Each year the Vicksburg Ministry Alliance comes together to lead the worship on Good Friday at noon for the greater Vicksburg community. The Alliance is composed of the following churches: Vicksburg United Methodist Church (where the service will be held), Chapman Memorial Nazarene Church, Country Christian Evangelical Free Church, Grace Community Church, Lakeland Reformed Church, St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, and Vicksburg Bible Church.
See what a little independence can do: A new home, new faces, new programming for the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center. Previously a project under the Village of Vicksburg and its Downtown Development Authority, the center was designated as a 501c3 non-profit organization in November. On Jan. 1, it entirely separated from the Village and Authority.
This change has spurred a tremendous amount of activity for the three-year-old cultural arts organization. Chief among the changes is a new location at 105 S. Main Street in downtown Vicksburg previously occupied by Coco’s Gallery. Frederick Main Street Properties, LLC, is in the process of preparing the space and occupation is expected in April. The new Cultural Arts Center will accommodate exhibits, classroom space and room for live performances. “The new space will provide a great backdrop for both visual and performing arts,” said Rex Cummings, board treasurer.
On the staffing front, Syd Bastos has resigned as executive director and was appointed by the board as board president. She’ll stay on as acting director until a new director is in place. “At this point in the organization’s life cycle, it’s time for a new director with a different set of skills” she explained.
Lisa Beams has also left her role as gallery manager. She won’t be far away, staying on to chair the South County Fiber Arts program. It’s been in existence for two years, but is newly minted as a program of the VCAC. She will also teach classes in fiber arts and pottery for the VCAC. In February, Kelly Bergland and Deb Christiansen, both very active in the Schoolcraft community, joined the Board of Directors. These ladies bring a special set of skills and an abundance of enthusiasm to the organization.
On the education front, four classes designed for adults will be offered this spring: Knit Fix, Spring Flower Arranging, Basket Weaving, and Mosaic Design. An Arts Exploration Lab for Teens, held March 28, will help identify what teens are looking for as they grow into fledgling artists. “Although the Vicksburg Community Schools has great arts programming, teens are looking for opportunities to experience all forms of art, either not available in the schools or to concentrate more deeply on a particular subject,” explained Jake Munson, VCAC Board member.
One of the outcomes of the Exploration Lab will be a week-long Arts Day Camp for teens, designed by teens, adding to the Arts in the Burg camp for 8-12 year old students. The VCAC has also joined South County Community Services’ Wednesday Winners, a program for adults with disabilities, to provide arts experiences. Nancy Smith, a retired arts educator and experienced artist, has participated and says, “It has been my pleasure to present two lessons to my new friends at Wednesday Winners. Their enthusiasm for art is contagious and I can’t wait to create with them again.”
For more information on the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, check out their website at http://www.vicksburgarts.com, follow them on Facebook, email them at email@example.com or call (269) 200-2223.
Latvia celebrated 100 years of independence last year. But it was a tumultuous hundred years, with half of that time occupied by either the Soviets or Nazi Germany. During these years, many Latvians fled their home country and settled in the United States, including many in Kalamazoo and St. Joseph Counties.
The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center is bringing the story of Latvia to Main Street Pub on Sunday, April 28 from 1-3:30 p.m. Maira Bundza, past president of the Kalamazoo Latvian Association, will begin the presentation of Latvian history. Inta Srader, who just recently published “Choices and Serendipity – My Family’s Journey out of Chaos” will also speak. Although her book does document some of the traumas endured by her family, Srader explains that her book focuses on “the resiliency of Latvian peoples and the love of their country and its heritage.” Anita Gauthier Spolite will be collaborating with Mike Moore, chef at Main Street Pub, to create an authentic Latvian meal.
The Kalamazoo Latvian Association was founded in 1950 by Latvian refugees from WWII. Most had narrowly escaped their homeland after the Russian invasion of 1944. There is now a third generation of Latvians continuing to gather and celebrate their culture in Kalamazoo.
In addition, participants will hear about Garezers, a campground and education center in Three Rivers. Garezers prospers as a meeting place for Latvians of all ages, to raise and educate Latvian youth, to strengthen the Latvian language, culture and spiritual values, to promote the Latvian heritage and develop links with Latvia.
