Category Archives: Vicksburg

Benches for Seattle Brewery Cut from Vicksburg Trees

By Jef Rietsma

The company spearheading redevelopment of the former Simpson Lee Paper Mill in Vicksburg have plans for the project’s first phase to include a brew pub.

Old Stove Brewing Co. currently has two locations in the Seattle area; the Vicksburg site will be its first operation outside the state of Washington. It is owned by Vicksburg native and Seattle resident Chris Moore, who also owns Paper City Development. Paper City is behind redevelopment of the project, simply called, “The Mill.”

As he has at the two Seattle locations, Moore plans to subtly incorporate a part of Vicksburg into the local Old Stove brewpub.

Greg Bjarko, an architect who works with Moore, said the tables and bench seats at the Old Stove locations in Seattle are made from wood harvested on Moore’s family property just outside Vicksburg.

It was a process that started more than four years ago, when the trees on Moore’s father’s property on VW Avenue and Moore’s property on 24th Street – just south of town – were cut. They were warehoused in the Mill for curing until the first portion was shipped to Seattle in 2016 for use in the first Old Stove brewery. The remaining 40 tons or so was loaded for shipment to Seattle in May 2017 for the opening of the second brew pub. Once in Seattle, a portion of the 40-ton load of wood was fashioned into the tables and chairs used by Old Stove patrons today.

“Chris was really excited to repurpose this lumber into what would turn out to be an artistic style of tables and benches … that connection to Kalamazoo County and Vicksburg is important to Chris,” he said. “And they turned out very nice.”

Bjarko said a pattern was used to maintain a uniform design, but no two tables and benches are exactly the same.

“The wood was harvested and rough milled in Vicksburg, where it did a lot of its drying,” he said. “It was fabricated here, then cleaned, sanded and the finish put on, and connected to bases and supports here.”

A team of four area men, including John Kern and Richard Barnes, were on hand the day in 2016 when the trees were eventually loaded onto a flatbed trailer. Once in Seattle, a portion of the 40-ton load of wood was fabricated into the tables and chairs used by Old Stove patrons today.

The wood pieces are nearly three inches thick and range from four to 16 feet in length. By design, the tables and benches are set up to create a communal seating arrangement at Old Stove. An average table can seat 8 to 12 people.

Kern said the wood includes white and red oak, cherry and quite a bit of walnut.

Kern added he is not surprised Moore went to the extreme that he did to incorporate family timber into Old Stove.

“Chris may live in Seattle but he is a Michigan guy through and through, he’s very proud of where he’s from,” Kern said. “The tables and benches may not mean as much to the people at the restaurant, but I know they represent a special connection to home for Chris.”

Tad Dallas and Louis Armstrong work for Moore, and were the muscle behind building the tables and benches.

Dallas said he is proud to have had a hand in such an integral component to Old Stove. He said what would eventually be the final product, however, took some time and effort.

“We met with Chris at the workshop and we had some really nice slabs of walnut. I remember we flipped the slabs in multiple directions, end-over-end, and we were kind of all over the place,” Dallas said. “We came up with a design that included an old steel plate that serves as the inlay piece, so what we had in the end was something that I’d say actually designed itself.”

Dallas said there is still quite a bit of wood left, though he’s not sure if the tables and benches for the Vicksburg Old Stove will be designed in Seattle then sent back to Michigan, or if the wood will be returned to Vicksburg and the furniture created here.

Bob Millard Has Fond Memories of The Mill

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Bob Millard, former mill manager in the 1970s, returned to tour the mill last summer. Village Manager Jim Mallery accompanied him as did several other community members. Asbestos has been removed from this area which was part of the dryers for the paper.

By Jef Rietsma

Editor’s note: We plan to feature people who worked at the mill in various capacities to provide some historical perspective to the potential redevelopment of the mill.

The tone in Bob Millard’s voice was unmistakably melancholic as he reflected on his 13-year stint at the former Simpson Lee Paper Mill that covered a portion of the ’60s and ‘70s.

Even after a series of promotions took him to San Francisco for another 20 years with the company, Millard said he always had a soft spot for the Vicksburg plant.

“I may have worked there during what were very likely its best years,” Millard said. “I started out in the customer-service department after having five years of experience in the paper-distribution business, worked up to middle management and eventually became mill manager for eight years.”

He said just about anyone who worked at the mill, regardless of in what capacity, will talk fondly today about what Simpson Lee Paper meant to Vicksburg and the region. Millard said through the balance of its 100-plus years, the plant was a community within a community.

“So many of the employees were local, either from right in Vicksburg or just on the fringe of Vicksburg, and so many were descendants of their parents who also worked there,” he said. “It had an impressive ethnicity … a strong Polish contingent who, along with people from all backgrounds, were the second-generation group of mill workers. It was just a very, very interesting place to work.”

