Battle of the Books Winners

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Pictured above, from left, are Oliver Hammond, Adler Hammond, Matthew Peters, Jennie Taylor (their third-grade teacher), Isaac Sandelin, Caiden Caswell and Ian Triemstra.

The Star Readers from Vicksburg’s Sunset Lake Elementary captured their second Grand Battle of the Books title in the February contest held at Schoolcraft Performing Arts Center and sponsored by the Schoolcraft Library. The Stars were an experienced group of 5th grade boys: They had won as 4th graders  last year and since added one new member, Adler Hammond. Their coaches were Brenda Peters and Connie Sandelin.

The Star Readers and the three other teams squaring off in the Grand Battle had to answer 21 questions about the dozen books all were assigned to read and remember. The teams had 30 seconds to decide on the answer and then send their representative to the microphone to see if it was correct. Jennie Taylor, who had selected the books, judged the answers. The Star Readers won with an almost perfect score of 105 out of 110 possible points.

Student Biliteracy Program

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The students and teachers are shown above from left to right: Miles Crawford, Kaitlyn Szydlowski, Megan Bresnahan. Back row, left to right: Spanish teacher Allie Lamers, Sophie Bradley, Mikayla Sands, Sarah Mitchell, Grace Taylor, Spanish teachers Jennifer Rodas, Mary Zemlick, and student Kelcey Cook.

Six of eight Vicksburg High School students who participated in a pilot biliteracy program a Global Seal of Biliteracy at the Functional Fluency level, according to French teacher Jennifer Teal. She petitioned the school board in January to add this test to the curriculum.

This certifies the students at an intermediate-mid level of proficiency in Spanish. They meet the literacy requirement for their native language, English, by earning a high school diploma. All of the students who earned the seal in the pilot are Spanish students at Vicksburg High School, but the seal can be earned by any student who meets the criteria in two or more languages. These six students earned the seal in January after passing a proficiency assessment to certify them at an intermediate-mid level in Spanish. The Global Seal of Biliteracy is a credential that allows recipients to verify their language skills to future schools or future employers.

Andy Blodgett’s Legacy: The Mission to the Poor

Editor’s Note: Andy Blodgett passed away February 12. This article is the first of a two-part story which was drafted for the South County News but did not run until now, as a tribute to his memory. The second part to the article will run next month and will also feature information on a memorial service planned by the Blodgett family for some time in April.

By Linda Lane

“You’re going to think I’m kidding, and you’re going to ask how it is even possible to do it, but our jingle is, ‘We get a ton and a half into a half-ton van.’ And we do!”

That was Andy Blodgett, a former Schoolcraft resident, who dedicated himself to helping some poor villages in Mexico with a group he formed, “The Mission to the Poor.” And many trips literally had two tons loaded into that van. Preparations would take months for Blodgett to organize a large delivery of items he took to Mexico for children and adults for Christmas.

“We manage to get THAT much merchandise – shoes, clothes, school supplies, buckets of paint, candy and toys for kids, and many other things – stuffed into every crevice of that van,” Blodgett explained.

The seemingly impossible task was accomplished because Blodgett had his van heavily accessorized with 10-ply rated tires, two extra springs, a “Timbren” suspension system on the van which holds the back of the vehicle up (often used with a snowplow truck). If the van appeared to be too heavily loaded, they would have been “bandit bait.” Blodgett had many 3-4,000 pound weight-slips to prove that ton-and-a-half claim.

Blodgett and his wife, Alicia, then drove a 2,378-mile trek to the Mexican state of Michoacán, where they distributed food and merchandise to the poor. It was imperative for safety that the van appear to be just a normal van with the enhanced suspension system; dark sheets covered the windows to prevent people from seeing the boxes packed into the van. On the third day when they crossed the border into Mexico, they did not travel at night and stayed in a gated hotel. They traveled on toll roads, paying the “cuda” as an insurance policy to avoid small towns and bandits.

