Category Archives: Schoolcraft

School Construction Project in Experienced Hands

Jill Van Dyken Hunt at a Schoolcraft school board meeting.

By Sue Moore

“I’ve sat quietly for the last three years on the Schoolcraft School board, having agreed to run three years ago to help with a potential building project,” said Jill Van Dyken Hunt. “Now I believe I can put my skill set to good use as we move forward to the design and build phase of the recently approved buildings for Schoolcraft.”

She has a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Eastern Michigan University and worked for a Kalamazoo architect for 18 years before accepting an offer from Stryker in 2010 to oversee a new building project.

She will chair the steering committee that will oversee the school system’s new 7th and 8th grade gym and classroom and then do a deep dive into design and build for the new elementary building.

Hunt is being humble about her qualifications. Accepting that 2010 offer placed her a team charged with bringing the company’s 485,000 square-foot. building at 1941 Stryker Way on Portage Road to fruition.

Her title is senior project manager on the facilities team for the Stryker Instruments Division. There were four people on the building team that now houses engineers and other staff from the division. The project took 10 years from start to occupancy.

Fortunately, Hunt doesn’t expect construction of the new school buildings will take that long. Nevertheless, there are a lot of unknowns because of the coronavirus outbreak.

At Stryker her team could meet together easily. They listened to what the staff told them they needed in their office space, did surveys of managers and engineers, then produced a building that they really love to work in now, Hunt said.

She and the school’s team of board President Jennifer Gottschalk, Trustee Wade Rutkowski, Superintendent Rusty Stitt, the three building principals and community member Kory Bienz will meet via Zoom to iron out details in the next few weeks.

“We have already started the process with the gym addition, getting the stakeholders involved in the early design,” Hunt said. “We’ll get down in the weeds with them to learn all we can, then come back to them with some options and narrow those down to two or three possibilities. We have to keep the amount of bond money in mind while making decisions. Right now, there are a lot of unknowns but we want to get out in front of this early. Once we go out to bid, the market could be quiet or really busy, we just don’t know.”

Meanwhile, Hunt is working for Stryker at home from her kitchen table. She is homeschooling her two children, Jamison, 9, in third grade and Sienna, 11, who is in fifth grade.

Board of Education Starts New Construction Planning

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education wasted no time at its April meeting getting to work on facility construction plans, just a month after voters passed a $39.9 million bond issue.

This month’s meeting was held online over Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic. Trustee Jill Hunt took the lead in the discussion, reviewing a timeline and two contracts already in place.

The first of the two is with project architect TMP Architecture. Hunt said the contract had been sent to its attorney for review and would be sent back for a signature from Superintendent Rusty Stitt soon.

The second contract is with Triangle Construction, the district’s construction manager. Hunt said the contract was slightly different than she is used to working with. Triangle will not do construction work itself. Instead, it will manage subcontractors and act as an advisor to the district. She said this kind of arrangement is common because school administrators aren’t used to managing construction projects.

“I think it’s a really good idea to go this route for a school district, so Rusty and the administrative team and whomever else don’t have to necessarily put eyes on how this wall is being built or other things,” Hunt said. “They certainly can do that and give some feedback, but we’re going to have the experts in construction, Triangle, do that for us.”

Both TMP and Triangle had previously advised the district during the proposal process and had been key in convincing the board to retry the bond proposal unchanged after it failed the first time by 61 votes last November.

Hunt also cited the several committees that have been formed to make decisions. A steering committee with Hunt as the chair will get recommendations from a series of stakeholder committees for each of the five projects.

“What we’re going to ask each of these stakeholder committees to do is to work with the architects,” Hunt said.

Those groups will get input and the architects will design the project, which will then be presented to the steering committee. The steering committee, in turn, will present the ideas to a committee of community members for additional feedback before the steering committee makes a final recommendation to the board for approval of the projects.

The first project being tackled will be a gymnasium for the seventh and eighth grade. Design on that project has already begun and will run through August. Hunt said bidding and construction would begin shortly afterwards.

Additions of seventh and eighth grade classrooms will begin after that. The first design meetings are slated to begin in June with the design finished by November and bidding in December. The hope is for construction to begin in March, 2021 with the project wrapping up by September that year.

