over to Triangle Construction in December with hopes of starting construction in March of 2021, dependent on the weather.
Hunt said they are still exploring options for the best location of the new gym for the seventh and eighth grades.
“We’re still being really conservative when we think about it,” Hunt said. “That’s why we’ve pushed that gym addition off until later and we’re focusing on educational spaces first. We already know physical education is covered by the high school gym at a minimum, so we’re going to focus on what is critically important to the school system and then we’ll proceed with caution on the pricing aspects.”
Board President Jennifer Gottschalk closed out the meeting with a reminder that four seats will be open on the board this year. Gottschalk said two six-year seats and one four-year seat will be open. Gottschalk said the deadline to register is July 21.
Donald Carl Ampey, 61, Vicksburg, passed away June 8, surrounded by family. Don was born on March 5, 1959 to Donald and Linda (Moon) Ampey. Don worked for a number of years at Allied Paper in Kalamazoo and also at Ampey Buffing and Polishing. Don is survived by his wife of 41 years, Bonnie (Yerge) Ampey: children Christina (Bill) Hearns, Andrea (Kevin) Kavlock, and Greg (Anne) Ampey: and grandchildren Ashley, Katherine, DJ, Melissa, Brittany, Savannah, Cloey, and Charlotte; siblings Patty, Francine, Robert, and Rick and many nieces and nephews. Don was preceded in death by his parents, Don and Linda Ampey. Per Don’s wishes, cremation has taken place. Visit his page at mccowensecord.com. Donations may go to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Terry Coburn, 76, Mattawan, passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his loved ones on March 30. Terry was born October 13, 1943, the son of the late Richard Edward and Muriel Marie (Oldacre) Coburn. Raised in Fulton, Terry graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1961. In 1964, Terry enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, beginning his training in San Diego. It was there he met Sally Ann Bruggema, the love of his life. During his deployment to Vietnam from 1966-1967, Terry and Sally wrote letters. They began dating when he returned and were married February 23, 1968, settling in Fulton. Terry worked for Rieth Riley Asphalt and Krum’s Chevrolet before earning his associate’s degree from KVCC. He was employed by KVCC for 38 years as a supervisor of media services and as a part time faculty member, teaching applied electricity. Terry loved to serve his community, as best demonstrated by his 43-year commitment to Vicksburg Little League. He began by coaching, helping the grounds crew, and serving on the board. Terry found his passion in umpiring softball. He umpired many local, district, regional and state games as well as the Big-League Softball World Series games. He served on various boards and participated in many umpiring clinics. He enjoyed teaching and always tried to be fair. Terry was an active, loving father to his two children, Scott Edward and Kathleen (Katie) Ann Coburn, and adored his grandchildren. Family was the most important thing to Terry. He is survived by his wife, Sally; son Scott (Jennifer) Coburn and daughter Kathleen (Katie) Coburn; and grandchildren Aubrey and Ashlen Coburn. A celebration of life will be held Saturday, August 8, at the Vicksburg Little League fields, a fitting tribute to Terry’s many hours and interactions there. Visitation will be from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., followed by a memorial at 1 p.m., with lunch afterward. Those attending are encouraged to wear bright clothing.
Mary Ann Collier, 84, Schoolcraft, passed away June 6. Per her wishes, she has been cremated and no services are planned.
Janet V. Griffith, 84, Vicksburg, passed away June 4. Janet was born April 22, 1936 in Peoria, Ill., the daughter of Glen and Ruth (Smith) Pease. Jan worked in various places over the years; but most of her employment was with the City of Eureka, Ill., working with the mayor and the Eureka Police Department. She sang in numerous groups and choirs, and was an incredible soloist. Prior to moving to Michigan, Jan was a member of the Eureka United Methodist Church. Jan attended Cross Community Church of the Nazarene in Portage. She was an avid collector of antiques. She loved spending time with her husband, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family members and many friends. On August 10, 1957, she was united in marriage to her loving husband, Richard (Dick) Griffith, who survives. Also surviving are her daughters, Deb (Jim) Hinze, Dawn Griffith; t grandchildren Kristen Simpson, Ashley (Joe) Renie, Austin (Haylee) Griffith; great-grandchildren Ryan, Brooklyn, Camden, Noah, Brayden, Cayden, and Jonah; a sister, Elnor Stevenson; nieces Maralee Malingowski and Teresa Cottrell, and several other nieces and nephews. There will be two Celebration of Life services, one in Michigan and one in Eureka, to be announced. Donations may go to Indian Lake Nazarene Camp in Vicksburg, Michigan. Visit her page at langelands.com.
