Category Archives: Vicksburg

Fishing at its best and coldest

By Kathy DeMott

There are those who love to fish. Then there are ice fishers. They face frigid temperatures bundled in layers of clothing, pulling a sled filled with supplies to sit on bucket seats for hours on a frozen lake in hopes of catching the next big one. For some, it is a way to enjoy the outdoors, time with friends, or “a place to go when I get on my wife’s nerves.” For many, it’s family tradition.

South County has a plethora of lakes to choose from, each with its unique draw. Sunset Lake is often one of the first lakes to freeze so fishers come early to catch blue gill. Hogsett Lake has pike and a sledding hill for the kids. Deeper lakes like Indian and Portage are great for perch.

Safety is critical. Proper clothing is required; the better insulated, the longer one can fish. Ice fishing float suits are designed to help you float until you can climb to safety if the ice breaks. If this happens, roll to safer ice before standing. Fishing with others is recommended.

Once suited up, bring an ice spud to check the thickness of the ice. According to the Michigan DNR, there is no reliable “inch-thickness” to determine safety. The strongest ice is clear with a bluish tint while weak ice appears milky. Slush on ice weakens it and snow-covered ice insulates it, which could slow the freezing process or weaken the ice. Avoid open waters or shores with water present.

Don Kinney, 72, has been fishing since he was five. “If there’s a fish to be had in Vicksburg, I know where it lives. I’m a fishing fool.” He likes the convenience of Sunset and Hogsett because they are close to the beaches and easy to access. Austin Nufer says, “ice fishing allows you to fish in places you can’t access with a boat.”

Scott Byers of Vicksburg enjoys making memories with his children. He admits it can be work, drilling holes, moving site to site, but says, “Ice fishing is like a fishing bonus.” Courtney Zuniga says the cold temps are worth the reward of fresh fish.

There are plenty of fish stories such as catching a 31-inch pike on Indian Lake, a six-pound bass on Sunset, and a 42-inch pike on Portage. It’s part of the thrill. John Kiel of Schoolcraft grew up fishing with his dad and brother and now is teaching his daughters. Once while tip-up fishing with friends they tried hotdogs as bait on half the lines. After an evening of cards, coffee, and camaraderie, they had caught just as many pike with hotdogs as with shiners.

Double L Bait and Marine on South Sprinkle Road tries to keep a variety of perch minis, shiners, wax worms, and suckers as well as ice fishing supplies. Owner Clarence LaComb said ice fishers like to “chat it up” when they stop in; he enjoys the interactions. Whether they’re an avid ice fisher or just getting started, he invites them to stop by for supplies, bait, safety tips and a few good fish stories.

Construction updates from the Mill

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Despite COVID challenges, projects at the Mill remain close to schedule. Masonry work continues, as do lead abatement – paint removal – and roofing.  Jackie Koney, the Mill’s chief operating officer, anticipates masonry should be done by the end of this year. She remains hopeful that lead abatement will be complete in the late spring. Even though the masonry and roofing had to stop for a bit with COVID, the contractors have been able to make up some of the time. COVID rules allowed lead abatement to continue because of special permission from the State. The photographs, taken by Taylor Kallio of Alterra Media, help to capture the size and scale of the roofing project.

Vicksburg District Library kits help improve literacy

Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby displays one of the literacy kits she is bringing to the Vicksburg District Library this spring for circulation.

By Adrianne Schinkai, Head of Reference & Circulation Services, Vicksburg District Library

Through the COVID-19 closure, the Vicksburg District Library has been taking care to offer what services it can for patrons through curbside services. While a decent number of adults have taken advantage of these services, Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby is working to increase use by her target patrons – children and teenagers.

The solution? Fun take-home literacy kits.

She and Cataloger Barry Raifsnider are putting together various reading, gaming, and crafting kits to keep patrons from of infant to high school student engaged with literacy-focused activities during the health crisis.

Willoughby is excited about the new project. “I attended a children’s librarian conference, the Virtual National Institute, and observed a presentation about these amazing literacy kits,” she explains. “I wanted to offer something similar to our families because I often get requests from caregivers on how to help children with early literacy skills.”

The Vicksburg District Library has gone through various stages of closure since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation in the early spring of 2020. The Library was closed completely for the entirety of April and May 2020, opening to the public once more in mid-June with limited services, strict social distancing measures and use of face mask regulations in place. In October, the Library closed entirely for a two-week period due to staff exposure to the virus. In mid-November, following in the footsteps of other public libraries in the Southwest Michigan area, as well as the recommendations of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Library closed its doors to the public, but began to offer certain services via curbside, strictly by appointment only. The Library has indefinite plans to operate this way for the foreseeable future. The hope is the circulating kits will keep children and teenagers engaged with their literacy skills through the Library closure and virtual schooling sessions.