They first started distributing items in the Michoacán region because Blodgett’s wife, Alicia, was born and raised in a village of 70,000 people called Los Reyes. The region is a non-tourist area which grows avocados, sugar cane, and small berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. While they began distributing to the very poor in that area, they expanded to address the dire need of the poor in adjoining villages and up into the mountains. They made contacts through family members with a priest in the mountains and helped the congregation, and later added additional churches to distribute their donations. During one visit, they had 68 volunteers, provided by the church, helping to distribute food and goods to 1,027 families, totaling over 4,000 people. They have also given away, or used with the new school, 2-3,000 gallons of paint. In addition to the supplies they bring down, the Mission to the Poor also brings funds to purchase and give away 5,000 pounds of beans, a major staple for Mexican people. Alicia’s parents’ house became the storage facility for their ministry. Blodgett and his volunteers would scour major sales at U.S. stores, when items get discounted 90 percent or more and when companies like Meijer, Kohl’s, Walmart and Dollar General would clear shelves.

They took items to distribute to 101 people in a seminary in Zamora (a village close to Los Reyes) including 73 seminarians, 11 resident priests, three nuns and 14 kitchen and maintenance helpers.

Some years they managed to get in four trips (most years were three trips), bringing 15,300 pounds of merchandise to distribute to the poor. They have wired cash transfers of $12,000 for the school they built to teach the poor children who would otherwise have had no education. In addition to the seminary, there are 80 “street children” in the school that they’ve built in Zamora who also received goods from the Mission to the Poor. Some years, Schoolcraft Community Schools pitched in to help the Blodgetts repack and box 11,000 candy canes that they distributed to the Mexican kids at Christmas annually.

The need for the school was identified by a local woman at the church named Lupita. “She’s a saint in my mind,” Blodgett said. “She knew the kids had to be out in the fields picking strawberries with their parents and were not receiving any education.” With the Blodgett’s help, the school has included a medical doctor, plus her assistant, as well as a school psychologist. The school has expanded to include a trade school for the children with training for carpentry, plumbing, electrical, automotive repair, sheet metal and welding for boys, and home economics, weaving, sewing, family living and cooking for girls.

To raise the funding necessary to purchase the new goods that he and his wife delivered to Mexico, Blodgett drove all over Michigan purchasing nursery products and working US and Canadian trade shows. He was an independent sales rep for three Michigan nursery growers and three Tennessee nursery growers which helped provide a revenue stream for his mission. His business, Mission Gardens, has sold retail nursery products at wholesale prices, where growers gave him special prices to sell at that reduced price to help fund the mission as well.

Part 2 of this story will run in the April edition of the South County News.

K. Redmond Photography Honored

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Katie Redmond of Schoolcraft, on the left, is congratulated by Sarah Petty, the founder of the Julie Awards for boutique photography.

Katie Redmond Photography, of Schoolcraft, topped the short list of award winners during Go Boutique Live 2020, in Dallas, Texas in February. She was acclaimed at the international event honoring accomplishments of boutique photography businesses worldwide. Redmond earned the Julie, Yay, and 1K Charity Awards.

The Julie Awards are presented by the Joy of Marketing, the leading international education organization which honors excellence among boutique portrait photographers. “Katie Redmond has set the standard for providing the highest level of boutique experience to her photography clients,” said Sarah Petty, founder of the Julie Awards and a New York Times best-selling author. “This award is a testament to the dedication, skills, creativity and service required to provide a second-to-none wall portrait experience to her clients.”

Redmond is a boutique photographer in Schoolcraft, specializing in couture portraits for high school seniors, families and women of all ages.  “She has a passion for empowering women through photography and enjoys helping them to discover their confidence and beauty. She isn’t your typical photographer. Not only does she provide a boutique experience from start to finish, but as a portrait artist, she is skilled at creating large signature wall art for her clients, to decorate their homes and offices,” according to the award presenter.

The Julie Awards acknowledge the upper echelon of boutique photographers who are dedicated to serving their clients at a higher level through the creation of custom photography artwork for clients’ homes.

