Category Archives: Vicksburg

WMU Marching Band to Perform at Vicksburg Invitational

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Vicksburg’s Big Red Machine drum line is set to duel with WMU’s mighty drum line as an extra bonus for the audience members attending the Vicksburg Bulldog Marching Band Invitational.

By Craig Rolfe

The stirring sounds of marching bands will resound throughout the village of Vicksburg on Saturday, October 5. The 4th Annual Vicksburg Bulldog Marching Band Invitational will take over the High School stadium throughout the afternoon and early evening, offering great marching precision and musical performances.

This year’s event will feature a special exhibition performance by the Bronco Marching Band of Western Michigan University (WMU).

Bands from 15 Class A through D high schools are registered comprising a total of over 1,000 students. Marching bands from the following area high schools are presently scheduled to perform: Schoolcraft, Kalamazoo Hackett, Portage Central, Gull Lake, Galesburg-Augusta, Three Rivers, and Comstock. Other schools registered for this event include Springport, Olivet, New Buffalo, River Valley, Reading, Camden-Frontier, and Concord.

The WMU Bronco Marching Band will conclude the performance part of this event with an extended exhibition featuring parts of its legendary pre-game show, and one of its 2019 football game halftime shows. This very large and highly accomplished group is expected to entertain and excite the assembled bands and spectators in the grandstands.

The drumlines of Vicksburg and WMU will take center field for this year’s exciting Drumline Face-Off feature, which was wildly popular in its debut last fall between Vicksburg and Gull Lake.

Vicksburg’s percussion instructor, Roi Farnham, reached-out to WMU’s drumline leader to see if they would like to participate with Vicksburg’s drumline in the Drumline Face-Off.  They responded by asking if it would be okay if they brought their entire band? They will be here to entertain with their 300-plus members, including many VHS graduates.

Following the competition part of the event and before the WMU band takes the field, the Vicksburg High School marching band, known as the Big Red Machine, will present its 2019 competition show – Pressure – as an exhibition. By custom, the host band does not compete with the other bands for a rating.

The bands performing for ratings will be scored by a panel of judges on various criteria, such as music performance, marching accuracy, music effectiveness, and visual effect. The band with the top rating across all four classes will take home an impressive Grand Champion trophy.

The Invitational is presently scheduled to begin at 12:55 p.m., when an ensemble of the Big Red Machine will perform the National Anthem. The first competing band will perform at 1 p.m. and be followed by the other bands performing at approximately 15-minute intervals, with a short dinner break for the judges built-into the schedule. The complete schedule is available on the internet at

Whether you are a true “band geek,” just enjoy marching band performances, or are perhaps merely curious about all this “marching band” excitement, this is an event not to be missed. The admission charge is still only $6.00, and pre-school age children are admitted free. A variety of food and beverages will be available throughout the event. On-site parking is available at the High School and adjacent Middle School, and at the Administration Building (Old El). Overflow parking will be available on nearby neighborhood streets in close proximity to the stadium.

The Bulldog Invitational is an important fundraiser for the Vicksburg Band Boosters, which sponsors the event. A strong showing of support for this event by fans of the participating bands, and by the Vicksburg area community, will help sustain the Bulldog Invitational as a premiere annual scholastic marching band competition in this area, according to Ben Rosier, Vicksburg band director.

The busy Band Boosters will regroup right after the Invitational, as Vicksburg has again been asked by the Michigan State Band and Orchestra Association to serve as a host site for the District XI Marching Band Festival the following Wednesday, October 9, to which the public is also invited to attend. A dozen or more marching bands from area high schools are expected to participate in this event.

Danna Downing to Retire from SCCS Leadership

By Sue Moore

“I’ve never known anybody as dedicated to helping people,” said Jackie Skinner about Danna Downing, director of South County Community Services (SCCS). Downing, director for the last eight years, is retiring on November 4 with the knowledge that Drew Johnson, her successor, is the best person to carry the mission forward.

“I’ve found that you can’t just have a big heart. You’ve got to have a plan in order to ask for dollars and volunteers and a plan to use it to benefit those most in need,” Downing said. “It’s important to explain what we are trying to do and stay within the scope of the stated mission.”