The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center will also feature a very special exhibit of artifacts and artworks from Latvia and local Latvian artists. The exhibit will be located at 101 E. Prairie in Vicksburg and will open on Friday, April 19 at 6 p.m. Additional hours are listed at http://www.vicksburgarts.com/events. You can also request a special viewing by calling (269)200-2223. The exhibit will close May 3.
Tickets to Destination Latvia are now on sale for $28 and can be purchased on line at http://www.vicksburgarts.com/events, on Eventbrite at http://www.eventbrite.com or reserve by phone at (269) 200-2223.
By Travis Smola
Concerns about air quality at Sunset Lake Elementary have prompted air quality testing at the Vicksburg school. The result? Recommendations for improvement but no findings of contaminants or toxic substances.
The testing was prompted by the illness of a teacher in a pre-kindergarten classroom.
Vicksburg Superintendent Keevin O’Neill and Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss recently addressed the issue.
“Vicksburg Community Schools is committed to the safety, security and health of all our students and staff,” O’Neill said at a press conference. “That is our priority and will always be our top priority.”
The ill teacher returned to work briefly before her doctor sent her home for more recovery. She’s currently awaiting clearance to return to work. Due to confidentiality reasons, O’Neill and Goss wouldn’t identify her or comment on the specifics of her illness, noting only that she exhibited a wide range of symptoms.
The district conducted air quality testing on January 31. While the district was waiting for results, rumors about Sunset Lake began circulating on social media.
Ann Arbor-based Nova Environmental performed the air quality testing. Nova President Kary Amin said he focused his initial investigation on testing for carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide and chlorine. The tests did not detect a harmful level of contamination. He said he also did a visual inspection for signs of mold.
“I didn’t see any discoloration or water infestation or moisture infestation that may have caused mold,” Amin said.
He also conducted TO-15 testing, which measures for volatile organic compounds. While the test did show approximately 54 compounds detected, Amin doesn’t believe they were related to the teacher’s illness. “They were at very low amounts,” Amin said. “Each one was thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times lower than the permissible exposure limits established by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).”
Amin made recommendations for improving air quality. He noted air ventilation in the room was likely not as efficient as it could be due to older equipment. Amin said items were stacked on the vent when he first inspected the room, which likely affected air circulation.
He also recommended the district clean and maintain the ventilation units and change the air filters. Other Nova recommendations included more frequent cleaning of the carpets in the room and removing paints from storage under the sink in the room that were causing an odor.
The room in question is still being used. O’Neill said he was unaware of anyone else in that room getting sick. But Goss did say it isn’t definitive that the teacher’s illness did not originate at the school. “The initial concerns appear to be related to air quality, so we investigated that,” Goss said.
Amin said in his experience, cases where an environmental hazard is affecting health are often much more obvious. He said multiple people will often exhibit symptoms such as dizziness and vomiting. The district is currently inspecting attendance records, but its first look at the data hasn’t revealed anything abnormal in student attendance.
But the district wants to address community concerns; O’Neill also announced it will be forming an environmental safety committee comprised of local health care professionals, environmental safety experts, teachers, parents and community members to study the district’s current practices and make suggestions for any changes to the school board. O’Neill said they hope to have this committee formed before the end of April.
The district will also be adding an environmental safety section to its website for the public to get information and reach out to the district with their concerns. They will also perform additional tests to look at additional parts of the building for problems.
“We’ve tested and we’re going to continue to test,” O’Neill said. “We’re going to rule out anything that could cause any type of illnesses if they exist in the building.”
By Travis Smola
“March as they say, is reading month. But we really want our kids to be thinking about literacy every single day,” Sunset Lake Elementary Principal Amie McCaw told a group of parents during a community Synergy Event in early March.
The event was a slight spin on the school’s traditional family night, with an extra focus on literacy. This year, the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation’s “Big Read Machine” bus was on display at the event. The bus will travel around the community over the summer to deliver books to children. McCaw said they are looking into ways to have the bus provide free Wi-Fi too. The idea is to combat the educational “summer slump” in reading proficiency that happens over summer break.
Derek Wheaton, a former principal and now a prominent education consultant, was a key speaker at the event. He dove more into why summer reading such an important issue. “If a child reads over the summer months, it’s a gain of one month of reading proficiency,” Wheaton said. “If they don’t read over the summer, it’s a loss of two to three months.”
