Vicksburg water, sewer work ready to start

By Jef Rietsma

A once-in-a-generation sewer and water project in Vicksburg will begin in March. Most of the $11 million undertaking will center on replacing a main sewer line from an area at the northeast end of town to a lift station on Washington Street. The project also involves work from Washington Street to an area at the south end of Vicksburg.

Village Manager Jim Mallery said the impetus for the project was a 2015 grant program which provided funding for analyses of stormwater, asset management and wastewater improvements in Michigan communities.

A team of village officials took nearly three years to study Vicksburg’s sewer infrastructure, Mallery said. The original conclusion found more than $30 million worth of critical needs. Mallery said an additional 10 months of meetings with engineers followed.

“What we arrived at was this $11 million package,” he said. Of that, $9 million of the cost will focus on sewer-related infrastructure replacement and upgrades in other areas. The balance will be split between storm-water management and drinking water infrastructure.

“In the downtown district, there are two old water mains – I think one’s a six-inch and one’s a four-inch – and we’re taking the four-inch completely out of service and putting in an eight-inch,” he added. “We will have the opportunity to have second-floor residential with sprinklers because it will have the appropriate water pressure then.”

Vicksburg’s downtown infrastructure, which dates to the 1940s, is 16 to 20 feet under the center of Prairie Street, which means downtown will be closed to vehicles during the construction period.

Though there are some telltale signs of pre-construction engineering and some downtown tree-removal already has taken place, Mallery said residents will start seeing heavy equipment the first week of March. He expects the project will last up to 13 months.

Mallery said an inordinate amount of time went into planning this project and, consequently, nobody could fairly say they were blindsided by the start of the work.

The new project will allow flows from high growth areas on the west side of town to go directly from the Washington Street lift station through the interceptor to the Spruce Street lift station instead of putting additional stress on an older system running through neighborhoods on the south and east sides of Vicksburg.

The general contractor for the job is Allegan County-based Milbocker & Sons Inc.

Mallery urged residents to be patient and plan to follow detours to get from one side of town to the other. He said updates will be provided through the village’s social media sources.

“It’s the most substantial project the village has probably ever undertaken,” Mallery said. He noted that the project will be funded through a 40-year, low-interest loan.

Vicksburg plans to construct new road salt building

The old salt barn will be replaced.

By Jef Rietsma

Final details regarding a long-overdue public works building are being worked out by Vicksburg officials.
Village council members heard an update Feb. 1 from Village Manager Jim Mallery about a new road salt building to replace one built in the 1950s on North Main Street, just north of the railroad tracks.

Mallery said funding for the project started about three years ago, when the village began tucking away funds with the intent of eventually replacing the structure. He said an initial $100,000 was set aside in the 2018-19 fiscal year. Another $100,000 was added a year later. The fund now has close to $350,000.

“Our goal is to never take on debt on these types of projects,” he said, noting the low bid was a not-to-exceed amount of $355,000. The high bid came in at just over $426,000.

Alex Lee, director of community engagement, said the salt building has served the village well. However, Lee added, its doors are inoperable, and the approach to the building is worn down and as a result collects water. Also, there are a number of structural issues. Because of the problems, equipment is kept in an adjacent 60-by-100-foot building also showing its age, Lee said.

The cramped conditions often require workers to shuffle equipment and temporarily set it outdoors to access equipment needed for a specific task, Lee said.

“The small area that serves as the heated maintenance area for our crew doubles as the storage area for our vital plow and salt trucks,” he said. “Even using every square inch available leaves some very expensive and critical equipment exposed to the elements.”

Benefits of the new 6,000-square-foot building include improved energy efficiency, additional inside storage, and more resources to keep the DPW staff and equipment operating as effectively as possible.

DPW director Randy Schippers pointed out rain leaks into the existing salt storage building, causing salt to clump.

“We’ve got probably $50,000 to $75,000 worth of equipment and vehicles sitting outside,” Schippers said, adding an additional building would put the department “in excellent shape” and everything that should be inside would be under roof. “The existing barn, the back of it, is just costing us a fortune to heat.”

Council members ultimately approved a bid from Larry Mallory Pole Buildings not to exceed $355,000.