Downing has steered the agency toward what senior citizens needs are over the last few years while still serving the entire population of South Kalamazoo County. The organization was incorporated in 1973 with a mission to achieve economic and social benefits for residents of the Vicksburg School District. The guiding charge was to mobilize the talents and insights of the total community. The founders wanted to attack the causes and conditions which prevented a substantial number of residents from achieving their greatest potential, the charter said. Over the years, the mission was enlarged to cover its current service area of six townships: Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft, Brady, Wakeshma, Pavilion and Climax – about 25,000 residents at last count.

The founders wanted to provide an organizational framework through which local, state and federal resources may be applied to attack the causes that deprive citizens from reaching their greatest potential, the articles of incorporation state. Forty-six years later, SCCS is going strong.

Nancy Stryker Brown was the first director, followed by at least five others who came after her in the offices at the Vicksburg Community Center at the corner of Main and Prairie streets in the village. Downing’s tenure has included maintaining Wednesday Winners (an amazing weekly volunteer-coordinated program for adults with disabilities); maintaining and expanding the South County Food Pantry in partnership with Loaves & Fishes and a cadre of local supporters; partnering with the Michigan Department of Human Services to add a satellite office on site in Vicksburg; and the four-year plan, Aging Well in South County, a partnership with the Vicksburg United Way and the local Area Agency on Aging.

What became apparent to Downing and the board of directors early on was what could be done for the approximately 1,000 seniors they serve. “As an agency, we always wanted to do more for seniors because there was a great unmet need there,” said Downing. SCCS has faithfully provided programming as it was able to for seniors over the years. Taking advantage of a Metro Community Service Van, now known as the Metro Van Share, was a huge accomplishment, Downing noted. The service has expanded significantly over the years. In 2013, the Aging Well in South County board initiative began with a concerted effort to research and document senior needs. Interviews were conducted to support the need for future funding. “The most important thing is to get seniors connected to the services they need. It’s about linkages,” Downing said.

A strong relationship with the local Area Agency on Aging has been central to assisting seniors over the years, providing expertise and leadership with programs. Among them are Kinship Care Givers (dedicated to providing basic needs assistance to seniors who are raising school-aged children) and the very popular Matter of Balance and Creating Confident Caregiver health information classes held in the service area.

A new partnership with the Vicksburg Rotary Club, called Safe At Home, includes a home survey and free installations of safety devices to help seniors prevent falls. In addition, the Vicksburg Rotary Club provides free emergency preparedness packets that hang on the refrigerator to make sure basic health information is available to anyone visiting the senior’s home.

Most recently, thanks to a local group of volunteers who understood senior needs and opportunities, a successful county-wide millage for seniors was passed late in 2018. The six-year millage is already providing new funds to help South County seniors in the areas of transportation and other emerging outreach efforts.

United Way has been a big leader in helping non-profits set priorities and achieve stated goals through the years, Downing said. Most of the agency’s emergency assistance needs are met with allocations from United Way’s regional and local campaigns. These funds, in partnership with strong community support, have helped SCCS steadily increase the number of people served. It has also increased the reach across the service area to families who need help with their basic needs. New Director Drew Johnson, in his role as Emergency Assistance Coordinator, has been essential to the expansion and refinement of the SCCS mission to help more area residents, according to Downing.

Another major accomplishment during the last eight years: The boards of SCCS and Generous Hands brought their respective organizations together under one roof. “We are more efficient and more cost effective when we share resources as a team,” Downing said. “It is also more helpful to have a single location to meet the needs of our families. This is a place filled with trusted helpers and emergency assistance professionals who know how to find and deliver a combination of interlocking resources.”

“I’m the lucky one to be at SCCS at a time filled with opportunities to help carry the stated mission in our Articles of Incorporation forward,” Downing said. “I’m privileged to have had this opportunity to work with wonderful people and do my part to help provide for others what I hold dear in my heart– a fairer playing field for all people,” Downing said. “Now, it’s time to pass on the baton. The new SCCS team is ready and waiting to serve, if and when anyone needs help.”

Praise for Danna Downing Comes Rolling In

If I could only praise Danna for doing two things, they would be her vision and planning for the future and building a dynamic staff and volunteer base. – Larry Forsyth, SCCS trustee.