Also kicking off in June will be the design of the largest part of the bond proposal, the construction of a new pre-K through sixth grade building. Because of the scale of the project, the design phase is expected to take much longer, until May, 2021. The committee is hoping construction will begin in July, 2021, but it will be the longest part of the bond proposal.

“We should have the building turned over to us, we should be trained on how to run the mechanical systems, we should have our security in place, our infrastructure in place in March of 2023,” Hunt said.

The fourth project will be the track and upgrades to the stadium and tennis courts. That design won’t start until July, 2021 and run through December. Construction will start in March, 2022 with a slated completion date of August 2022.

The district’s final project will be the demolition of the older facilities. Hunt said this plan is still being formulated but current planning leans toward starting that project after Labor Day, 2023, when the construction projects are done and demolition cost may be lower.
Hunt acknowledged there are some risks to this schedule from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously we’ve got some non-essential shutdowns, so we don’t know if and when certain trades are going to be able to work,” Hunt said. “There could be some supply chain issues that could happen for us. Big mechanical systems might not be able to be made; they might have to ship from overseas.”

She’s also concerned about unknowns when it comes to subcontractors, mostly because some of the smaller subcontractors the district may have previously used might go out of business during the pandemic.

“The fewer folks you have bidding, the higher your prices are going to be,” she said.
Board President Jennifer Gottschalk thanked Hunt for her work on the issue and noted they have made some slight adjustments due to the disruptive nature of COVID-19. She said they moved the larger elementary project back slightly hoping that all involved parties can meet in person by June.

“Otherwise we’re going to be forced to meet with Zoom. We cannot put this project on hold,” Gottschalk said.

She said the ideal scenario would allow them to meet and discuss the larger project of the elementary in person. But they will make it work virtually if there is no other option.


Larry Oliver Briggs, 77, Mendon, died April 20 at Bronson Methodist Hospital. He was born in Kalamazoo on Sep. 24, 1942, the son of the late Oliver and Jessie (Evans) Briggs. He graduated from Vicksburg High School and first worked at Tibbots as a welder and then Simpson Paper Company. Larry spent most of his working life at American Axle in Three Rivers. He coached Mendon Rocket Football and Little League Baseball and enjoyed building things in his workshop, especially swing-sets. Larry is survived by his wife, the former Evelyn Sue Hines; sons Kurt (Olga) Briggs of Fishers, Indiana and Kevin Briggs of Mendon; grandchildren Mischa and Allison Briggs and Austin, Connor, Coleton, Ashton, Carter, and Kaylena Briggs; siblings Gene, Connie, Virg, Diana, Ronnie, and Gary; and nieces and nephews. In keeping with his wishes, cremation has been conducted and a memorial service will be held at a later date. Assistance was provided by the Eickhoff Funeral Home of Mendon. Memories and condolences may be shared at

Thelma Louise (Parsell) Buckham, 90, passed away unexpectedly in her home on April 18. Thelma was born in St. Clair Shores, Mich. on April 15, 1930, the youngest of eight children. On April 30, 1949, she was united in marriage with George Kingsley Buckham and moved to Buckham Farms in Oshtemo, where they worked the farm with their four children and George’s twin brother, Fred. Her gentle and work-worn hands delivered triplet lambs, canned bushels of peaches, kneaded bread dough, sowed seeds, and sewed sheep blankets and party dresses for her granddaughters. She was actively involved in the Oshtemo 4-H Club and Kalamazoo County 4-H for over 70 years. Thelma is survived by her children, Gail (Carl) VanderKolk of Dorr, George (Kathy) Buckham of Schoolcraft, Jeff (Julia) Buckham of Schoolcraft and Brian (Susan) Buckham of Richland; 19 grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren; 2 great-great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. Private burial has taken place in Genesee Prairie Cemetery. A service to celebrate Thelma’s life will be held later this year. Services are entrusted to Langeland Family Funeral Homes Burial & Cremation Services, Kalamazoo. Visit her page at