Millard said its people were a significant component of the company’s strength. But it would be unfair to overlook the quality of paper the Vicksburg site produced.

He said the array of specialty papers set it apart from the 11 other mills within the company and among Simpson’s competitors. Its quality products filled a niche in a way no other mill could, he said.

“It was unique across the breadth of high-end paper,” Millard said.

Millard was part of a group that toured the 30-acre property last fall, around the time plans to convert the mill site into a multi-use parcel were being completed. Vicksburg-native Chris Moore is the owner of Paper City Development LLC and behind the project called, simply, The Mill.

The first phase of redevelopment includes a brewpub.

Moore owns Old Stove Brewing Co. in Seattle.

Millard said it was a treat to be able to walk the grounds and peer inside the buildings still standing, 15 years after the plant closed.

“It was kind of like stepping back in time …you think you see a lot of ghosts,” Millard said, recalling the tour. “I’ve seen the plans Chris has put together, I like the idea of the mill getting a second life. I just wish the project was moving faster because I’d like to be around to see the ground-breaking, at least.”

Millard, 86, returned to Michigan 20 years ago and lives on Gull Lake. He still meets monthly for breakfast with a number of retired mill employees, a gathering that features its share of reminiscing, he said.

Pausing to reflect, Millard shared a final anecdote about his time with the Vicksburg plant.

“My first boss was my kindergarten teacher’s husband … totally unrelated to me getting the job, of course,” said Millard, who grew up in the Grand Rapids-area community of Ravenna. “But thinking back to working there, no question whether you were hourly or salaried, it was a good place to work. Very fair in all aspects of the way they did business, whether it was with their customers or their employees. A real classy place.”

Next month’s issue will feature a profile of Jack Page.

Hovenkamp Transforms Brady Township Corner Property

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These buildings on the corner of Sprinkle Road and TU Avenue have undergone a dramatic transformation. A convenience store will be opening soon in the front portion of this building.

By Sue Moore

A commercial development transformation has taken place at the corner of Sprinkle Road and TU Avenue in Brady Township. Ken Hovenkamp purchased the derelict property as a personal storage place, then realized the collection of buildings was such an eyesore that he undertook to pretty it up.

The property is a cornerstone to a small commercial district that Brady Township designated in a five-year land use plan for business development. “It’s the entrance to the township along Sprinkle Road. I’ve worked with the township officials who have been very supportive. I’ve also reached out to the village of Vicksburg for ideas on possible leases,” Hovenkamp said.

The fire-engine red color scheme on the exterior was proposed by designer Lynn Russcher. She showed him drawings of yellow, green and red exteriors. Without hesitation, he chose the red, which motorists passing by on Sprinkle Road are not likely to miss.

The interiors and exteriors have been painted, cleaned and ready to be unveiled for potential lease options, Hovenkamp pointed out. There is 10,000 square feet of space, with 7,000 of it climate-controlled.

What used to be a convenience store has been refurbished to again house this type of operation. Also in the front of the building is an area that would be ripe for a resale type of store, Hovenkamp said. It then opens up to a quonset hut that once housed a gas station owned by Purcell Clark. “This would be ideal for storage or use as part of a resale shop. It’s actually very trendy right now.”

Along the south side of the building, stretching back to the west is a huge area that could function as a service area for vehicles of any type, a warehouse or even an upholstery shop, Hovenkamp speculates. “There are just so many possibilities and I don’t want to discount any idea that might come along.”

Plans are underway to resurface the parking lot before any of the buildings are leased. A large barn sits at the edge of the property with three overhead doors that also present possibilities.

One corner of the barn is set aside for a furniture exchange that Hovenkamp operates as part of his Chaplain ministry with the Portage Fire and Police Departments. He has made space for donations of appliances, TVs, and furniture for needy families and expects to give them to people he meets through the ministry.

New Dental Building for Vicksburg on W. Prairie Street

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Left to right: Jody Cole, Lori Barnes, Dr. Aaron Ford, Mary Ann Koenigsknect, Heidi Thompson, Brenda Schimp, Kris Swope, Linda Mason, and Kris McGlothlen. Employees missing from the photo: Jen Notziger, Jaime Wiard, Dana Kurtz, Diane Bugajski .

By Sue Moore

His patients and his patience are the keys to why Dr. Aaron Ford’s dentistry practice in Vicksburg has doubled in the last seven years, said office manager Kris Zonyk McGlothlen. “He is so accommodating to patients. Takes his time with everybody.”

“My assistants do a really good job,” Dr. Ford acknowledges. “They help patients feel comfortable. My challenge is to have them say when they leave, ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad.’”