Wheaton said studies have shown that a student who reads just 20 minutes a day will be exposed to up to 1.8 million words in a year. It has a major effect, as the student is much more likely to score in the 90th percentile. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a student who only reads one minute a day is only exposed to 8,000 words a year and more likely to score in the 10th percentile.
“Research studies for 25 years tell us the amount of reading that students do matters,” Wheaton said. He encouraged parents in attendance to help encourage reading by setting an example in reading more themselves. He said it was important for parents to read to children.
In order to encourage more reading in the home, he suggested making some tradeoffs with children., perhaps encouraging a child to read a specific length of time before the child is allowed time to do another enjoyable activity.
Wheaton has primarily advised schools directly in the past, but he hopes he can do more events like this in the future to connect directly with the parents.
The Vicksburg District Library was also on hand to promote literacy. In addition to its regular reading programs, this year the library is expanding its summer reading program slightly into a “Summer Adventure” program that packs in other educational opportunities. “Children have a chance to come in and do crafts or come in and socialize with board game nights or other ways to get out of that summer slump,” said Adrianne Schinkai, the library’s head of Circulation and Reference Services.
This year, volunteer parents and the school worked together to bring in multiple sponsors like Jaspare’s Pizza and Family Fare to fund and hand out prizes at the event. The event also brought the opportunity for community organizations like Generous Hands to promote their extensive work in the schools. Generous Hands helps provide food for approximately 300 children in the district on weekends.
“These children have free and reduced food at school, and they don’t always have a lot of food on the weekends,” Generous Hand’s Executive Director Sheri Louis said. Generous Hands also provides vouchers to help families get essential items like milk, bread, eggs and produce. They handed out information to families on how they could use their services at the event.
This year was the first time Sunset has involved all these local organizations in a Parent’s Night. McCaw was pleased with how it turned out. “We really had a great response when we reached out to our community,” she said.
By Schoolcraft 7th grade students Livia Ellison, Natalie Glerum, Treasure Fox, and Valerie Bauer
How much ice cream does the average American consume per year? Google claims that the average American eats over 23 pounds. Although many of us have ice cream in our freezer, we get some of this ice cream from our local ice cream shops.
A few popular ones in our area are Apple Knockers, Bella Creamery, The Big Dipper, and Treat Street.
Apple Knockers, a family-owned ice cream shop in Vicksburg, opened in 2009. The main reason behind opening Apple Knockers was “a need in the community,” says owner Paula Hochstetler. Her daughters had kids so they wanted to have flexible hours. It is relocating and will be reopening in April across the street at 220 W. Prairie Street, Vicksburg. Its ice cream distributors are Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream and Plainwell Ice Cream.
Wondering what to get? Butter pecan and salted caramel are the most popular flavors. At the new location there will be more seating available out on a new deck with a great view of the water and many new options like nachos and snow cones.
Bella Creamery is also a family-owned ice cream shop, located at 10098 Shaver Road in Portage. Unlike many, Bella Creamery makes its own ice cream. In 2005, Bella started serving our area because owner Jolie Warnaar and her aunt wanted to bring it to the area where she lived. As she was a stay-at-home mom, she also wanted make her own hours.
Jolie was asked if she thinks it’s too early in the year for ice cream. “It’s never too early for ice cream,” she responded. This year, Bella Creamery is planning on serving ice cream sandwiches as well as adding more mix-in options (like Girl Scout cookies). And it’s planning on catering for events such as weddings and parties.
Big Dipper is an ice cream shop that serves Hudsonville ice cream and opens each summer at 104 E. Eliza Street, Schoolcraft. Big Dipper started in the summer of 2001. Bethany Blodgett was asked what inspired the Big Dipper to first open. “My dad worked at an ice cream shop as a teenager, and always dreamed about owning one. So, when it went up for sale, he and his brother bought it for his brother to run. Now going on its 19th season, they never thought it would become a summer job for their kids, nieces, nephews and now grandkids.” Many local people come to Big Dipper on the 4th of July and get the most popular flavor – Super Scoop.