Mallery, noting he is not related to Larry Mallory, said the existing salt barn should be razed by the end of March. Work on its replacement is slated to begin by the end of April, Mallery said.

MHSAA adjusts spring schedule

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has adjusted the spring 2021 schedule, delaying the start of practices in those sports by a week to March 22 and competition to March 26 to accommodate a later end to winter sports.

The calendar change should ease pressure on indoor facility usage and athletes changing seasons, with winter sports concluding up to two weeks later this school year after a delayed start due to COVID-19.

The association’s Representative Council based its decision in part on feedback from a survey of MHSAA member high schools, which saw 74 percent favoring a delay in spring sports activity of at least a week. State coaches’ associations for spring sports also were consulted. Generally, the great majority of Michigan schools are unable to begin consistent spring sports outdoor activity and competition until early April.

All spring sports tournament dates remain as originally scheduled, with MHSAA Finals in baseball, softball and girls’ soccer concluding the 2020-21 postseason June 19.

The entire spring sports season was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, the Council approved an allowance for spring teams to meet for voluntary practices over 16 contact days in September and October. General conditioning with an unlimited number of students is currently allowed, with other out-of-season training (four-player workouts, open gyms/facilities) allowed to continue through March 21, with the council having eliminated the preseason downtime restriction for spring sports this year.

Obituaries

Mark D. Barnebee, 58, Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 6, 2021. Mark was born on Dec. 26, 1962 in Kalamazoo, the son of James and Judith (Olin) Barnebee. Mark graduated from Vicksburg High School with the class of 1981. On July 25, 1998 he married Dawn Griffith and together they had one daughter, Ashley. For the past eight years Mark has worked for Pfizer as a chemical operator, and prior to that he worked at Harborlite Corporation. In his spare time he enjoyed grilling, playing golf, going to the casino, and spending time with family. He followed University of Michigan sports, the Dallas Cowboys and the Red Wings. Mark is survived by his wife, Dawn; daughter Ashley Barnebee of Portage; and one grandchild on the way. He is also survived by his mother, Judith Barnebee of Portage; brother Scott (Jenifer) Barnebee of Vicksburg; and several nieces and nephews. Mark will be cremated, and due to COVID restrictions, a gathering to honor his memory is being planned for a later date. Visit Mark’s page at mccowensecord.com. Donations may go to the Alzheimer’s Association or Generous Hands.

Joyce Elizabeth Blodgett, 82, Schoolcraft, passed away at her home Feb. 23, 2021. She was born on Sept. 6, 1938 in Kalamazoo, the daughter of Lester and Helen (Wright) Ryskamp. She graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School in 1956. On Sept. 7, 1957 she married the late Andrew D. Blodgett. They were married for 33 years and raised their family in Schoolcraft. Andy and Joyce opened the first Blodgett family business, Green Acres, in 1967, and later Andrea’s Flower Shop located on US-131 in Schoolcraft. She worked over 20 years at Hudson’s and retired from Macy’s. She was preceded in death by her son, Andrew G. Blodgett; granddaughter Paige Bilicke; and brother Lester Ryskamp. Surviving are her children Terry W. (Cindy) Blodgett, Robin L. (Avery) Delaney, Kevin S. Blodgett, Pam (Jerry Jonckheere) Blodgett, Tony (Kristy) Blodgett; younger sister Carol (Sam) Pilat and her baby sister Linda (Mike) Dunphey; 25 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. Donations may go to Schoolcraft Assembly of God, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or sent to Pam Blodgett, 220 Lyon St., NW – Suite 540, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Visit her page at avinkcremation.com.

Randall (Randy) John Frakes, 66, Panama City Beach, Fla., formerly of Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 9, 2021, after a long illness. Randy, born on March 28, 1954, was a talented artist, and had a passion for cooking and entertaining. Wherever his home, it was a gathering place full of good times and friends. Even during his illness, he would prepare delightful dinners for guests. He was a nurturer of all, forever taking in stray cats, feeding and caring for them as well. During his earlier years, he enjoyed hunting, especially squirrel and deer with members of the family. It was a must to be in Sidnaw, Mich. on Nov. 15 for the opening of deer season. Randy is survived by his partner of 25 years, Richard King, sisters Barbara (Ted) Sanger and Karen (Steve) Marshall, sister-in-law Cyndi Frakes, niece Heather Frakes, nephews Jason (Missy) Sanger, Kell (Brittany) Sanger, Jonathan (Michelle) Frakes, Ben, Jake and Matthew Marshall, several great nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Marjorie (Baldwin) Frakes, and brother John L. Frakes. Donations may go to their local humane society in his name.