What is included in each kit depends upon the age and the desired content of the patron. Kits for early readers will include a variety of books, plus create-your-own-story cards, as well as games. Kits for teenagers may include a couple of young adult novels, an easy craft to do at home, and some snacks. Once the checkout period has finished for the kit, patrons return the kit to the library, and the entirety of the parcel is quarantined and sanitized by library staff. It is then set up for circulation for the next patron in line.

Willoughby has been providing a service like the kits since the current closure began. For fans of those who choose books by walking through the stacks, she has been creating customized book bundles for patrons based on their reading preferences. “We do currently offer story time kits and crafts for children and teens as well,” Willoughby adds. “All you have to do is contact the library to request yours and schedule an appointment for pick up. I do love creating the book bundles for our patrons. If you don’t know what to read, be sure to request one!” The literacy kits expand upon the book bundle concept to include items beyond books, but still include an engaging literacy aspect.

The take-home literacy kits currently do not have an official name, but advertising will be shared on the Library’s website and social media when they are ready to be circulated later this winter and early spring. In the meantime, those interested in reserving personal book bundles or craft kits can contact Willoughby at (269) 649-1648 or check out the Vicksburg District Library website at http://www.vicksburglibrary.org.

New signs guide at Vicksburg Historic Village

An example of the new informational signs.

By Don Wiertella

Informational signs were installed in December at 11 locations in the Vicksburg Historic Village. The eleven locations include all buildings and the railroad rolling stock.

The informational signs were designed and installed to accomplish two goals: During times when the buildings and rolling stock are not open, the informational signs will act as an “on-site” docent, providing information to visitors on a 24/7 basis. The second goal is to show more of the buildings’ insides and link to additional information on the Vicksburg Historical Society website.

“Informational signs at each site will give visitors insight into how each building represents part of our area history, as well as a brief view of the interior of each building,” said Maggie Snyder, museum curator. “The QR Codes will link to additional information on our website for each building, and hopefully encourage people to view our website in its entirety.”

The signs were manufactured and installed by the Sign Center in Kalamazoo. Each is 18 inches by 24 inches and was constructed using a custom high pressure luminant material with a metal frame, mounted on a single post anchored in concrete. All materials are powder-coated in black and are designed to provide many years of service.

This yearlong process was led by Maggie Snyder and John Polasek. The graphics and legends on each sign were designed by Snyder. Polasek acted as project manager by preparing the grant request to the Vicksburg Foundation, obtaining bid proposals from sign suppliers and overseeing the installation of the signs. The late Sue Moore also worked with Maggie in developing the concept of having informational signs installed in the Vicksburg Historic Village.

This project was an excellent example of cooperation between the Vicksburg Historical Society, the Vicksburg Foundation and the Village of Vicksburg. Dan Ryan from the Sign Center said, “I’ve really enjoyed working on this project and digging around in the Historic Village!”

Polasek added, “I have reviewed the completed project and find the work acceptable. As a matter of fact, I think that it is very well done.”

The Vicksburg Historical Society wants to make the Historic Village an activity area and destination location for the community. This project is an example of the Vicksburg Historical Society’s goal to expand the operation and focus, of the Historical Society to better serve its members, their supporters and the citizens of Vicksburg and the South County area.

Vicksburg Historical Society and Historic Village is comprised of a 1904 restored railroad depot, boxcar and caboose containing railroad history exhibits; one-room school restored to the 1930’s; print shop and newspaper office containing a large display of letterpress equipment; farmhouse and barn with furnishings and agricultural equipment circa 1870 to 1930. The mission of the Vicksburg Historical Society is to preserve, advance and disseminate knowledge of the history of the greater Vicksburg area. More information can be found at http://www.vicksburghistory.org.

2020 Tournament of Writers wraps with prizes

Judge’s Choice Grand Prize Winner Grace Flanagan.

By Jake Munson

On the evening of Jan. 13, a virtual celebration was held to honor the hard work and achievements of the 2020 Tournament of Writers participants. Many of the prizewinners had the opportunity to read their pieces, sharing them with all of those who attended virtually. State Senator Sean McCann also joined in on the fun, offering kind, encouraging remarks on writing. And he had the privilege of announcing the Judges’ Choice Grand Prize winner: Grace Flanagan. Grace submitted a poem in the Young Adult division titled “A Forest So Serene” which can be found online with other prize-winning entries in addition to the video recording of the virtual celebration, at http://www.vicksburgarts.com/tow-winners

A total of $350 in prize money was awarded to the winning participants. In all, there were 21 participants who submitted 26 pieces. The VCAC looks forward to seeing this number grow as the program continues to evolve and improve. Each submission is collected and printed in a book, “Small Town Anthology vol. VI,” which is now available for purchase on the VCAC website. Note: The VCAC also has a limited quantity of books available for purchase for those who prefer not to order the book online.