To accommodate this patient growth, Dr. Ford started to think about remodeling his office at 602 W. Prairie Street in Vicksburg. What followed was inspired by knowing that Dr. Bob Dornbos, the other Vicksburg dentist, was looking to retire. “I thought, why not combine the two practices and make one nice practice for this area? I made him an offer to buy him out and in the process we will have a really cool new building that even someday might serve to attract more professionals to the community.”

For the next six months, both dentists’ patients are being seen at Dr. Dornbos’ office on 102 S. Main Street in Vicksburg while the new building is under construction. It will have seven rooms, instead of the previous four, expanding from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet. Four operative and three hygiene rooms are planned. Walt Hansen, general contractor in charge of the project, has constructed over 50 dental offices. Hanson knows what works for dentists and what doesn’t with the flow of patients. The exterior will have fieldstone on the base and vinyl shakes for siding. It is expected to be completed in January.

Dr. Ford came to Vicksburg as an assistant to Dr. Mike Carl who had purchased Dr. Jim McClelland’s practice 10 years ago. Dr. Carl also had a practice in Mendon and needed to give that his full-time attention. He offered the Vicksburg opportunity to Ford, a Texas Corners resident. His wife, Maureen, is an emergency room physician at Bronson Hospital employed by Southwest Michigan Emergency Services. They have three children, ages 11, 8 and 5. She serves on the Mattawan school board.

He grew up in Sturgis, graduating in 1995. Ford is a Western Michigan University graduate who participated in Army ROTC for four years. He earned a hitch with a dentist who was assigned to Kuwait in 2000. “I preferred the interaction with patients and wanted to get more involved in the clinical side of dentistry, so upon discharge enrolled in the University of Michigan’s dental school.”

“Much has changed in dentistry, just in the last 10 years that I have been in practice,” he said. “The first item I purchased here was a digital X-ray machine so I didn’t have to do wet developing of pictures. We don’t see crowns breaking like they used to. We have lab-fabricated crowns and bridges and the materials are harder and more reliable. Gold is nice, it lasts a long time; but zirconia crowns are white and more aesthetically pleasing than gold and last just as long as any other crown. Needles are sharper and don’t poke so hard.”

He has combined the two doctor’s staff and kept all of them on board with10 full timers, including three assistants, four hygienists and two office managers. They are accepting new patients in the combined practice. “We are thrilled that he took us all on,” said Lori Barnes, Dr. Dornbos’ dental assistant. “He takes his time with everybody. It’s just his special personality.”

“I liked Vicksburg from the beginning. It’s a great spot between Chicago and Detroit, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. I’m looking forward to a long future in Vicksburg and providing high-quality dentistry,” Dr. Ford said.

Library Partners to Create Community Literacy Center

Eric Hansen, head of circulation and reference at the Vicksburg District Library, will be helping with the Literacy Council program at the library this fall.

By Eric Hansen

Vicksburg District Library is working with South County Community Services (SCCS) and the Kalamazoo Literacy Council (KLC) to develop an Adult Literacy Center in southern Kalamazoo County.

Linda Adams from the Library, Danna Downing of Community Services, and Michael Evans of the Literacy Council are collaborating to create a program that provides a range of tutoring services such as assistance with reading comprehension, training with computers, and assistance with studying for the GED. The program relies on volunteers, presenting an opportunity for Vicksburg residents to give back to the community. This is exceptionally important due to the number of people in Kalamazoo County who struggle with reading comprehension issues.

Evans, executive director of the Literacy Council, has explained that “in Kalamazoo County more than 25,000 people, or 13 percent of adults, cannot read a simple story to a child, an intersection on a map, a prescription label or total purchases from an order form.”

Evans expressed the impact on adults who struggle with literacy, including challenges to effective parenting, looking for employment and working on job sites and participating in the community socially and politically. The ability to read and comprehend language is vital for understanding news and politics. Good reading comprehension is necessary for considering and judging if legal agreements, news, or advertisements are accurate and how they can affect a person. Adults who struggle with literacy can find it difficult to participate in social opportunities, which can lead to feelings of alienation or missed chances.

Because a range of information and opportunities have migrated to the Internet, it is important that Kalamazoo County residents understand how to use computers. Residents can use computers to write resumes, buy and sell items, complete healthcare research and communicate via e-mail. Vicksburg District Library is assisting in this initiative by providing free space where tutors can meet with adult learners. On many dates there are private rooms available for this training.

Privacy is especially important because adult learners often wish to discuss literacy questions privately and receive training on a one-on-one basis. Because of the individual attention offered by this program, the new Literacy Center needs volunteers who are available to receive training and participate on a weekly basis. Evans wants to train at least five volunteers before the Vicksburg Literacy Center opens during October.