Barbara Jean (Munn) Griner, Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 6, 2021. Barbara was born June 6, 1922, the daughter of Mercer and Florence (Godshalk) Munn. Growing up in Vicksburg, Barbara’s early life centered on family, the community, and her church. She graduated from Vicksburg High School with the class of 1942, then attended business college and worked for her father’s insurance business. This business suited her well, and she eventually worked for Schuring Insurance, retiring in 1990. Friends introduced her to Donald Guy Griner, and they were married on May 15, 1946. They settled in Vicksburg and raised their three daughters, Lynn, Beth, and Karla. She encouraged all of her girls’ endeavors, often volunteering her time and talents. The family looked forward to their traditional events, including trips to their cabin in Lovells, Michigan, and attending the St. Joseph County Fair. Barbara enjoyed time spent with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Donations may go to Vicksburg United Methodist Church. Visit Barbara’s page please at mccowensecord.com.

Carol Ann Henderson, 80, Scotts, passed away Feb. 10, 2021. She was born May 3, 1940 in Parchment, the daughter of Peter and Ethel (Morris) Fish. She graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1958. Following graduation, she married the love of her life, Richard Henderson, on Dec. 6, 1958. They were together for 62 years, and together raised three wonderful children, Rebecca, Bradley, and Brent. She retired from Fidelity after 17 years of service and enjoyed traveling south during the winter months. She also loved camping, fishing, mushroom hunting, travelling to Canada and spending time with her grandchildren and her many cats. She was preceded in her passing by her parents. Carol is survived by her husband Richard; children Rebecca (Jerry) Dunklee, Bradley (Vonda) Henderson,and Brent (Joan) Henderson; several grandchildren and great grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. Services have been held. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. Visit her page at mccowensecord.com.

John Albert Hodgman, 77, Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 19, 2021. John was born on Jan. 31, 1944 in Kalamazoo, the son of Albert Theo Hodgman and Ruth Agnes (Kaiser). He was a lifelong resident of Vicksburg, graduating from Vicksburg High School in 1962. He honorably served the United States Armed forces until his discharge in 1965. His mother introduced him to the love of his life, Jacque, and they were married on April 1, 1966. John was employed with National Waterlift/Parker Hannifin from 1965 until his 2004 retirement. He was a man of few words who loved his family, friends, all things Harley Davidson and racing related, as well as the Detroit Lions and Tigers. He was preceded in death by his parents; sisters Lila Burgess and Joyce Phelps; and brothers George Hodgman and Roy Hodgman. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Jacqueline (Havinga) Hodgman; children Cindy (Mike) Waldon and John (Martha) Hodgman; grandson Mike Waldon; sister Claudia Burgess; and many nieces and nephews. Cremation has taken place and a celebration of his life will be held on a later date. Donations may go to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan and Senior Services Meals on Wheels. The family is being assisted by Avink Funeral Home and Cremation Society, Schoolcraft.

Jerry Houser, 93, Vicksburg, passed away Feb, 1, 2021. Jerry was born on Jan. 26, 1928 in Pontiac, the son of George and Ruby (Martin) Houser. Cremation has taken place per Jerry’s wishes. The family is being assisted by McCowen & Secord Family Funeral Homes, Rupert-Durham Chapel.

Robert “Bob” D. McCowen, 74, Clark Lake, Mich., passed away in Fort Myers, Fla. Jan. 31, 2021. Bob was born on Jan. 21, 1947 in Kalamazoo, the son of Robert H. and Vivian J. (Smith) McCowen. Bob graduated from University High in Kalamazoo with the class of 1965. He went to Michigan State University where he earned a degree in management. He got a degree in accounting at Western Michigan University and became a CPA. On May 21, 1994 he married Sue McCowen. He is survived by his wife Sue; children Steve (Jenny) McCowen, of Schoolcraft, Jeff (Melanie) McCowen of Virginia, Heather Cordell of Jackson, Michelle (Reggie) Chapa of Texas, and Andy (Kristen) Cordell of Kalamazoo; grandchildren Mackenzie, Joey, Stephen, Nicholas, Katherine, Morgan, Madelyn, Nathan, Dylan, Emma and Evan. He is also survived by his mother, Vivian McCowen, of Kalamazoo; sister-in-law Rose McCowen of Georgia; and nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his father, Robert H. McCowen and brother Tom McCowen. Visit his page at mccowensecord.com. Donations may go to Clark Lake Spirit Foundation, clarklakespirit.com.

