Category Archives: Vicksburg

Apple Knockers Reopens in New Location

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The delightful deck at the new Apple Knockers gives diners a great view of Sunset Lake.

By Sue Moore

“It’s been a crazy first 25 days that we have been open!” Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor’s co-owner Rita Sertic exclaimed at the shop’s new Vicksburg location at 220 W. Prairie St.

Sertic and her mom, Paula Hochstetler, and sister, Angela Palomaki, started the business 10 years ago in a small shop at 115 W. Prairie. At the new location, formerly the Ralph Hayward insurance agency, they have enlarged seating capacity inside and out. “We knew we were going to be busy but we had no idea it was going to be this busy. It’s like car show every day.  We feel very blessed because of all the love and support everyone has showered upon us.”

“We purchased the property for our new location last fall,” Sertic said. “The folks at Hayward were gracious enough to let us start outside renovations in the fall,” Sertic said. That work included a deck next to the water with a ship’s prow hanging over the side inviting to young and old.

“So, we were glad we could get a jump start on the outside. We knew we wouldn’t be able to start our building renovations until they were able to move out. We were finally able to start our work on April 1st. It was not easy! We did a lot of the work ourselves (many late nights and early mornings) but we also had a long list of contractors that helped us along the way.  We had a few delays but ultimately we were able to complete our work in eight weeks to the day on June 1,” Sertic said.

Hochstetler described the history of the ship’s prow out over the pond on Sunset Lake. “When we discussed with our builder, Jim Van Horn, about extending the deck to the water’s edge, so children could look down into the pond, we suggested cantilevering the deck and putting a captain’s wheel at one end to add interest.  Jim suggested adding a ship.  We gave him free license to come up with whatever he thought children would love, and one winter day as we drove by, we saw half a ship on our deck!!  He built it from scratch in his pole barn and delivered and mounted it on site.  We didn’t see it until it was in place.  What a surprise!  Jim and his crew deserve full credit for the design and craftsmanship it took to create such a masterpiece!  It is made from cedar wood and we hope people will enjoy it for many years to come. My husband and I used to joke about “someday when our ship would come in. It looks like finally, half of it arrived.”

“A line started forming about 30 minutes or so before opening and as soon as we unlocked the door, it just never shut.  We had a line to the road the entire day.  It was a record day for us, it beat every car show day we had had in the past 10 years.  Everyone was so patient with us and stood in the long lines and waited and then waited even more to get their orders.  Food orders were taking 25 plus minutes to complete, but everyone was so understanding,” Sertic said.

“We had a lot of kinks to work out and it took a while for us to find our groove; just the new building, new flow, trying to figure what was working and what wasn’t.  We are still working on all that, to be honest,” she explained. “There is always a better way to do something.  We have tons of stuff to still complete; lots of outdoor gardening to do, a few things to build, we have a lot of fun ideas we just haven’t had the time to execute yet because we have been so busy.”

Sertic doesn’t have exact numbers, but just based on the number of food orders taken and scoops of ice cream served, she figured they had close to 5,000 people through the doors in the first week they were open.

“Then we had car show.  Car show is back on top as our best day in 10 years.  It beat out our opening day, which I didn’t think was possible,” she said. “We really didn’t know what to expect for car show this year because we are a little further down the street than where we were before. We had such great weather this year and I think it helped that the craft venders were all up along that stretch of West Prairie. Plus, I think the ship on the deck piques everyone’s curiosity. It’s hard to miss!”

“We are absolutely loving our new location and all of our feedback from the public has been amazing and really positive.  It’s always a little nerve-wracking, moving your entire business.  But I know we made the right decision.  We are in such a fun location with lots of options now. We still have a lot of work to do but we really love our new home. And you know us, we always have a few ideas floating around, so this is just the beginning,” Sertic said. They are also the proud owners of Windfall Coffeehouse, just down the street at 625 E. Prairie Street.

It’s a Fine Life – Eulogy for Jenny Wren

IMG_3368By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe

A bird died today—it broke its neck in frantic midflight against our living room window. From the shadow’s small silhouette, pattern, and quickness, I thought the fatal thud was a hummingbird. But when I looked through the windowpanes, a tiny wren lay inert on the concrete, her cheerful song forever silenced. I examined her brown, compact body, contemplating her life and purpose.