Nathaniel Chiu a Finalist in Prestigious Trombone Contest

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Nathaniel Chiu is on the right.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School graduate Nathaniel Chiu is a finalist in the International Trombone Association Festival to be held in Osaka, Japan, July 2-5. With 30 trombone students competing to be selected as one of three finalists, Chiu outpaced them all, said his Western Michigan University trombone teacher, Steve Wolfinbarger.

The other two finalists are majoring in music at the Curtis Institute of Music and Hochschule fur Musik in Hanover, Germany. The judges were from Louisiana State University, the US Marine Band and the US Army Field Band.

Chiu plays tenor trombone and is a senior at WMU. “He worked all fall semester on his video that was submitted to the judges who do not know any of the names of the contestants,” Wolfinbarger said. “Now he will travel to Japan in July to appear in person in front of three renowned international judges in the finals. I encourage my students every year to enter this contest for college-age students who come from all over the world.”

Ben Rosier, Chiu’s high school band director, was enthusiastic about his student. “While studying privately, Nathaniel was also a part of every ensemble here at VHS including all the concert ensembles, jazz bands, pep band, and marching band. He thrived in the concert setting but also improved his theory through the learning of jazz and its unique musical concepts. He had a lead role in the spring musicals as part of the theater department. Mr. Chiu was diligent in his preparation for solo and ensemble festivals, receiving exemplary ratings at all the festivals he attended. Nathaniel many times was the humble, confident, and quiet leader who knew the moments to be outspoken and always got work done.”

The International Trombone Association sponsors the contest in the name of Larry Wiche, a famous soloist with a military band. “I expect that Chiu will go on to work on his master’s degree in music after graduation this spring. He is an exceptional trombonist and has a great future either with an orchestra or as a university teacher,” Wolfinbarger said.


Andrew Donald Blodgett, 81, Schoolcraft passed Feb. 12. Andrew was born on October 17, 1938 in Kalamazoo. He was the middle son of Leroy and Sadie (Cook) Blodgett. On September 7, 1956, he married Joyce Ryskamp. They were married for 33 years and had six children together. He was part of the Schoolcraft community, from owning a local business, to serving the community on the village council and raising all six of his children there. He loved Schoolcraft and made it his home his entire life. He worked in the corporate world for Sears Roebuck and Company until he decided to follow his passion of working with plants. He opened the first Blodgett family business, Green Acres in 1967 on US 131 in Schoolcraft. He loved the nursery business and working with trees, flowers and shrubs. He later married Alicia Chavez Lopez on December 9, 2000. He and Alicia traveled back and forth from Schoolcraft to Alicia’s hometown of Los Reyes, Mexico. This became the headquarters for dispersing his goods to the indigenous people of Mexico. It became the focus of his life in creating his 501(c) 3, the Mission to the Poor that serves the poorest of poor in the inner regions of Mexico. During his travels, he dispersed thousands of shoes, clothing, and food. Andy is survived by his wife of 19 years, Alicia; children Terry W. (Cindy) Blodgett, Robin E. (Avery) Delaney, Kevin S. Blodgett, Pamela A. (Jerome Jonckheere) Blodgett and Anthony L. (Kristy) Blodgett; 25 grandchildren; 15 great grandchildren; and his first wife of 33 years, Joyce. He is also survived by his two brothers, Bud Blodgett and Dwight Blodgett; half siblings David and Caroline. He was preceded in death by his son, Andrew G. Blodgett, in 2010; granddaughter, Paige; half siblings Bertha and Dennis; and stepmother, Jean. Andrew will later be buried in Alicia’s hometown in Mexico. Donations may go to: Mission to the Poor or JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and sent to: Pam Blodgett, 220 Lyon St., NW – Suite 540, Grand Rapids MI 49503. Visit Andrew’s page at

Clyde M. Covell, 93, Vicksburg passed away Feb. 18. Clyde was born on October 23, 1926 and was the son of Charles and Mary (Burger) Covell. Clyde graduated from Vicksburg High School. After high school, Clyde bravely served his country in the United States Army in the Philippines and Japan. Once he returned from the service he worked for Michigan Bell in Kalamazoo. He was an amateur radio operator for many years. Most of all, he loved growing up on a farm and being outdoors. He loved his tractors and also watching the trains go by. He loved going to his cabin in central Alaska. He was a very independent, organized, and proud farmer. He is survived by his two sons, Danny Covell, of Three Rivers and Timothy (Nancy) Covell, of Alaska; three grandchildren; two sisters and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and nine siblings. Visit Clyde’s page at Donations may go to Generous Hands.