Stephen Joel Crane, 82, Battle Creek, formerly of Scotts, passed away April 18. Stephen was born on June 23, 1937 in Detroit and was the only child of Leland and Cecilia (Lenaham) Crane. In his younger years he enjoyed playing baseball. After high school he proudly served his country in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. He worked as a pallet maker for Rock-Tenn in Battle Creek. Stephen was a member of the VFW Post 1527 and the Kalamazoo County Masonic Lodge. On November 10, 2001 he married Norma Jean Olson. Stephen is survived by his daughter, Denise Crane, of Kalamazoo; stepchildren Ronnie (Brenda) Olson of Kalamazoo, Denny (Karen Nay) Olson of Vicksburg, David (Kim) Olson of Vicksburg, Karen (Tom) Dillon of Galesburg, Brenda (Joel) Nelson of Vicksburg and Jack (Dawn Waldron) Olson of Vicksburg; 14 grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Norma Jean Crane, in 2012. Stephen is being cremated and will have a military burial of his ashes at Fort Custer National Cemetery once it can be held publicly. Visit his page at Donations may go to Talons Out Honor Flight

Helen I. Meeuwse, 88, Vicksburg, died April 8. Helen was born February 24, 1932 in Kalamazoo to Edward and Edna (Miles) Stacey. On February 19, 1949, she married Engbert Meeuwse. Helen worked for the Gibson Guitar Company for 17 years. She was an avid reader and enjoyed gardening and weeding. Helen is survived by her children, Kay (George) Kucinich, Brenda (Mike) Hills and Jerry (Karla Derington) Meeuwse; grandchildren Melissa McGuire, Anne (Paul) Bowgett, Duane (Emily) Kucinich and Miles Meeuwse; two great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Helen was preceded in death by her husband, Engbert, brothers Charles, Loyal, Ralph, Miles and Arnold Stacey and sisters Elizabeth Harden, Meda Ruse and Loraine Martin. Due to the COVID-19 virus, a service will be held later when it is safe for Helen’s family and friends to be together and celebrate Helen’s life. Donations may go to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. Visit her page at

Stuart Renwick Molineaux, 84, Battle Creek, passed away peacefully in his sleep April 12 at Care Community. He was born on August 23, 1935, the only son of Grace and Forrest Molineaux of Vicksburg. He is survived by sisters Sharon Rutz of Marcellus; Debbie Molineaux and Sue Molineaux, both of Green Valley, Ariz.; Jeanne Molineaux, Penn Valley, Calif.; nephews Casey Hulse of Vicksburg, Steve Rutz of Silver Springs Md., Chris Rutz of St. Joseph, Bryan Graybill of Gladwin, Mich; and many cousins. Stuart was predeceased by his oldest sister, Pam Hulse. Stuart was raised in Crystal, MI. He was a marine and then practiced law. Stuart was physically assaulted in the mid-1990’s with resulting brain damage and moved to supported living. Visit Stuart’s page at

Diane Kay Reece, 80, Kalamazoo, died April 27 at Friendship Village. She was born on Sept. 4, 1939 and raised on the family farm in Fulton, the daughter of Forrest and Ruth (Harrison) Snyder. Diane graduated from VHS in 1958. On June 21, 1959, she married Ron Reece, whom she had known since kindergarten. He preceded her in death on October 18, 2006. Diane is survived by her three children, Jeff (Katie) Reece of Ann Arbor, Tammy Patterson of Portage, and Jenny (Bryan) Taffee of Portage; grandchildren Morgan (Ryan) Szumski of Kalamazoo, Mackenzie (Nam) Le of Portage, and Mallory (Greg) Waddell of Kalamazoo, Jordan Taffee of Portage, and Carson Taffee of Portage; great grandchildren Carter and Collins Szumski, and Indie Le; sisters Joyce Francisco of East Naples, Florida, and Vera (Chuck) Walker of Portage; brothers-in-law Gordon Mitchell of Fulton, Richard Portinga of Portage, Tom (Sandy) Reece of Chicago, John (Lori) Reece of Ann Arbor, and Dave (Kathy) Reece of Portage; sister-in-law Janet Reece of Chicago; and many nieces and nephews. In addition to her husband and parents, Diane was preceded in death by her father- and mother-in-law, Paul and Beulah Reece; brothers and sisters-in-law, Richard and Iva Snyder, Stewart and Maxine Snyder, Leslie and Rowene Snyder; brother Lee Snyder; sister Mildred (nee Snyder) Mitchell; sisters and brothers-in-law Alice (nee Snyder) and Dana Fry, Peggy (nee Snyder) Hollenbeck-Portinga and Gary Hollenbeck; and brothers-in-law, Sam Francisco and Jack Reece. Donations may go to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan or Bok Tower Gardens. Visit her page at