Phillip M. Hinson, 56, Schoolcraft passed away June 2. Phil was born on July 30, 1963 in Anderson, Ind., the son of Archie and Joyce (Langford) Hinson. He graduated from Climax-Scotts High School with the Class of 1981. When he was 18, he got a job at Stewart Sutherland, and worked there ever since. On June 30, 2007, he married Pam in Kalamazoo. His hobbies included his love for the outdoors by trail riding on an ATV or deer hunting with a bow or gun. He will be remembered by his family as big hearted, logical, loving the Lord, being a good provider and very family-oriented. Phil is survived by his wife of 12 years, Pam; son Noah and stepdaughter Emily Hayner, all of Schoolcraft. He is also survived by his mother, Joyce Hinson, Scotts; a brother, Troy Hinson, of Texas; brother-in-law Ronald (Kelly) Schneider, of Portage; niece Cristra (James) Brown; nephews Zachary Hinson and Devin Schneider; and several aunts, uncles, and cousins. Visit his page at mccowensecord.com. Donations may go to the ALS Foundation at alsa.org.
Suzanne Laymon, 67, Schoolcraft, passed away June 11. Suzanne was born on July 5, 1952 to Charles and Mary Hulbert in Kalamazoo. Suzanne enjoyed scrapbooking and camping. She can be described as honest, humorous and sarcastic. She and her husband Harold were married for 47 years. She is survived by her husband; children Stacy (Jason) Fulbright and Jim (Robin) Laymon; grandchildren Ethan Laymon, Byron Fulbright, Latreece Thomas, Cobie Thomas, Maky Thomas, Camded Thomas, Ashley Laymon, Tiffani Laymon, Sam Ferrer, Camellia Ferrer and Angelica Ferrer; and great grandchildren Dexter Bell, Amelia McCormick, Nolan McCormick and Lynden McCormick; siblings Cindy, Maryann, Charles and Kim. She was preceded in death by her brother, Bill, and her parents. Donations may go to the Wounded Warrior Project. Visit her page at avinkcremation.com.
Marihelen Niskala, 91, Schoolcraft, passed away peacefully May 28 at Wings of Hope Hospice in Allegan. Per Marihelen’s wishes, she has been cremated and no service will be held. Visit her page at avinkcremation.com.
Steven Michael Simon, 69, Vicksburg passed away June 25. Steve was born on May 23, 1951 to Elmer and Valeria (Osworth) Simon. Steve could usually be found at Angel’s Crossing Golf Course with his friend, Dave. Steve is survived by his wife of 40 years, Linda (Buytendorp) Simon; children Lane (Julie) Terrell and John (Francie) Terrell; grandchildren Cuyler, Mariah, and Becca (Randy); great grandchildren Laurel and Oliver; and a sister Lydia. Steve was preceded in death by his parents. Cremation has taken place, a memorial service to follow at a later date.
Robert Soter, 68, Vicksburg, passed away June 19. Robert was born on April 29, 1952 to Samuel and Tina Soter in Buffalo, N.Y. Bob was a drummer for 59 years, as he started to teach himself to play the drums at 9. His older sister purchased him his very first drum set for his 12th birthday. While still in Buffalo, Bob belonged to two bands, the Nightwalkers and the Nighthawks. More recently, he was in a group called the Backroads Band. Bob was a man with many skills and he especially loved working in the automotive industry. Throughout his life he worked for GM. Next, he was a custom car painter and was a condition reporter for Schoolcraft Auto Auction before he retired. Soon after retiring, Bob found himself bored and needed a way to spend his time. He began working at Shaffer’s flowers and enjoyed every minute of it. Bob’s favorite part was dropping off flowers for someone and saying “Somebody loves you!” He will always be known as an amazing father and partner. He loved his kids and his wife of 19 years, Rebecca. Bob will be remembered as an amazing husband and a hard worker who would do anything for his daughters. Bob is survived by his wife, Rebecca; daughters Kate (Soter) Selvidge, Lindsay Soter, Maya (Soter) David and Jillian Soter; his sister, Marge Soter; grandchildren Cheyanne, Isabella, Tate and Dylan; and great grandchildren John Albert and Everly. Bob was preceded in death by his parents, Samuel Anthony and Fatina (Neenos) Soter, his sister, Elana Soter, and the mother of his children, Vickie Lehto and stepson Daniel. Visit his page at mccowensecord.com.