Danna is everyone’s friend. I’ve heard her only speak positively about the people she works with and the people in the village. She has had a passion for our community and has worked tirelessly to improve the living standards for all of us. She is compassionate, respectful to all, and respected by all. There will be a hole in the fabric of Vicksburg when she takes her next step into the future!  – Wes Bittenbender, SCCS volunteer driver.

It is very difficult to describe in one or two sentences Danna’s service to the agency. Over the past year that we have been cubicle partners, (I like to think of us as close roommates) she has taught me endless lessons about compassion, professionalism, and even hope for a society that seems at time hopeless. Her wisdom, knowledge, compassion and experience, that she has shared with me and everyone that she comes in contact with, is priceless. I am extremely happy for Danna to have retirement in her near future, but it is with a sad heart that she will be leaving SCCS. She wears shoes that will never be filled in this building, but I have no doubt that her light will continue to shine in our community. I will miss her immensely and hope to see her back often. – Sheri Louis, Generous Hands, Inc. executive director.

Working with Danna as a fellow trustee on the Vicksburg Foundation for many years, her obvious compassion and dedication to the community made her the perfect candidate to manage the agency and has proven to be a wonderful gift to all of us living in South Kalamazoo County.  Thanks so much, Danna, for always giving 100 percent.  – Bill Oswalt, former president of the Vicksburg Foundation.

“Danna has worked incredibly hard to build South County Community Services into her vision of what the agency should be – a place that people can come to in order to get the best possible service without any fear of judgment. We focus on seniors and low-income families, but everyone is welcome to come and talk about their situation, and I think that Danna’s tenure had a huge part in that.” – Drew Johnson, SCCS Emergency Assistance Manager.

“The Agency and its programs have made tremendous growth the past few years because of the vision provided by the board, director, employees and the many talented volunteers who provide the services so desperately needed by South County. The senior millage may not have passed in South County if it were not for the respect given to the Agency and to the dedicated way it approaches the needs of all.” – Jim and Virginia Shaw, SCCS trustee and Wednesday Winners chair.

Danna has always stepped up to make the South Country area a better place. When SCCS needed a new executive director, Danna came off the board of trustees to fill that need. As executive director, she did the same. Whenever volunteer drivers for the van program were not available for a run, she stepped up and drove. – David Aubry, SCCS volunteer van driver.

Danna is committed, dedicated, energetic and has a vision for the future.  Did you know that she plans to stay with SCCS as a volunteer?  A volunteer who will lead the way with fund raising. – Jackie Skinner, president of the SCCS board.

Houghtons Celebrate 60 Years of Marriage

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Jerry and Mill Houghton.

By Matthew Houghton, their son

September 26 marked the 60th wedding anniversary of Mildred and Gerald Houghton.

Gerald (Jerry/Homer in school) is a Vicksburg native and 1953 graduate of Vicksburg High School. Mildred (Millie) is from Fife Lake, Mich. and a graduate of Portage Central. Both were born in 1935.

They met in 1958 through mutual friends. Initially, they did not like each other but continued to run in the same crowd … eventually learning to tolerate one another. When the group started to break apart, they decided to get married. An interesting concept. They wed that same year.

Jerry served in the US Army and was honorably discharged in 1957. He then went to work at his father’s manufacturing business in Vicksburg, oddly named Houghton Manufacturing. He started as a machinist and retired in 1999 as the vice president.

Millie worked at Sears in downtown Kalamazoo as a bookkeeper and then at a drapery shop in Portage where she learned the art of custom-made draperies. In 1968 she started her own company, oddly named … Millie’s Draperies. She continued this until the early 80’s, with Jerry as the rod hanger. She then went to Western Michigan University and worked in the bookstore until people realized she had a talent for decorating. She ended up doing all the decorating at Burnham Hall. She retired in 1996.

Both enjoyed golfing at States Golf course and constant remodeling of their home on TU Ave. Later on, they got into woodworking and crafts. They winter at their second home in south Texas six months out of the year. Wherever they go they attract great people and have truly become just one entity, Mil-n-Jer.