John Franklin Sturgeon, 87, Vicksburg, passed away April 8 at his home. John was born December 23, 1932 in Flint, the son of Jonathan Martin and Ida Mae (Goode) Sturgeon. He graduated from Dye High School in the class of 1953, attended Owosso College and proudly served in the Michigan National Guard. John was an active member of both Owosso and Vicksburg Nazarene churches where he sang bass in the church choirs for the past 40 years, along with serving on calling teams and the church board. He married Shirley Mae Shoup in Owosso on February 13, 1970. John retired from General Motors after 42 years of service. John is survived by his wife; children Mark (Sherri) Sturgeon of Mattawan, Paul Sturgeon of Henderson, Nev., Karen Lewkowski of Lakeland, Fla., David (Sue) Stanton of Sturgis, Johnna Sturgeon (Kevin Maves) of Vicksburg, Joanna Sturgeon (T.J. Sibert) of Vicksburg; 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren; other loving family members and friends. He was predeceased by his parents and brothers Albert and Martin Sturgeon. A private family graveside service will be held at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens and a public celebration will be held at a later date. Donations may go to Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. Online condolences may be sent to the family at

Julius William Weessies, Jr. “Bill”, 80, passed away April 16. He was born June 16, 1939 in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Julius and Irene (Frakes) Weessies, Sr. Bill grew up in Vicksburg and graduated from Vicksburg High School. He served in the U.S. Air Force, returned to the Kalamazoo area and resumed working as a technician for Western Electric and its successor companies, retiring in 1994. Bill was a longtime fan and supporter of WMU Hockey and enjoyed cruising, powerboating and auto racing. On March 11, 1961, Bill married the former Judith A. Ryder who preceded him in death on February 20, 1994. He was also preceded in death by his parents. Bill is survived by his son, Greg Weessies of Schoolcraft; his companion, Carolyn Kirkpatrick of Portage; brothers Jim and Bob Weessies; several nieces and nephews; and many close friends. Private graveside services will be held in the Schoolcraft Village Cemetery. Donations may go to Bickford of Portage Assisted Living & Memory Care. Visit his page at

Twelve Baskets Feeds the Multitudes

twelve basket 3
Two volunteers at Twelve Baskets are busy stocking shelves.

By Sue Moore

John 6:13 Twelve Baskets

The name Twelve Baskets originated from the twelve baskets of food that remained after Jesus fed the 5,000 at the Sermon on the Mount. Thus, the mission statement for Twelve Baskets food pantry: “To lead the fight against hunger in our community by bridging the gap between the need and the excess while restoring hope, dignity and self-respect”.

Twelve Baskets Food Pantry at 10332 Portage Road will be celebrating its sixth year of operation in June. It serves the communities of Portage, Schoolcraft, Three Rivers and Vicksburg. The pantry is open for distribution four times a month. Clients can shop twice a month if needed.

The pandemic has affected the way Twelve Baskets operates. But it will return to a normal mode of operation once this is over. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, the pantry is experiencing a 50 percent increase in families receiving food assistance. It’s averaging 155 families per week, though on April 25, more than 170 families received food.

“In the past six weeks, donations have increased, partly because the name is becoming known in the area and partly because those that have the means are more sympathetic to our need,” said Joann Wespinter, the nonprofit’s board secretary. “I receive phone calls every day asking about the need for donations of food and or dollars. The pandemic has certainly created a greater need among the families in the area.”

Twelve Baskets is open the first and third Friday evenings of each month and the second and fourth Saturday mornings of the month. “There is an evening distribution and a morning distribution to make it workable for families,” Wespinter explained. “We do not require proof of need, just their word. We made this decision in the very beginning because we felt it was hard enough for clients to admit need, let alone prove it. They must live in our area, however. We do not serve Kalamazoo. There are many areas of food assistance available there”.