Community members who would like to learn about volunteering should attend the first volunteer orientation meeting. This is scheduled August 28 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Vicksburg District Library on South Michigan Ave. During that meeting, Evans will present information on goals for the literacy center, roles that are available, and free training that is available to people who assist with the program. More information is also available by calling the Literacy Council at (269) 382-0490, extension 222, or by calling Linda Adams, office manager for Vicksburg District Library, at (269) 649-1648.

Literacy is Not a Given for Everyone

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Liz Polasek reviews the tutoring books she uses when helping adults learn to read.

By Sue Moore

It’s amazing in this day of Twitter, Facebook and widespread web usage that there are many adults who can’t read. It is estimated 13 percent of the population in Kalamazoo County have a hidden reading problem, leading to trouble passing a driver’s license test or even finding their way using a road map. So many other issues for non-readers include filling out medical and job application forms and reading instructions, ballots – and even when shopping.

What it takes to help people who have been hiding this disability for many years are some dedicated tutors who can help turn someone’s life around, says Michael Evans, head of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council.

A Vicksburg area resident who has been tutoring for 10 years, Liz Polasek, has words of encouragement for those who might like to give tutoring a try. “It gives me personal satisfaction to help students taking the opportunity to gain skills that will improve their lives in untold ways. I do it because I have the time, and with the support of the Literacy Council resources I can play a part in helping someone else gain skills to that make such a difference,” she says.

“Whenever a student discovers a word in print that has special meaning to them, completes a lesson or passes a test, I share in that success. Each student has a personal goal that the tutor helps them to work toward, with lots of intermediate goals and celebrations,” Polasek says.

“I know of a former student in another community who was a 70-year-old man. His bucket list included wanting to read his Bible. With the help of his tutor and her family, he was able to accomplish this before he passed away,” Polasek says. “Another adult student was embarrassed about her struggle with reading, and went to great lengths to hide it in the community. She was very intelligent, but probably struggled with a learning disability such as dyslexia.

“She was seen as a leader, and wasn’t comfortable sharing her struggles publicly. People often don’t want others to know they can’t read well. That’s why tutoring in a private room with the door shut is helpful, allowing audio privacy. But personal safety of all participants is also a priority.”

Polasek and the Literacy Council use instruction books with scripted visuals, interesting stories and skill-building activities, based on research and experience with basic vocabulary through college preparation skills.

The original course work was designed by Frank Laubach, the founder of Laubach Literacy which has now become part of ProLiteracy Worldwide.  Lessons focus on specific letter sounds and combinations in words, such as the ending ‘tion, ‘ssion, ‘sion, and the specific pronunciations (exceptions addressed) in more advanced/intermediate lessons.

Comprehension is monitored, with instruction available for cursive writing and composition. Writing skills are included at each level.

Finding the time for consistent study and keeping appointments is sometimes a challenge for people with poor reading skills.  They are often under- or unemployed, and struggle with calendars and other daily challenges.  Schedule changes, transportation and other more immediate concerns must be balanced with the long-term goal of improving their lives through improved literacy.  It can be done, and success radiates from the student to family and community.

Local Animal History Unleashed in New Exhibition

By April Bryan,
Curator, Vicksburg Historical Society

Animals play a significant role in Vicksburg’s history.

Wild animals shared the land with the Potawatomi and provided them with food, skins, and protection. Horses brought settlers such as John Vickers to Kalamazoo County and proved essential to local agriculture. Our downtown dogs and cats are more than pets – they serve as furry ambassadors for many Main Street businesses today. How did our relationships with and views on animals change over time? How have animals moved from the wild into our hearts and homes?

A special exhibition answering some of those questions opens in the Historic Village’s Township Hall on Thursday, August 31 and runs through Sunday, October 29 with free admission Wednesday through Sunday, 1-5 p.m. The location is ADA-accessible.

A reading nook where the exhibition is housed at the Historical Society will provide a comfortable space for families to enjoy an animal tale or two. Children may dress up as their favorite animal friends and color pups and kittens from historic coloring books.

Seen through a local lens and using artifacts and images from its permanent collection as well as those on loan from Alamo Township Museum, the exhibition, Dog House to House Dog: The Changing Roles of the Animals in Our Lives, explores animals as protectors, producers, providers, and pets. Our changing perceptions about them are highlighted through examples of art, advertisements, products, and pop culture.

What impact did mechanization have on animal agricultural roles? How did Vicksburg’s Joseph Frakes immortalize his prized racing horse? Who was Main Street’s Stub the Cat and how did he win a medal? Discover the stories of exotic pets, such as the monkey who lived across the street from Old El, and memorable moments including the day a Prairie Street Saint Bernard went through a picture window after the postman. Animal-related books, films and toys are considered and an eye-opening dog’s life timeline shows the progress from doghouse to house dog. With its snapshot wall, the exhibition takes a nostalgic look at our community’s beloved pets, past and present.