Della Mae Spencer, 71, Gobles, formerly of Vicksburg, passed away June 22. Della was born on March 18, 1949 in Vicksburg, the third of four children of Harry and Mary (Viro) Spencer. She graduated from Vicksburg Schools in 1968. Della was born again and baptized at the Journey Family Church in Gobles. She was outgoing, outspoken, and loving. She loved saving animals. She is survived by her daughters, Heather Gause of Florida, Mary Burgoyne of Decatur; grandchildren Joplin and Sirius Burgoyne of Decatur; a sister, Leota (Linda Jones) Michielson, of Lawton. She is also survived by her special companion of over 40 years, Stanley Chaney of Gobles. Visit her page at mccowensecord.com. Donations may go to the Journey Family Church Building Fund.
Elmer “Walt” Ellis Walters Jr., 89, Scotts, went to be with the Lord on May 30. “Junior” was born on the family farm in Jones, Mich. He began a long career in the paper mill industry as a teen. He was a veteran of the Korean War, (1954-1956). Known more as “Walt” in his later years, he was manager of shipping and receiving at Quality Farm and Fleet for 20 years and also worked at Advanced Molding Innovations. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, camping and tinkering with his tractor at his farm in Scotts. Elmer was preceded in death by his parents, Elmer and Clara Walter, a sister, Betty (Bud) Jensen, and his beloved daughter, Arlene Walter Moord. Surviving are his brother, Fred (Lorna) Walter, his wife of 30 years, Sandi Walters, stepdaughter Melanie (Quentin) Witkowski, granddaughters MaRinda (Mac) Stamp, MaHaley Moord, Hadley and Sutton Witkowski, great grandchildren Cameron, Brixton and Ellis Stamp, stepdaughter Ardell (Alvin) Bontrager and their three children, and cousin Doug Bouwman. Elmer has been cremated and per his wishes will be interred at Poe’s Cemetery next to his daughter. Donations may go to Ascension At Home Hospice and Scotts United Methodist Church.
George Eugene Wedel, 81, Scotts, passed away June 21. George was born June 16, 1939 to Harley and Isabelle Wedel and grew up in Kalamazoo with his brothers, Harley and Richard, both deceased, and Roger, who survives. He met his high school sweetheart, Joyce Christensen, at Kalamazoo Central. They were married January 31, 1959. George and Joyce had three children, Terrie (Dana) Schwartz, Andrew (Danielle) Wedel, and Bonnie (Richard) Russell. Their grandchildren are Nathan (Lindsey) Schwartz, Andrea (Gary) Truax, Nicholas Schwartz, Zachariah Wedel, Caleb Wedel, and Eli Wedel and great grandchildren Dylan, Jackson, Alaina and Callen Truax and Stella Schwartz. George’s father started Wedel’s Nursery, Florist & Garden Center in 1946 in Kalamazoo. Joyce, Terrie, Andrew, Bonnie, and Andrea, Zachariah, and Caleb have all worked at Wedel’s Garden Center. Donations may go to Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, Forgotten Man Ministries or Country Christian Evangelical Free Church.
Michael Lewis Yeager, 52, Vicksburg, went home to be with his Lord and Savior on June 12. Mike was born on September 26, 1967 to George and Roxanna Yeager. He was a graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School and attended Berkeley School of Music in Boston and the Guitar Institute in Hollywood. He was a member of the bands P-Brain TV and LO-FI Scorpio. He enjoyed singing on the praise team at Westwood Christian Reformed Church. Mike loved fishing and spending time with family and friends. Mike was preceded in death by his father, George Yeager and is survived by his mother, Roxanna Yeager; his wife, Kristi Yeager; children Jake Andrews and Adrianna (Jon) Boyd and grandson Ryder Michael Boyd. Private services will be held for Mike at Westwood Christian Reformed Church and his interment will take place at Vicksburg Cemetery. Donations may go to Westwood Christian Reformed Church or the West Michigan Cancer Center. Visit his page at langelands.com.
Steven Fryling, Tamra Stafford and incumbent Greg Feldmeier are vying for two four-year trustee positions on the Schoolcraft Township Board in the Aug. 4 primary. There are no Democratic candidates to face the primary winners in the Nov. 3 general election. Trustees are paid $100 per meeting.
Greg Feldmeier: It has been a privilege to be a trustee on the Schoolcraft Township Board for the past eight years.
I practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Kalamazoo for 40 years , retiring six years ago. Ann and I raised five children and now are most fortunate to have nine grandchildren coming to our lake home regularly. We moved to the township in 2002.
During my tenure on the Board:
• Our roads have been improved significantly. There is still work to be done, especially on the low-volume roads and the plats, while maintaining the more heavily used roads so that they don’t need major repairs, as had been the case prior to 2002.
• Swan Park has blossomed under the direction and hard work of Ryan LaPorte. If you haven’t been out there, take a look! It is amazing!
• The 131 Industrial Corridor has continued to develop with several major projects and the substantial enlargement of the J. Rettenmaier plant.
• We are financially sound on the 0.87 mills allocated to us. There is currently more than a one-year cushion in the bank.
I would like to continue as a Trustee of Schoolcraft Township for another 4 years in order to continue to help with the growth and development of our township, while maintaining its rural character and our superb quality of life.
Thank you, Greg Feldmeier
Steve Fryling: I grew up in Mendon and graduated from WMU in 1985, in science, social studies and education.
My wife, Holly, and I moved back to Mendon where I started teaching. From 1986-1990, I served as a Mendon Village Trustee and at age 24, was elected Village President. In 1990, I was elected as a Republican to serve on the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners for one term before moving my family to Vicksburg in 1991.
Holly worked for Vicksburg Optometry and I worked for Vicksburg Schools as a teacher and principal. Both daughters are Vicksburg grads.
I have served on the Schoolcraft Township Planning Commission, the Vicksburg Schools Foundation, and as Lay Leader at Vicksburg United Methodist Church.
In 2018 I retired after 33 years in teaching, leading the staff at Vicksburg Middle School, and helping to start and lead an alternative high school in Vicksburg, that has over 110 graduates.
“Retired life” includes managing our family’s apartment rental business in Mendon, and being a grandfather.
The township board does not communicate well with the taxpayers and often takes actions without getting proper input, as shown by the misguided attempt at a charter. Citizens need better access to township information and feel that they are a part of the decision-making process. I can do better.
Tamra Stafford: A lifelong resident of Vicksburg, I now reside in Schoolcraft Township with my husband of 36 years. Our son grew up here and graduated from Vicksburg High School. I hold a bachelor’s degree in business administration. I am a member of Vicksburg United Methodist Church.
I have strong leadership and organizational skills. I’m no stranger to government, having worked in the Kalamazoo city manager’s office for almost 10 years. I retired from the Air Zoo after more than 19 years, after building its volunteer program to over 200 volunteers as human resources director, membership manager, and volunteer manager.
I have gained leadership experience and organizational skills, with experience working on boards and committees. I recently joined the Vicksburg Historical Society Board of Directors.
I work part-time for South County Community Services as transportation coordinator, working with volunteers to help seniors and the disabled obtain rides through the Metro Share Van Program.
My passion is helping others and working with volunteers. I am dedicated to this community, as my experience shows. Loyal, honest and hard-working, I would truly appreciate your vote for Schoolcraft Township trustee on August 4.
I hope to educate the public on township services through Facebook, website, e-mails and phone calls, to listen to our taxpayers, be compassionate and understanding and have an open mind for comments and suggestions.
A Miracle Field was just a gleam in Dave Olson’s eyes until May 20, when he put a shovel in the ground to turn the first piece of sod in The Dome’s field in Schoolcraft. He was accompanied by a cohort of volunteers who also believed that every kid deserves the chance to play baseball, especially those with special needs.
This group from many different parts of Kalamazoo County has raised $750,000 of the estimated $1.1 million cost. A Miracle Field is a custom-designed field with a cushioned, rubberized surface to help prevent injuries. It will feature wheelchair accessible dugouts and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair users or visually impaired players. A buddy assists each Miracle League player onto the field and during the game cheers them on, and makes sure their time is enjoyable and safe while giving the players’ parents a break to enjoy the game. It is associated with a larger group of Miracle League fields across the United States.
“About two years ago, Olsen, a Vicksburg business owner, was in Grand Rapids and stumbled across a Miracle League game,” said Jud Hoff, president of the Southwest Michigan Miracle League (SMML) and co-owner of The Dome Sports Center. “Dave dreamed that we could build a Miracle Field in Kalamazoo, so he reached out to Bill Deming, the former Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Portage. Bill approached Josh Baird, my business partner, and asked if we’d heard of a Miracle Field. We had just purchased some property by The Dome on US-131, and we weren’t sure what we were going to do with it. So, Bill took us up to see a Miracle League game. About five minutes into it, I turned to Josh and said, ‘We have to do this.’”