Twelve Baskets purchases food from Feeding America and accepts donations from many grocery stores and restaurants. It has three vehicles for food pickup; they are on the road seven days a week, with several pickups on most days. It has a real need for drivers for these pickups as the ones it has are overworked. Sometimes the pantry requires extra vehicles and drivers, depending on which direction they are going and how far away it is. That requires the use of personal vehicles.

In normal times the pantry operates like a grocery store. Clients arrive, get a grocery cart and shop for things that they need, based on the size of their family. During this shutdown, the pantry is packaging the food in advance. Clients drive up and open their trunk. Boxes of food are placed in the trunk; the clients are not getting out of their cars to maintain a safe distance. Clients receive a generous amount of food, almost two weeks of meat, produce, milk, canned and boxed goods, bread, eggs and baked goods.

“Each week we receive a generous amount of food and money donations,” Wespinter said. “Because we are a 100 percent donation, 100 percent volunteer pantry, we would not exist if this did not happen. Foods that are hard for us to purchase and difficult to acquire are peanut butter and jelly, vegetable juices, soups, vegetables, and pasta sauces.

“As an example, a man called recently and said he was on his way to Sam’s Club and what could he buy that we needed,” Wespinter said. “I listed some items and because it was a Sunday, I told him to put the items in the donation box at the front of the pantry, the driveway side. He didn’t even give his name. A bit later, my husband went over there and put the food inside. It was a fine, generous donation.”

Twelve Baskets began operating using the pantry idea in October of 2013 and opened its doors officially in June of 2014. A group of parishioners from Lake Center Bible Church worked on the concept. They also decided that they wanted their clients to be able to shop twice a month, because produce, bread and baked goods had a limited shelf life.

They operated under the umbrella of the church until the pantry obtained its 501(c)3 nonprofit status. “In the beginning I didn’t think this would pan out, but God has been with us and he has provided and continues to fill the pantry with food each week” Wespinter exclaimed. “Most clients are short term. For others, circumstances will never change and the pantry has become a social place. They arrive early, set up lawn chairs and just enjoy each other’s company. The socializing is over for the present, but I’m sure it will return once the pandemic is over.”

In the summer, Twelve Baskets receives fresh produce from Herman Koeideel, an organic gardener who lives on Portage Road, next to Eimo’s manufacturing plant. Koeideel was looking for somebody to help in the garden two years ago and found help from one of Twelve Basket’s families.

“Four years ago, we were facing a big problem of not having enough volunteers to continue operating. An idea was hatched and we approached our clients, clipboard in hand, to see if they would be interested in volunteering. About 20 of them said yes. About half of those original volunteers are still with them.

“Some are still clients, some are no longer in need but continue to volunteer,” Wespinter said. “Since then, we have recruited more clients, and about 65 per cent of our volunteer base are clients who are giving back.”

“On Tuesdays and Fridays, our volunteers unload vehicles, stock shelves, break down boxes and do general cleaning. A client assistant walks with each client as he or she shops, making suggestions and explaining various foods that may be new to the client,” Wespinter said.

“Others man a station, such as the meat isle, the cakes, pies, and goodies station, the egg station and the ‘fun food station’. Volunteers are also needed to help the clients to their cars and help load the car. The volunteers are hard-working and put their heart and soul into their job. A fringe benefit for clients that volunteer: they get to shop early on Friday afternoons, prior to the evening distribution if they have accumulated enough hours over a two-week period.”

“Throughout this pandemic no one has become sick and we are practicing all the guidelines” Wespinter said.

Spears Finds Solace in Family During Business Shutdown

Sy Spears
Sy Spears speaks up during a recent Schoolcraft village meeting.

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft village council member Sy Spears and his family are trying to make the best of a bad situation during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, the family business, Personal Touch Lawncare can’t operate right now.

“That’s definitely the biggest concern,” Spears said. “It’s a concern for my family, but more because we’ve got 15 other people with families who rely on us to get working. We’ve been in communication with them and they understand. It’s just tough.”