How many bugs had she snatched from the bushes? How often had I heard her morning song? How many years had she returned to our yard after the darkness of winter?
Her end came so suddenly, so abruptly, so unexpectedly. Where was she going in such careless hurry? Were her fledglings waiting for her, their tiny beaks open, wings fluttering in anticipation of breakfast? Was her mate still waiting outside the nest in their desperate tag-team to feed their brood? Her stillness rings in the morning air.

Sometimes I am so distracted and mindless in my flights, forgetting that life on this earth is not forever. The sunrises and sunsets paint the sky, and often I am too preoccupied by tasks and responsibilities that I forget to pause and breathe in the moments.

Like the wren, our flight on this earth is brief and there is always the possibility that it might end as swiftly. For me, I find comfort in knowing that we have a chance to impact the future with more than our DNA. Jazz musician Greg Adams suggests, “There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man or woman. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken a word of encouragement to us, has entered the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.”

How true. I remember the people who have helped me along the way, who have listened, who have encouraged me.

Lorraine and Merritt Harper, retired farmers and neighbors, who welcomed me for lemonade and cookies when I spontaneously arrived at their door, announcing confidently, “Hi, I was just out on my bike and thought I would stop by.” They gave me their full, uninterrupted attention as we sat at their tiny kitchen table. They smiled at me, listening to my 10-year-old ideas and adventures. How important and loved I felt. My choir teacher, Cinda Cramer, who encouraged fragile, awkward high school students to persist and take risks. My friends and I felt valued and noticed, something all teenagers so desperately need.

We can’t, of course, always recall the details, but such care and kindness become a part of us and what we find important. These wonderful people are gone from this earth, yet their influence remains in me and in all the other people their positive energy touched.

Opportunities for encouragement and helping others are all around. All we need to do is make the effort.

I pause and remember, respecting the brief life of Jenny Wren.

You can follow Kathy at her blog:

Michelle’s Restaurant Opens in Vicksburg

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The server crew at the Michelle’s in Vicksburg includes from left to right: Kyler Cornett, Tabitha Farnham, Emilee Hensley, Amanda Riemer.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg area residents greeted the newest EMA Enterprises restaurant in town with great enthusiasm, according to its president Mike Leeuw. The company’s newest Michelle’s Restaurant opened its doors to the public in the newly renovated R & R building at 343 W. Prairie Street in May.

“We are very happy with our attendance over the month we have been open in Vicksburg,” said Leeuw, the owner of all eight restaurants in the company. “We went into it completely dark and find the community has been really nice to us. We have noticed that Vicksburg loves its bacon as that’s been a hit on our breakfast menu. I really like small towns and this is no exception,” he said.

Leeuw’s restaurant holdings include five venues named Michelle’s in Portage, Mattawan and Kalamazoo. EMA Enterprises also own Liz’s Parkview Café in Richland, Andrea’s Café in Galesburg, Treat Street in Oakwood Plaza, Capital Region International Airport, a large catering operation along with concessions at Entergy-Palisades in South Haven and all the athletic concessions at Western Michigan University (WMU).

“We have been growing steadily but conservatively every year since we started in Gobles 14 years ago,” Leeuw noted. “We would love to keep growing in the right market. This is not an easy business but it’s a very gratifying and rewarding to the customers and staff.

The concession division, particularly the business at WMU, helps to keeps EMA diversified, Leeuw said. “We do all the University’s sporting events in partnership with civic groups at WMU including over 100 volunteers who are involved. It can be very hectic but I like this part of the business and sports in general. It keeps changing. It takes more than just a hot dog and popcorn these days. We offer many different options now and are providing food on a much bigger scale than when we started. Beginning in mid-August, EMA will be providing the food service for American Axle in Three Rivers for 1,300 people in the plant.”