Baird, SMML’s vice president, remembers that day well. “The joy and excitement on the kids’ faces and the difference that the Miracle League was making in the community was evident within minutes. So we decided to build a Miracle Field of our own to serve the kids in southwest Michigan who could benefit from this field. Our mission is to create an environment where every kid, regardless of their abilities, has the chance to play sports. We still have about $300,000 in fundraising to go, but we wanted to get started building that field of dreams when we did the groundbreaking in May. The Miracle Field will do so much for the Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and southwest Michigan area, bringing equity, unity and a community spirit that is so important right now.”
Olsen is the League Commissioner and on the SMML board. He talks about the time he and his wife, Kim, were watching their grandson play a game in Grand Rapids and saw a Miracle League game on the field next to them. “I saw this dad pushing a kid in a wheelchair to first base. I can’t describe the look on that dad’s and that kid’s face. Pure joy. I wanted to bring that joy here.” He said to Kim, ‘Why not us? Let’s do this.’”
Olsen said that so many kids are lucky to be able to play a sport. “They take it for granted that they can play. The Miracle League players don’t have the same luck that the other kids do. It takes them hours of prep just to get to the field. It’s not right that there’s this whole group of kids getting left out of sports. The Miracle League is going to change that.”
Lisa Anspaugh and Wade Rutkoskie, both of Schoolcraft, also serve on the League’s board. Anspaugh came to the group because she had a huge passion for baseball and softball. She and her husband played in college and coached their daughter and sons. “I’m so blessed to have able-bodied children, and if I can give kids the chance to experience the game we love so much, I have to do it. I’m so proud to be a part of the Miracle League and bring it to our community.”
For Rutkoskie, it’s all about giving back to the Schoolcraft community that he grew up in and still lives in today. “I’ve been a Little League coach for a long time, and there have been kids who wanted to play but it wasn’t safe for them. I felt horrible that they couldn’t play. As a school board member, I know that we have a fair number of kids here with special needs, and it will be great to serve them. When I saw the bond between the Miracle League players and their buddies, I couldn’t describe the joy. They were just playing baseball, but it was so much more than that.”
His wife, Cari Rutkowski, is on the board and handles marketing and public relations. “She does a great job at connecting all the dots and is the leader that makes all the other people look so good,” Baird said.
For Cari, it’s about making sure the organization is aligned with the goals and values of the Miracle League. She said, “It’s so important that people understand the focus and meaning behind the mission of this organization. It’s a true celebration of athletes of all abilities and ensuring they have the opportunity to play ball. For their parents, it’s experiencing the joy of watching their child play and being part of a team.” In Kalamazoo County alone, there are 4,600 kids who could benefit from the Miracle League. Kids in counties throughout southwest Michigan are welcome to play.
Hoff, Olsen, Baird, Rutkowski and Anspaugh have attracted plenty of help from board members that include Chris Sargent, head of United Way, Josh Will, Dr. Luchara Wallace, Eric Guerin, and Billy Gernon, Western Michigan University’s head baseball coach.
Teenagers have also gotten into raising funds. Bryce Hoff and Grace Cheatham from Portage Central and Jacob Baird, a Vicksburg High School senior, combined with students from Schoolcraft and Portage to form a Youth Board for the Miracle Field. They put canisters out in their schools and did fundraising events to help swell the coffers. They are in striking distance of their $10,000 goal.
Donations have come from far and wide but the SMML still needs funds to finish building the Miracle Field. To help support the cause and bring this dream to life, visit http://www.swmimiracle.org/donate.
Having a good book to read during quarantine time might be coming soon to the Vicksburg and Schoolcraft libraries. Both have shut their doors for over eight weeks and it’s a cinch that folks are missing their libraries, said Schoolcraft Library Director Pam Ballet.
“We are planning to open in phases, with each phase being flexible in length and procedure according to new information that is available,” Ballet said. “We will be starting with curbside service, then phasing into lobby service and ending with reopening of most services. Within each phase there will be requirements as well as safety features in place. We will have the reopening plan available on our website as soon as it’s approved. We are also planning a summer reading program, but all registrations, data recording and activities will be virtual through our site, Facebook and YouTube. Information will be on our website in the next few weeks.”