Looking ahead to the next Tournament of Writers, the window for accepting entries will open April 2 and will close June 4. During this period, a few improvements to the program will include a series of writing clinics and an improved submission process for participants. The writing clinics are slated to be held during this time as they are designed to give constructive feedback on things such as grammar and format, character/story development, and other writing and planning techniques to better equip participants as they craft their next entry before sending in the final product. More details regarding the writing clinics will be announced in forthcoming months here in South County News and on the VCAC’s Facebook and Instagram.

Thinking about joining in on the fun? Here are some things this year’s participants had to say about the Tournament of Writers:

“The support of creativity and writing is more important than ever, especially in this age of technology and emphasis on brevity and sound bites.” – Katie Grossman

“The Tournament of Writers provides an excellent platform for area residents to investigate the process of writing prose and poetry in a supportive climate.” – Kristina Powers Aubry

“During a time when nothing seemed “normal”, VCAC provided myself and others with a valued sense of community and accomplishment.” – Krista Ragotzy

“In times when humanity’s dark side seems to pull us apart, this writing event brings us together.” – Annette Smitley

Winners for the Seventh Annual Tournament of Writers will be announced on July 2, giving the Tournament Judges ample time to read and provide feedback on all the submissions. Following the winners announcement, the next Small Town Anthology will be ready in time for the 2021 Book-Signing Celebration, which the VCAC hopes to hold in-person Sept. 16.

Information for the Seventh Annual Tournament of Writers can be found on the VCAC website at vicksburgarts.com/tournament-of-writers or by calling (269) 200-2223. 

Support local restaurants

The White Front restaurant photo courtesy of Vicksburg Historical Society.

The indoor dining ban in the State of Michigan was lifted Feb. 1, enabling our local pubs and eateries to reopen and serve customers in their establishments while following public health guidelines. The safety restrictions in place for many months have been difficult for many individuals and businesses.

Please support our local businesses in whatever way you are comfortable with and financially able. Most offer take-out, and many even provide home or curb-side delivery. Check with your favorite village eatery either online or by phone and investigate its options.

These businesses have supported community and school events. Let’s continue to support and encourage their operations.

Vicksburg manager proud of village’s finances

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg’s solid financial status and commitment to its taxpayers were brought up frequently during a presentation to the Village Council by Manager Jim Mallery Jan. 18.

During the 21-minute talk, Mallery described a range of people and projects that have put Vicksburg in a comfortable place to be envied by other municipalities.

“A consistent goal of the Village Council throughout my tenure being village manager has been to be a steward of fiscal obligations and to guard our village millage rate with utmost importance,” he said, adding that in July 2019, Vicksburg for the first time in its history lowered its millage rate. The reduction was nearly one-half of a mill.

Over the past four-plus years, Mallery said, the Council has adhered to a list of clear goals and objectives, centering on sound financial management and complete transparency.

“As a municipal manager, I understand it’s not my job, nor your expectation, that I am liked. Instead, I’m charged with the responsibility to make decisions that put our village first, and that I provide this council with information and data so that the majority can set the policy that we, as staff, are charged with executing,” he said.

Mallery said he has come to the conclusion that the Village Council, sub-units of government and the public are beginning to recognize what can be accomplished when a community the size of Vicksburg operates under a best-practice model of government.

He said he is proud that the village in the current and past four fiscal-year budgets has not presented any additional general-fund debt obligations.

Mallery touted the village’s transparency, its website and how the website features a financial-transparency section. Every dollar the village has committed to ongoing projects and their individual status is shown.

Looking ahead to major infrastructure needs, Mallery zeroed in on the village’s aging sewer system, a major undertaking which council members need to put on their radar. Some parts of the system date to the early 1940s.