Joseph E. Olney III, 66, Vicksburg-Schoolcraft area, passed away at home Feb. 12, 2021 of congestive heart failure/COPD. He was born Nov. 6, 1954, to Joseph E. Olney II and Patricia (Cousins) Olney-Ross. He was raised in the Fulton area and worked most of his life as a machinist/welder with various companies, retiring eventually on disability due to problems with heart and spina bifida. He married Christine Ludwig-Rodriquez in 1989 and helped raise her two daughters. He was an avid morel mushroom hunter and fisherman and loved cars. He was preceded in death by his wife, parents, a step-granddaughter, and a niece and nephew. Surviving are step-daughters Wendy and Heather Rodriquez; step-grandchildren Caleb Sugden, Jace and HarLeigh; step great-grandson Leigham Sugden; brother Michael (Kim) Olney; sisters Judy Noel, Beverly (Thomas) Compton, and Deborah (Charles) Rife; and step-brothers Terry (Karin Thorne) Ross and Thomas Ross. Donations may go to Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Sue A. Ripley, 78, passed away Feb. 6, 2021. Sue was born on June 16, 1942 to Lawrence and Elizabeth (Strait) Miller. Sue is survived by her sister, Jodie (Terry) Cripps; son Brian (Tamela) Campbell; daughter Kris Campbell; and grandchildren Brenda (Jim) Backoff and Rich Campbell. She was preceded in death by her parents, brother and sister-in-law Michael (Mick) and Caroline Miller; and her husband, Robert (Bob) Ripley. After graduating with the Central High School class of 1960 in Muncie, Ind., Susie attended Ball State University, earning her associate degree as a secretary. She worked as an HR technician for more than 25 years at the Upjohn Company. There she met Bob; they were married in 1988. Sue and Bob shared many interests including a love of water and boating, socializing with friends, traveling to warm, sunny destinations, and watching sports. Sue’s deepest happiness came from being surrounded by her family and the people she loved. Visit her page at mccowensecord.com.

Terry Marshall Smith, 68, Portage, formerly of Vicksburg, passed away on Feb. 4, 2021. He was born to Belmonte and Gloria (Gilley) Smith on Feb. 22, 1952, in Kalamazoo and grew up in Fulton. He was a 1970 graduate of Vicksburg High School, where he enjoyed playing sports, excelling in football and track. He also joined a band with some fellow classmates, playing the bass guitar. During the spring of his senior year in high school, he suffered a horrible head injury while pole vaulting. He dealt with the after-effects of that injury and many more physical ailments the remainder of his life. Through it all, he rarely complained and truly was, in his own words, “tough, just plain tough.” He worked at the Kalamazoo County Road Commission for 30 years, and his family was a great source of pride to him. Terry is survived by his three children, Jeff (Erin), Ben (Michelle) and Andrew; 14 grandchildren; and siblings Dan (Vicki) Smith, Steve (Judy) Smith and Donna (Dwight) Blodgett. He was preceded in death by his parents. Services have been held. Donations may go to the Vicksburg High School Athletic Boosters.

Ronald John Spiker, 83, Schoolcraft, passed away at Bronson Hospital Feb. 1, 2021 after sustaining injuries from a tractor accident on his farm. Ron was born and raised in Kalamazoo and was a graduate of Kalamazoo Central’s class of 1955. Ron joined the Navy and was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas, from 1955-1958. Ron worked as an air traffic controller with the FAA until 1981, forming many lifelong friendships. He worked in many busy control towers, including Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Hawaii and Oklahoma.  Ron was a proud member of the Operating Engineers Local 324 from which he retired in 1999. Ron enjoyed family, being outdoors, gardening, hunting, and Tiger baseball. Ron is survived by his children, John (Barbara) Spiker and Susan (Neil) Farrell; grandchildren John (Camilla) Herron, Myra (Nathan) Delaney, Jessica Farrell, Christina (Michael) Dimovski; and great-grandchildren Katelynn Delaney, William Delaney, Aleksandar Dimovski, Ivan Dimovski and Saoirse Herron. He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Stella (Fus) Spiker.