Treat Street is an ice cream shop located at 3023 Oakland Drive in Kalamazoo. The business opened in 2011. Manager Steve Walantyn said the owner, Mike Leeuw, “saw an opportunity to get out into the community and start a family-friendly business.” Treat Street serves Sherman’s Ice Cream. Its best selling flavors are Blue Moon and Superman. Like Bella Creamery, Treat Street is adding ice cream sandwiches to its menu. Employee Carson Finch reported that they will be having soda floats available too.
Have a craving for ice cream? Consider stopping by one of these local ice cream shops to help contribute to that average 23 pounds of ice cream per person per year.
Also remember, that ice cream is not the only option to get at ice cream shops. They have different menu items for you! Remember to support your local ice cream shops this summer!
By Sue Moore
There were few honors for Vietnam veterans after that war ended.
Talons Out Honor flights, first organized in 2005 to take dwindling numbers of WWII veterans to Washington D.C. to see the new memorial in their honor, is now correcting this by honoring the many who came home from Vietnam without recognition.
One of the first from Vicksburg to be accepted for this honor is Doug Stafinski, who served in the U.S. Army’s Military Police in Vietnam. He’s scheduled to make the one-day all-expense-paid trip to Washington on April 20. The 1982 Vietnam memorial and those honoring veterans of WWII and the Korean War are near the Lincoln Memorial
Stafinski’s job was to guard the perimeter of a huge Army base at Long Bien. He lived in a small shelter, a “hooch,” and pulled 12-hour shifts at night with the 557th Military Police company. “We were concerned about incoming mortars and rocket attacks. These sent us to bunkers with sand bags below ground, armed only with M-16 rifles. It wasn’t about being overrun by Viet Cong infantry, just the nightly shelling. Our security guard unit was filled with military personal who had been shot up out in the field and recovered. They were sent to our company after recovery to fill out their tour of duty. They had plenty of stories to tell.” Stafinski said.
“Towards the end of my enlistment, we were given a choice. If we wanted to extend our two-year commitment with an extra five weeks in a war zone, we could check out of the military immediately upon returning to the U.S. I took that offer and counted every day until we were flown out in May 1970,” Stafinski said. “I landed at Fort Dix, New Jersey and two hours later, was processed out. I called home and nobody answered so I boarded a plane for Detroit and still nobody answered at home.
“I spent the night in the airport and called home once again to say I would be on a flight coming in to Kalamazoo that day. My brother David answered only to tell me that my parents, Frank and Thelma, were waiting for me in Oakland, California where they kept checking every incoming plane for my arrival. They never went anywhere outside of Vicksburg but had been told all returning veterans, dead or alive, from Vietnam were processed out of this facility.”
Stafinski’s route to serving his country began with his graduation from Vicksburg High School in 1964 and a business administration degree from Michigan State University in 1968. “I was drafted before the lottery came into existence,” he said. “I reported for duty in October 1968 at Fort Knox in Kentucky where they decided to make me a military policeman. My drill sergeant at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, correctly informed us that all of his recruits go to Vietnam. When we arrived at our first stop in Hawaii, the officer in charge emphasized not to even consider leaving the airport.”
He left the military as a Specialist 4th class and came back to Vicksburg when the jobs were few and far between, he said. “All my family had worked at Upjohn and I had worked there and at Burroughs in the summer. My dad was getting madder and madder that I didn’t have a real job after one year out so I decided to take the Civil Service exam.
“I did well enough on it to become a clerk or a mail carrier with the Kalamazoo Post Office. I decided on the mail carrier which was a day job so I could continue in fast pitch softball for 30 years, church slow pitch softball and Kalamazoo City League baseball playing for Norm Snyder, the manager from Vicksburg.”
This eventually led to becoming postmaster in Vicksburg in 1984 for 14 years. After 34 years with the post office, Stafinski retired in 2003. His community service encompasses 30 years as a member of the Lions Club, serving as president two times. For the last 19 years he has been the general chairman of the club’s big Summer Festival, popularly known as the B&B (for beer and bratwurst). This event has raised huge dollars for nonprofits in Vicksburg while honoring the legacy of Otto Kaak, who started the event 46 years ago.
Stafinski’s Talons Out flight is wholly paid for by donations from the greater Kalamazoo community.