Sharon Eldred (nee Kudary), 70, Scotts, formerly of Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 21. She was born May 5, 1949 in Sturgis to the late Joseph and Clara (Ramsdell) Kudary. She is survived by her husband, Richard J. Eldred; son Shawn (Monica) Eldred; three wonderful grandchildren whom she loved dearly; brothers Jeff (Mary Ann) and Joe Kudary; sister Denise (Brian) Murray; nieces and nephews; and numerous lifelong friends. Private services will be held for the immediate family. Interment will take place in Gilson Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or a charity of one’s choice. Visit Sharon’s page at

Lloyd W. Harber, 94, Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 13. Lloyd was born on December 5, 1925 in Hannibal, Mo. He was the son of George and Ona (Boucher) Harber. Lloyd graduated from Vicksburg High School with the class of 1944. After high school he proudly served in the United State Navy during World War II. After the service he met Joyce Venhuis. They were married on November 7, 1947 in Vicksburg. He worked for over 30 years as a lead chemical operator for the Upjohn Company. He also worked hard helping laying cement blocks on various building projects around the community. For 16 winters he and Joyce enjoyed their time in Mission, Texas, where he learned the skill of wood carving. Lloyd is survived by his wife of 72 years, Joyce; children Norma Manley of Vicksburg and Jim Harber of Vicksburg; grandchildren Matt and Josh Harber, both of Kalamazoo; Jennifer (Shane) Cassel), of Grand Rapids; and Rich (Autumn) Mays, of Scotts; five great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Nancy Mays; parents and three siblings. Lloyd will be cremated. No services are planned at this time. Visit Lloyd’s webpage at

Elwin Earl “Bud” Holtz and Mable Alice (Denney) Holtz, passed away peacefully just 10½ hours apart at the family home in Fulton. Elwin, 92, died Feb. 4. He was born in Scotts, on June 24, 1927, the son of the late Earl Lewis and Melva Mae (Wilcox) Holtz and was a fourth-generation lifelong resident of Wakeshma Township. He attended Athens area schools and served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War.He worked at the Lee Paper Mill, Oliver Aviation, Kalamazoo Stove Company and Checker Motors. He was a successful farmer. He loved the Detroit Tigers and Lions. Mable, 88, died Feb. 5. She was born in Mendon Township on March 5, 1931, the daughter of the late Frederick and Goldie Mae (De Hoff) Denney. She graduated from Colon High School, attended MSU, and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WMU. She taught 11 years in one-room schools, and 19 years at Union City Schools. She had also worked at Lamb Knit, Sutherland Paper Company, Burgess Seeds, and the Haas Corporation. Mable and Elwin were married in 1953 and enjoyed their 66 years together. The couple visited 49 states, England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Australia. They led a successful fight against starting a landfill in Wakeshma Township. Mable believed in the inalienable right to stick your nose in the government’s business. Elwin and Mable are survived by a daughter, Mary Alice Searer of Grand Haven; granddaughter, Sara K. Searer of New Port Richey, Fla. And great-grandchildren Sophia and Benjamin. Mable is survived by sisters Patricia Shepler-Carter of Athens and Dolores Loker of Vicksburg.  She was preceded in death by brothers, Arthur, Frederick, William, and Pete Denney; and by sisters Alma Guthrie, Doris Denney, Mary Denney, and Bertha Smith. Elwin was preceded in death by a sister, Lucille Pierson, and a brother, Lee Jay Holtz. Condolences may be shared at