“The body of our menu is the same as when we started, but we do change items twice a year for breakfast and lunch. We only do dinner at our Gull Road facility which also houses our central kitchen where all of our catering is managed. We have seven menus that are different but similar. We seek input from our staff, the line cooks, managers and then our core leaders create the food for the newest menu. We have 155 employees; 30 of them have been with us for five years or more. We offer paid vacations, health care that is affordable, which some of our people have never had before.”

Leeuw got his start at Kalamazoo College as food service director. Before that he was with the Marriott, chain for 10 years. He moved to Damon’s for 10 years in food service before buying out Chicken Charlies and opening in Gobles. When Mikes’ dad passed away, he decided to go out on his own. He graduated from Ohio Dominican University with a business degree. There, he met his wife, Jane, who handles all the paperwork for the restaurants and the human resources area of the business. “I fell in love with all of this line of work. It is the gratification of a job well-done that keeps me going at the age of 54. I like making lives happier [through the serving of good food].”

“We have found the right kind of landlords in every place we have opened,” Leeuw said. “Dan and Kelly Oswalt are great to work with here in Vicksburg. “Our lunches have been shockingly busy with unique items on the Vicksburg menu. We have also been welcomed in Oswalt’s banquet facility with the opportunity to provide catering services. It’s just a great match all the way around.”

Poetry and Music Make for Meaningful Signs at the Mill

By Sue Moore

The poetry speaks with volume: Foot-high black lettering on bright orange silt-fencing, facing motorists on W Avenue on the south side of the Mill.

It’s the work of Schoolcraft high school students with guidance from English Language Arts teacher Doug Martin and Peg Butler, an Oregon artist whose work often connects with social and ecological issues.

Butler spent two weeks in Vicksburg leading the “Mill Writes Project” in conjunction with Schoolcraft High’s spring term poetry class.

The six-week short course, Poetry and Music, took an interesting turn when the class visited the Mill in May to study its rebirth, renewal and regeneration. They learned about the use of poetic language from Martin, using words rich in meaning and connected to the mill renovation project.

There were 22 students in the elective class who wrote poems in as few words as possible while being able and willing to revise the wording the teams created. They were urged to look at poetic devices through music terms, according to Martin.

“I understand better what words mean to different things,” said Chance Evens, one of the students. “I will think more about words when reading and listening to music in the future.”

Butler’s idea for the Mill Writes Project grew out of a previous public art project called Orange Lining that she helped create along a seven-mile light-rail line in Portland.

On field trip day to the Mill, students learned about the past, present and future of the Mill site. Lisa Phillips, an environmental scientist, talked about the contamination that remains from the industrial processes and the techniques being used to clean up the site. Jackie Koney talked about the redevelopment of the Mill site to be a thriving complex of businesses and activities that will include a brewery, event center, hotel, walking trails and wildlife habitat.

Students collected words, ideas and images during the Mill visit, and over the course of a week honed their thoughts into short poems. Twenty-eight poems were then painted onto silt fencing, some signs stretching as long as a hundred feet. They will be installed along the south fence at the Mill on a rotating basis. For the weekend of the Old Car Festival in Vicksburg, all of the poems that were not yet installed at the Mill were displayed inside the vacant pharmacy building in the Village to create an engaging spectacle, activate the pharmacy space and inform about the Mill Writes Project.

National Artists Contribute to the Stature of the Mill

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Penelope Anstruther, one of the early Prairie Ronde artists in residence had a showing in the Mill of her creations.

By Jef Rietsma

The Mill’s unique Prairie Ronde Artist Residency program has brought artists from around the world to Vicksburg in order to grow their practice.

Now in its second year, the program will see as many as 10 artists at the Mill in Vicksburg this year while its redevelopment continues.

John Kern, who played a key role in creating the program and establishing its guidelines, said he is pleased to see the Mill provide inspiration that has resulted in a vast array of artwork.

“We anticipated that people would fall in love with the building and the land … we didn’t anticipate how much art would be made that was site-specific to the building,” Kern said. “It’s been great.”

This year’s artist lineup has featured Joe Freeman Jr., a professional photographer from Tacoma, Wash.; Travis Miller, an electronic music composer from Los Angeles; Peg Butler, a poet from Portland, Or.; and Katina Bitsicas, filmmaker from Columbia, Mo.