In Vicksburg, District Library Director Eric Hansen has been working to provide safe ways to re-open when Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders expire. “It has been important to listen to the numerous teleconferences that are available provided by the Kalamazoo Health and Community Services Department, the Southwest Michigan Library Cooperative, and the Library of Michigan. We are also considering information provided by the Michigan Library Association, The American Library Association, and the government of the state of Michigan.
“Planning has been challenging, since new executive orders and information have been emerging every week,” Hansen said. “However, I have created a list of options that include legal requirements and best practices provided by the organizations above. These are meant to conform to mandatory workplace safety requirements and to protect the health and safety of returning employees and patrons. These options will be a topic of discussion during our next board meeting, and we expect there will be some visible changes to our library services during the months following our re-opening.”
“As Eric expressed, we are anxious to serve our community and see our patrons again. The safety of our staff and community is on our hearts and we are working to reopen to serve safely,” Ballet said.
Schoolcraft serves about 160 to 170 families per week in its pickup and delivery food program, according to Brenda Lynn, head of food services.
A special treat for the Schoolcraft families the last Wednesday in May was 100 hot pizzas donated by Little Caesars in Schoolcraft. It’s all about the company’s “Pay it Forward” effort, Lynn said. “During the school year we pay for at least 250 pizzas each week as a regular part of our meal program. We also have a fruit and vegetable for lunch every day.”
Lynn tries to place her food order three weeks in advance. Besides Gordon Food Service, she also uses Van Eerden Foodservice as a second source. “It’s nice to deal with two companies. Our food service staff of five takes about three hours each week to organize and bag the meals. Then three people start delivering in cars, up to 32 families along with their school work. Our drive-up hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. on Wednesdays. “We are doing the assembly in bulk and packing it all in one sack, like a bag of groceries,” Lynn said. School social work staff Michelle Schneider, Shelby Getsinger and Stefanie Dunham help with the distribution.
Besides working from home, Lynn comes into the high school three days a week. Everybody on her staff is employed with some of them tutoring young students via zoom and Google classroom.
The current food program is allowed to operate until June 30. Lynn figures she will continue up to that date. Then summer feeding will take over only for school districts in which at least 50 percent of children are eligible for free and reduced lunch programs. Schoolcraft doesn’t qualify; 26 percent of its students are eligible. Lynn plans to give out get maps to families so they will know where continuing Kalamazoo County summer programs are available.
Even though COVID-19 has caused major disruptions for almost every facet of life, some good news was reported at the Schoolcraft school board meeting: lower interest rates for the district’s upcoming bond project.
The meeting was once again held online via Zoom due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Nathaniel Watson of PFM Financial Advisors LLC was on hand to announce the district obtained investors through Stifel, Nicolaus & Company Inc. This is the same company that helped refinance the district’s 2009 bonds last February.
“The municipal bond market really worked in our favor the last two or three weeks,” Watson said.
Through the backing of the state and the district’s excellent credit ratings, they were able to obtain lower financing rates. Watson said the true interest cost came in slightly below 3.3%. When the ballot language was put together, the rate was estimated at four percent. Since it is a 30-year bond, Watson said he expects they could reduce them again in 2030 and 2040. However, even if they are not, he said it was a “wonderful” outcome for the community.
After fees and cost of issuance, the project will have $39,746,000 to work with. Watson said that is $856,000 more than they projected going into their treasury meetings. Superintendent Rusty Stitt and many of the board members said they were thrilled with the good news.
Trustee Jill Hunt gave a short update on the progress of the project, which is already working on plans for the seventh and eighth grade gym and classroom additions. They are also starting to consider exactly where the new kindergarten through sixth grade building will stand on the school property. She said early considerations must account for things like where food services vehicles will travel onto the property. Hunt said they would already be looking at early conceptual plans for the seventh and eighth grade classroom additions the following week.
“We expect to narrow that (the conceptual plans) to a couple of options and then take it to a larger committee for some community feedback,” she said. “All in all, things are going pretty well.”
There were also some discussions about how classes would look in the fall. More specifically, Board President Jennifer Gottschalk wanted to know what the determining factor would be about a decision on face-to-face learning vs a hybrid online schedule when classes resume.
Superintendent Rusty Stitt said the decision would hinge mostly upon the Governor’s executive orders. If social distancing is still needed in the fall, major schedule changes are being considered. The three biggest possibilities are a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, alternating days of instruction or an a.m.-p.m. schedule that may come into play. Stitt said there will be a committee with staff involvement to look at the possibilities in the coming months.
“There are a lot of options that we need to look at related to our programming for next school year,” Stitt said. “We don’t know what we are going to get from Lansing.”