Richard Wayne Tully, 79, Schoolcraft, passed away Feb. 11, 2021. Richard was born June 24, 1941 in Charleston, West Virginia. His family moved to Mt. Pleasant, where he met Barbara Kay Johnston. They were married July 1, 1961. He joined the U.S. Army, serving from 1961-1964. He was stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia and was honorably discharged as a sergeant. The young family moved to Albion and eventually settled in Schoolcraft, where Richard started a driving career, hauling liquid oxygen for AGA Burdox (Gases), retiring in 1998. Richard was a devout Christian and loved music. Richard was preceded in death by his wife of almost 60 years, Barbara Kay Johnston; daughter Dyana Lee Johnson (Brett); granddaughter Eliya Monet Rain Hayward; parents Silas Edgar and Rebecca; and brother David Tully. He is survived by his daughters and sons-in law Angie (Russell) Hayward of Mattawan, Becky (Nathan) Volker of Allegan, Cindy (Bill) Hetrick of Vicksburg and Brett Johnson of Portage; grandchildren David (Katie) Hayward, Kerigan Hayward, Cole (Kate) Hayward, Molly Hayward, Seth Hayward, Randi (Frank) Salisbury, Jordan (Carissa) Hayward, Ben Hayward, Leah Hayward, Tatum Hayward, Daniel (Rochelle) Stroud, Jimmy (Deziree) Page, Bridgette (Gideon) Page, Emmaline (Kyle) Harvey, Jeremiah Johnson, Zechariah Johnson; and 21 great-grandchildren; brother Daniel Tully; sister Gloria Murphy; and many nieces and nephews. Donations may go to Schoolcraft Assembly of God Benevolent Fund. Visit his page at langelands.com.

Joel Lynn Ulsh, 73, Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 17, 2021. He was born Aug. 27, 1947 in Kalamazoo, the son of Eldon and Arlene (Richards) Ulsh. Joel attended Vicksburg High School before finishing his GED while serving in the United States Army. He moved from Michigan to California in the 1980s and began his lifelong passion of working with cars. One of Joel’s favorite hobbies was to track his family’s genealogy. He was very proud of following his family tree all the way back to 1300s Germania. He was preceded in passing by his parents; siblings Bill, Eldonna, and two baby brothers. Surviving are his wife of 35 years, Louella (Baptista) Ulsh; children Joel, Tracy, Toni, Jason, and Cassidy; siblings Don and Jerry; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In accordance with Joel’s wishes, cremation has taken place, and he will be laid to rest with his father and grandparents at Beard Cemetery. While visiting Joel’s tribute, please take a moment to light a candle and share a memory. The Ulsh family is being assisted by McCowen & Secord Funeral Homes.

Charles Van Ostran, 85, Climax-Scotts area, passed away Jan. 29, 2021 at Hospice of Kalamazoo. Charles was born Dec. 17, 1935 in Traverse City to Charles and Marie Van Ostran. Charles met his wife, Deanna Jean Brown, in high school. Charles proposed to Dee at the Cheery Bowl Drive-In Theater, and they were married on Oct. 19, 1954. They moved to Kalamazoo, where he worked for Rex Paper Company. Then in 1965, Charles was hired by General Motors, where he spent 30 years as a journeyman tool and die maker. He retired in 1995 and moved to Climax-Scotts where he enjoyed gardening, sports, fishing, and vacationing in Traverse City with Kathy and Neil. Charles is survived by his wife of 66 years, Deanna; brothers Bert (Pam) and Lyle; sisters Doris (Ed) and Ruth; sons Charles (Nancy), Scott (Carmin) and Doug (Dee); several aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Charles was preceded in death by his mother and father, his son Terry and his granddaughter Jennifer.