“It is imperative that we have the municipality in the best financial shape possible to address the anticipated and predictable upgrades needed to serve our village in the 2020s,” he said.
Mallery singled out key people in the village who help make Vicksburg a strong municipality. An emotional Mallery thanked his wife, Stephanie, before he recognized individually the roster of village staff members.
“I have never been more confident that we will reach our expectations as well as the goal we have placed before us,” he said. “The future is definitely very bright for the village of Vicksburg.”
In other action, council members approved recipients of a Business Relief Grant. Sponsored largely by the Vicksburg Community Foundation, the $40,000 pool provides financial assistance to specific-category businesses that have suffered a financial loss due to COVIID-19.
Fourteen recipients were identified, though not mentioned by name during the meeting.
Mallery called it “a very unique and great opportunity” to support local businesses. He noted three qualifying businesses deferred accepting funds and instead asked their potential share go to neighboring businesses. Checks were to be delivered by Jan. 22.
Also, the council approved the social district application for Distant Whistle. It is the fifth of five village businesses to be a part of the designated area in which businesses can offer outdoor seating and patrons are allowed to carry a cup of alcohol from one business to another.
Paperwork for final approval was to be sent to the state by the end of January.
Council members also approved a 2021 meeting schedule. The seven-member panel will continue to meet at 7 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the month. Exceptions are June, July, August and September, when the council will meet once monthly.
Aug. 16 was identified as a potential date for a community celebration.

Millage-funded projects to start at Vicksburg schools

By Jef Rietsma

Projects related to Vicksburg Community Schools’ successful millage request last fall are in the planning phases. Work is expected to begin this summer.

During the board of education’s Jan. 11 meeting, Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss said the district is at a point where behind-the-scenes work on the projects is being performed, including planning and design.

It’s “primarily for work at Sunset Lake (Elementary), and we expect the construction documents to be ready to go out to bid probably in late January or sometime in February,” he said. “That will still give us time to get mobilized for those projects over the summer.”

Goss said one issue on his radar is what he called a substantial amount of work going on at all three elementary school buildings this summer.

“There are a couple things that complicate that,” he said. “Summer construction season gets shorter and shorter, and that’s going to continue to be the case. The demand to provide services in our buildings over the summer has been going up and up and up.”

Goss acknowledged the need for summer school and additional support, especially in light of a COVID-compromised school year. As a result, Goss said he plans to schedule a meeting in coming weeks to figure out how to proceed with summer school and a construction schedule simultaneously.

He said the meeting would likely involve Superintendent Keevin O’Neill and other district officials, including its principals, curriculum director, community education director, architects and the construction team.

“We’ll try to start flushing out how we can provide access to the buildings for our students and staff while also allowing the construction work, which needs to get done within a limited window … how to manage all those things,” he said. “Stay tuned for more details on that, but it’s a good problem to have.”

During audience comments period of the meeting, a number of teachers spoke of the regrettable loss of language arts middle school teacher Laura Wilson and reading specialist/instructional coach Lynne Buell.

Both teachers , each with 20-plus years in the district, subsequently joined Centreville Public Schools.

Jennifer Rodas, Vicksburg Education Association president, chimed in.

“It does seem that a lot of these discussions on why teachers are leaving our district are falling on deaf ears,” she said. “I appreciate the district’s perspective that this is a great place to learn, things are great and we’re having a lot of success. But if we keep losing veteran teachers, we’re not going to have as much success as we do now and in the future.”

Melissa Jamerson, second-grade teacher at Indian Lake, said something has been broken in the district. It can be restored, she said, if all parties work together.

“We have to communicate and put aside roadblocks, we have to admit that mistakes have been made, we have to truly listen to concerns/opinions and find a common ground knowing there will be opposing points of view,” she said.

Board President Skip Knowles addressed the concerns. He referred to a point made by Wilson in her resignation letter, in which she mentioned the risks of in-person learning at a time when she and many peers felt virtual learning was the smarter choice.

“She said the voices of the parents far outweighed those of the staff members,” Knowles said. “We are a public school system; we serve the public. Those are our taxpayers. Those are the ones that were polled and close to 80 percent wanted face-to-face instruction, and that’s what we have to reflect.”

Knowles also took exception to the claim teachers have not been involved in negotiation sessions, which have been ongoing since summer. Knowles said the district is in the midst of discussing a collective-bargaining agreement. He said it’s imperative to follow protocol.

“It is not proper nor is it legal for us to directly get into discussions with members of that collective-bargaining unit,” he said. “We have a bargaining committee that’s involved with regard to that who does communicate with us. We do care and we are concerned. I just want to get that point across.”

O’Neill said the last few bargaining sessions were productive and he hoped to have another session with the Vicksburg Education Association prior to going to mediation.

School sports updates

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have extended the pause in winter contact sports – boys’ and girls’ basketball, competitive cheer and wrestling – through Feb. 21. These teams are allowed to condition and shoot. Masks must be worn at all times and athletes must remain six feet apart throughout an entire practice. Bowling was allowed to start. Vicksburg’s team competed in its first match Jan. 25 against East Grand Rapids.