They have two children, Susan (LaDue), who now resides in Apache Junction, Ariz., and Matthew, who lives in the country near in Scotts. They have two grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

No celebrations are planned as they want to have a quiet evening with family … but happy hour is always at 4 p.m.

It’s a Fine Life – Hometown Rumbles

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Kathy Forsythe holds onto a train car at Vicksburg Depot Museum. Photo by Leeanne Seaver.

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe

If you have ever spent much time in Vicksburg, Michigan, you know how frequently trains bisect our little hometown. Going in or out of the village, residents must regularly wait at a crossing. You can count on it. We have learned to accept this as it does us no good to complain.

Sometimes the trains gradually slow in the intersections; the boxcars and tankers inch forward a few feet, shift backwards a couple yards, then sigh and settle, blocking all traffic through town. Then everything must stop: buses filled with our school children, residents traveling to work or appointments, even emergency vehicles responding to a call. This type of waiting is both bothersome and stressful.

And during this last month, much-needed repairs have begun on several railroad crossings in and around the village, further complicating our travel. But despite the continued detours, delays, and inconveniences, I remain incredibly fond of trains.

When we waited as children, we loved counting cars and watching for the caboose which occupied the end of many trains. My mom would beep her horn as it passed, and my brothers and I would wave at a conductor, often standing and smoking at the back of the caboose. To me, that seemed a fantastic life: traveling cross country with a cheery, red car to sleep in. I imagined the engineers warming themselves around a cozy coal stove, a pot of chili simmering securely on top. When time permitted, the happy conductors could play gin rummy, laughing happily together, puffing their fragrant pipes. At day’s end, they would crawl into tightly made bunks and be rocked to sleep by the gentle swaying of the rail cars.

When we were in elementary school, we occasionally traveled by train to our grandparents’ home on the eastern side of the state. My dad took us to the little station in Vicksburg, lugged our suitcases in, then helped the attendant check and stack them on the wooden cart. My mother would buy our tickets from behind the glass window, and then we sat as patiently as we could on the wooden benches, our little legs swaying and swinging. Once safely aboard and tucked in our seats, we watched the Michigan countryside from the wide windows and ate endless snacks which magically appeared from my mother’s bottomless tote bag. My amazing mother – our personal Mary Poppins – kept the five of us happily occupied and seated.

Of course, times have changed, and while many goods are still shipped by rail, the passenger trains of my youth have long ago been salvaged or sit, quiet and empty, in the back of a city train yard. Our little brick station now happily houses a charming museum.

On these quiet autumn nights, the warning whistles of the late-night trains travel across Sunset Lake, always reminding me of the passage of time. I am thankful I am safe in my warm bed as those engineers and conductors ride and rumble towards home.

It’s a Fine Life.

The Mill Adds Music to the Mix

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Folk singer Kevin Large watches as Chris Moore introduces him by pointing to the palm of his hand as to where Vicksburg in located in the state of Michigan.

By Rob Peterson

The Mill at Vicksburg team is creating a new initiative called The Mill Music Residency, which it announced at a live concert event in September.

Like its Prairie Ronde Artist Residency, the music residency is aimed at attracting solo musicians and bands through a stipend and by providing living space for the artists for up to two months. To support the program, founder Chris Moore will be reconstructing an apartment, recording studio with instruments, and a performance venue, all located in the Dancers building at 107 South Main. This space most recently housed the Home Again resale store before its expansion to the former Family Dollar space on Prairie Street.

“Many artists from around the country have been part of the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency and left a little part of themselves in Vicksburg,” said John Kern, director of the program. This has included several art installations at the Mill and in gallery spaces downtown.

Like the artist residency, musicians who take part will showcase the work they created for the Vicksburg community in the form of a public performance. These concerts may one day be held at one of the 5 planned performance stages at The Mill. For now, they have created a temporary venue at the Dancers building.

“We worked with the Village to make sure that the space is safe,” said Ryan Collins of Frederick Construction. “A reinforced structure, emergency lights, and smoke detectors were among the requirements to get our occupancy permit for the desired 220-person private event.

That occupancy number was nearly reached at the concert where the new program was announced. Seattle-area band The Moondoggies were the headliner that evening, just one night after they opened for The Head and the Heart in Grand Rapids.