Upcoming participants will be visual artist Anna Roeder from Kalamazoo and Marie Bergstedt, a San Francisco resident who is a textile artist. Kern said Bergstedt has an interesting history.

“Marie grew up in the Vicksburg area and she actually worked at the Vicksburg Commercial-Express (newspaper),” Kern said. “So, she got wind of us and she is coming here July 15 for about a month.”

The final artist this year will be Sam Margevicius, a photographer from New York.

Kern explained that the process of bringing artists to Vicksburg starts with an application review. Interviews are held with prospective participants, who give an idea of what their plan involves and what materials they will work with.

“Some artists have come in with a really clear plan. Others have changed course once they arrived,” he said. “A great example (of the latter) is last year’s final resident of the season, Rachel Toups. She had the plan to come here and record an album. But she’s also a visual artist, and after touring the property, she had an idea for a couple of visual pieces. We agreed to that change and she wound up making two large-scale pieces that incorporated, by her estimate, 18 miles of red yarn … she bought out all the red yarn in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.”

Those selected for the program choose the length of their stay – a window of four to seven weeks – and their stay is set up one right after the other.

Part of the agreement is that a guest artist will leave at least one piece of artwork for the Mill. Kern said the work collected so far is being stored off site, at least until construction-related work has been completed.

Ultimately, he said he would like the public to see some of the artwork before select items are brought back to the mill for permanent display.

Kern said the website was developed to help promote the program. In addition, he said, a social-media coordinator has also played a critical role in helping to keep the program visible. By far, however, the biggest move was to join a professional network, the Alliance of Artists Communities.

Kern said the program is in the process of securing its artists for the third and final session of the 2019 season. From start to end, this year’s season will run from March through mid-December.

Applications have also opened for the 2020 season.

The incentive for anyone to join the local artist residency program begins with what Kern described as a generous stipend. Many artists, he said, are making the lion’s share of their earnings by going from residency to residency.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of that … it’s exciting,” Kern said. “It’s challenging, though, because a few of the things we ask are that they think about a way that they can incorporate themselves into the local community and we also ask them to focus whatever work they do here on the Mill campus and/or Vicksburg.”

He said without exception, the artists are internally disciplined and motivated, Kern said. They come to Vicksburg to grow their practice and experiment with their craft It’s a unique and exciting opportunity for an artist to have the level of freedom they are given as part of the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency program.

“When artists come here, this is their time, this is their opportunity to challenge themselves and to grow,” Kern said. “The excitement that this place breeds and the excitement of the opportunity really sweeps people off their feet.”

Village of Vicksburg to Celebrate Tax Reduction On July 15

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The Vicksburg Village Council invites residents to attend any board meetings but will have a special meeting on July 15 at the Community Pavilion. They are seated from left: Carl Keller, Bill Adams, Tim Frisbie. Standing from left: Julie Merrill, Rick Holmes, Colin Bailey, Gail Reisterer.

By Sue Moore

It isn’t often that local government authorizes a lowering of its millage rate. Experience suggests that most times taxes go up, not down. The village of Vicksburg in the 2019-2020 projected budget that begins July 1, did in fact, decrease the rate to 15.163 mills, a half-mill reduction from the current levy.

To mark the occasion, the first celebration of Community Night in the village of Vicksburg is set for Monday, July 15 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Community Pavilion on N. Richardson Street. It is sponsored by the village and will include a short council meeting at 6 p.m. Various businesses, nonprofits, churches, food purveyors and scouting groups have been extended an invitation to participate. TrustShield Insurance and St Martin of Tours Catholic Church are sponsoring inflatables. The Mill is sponsoring music for the night.

Elected officials from this area are planning to attend because of the uniqueness of the tax decrease. They want to be supportive, according to Village Manager Jim Mallery. The theme of the gathering is “Our Future’s So Bright” with participants being encouraged to decorate in neon, sun and sunglasses, said Jenny Holmes who is helping to organize the evening event.