Spears and his parents have also been in contact with bankers trying to figure out a way to navigate the choppy economic waters caused by the pandemic. It hasn’t been easy because of the ever-evolving nature of the situation. The small business loan system has proven to be a headache.

“There really has not been much help or direction. You reach out to the banks and they kind of have their feeling and interpretation of it, and then the next day, wording has changed,” Spears said. “That’s been weird, but also kind of frustrating.”

Spears said the winter didn’t help them out this year. The company didn’t do as much snow plowing as it normally does. In fact, it had started to do some spring cleanup and landscaping projects early when the virus hit.

“If this was last year or the year before, I don’t know that it would be as big of an issue for most stuff because it was cold and wet this time last year,” Spears said. “It’s been so nice that people are already out mowing their lawn and stuff like that.”

He also noted that there will likely be a need for lawn care soon because many of their contracts are with apartment complexes and businesses that don’t own a lawn mower.

“After a month, some of these places, they’re going to have some pretty tall grass,” he said.

Spears has also seen his village duties impacted. The last in-person meeting was after the first social distancing guidelines were put in place. It was only 15 minutes long and covered just the essentials.

“We decided no new items would be discussed on the agenda,” Spears said. “It was just approving the minutes of the last meeting and approving things that had already been kind of in motion.”

The Village Council is now looking into options to hold its meetings remotely as many branches of government have had to do in recent weeks.

Spears said one unintended positive side effect of the pandemic has been spending more time at home with his family. One big challenge has been to keep his three children busy.

When the kids aren’t doing schoolwork, they’re keeping busy with art projects and YouTube videos. One big hit has been online tours of museums and zoos.

Spears said they’ve also made a point to get outside and just go for family walks around town.

“The kids bring chalk with them, so as we walk by a friend’s house, we’ll leave little chalk messages,” Spears said.

He said another unintended side effect of this new way of life has been the chance to reconnect with those he loves.

“As not nice as it is, not having baseball, softball, all that stuff, it has been kind of nice just being able to reconnect with your family and not just be on the go, go, go,” Spears said.

A Memory Test for You…

marilyn jonesThings are always changing. I can remember lots of things that are obsolete now. Can you recall when…..

1. Girls always wore a dress or skirt to school?

2. Or do you remember sucking on slivers of ice from the back of the ice wagon?

3. Or when most small boys carried a jackknife?

4. Or sending for a de-coder badge, advertised on the radio?

5. Or the days when the gas station workers washed your windshield and checked the oil?

6. When you went roller skating by using a key to tighten the skates to your shoes and then buckled the ankle straps?

7. When a nickel would buy an ice cream cone, a package of gum, or a Coke?

8. Do you remember the words to, “If I knew you were comin’ I’d a baked a cake?”

9. And when you snuggled at an outdoor movie, with the sound box clipped to a window?

Someday you will say, “Do you remember the year 2020, when the entire world shut down?” Yes, soon it will be history. We must try to remember all the kindness that people have shown with phone calls, good food dropped off, or a caring note.

And dear friend, if you remember all these things, you’re a lot older than I thought you were!

Marilyn Jones,
Schoolcraft’s poet laureate

“Spring – I’m Ready When You Are”

By Marilyn Jones,
Schoolcraft’s Poet Laureate

I always look forward to springtime
When once again the earth turns green,
The whiff of fresh air, and birds tweeting
Gives my spirits a lift – know what I mean?

This year, winter has been dragging its feet
Snow in April is disappointing to see,
But if we can just be a bit patient
Daffodils and tulips will be what we see.

Is your garden ready for planting?
If you settle for a hanging basket, that’s OK too,
In my small, back-door garden (on legs)
Last year I planted yellow pansies – quite a few.

Now this year, 2020, a pandemic came along
Most of the businesses shut down,
It was tiresome to be quarantined at home
Lots of folks are wearing a gloomy frown.

But some friends dropped groceries at the door
Others have called or written a note,
It was a day brightener to hear from each one
And we can still take walks (with a coat).

Going out the door, I got a pleasant surprise
There in my barren garden was one tiny pansy,
It stands proud, while reaching for the sky
If it can survive snow, wind and a virus

I have confidence now, if a tiny pansy can make it,
So can I!