“Right between Grand Rapids and Chicago is Vicksburg,” said Moore, demonstrating Vicksburg’s proximity to both cities by using his hand to represent a map of Michigan. “We were a convenient stop for The Moondoggies on their way between these two cities.”

Vicksburg residents were treated to a concert that early fall evening with opening act Kevin Large, a folk singer who is also from the Seattle area. His original folk songs and authentic vocals were an excellent match to the unfinished, raw space which was primarily lit by string lights and the illuminated historic beer signs lining the walls.

The Moondoggies, a band NPR calls a roots-rock group that “exudes a Neil Young-style 70’s vibe,” took the stage shortly after. Their songs showcase a danceable beat and infectious vocal harmonies. A testament to the crowd’s appreciation was the growing number of people dancing; by the end of the concert, those dancing outnumbered those who weren’t. It was more reminiscent of the 1980’s Kalamazoo venue Club Soda than a former resale shop.

One suspects that a band like the Moondoggies could someday headline its own concert series. It’s possible, the creators of The Mill Music Residency Program say, that by attracting talent we could see bands here that will one day make it big.

You never know, says Kern, “It only takes one performance to get that big break artists dream of.”

Pat Pettinga Back to Sing by Popular Demand

Pat Pettinga in concert.

Bill Willging and Pat Pettinga will return to the Township Hall in Vicksburg’s Historic Village on Sunday, October 27 at 2 p.m. to present their program “Folk Women in Story and Song” for the Vicksburg Historical Society’s Speaker Series.

Their audience had a great time presenting “Women of Vaudeville Blues…in story and song” this past June, and are excited to have them invited back, according to Director Brian Berheide.  Pettinga is a singer, guitarist and songwriter. With her husband Bill Willging’s deft guitar work, she adds a distinctive layoff to style to the music. It has been described as making one and one equal more than two, Berheide said.

Kalamazoo RESA Millage Request on Nov. 5 Ballot

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Kresa Superintendent Dave Campbell on the left and Keevin O’Neill on the right presented information about the request for millage to serve technology students in the county, to the Vicksburg Lions Club in September.

By Sue Moore

County voters Nov. 5 will be asked to approve a 1-mill tax hike to consolidate technical and career training at a single site.

The tax, $1 per $1,000 taxable valuation, would raise approximately $8.3 million annually for 20 years for the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) to fund construction of a new tech center or retrofitting an existing building, plus providing additional funds for instruction, transportation, equipment, career counselors and other staff.

The county’s students in grades 9-12 now travel by bus, sometimes more than one, to get to courses located in schools and community-based organizations.

The ballot proposal was the recommendation of a KRESA study committee created in January, 2018.

KRESA Superintendent Dave Campbell described the need to Vicksburg Lions at a recent meeting. “Jobs are really different today. “We are in a gig economy, in a demographic shift with boomers retiring. The skills that are needed in the workplace today are different,” Campbell pointed out. “Are we truly prepping kids for the skills they need today which are really different than they were in 1960?”

The pendulum has swung, he said, from assuming that high school graduates needed a bachelor’s degree to prepare them for higher earning jobs. He said that 7 out of 10 good-paying jobs require one or two more years of advanced training to earn a skills certificate or associate’s degree.

The study committee found that it is just as important to develop career awareness, exploration and readiness which needs to be intertwined from kindergarten to twelfth grade for students.

A centrally located career center with satellite campuses, such as the Air Zoo and KVCC, is what is needed, Campbell emphasized. Career and technical classes are offered at various high schools and other locations in the county. Students who sign up for these either drive their own cars to attend or take a bus from their high school. Buses go to Loy Norrix, which is a central hub.

There the students take another bus to get to the school offering their desired course. Campbell noted that riding the buses for hours is not attractive to today’s students as it is so time consuming. And kids today aren’t as fixated on getting their driver’s license the day they turn 16; their only option if they want to take a CTE course is the long bus ride, which feedback from students shows is a barrier.

“Good jobs that pay well are going unfilled. We want to double the participation in career and technical training. Employers are desperate,” Campbell said. “Our recommended model of a career center with satellites will offer specific skill training for high school students in high-demand areas based upon state and local market analysis and input.”

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