Myra Jackson, 72, was born on May 25, 1947. Myra passed away peacefully on February 7. Possessing a passion for working with children, especially those with special needs, Myra dreamed of becoming a teacher. Upon graduating from Western Michigan University, she taught at Waylee School from 1970-1975. After raising her daughter and son and many years of substitute teaching, she returned to the classroom at Climax-Scotts Elementary school from 1987 until her retirement in 2007, when she was named Teacher of the Year. Her students were her joy and kept her feeling young. She believed in each one and desired that her students learn important life lessons even more than academic ones in order to make a positive impact in the world. She was a long-time member of Lakeland Reformed Church in Vicksburg, volunteering for the library, nursery, and Sunday School for decades. Myra was an inspiration to everyone. Her struggles with multiple sclerosis, her defeat of breast cancer, and her fight against lung cancer taught us how important determination, ingenuity, and an abundant amount of spunk are to overcoming the disappointments and challenges life brings. Myra is survived by her husband, Len Jackson; her children Jon (Sherry) Erickson, Tina (Derek) Vande Slunt, and Jeffrey (Jennifer) Jackson; grandchildren Noah, Micah, Jenna, Payton, and Blake; siblings Judith (Alfred) Hoffmann, Kenneth (Joann) Swieringa, and Roger (Betty) Swieringa: as well as many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews whom she dearly loved. Cremation has taken place. Visit her page at

Wayne C. Kucks, Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 15. Wayne was born December 8, 1928 in Detroit, the son of Karl Hein and Eliza Kucks. He served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Wayne worked for more than 39 years with Durametallic, retiring in 1987 as plant supervisor. He co-owned Way-Ric Metallizing and ran a home machine shop. He played guitar in the Scottsburg Hometowner Band. Wayne worshipped at St. Michael Lutheran Church, was a life member of the Vicksburg VFW Post #5189, and volunteered at the Vicksburg Historical Museum. On November 27, 1982 he was united in marriage to his wife, June (Pangburn), who survives. Also surviving are children Elizabeth (Skip) Mangold, LuAnn Kucks, Christine Kucks, Eric (Becci) Kucks, Michelle Smith-Martin, Cheri Fether; 13 grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; brothers Edwin (Debbie) Hein, Larry (Sue) Myland; special friends, Barbara (John) Linder; and several nieces and nephews. Wayne was preceded in death by two sons, Paul H. and Ned R. Kucks; a brother, Karl, Jr; and a sister, Kathleen. Donations may go to St. Michael’s Lutheran Church Good Samaritan Fund or the Vicksburg VFW Post# 5189. Visit his page at

Julie Ann Middaugh, 61, Kalamazoo, passed away Feb. 17. Julie was born on October 22, 1958 in Kalamazoo. She was the daughter of Clifford and Nora (Skinner) Munn. She worked for a period of time as a certified nursing assistant for Tendercare and then for some home care businesses. Her family loved it when she made her mother’s recipe for date cookies. She enjoyed crafts and crocheting. Julie is survived by her children, Richard Middaugh of Kalamazoo, Sina (Sean) Kelly of Vicksburg, Eric (Beth) Ross of Lawton, Angela Middaugh of Vicksburg; grandchildren Grace Kelly, Nora Ross and Kylie Ross. She is also survived by siblings Mary (Douglas) Woodhams of Scotts and David Munn of Fulton; and her special dog, Crack Jack. She was preceded in death by her parents, daughter Becky Munn; and brothers John and Tom Munn. Visit her page at Donations may go to Generous Hands.