Michael Gale Voss, 54, Marcellus, passed away at home Jan. 26, 2021, surrounded by his family. Michael was born in Kalamazoo on May 2, 1966, the son of Gale Alden Voss and Patricia Ann Wdowicki. On Mar. 28, 1992, in Paw Paw, he married DeeAnn (Melville) Voss, who survives. Michael was a lab technician, working for many years at J. Rettenmaier USA of Schoolcraft. He also enjoyed his seasonal time working at Melville’s Campground in Marcellus. Michael most enjoyed spending his time outdoors fishing, boating and camping. Michael is survived by his father, Gale Voss of Schoolcraft; wife DeeAnn (Melville) Voss; brothers Brad (Korey Flick) Voss of Vicksburg and Jeff (Irene) Voss of Plainwell; sister Joni Voss of Kalamazoo; daughter Abigail Voss; and sons Alex (Kristi) Voss and Austin (Emily Nettie) Voss, all of Marcellus. Michael was preceded in death by his mother. Services have been held. Donations may go to West Michigan Cancer Center or to Elara Hospice Care. Visit his page at materralstonfuneralhome.com.

Marilyn June David-Irwin-Wilson, 90, went to be with her Lord on Feb. 11, 2021 at Country Living of Hillsdale. She was born in Mason on August 8, 1930, to William and Mary Benham, who predeceased her. An in-person and virtual memorial service was to be held at the Hillsdale Church of the Nazarene on Feb. 20 with Rev. Mike Prince officiating. The family is encouraging friends and family to join virtually in celebrating her life. Due to COVID-19 and family health conditions, the family is requesting all who attend in-person to wear a mask. Marilyn has been interred at Vicksburg Cemetery beside her first husband, Royal David. Marilyn had a passion for mission work. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Hillsdale Church of the Nazarene to be used for missions. Please make checks payable to Hillsdale Church of the Nazarene, 208 N West St. Hillsdale MI 49242. A full obituary can be viewed at http://www.mccowensecord.com.

Spring is just around the corner

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

February draws to a close, and while we do enjoy the variety of our state’s seasons, we sure are ready for the warmth and sunshine of a Michigan spring! This morning, the sun is shining, the robins are at our feeders and the sandhill cranes are calling. Warm weather is nearly here!

Many thanks to our area’s snow removal crews. Winter’s snows were slow to arrive this year, but when the snows hit, it seems like our neighborhoods and villages were plowed in record time.

During January and February, local children enjoyed sledding down the hill near the Vicksburg Cemetery on W Avenue. Many children enjoyed sledding for years on a similar hill that used to stand between Vicksburg High School and Middle School which was leveled as Vicksburg Community Schools developed and expanded their sports complex. We spent a few hours at the new hill with our grandchildren in mid-February, and I am thankful that Caleb and Chloe could enjoy this free, timeless fun.

Schoolcraft and Vicksburg winter sports team pictures appear in this month’s issue. COVID restrictions and illnesses have offered many challenges for our schools and athletic programs. The South County News Team appreciates both districts’ athletic departments and Lisa Harbor for providing photographs to feature in the paper, a tradition our athletes and their families have appreciated for years.

Congratulations Taylor Dent of Vicksburg. Taylor is on the Deans’ List at Saginaw State University.

Area school staff members are receiving their second dose of the Coronavirus vaccine. This is encouraging and cause for celebration, as evidenced by science teacher Kim Armitage’s attire on February 25, the day of the second dose for Vicksburg Community School’s staff. Kim is known for her enthusiasm, creativity, and fun-loving nature. Students and staff enjoyed her “Vaccination Queen” outfit.

Thank you for your continued support of the South County News. If you have an idea for a story, please let us know. Wonderful people and opportunities exist in our area, and with your help, we can share events that otherwise might go unreported.

Thanks also for your financial support. If you are able, please consider contributing. Your donations make this publication possible.

Fishing at its best and coldest

By Kathy DeMott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Construction updates from the Mill

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

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

Vicksburg District Library kits help improve literacy

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

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

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

The solution? Fun take-home literacy kits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New signs guide at Vicksburg Historic Village

An example of the new informational signs.

By Don Wiertella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Tournament of Writers wraps with prizes

Judge’s Choice Grand Prize Winner Grace Flanagan.

By Jake Munson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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