For a municipality Vicksburg’s size, decreasing a millage is a first from memory for those who follow local government. The reduction of .5 mill is roughly $50 for every $100,000 of state equalized valuation (SEV). Overall, the 15.163 mills, $15.163 per $1,000 taxable valuation, will raise $1,625,700 for the general fund. Of that, $1,587,564 is budgeted for expenditures in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Mallory was congratulated by members of the village council for his work on the budget, especially his propensity to overestimate expenses and underestimate revenues. “We can estimate village revenue down to the very dollar but there is revenue from the state that we don’t control – nearly 35 percent is for major streets. I treat these dollars as I would my own,” Mallery went on to say.

“When I started I was shocked to learn how this government operated. People wouldn’t use their own money the way they were spending the people’s money, so caution is built into the factors that we don’t control. I’ve never blown a budget in all my years of being in government and I don’t want to do it now.”

What has increased in the budget is the water and sewer consumption rate for 2019-2020 in order to improve infrastructure of the village. The underground water and sewer system has been largely ignored since being rebuilt and expanded in the 1940s, 50s, and 80s. A major investment is being planned for the downtown streets along with some changes to the pumping stations on Washington and 22nd streets.

Other budget details include $199,500 for the parks and recreation department and $329,685 to improve roadways, with $144,200 of that for local streets. Capital improvements in the village shows $110,000 set aside. The Department of Public Works expects to spend $363,600 and the Downtown Development Authority has budgeted $290,925.

The enterprise arms of the village includes Angels Crossing golf course which expects to have $1,117,000 in revenues and $1,098,209 in expenditures. The water fund is budgeted for $711,150 in revenue and $689,600 in expenses. The sewer fund anticipates $969,500 revenue and $966,400 in expenses.

Steve McCowen Recognized for 25 Years of Service

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Steve McCowen of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft is at the far right, standing beside his friend David Cummings. All four were honored for their longevity in the funeral business by the Michigan Funeral Directors Association. Photo credit: Kylie Roznowski.

Steve McCowen, local funeral director, received recognition from the Michigan Funeral Directors Association for 25 years of service.

This award was given to him at the association’s annual meeting in Port Huron. “What made the award even more special to me was receiving the award with an old friend, David Cummings. David and I worked together in Jackson at the Wetherby Funeral Home,” McCowen said. “I started working there when I was 16 years old, and David was a few years older. We both cut the grass, painted, cleaned and washed the cars together. We both went to college to become funeral directors at the same time and then took different paths afterward.”

“Cummings and I were taught by the same mentor, the late Tom Tuthill. Tom was instrumental in us both knowing the business from the ground up. At the ceremony last week, David and I sat together and both thought of how proud Tom would be, not just for the award but for how we both do things the right way with families. David today owns two funeral homes in Muskegon and Whitehall; and I own four funeral homes in Vicksburg, Portage, Plainwell and Schoolcraft. A lot of hard work, long hours and some sleepless nights, sometimes multiple nights in a row go into being a funeral director,” McCowen pointed out.

“As I was looking around during the ceremony, I thought back to the journey. The award was for 25 years but I have worked in the industry and learned from some of the best for over 30 years. I didn’t become the funeral director I am today, by myself. I had Tom that gave me the foundation, Walt Harper and Jack Weston taught me some skilled trade for helping people with extreme issues, Chuck Nelson in Gaylord who owned the Nelson Funeral Home taught me the detail end of the business like none other and how to have class. And I had Sheldon and Marilyn Durham that taught me more than anything about being a funeral director in a small town. Marilyn taught me how to help people grieve and more importantly to live,” McCowen remembered.

“Then I also thought of all the sacrifices my family has made: Jenny, my wife, Mackenzie, Joey, and Stephen and Jenny’s kids, Evan and Emma, for some of the events I don’t get to make because of the business,” McCowen said. “This award wasn’t about me, it was about the shoulders I have stood on to get that award. They are the ones that made me who I am and with regards to my family allow me to be the person I need to be for the families in our community. They are the reason I earned this recognition.”

McCowen said, “I take great pride in the opportunity that families give our firm to serve them. It’s an honor that I am humbled by on a daily basis. McCowen & Secord Funeral Home, isn’t just Steve McCowen, it’s the people that work beside me every day.”