Donald Arthur Rand, 85, Vicksburg, died Feb. 19. He was born on March 18th, 1934 in Melrose, Wis., the oldest of seven children born to the late Arthur and Veda (Nimmo) Rand. He grew up in the Comstock area and graduated from Comstock High School in 1953. Don served in the United States Army as a military policeman from 1956-1958. He was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas and in Hawaii. He also spent three years in the Army Reserve, attaining the rank of sergeant first class. Upon his return from service, he married his high school sweetheart, Ellen May Curtis, on October 11th, 1958. They were married for 55 years until her death in 2014. He is survived by his three children, Lori (Jim) Markus, Wendy (Don) Gillespie, Don Rand Jr.; four grandchildren; three great grandchildren; brothers Verl (Joanna) Rand, Terry (Gail) Rand, Keith (Bev) Rand and Jim Rand; sister Shirley Rand Wilbert. He was also preceded in death by his brother, Jack Rand and Jack’s wife, Bev Rand. Don worked for the Allied Paper Company for almost 20 years. He worked for H.J. Cooper and then M&M Motor Mall until his retirement. Don discovered running in his 50s and was hooked. A collector, he would carry a bag while running and pick up anything that caught his eye. His highest running achievement was completing a half marathon. Don donated 237 units (29 gallons) of blood to the American Red Cross. Don was also an active member of the Vicksburg Lions Club. Donations may go to the American Red Cross. A private ceremony will be held at a later date. Visit his page at

Virginia Schuring, 77, Muir, formerly of Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 23. Virginia was born on December 13, 1942 in Vicksburg. She was the daughter of Ernest and Macella “Bid” (Mears) Erskine. She graduated from Vicksburg High School. On September 10, 1965, she married Robert Schuring and raised their kids in Vicksburg. In 1995, they moved to Muir. Virginia is survived by her four children, Gila (Bob) D’Agostino of Vicksburg, Charlie (Jodi) Schuring of Muir, Kimberly Schuring of Vicksburg, Christine (Joe Fouth) Mottor of Florida; grandchildren Nick Schuring of Muir, Lindsey Schuring of Muir, Justin (Vanessa) Tillison of Gobles;  Mitchell (fiancée: Lindsey) Mottor of Stanton, and Tyler (Bella) Mottor of Muir; great grandchildren Allison Mottor, Dean Mottor, Mason Tillison, and Eleanor Mottor. Virginia is survived by siblings Judy (Don) Hatfield of Ohio and John Erskine of Kentucky; special aunt Midge (Skip) Engelman of Portage; sister-in-law Bonnie Erskine of Scotts; best friends Mike and Lana Seiler of Muir; and nieces Stacy Erskine, and Shelly Hirdning. She was preceded in death by her husbands, Robert Schuring and Ronald Minnis, son Greg Schuring, brother Jim Erskine and her parents.

Phyllis Jean Simmons, 88, Climax, passed away Feb. 1. Phyllis was born May 23, 1931 on the family farm in Climax. She was the daughter of Sherry and Alma (Staffen) Baughman. She graduated from Climax High School in 1949. Phyllis was a member of the Scotts Elementary Mother’s Club for 11 years, Glowing Embers Girl Scouts for 15 years, 4-H leader for 10 years, Climax American Legion, Michigan Extension Service for 25 years, volunteered at the Fort Custer Post for the mentally challenged children, for many years did an Indian demonstration at Thanksgiving for various schools, authored a book on the experiences of her husband during the Korean War, member of Climax Volunteer Road Committee, Prairie Home Historical Society, member of Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Chapter DAR and National Society of the Daughters of the Union. Phyllis was also an elected official and served as trustee on the Climax Township Board for two years and supervisor on that board for six years. She was preceded in death by her husband, John P. Simmons, in 2003. She is survived by her children, John E. (Beth) Simmons of Caledonia and Sherry Low of Climax; grandchildren John Hollan (Danielle) Simmons of Wayland, Andrew Simmons of Caledonia, Justin (Sarah) Low, of Scotts, Nathan Low of Climax; great grandchildren Ruby, Teddy, Nico, Salinger, and Gerrit. Visit her page at Donations may go to the Prairie Home Historical Society.

Violet J. Spence, 88, of rural Vicksburg, died Feb. 23 at White Oaks Assisted Living in Lawton, surrounded by her family. She was born in Knoxville, Tenn. on June 4, 1931, the daughter of John R. and Mary O. (Crowe) Gentry. She graduated from Mendon High School with the class of 1949. She was married to John W. Spence on Dec. 16, 1949 in the West Mendon EUB Church. She directed the Youth Choir and taught Sunday School at church. Violet is survived by four children and their spouses, Mary Ellen (Steve) Houts of Three Rivers, Bob (Kathy) Spence of Mendon, Norma (Jay) Dahl of Mendon, and Jimmy (Diane) Spence of Three Rivers; grandchildren Christopher Houts, Chad (Kelly) Spence, Angie Crotser, Cory (Cindy) Munn, Kandi (Troy) Torres, Travis (Cassidy) Munn, Karlie (TJ) Clark, and Kendra (Lane) Duell; 18 great-grandchildren; sisters Bessie Jones of South Bend, Mary Patterson of Lansing, and Sharon (Sam) Rial of Colon; brothers Doug (Pat) Gentry of Battle Creek and Terry Gentry of Kalamazoo; several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents; her husband, John; daughter, Sandra; sister, Althea Gentry; and brothers Robert “Sonny” Gentry, and Ronald Gentry. Donations may go to either Grace Hospice or the Alzheimer’s Association. Visit her page at

Leona “Elaine” Stephens, 76, Vicksburg, passed away Feb. 5. Elaine was born on March 11, 1943 in Sault Ste Marie. She was the daughter of Clifford and Leona Belle (Riley) Niskala. On September 8, 1959, she married her first husband, Ernest Bruseau in Newberry and had three children. On August 26, 1992 in Gatlinburg, Tenn., she married Gary Stephens. Prior to retiring, she worked as a department assistant and assembler for EPC Manufacturing. She was a member of the Ladies Library in Schoolcraft with her mother, making crafts for the bazaar, acting in a play, making cookies and any other activity that they had. She was a Girl Scout leader for many years and enjoyed every part of it. She was the keeper of the family history for many generations and loved to share this with others. Elaine loved going to zoos, camping and going back to her roots by visiting the Upper Peninsula. Elaine will be cremated, and the family will have a gathering at a later date. She is survived by her husband of 27 years, Gary Stephens; children Greg (Linda) Bruseau of Virginia and Teresa (David) DeYoung of Mattawan; grandchildren Derek (Haley) Bruseau of Montana and Kyle DeYoung of Kalamazoo. She is also survived by siblings DeLoryce Niskala-Bigrow of Kalamazoo, John Niskala of Allegan and Linda Niskala of Kalamazoo; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, Ernest, her brother, Clifford and her daughter, Brenda (deceased prenatal). Visit Elaine’s page at Donations may go to the American Lung Association.

Vicksburg School Board Hears Band Boosters Report

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Tabitha Farnham, president of the Vicksburg Band Boosters, Inc., made a presentation to the Vicksburg School Board. Band Director Ben Rosier is on the right.

By Sue Moore

In a report to the Vicksburg School Board, Tabitha Farnham, president of the Vicksburg Band Boosters Inc. said her organization’s operating budget for 2020 is $72,300. “What money we raise to fund band programs is necessary to keep our band program top notch. It has helped to keep the band competitive with surrounding schools that are much bigger than us. With improved equipment, it has even encouraged some students to come to Vicksburg schools to be a part of our award-winning band program,” she told the board.

The group has maintained the instrument repair program for middle and high school bands to the tune of $3,100 each year. “We have covered what the three directors call their wish list and needs of the program that wouldn’t be funded otherwise,” she said. The organization purchased a whole new set of uniforms six years ago at a cost of $90,000. It also raised funds for the huge travel trailer that houses the band’s instruments on site and other items when they go to perform, such as the holiday trip to New Orleans.

With the help of the Vicksburg Foundation, they have been able to purchase $100,000 in band instruments. The program has grown to include one third of the student body in the Middle School and one fourth of the students in the High School.

Don Puckett reported on the technology advances the district has made over the last six years, especially with the funds from the technology bond issue of 2014. He cited the following:

A total of 5,000 outside devices connected in any one day.

2,000 Chromebook laptop computers in use.

Over 180 phones.

Over 300 desktops and laptops in use.

236 wireless access points.

302 security cameras installed.

41 door and door entry systems.

115 printers and copiers, a number which has actually decreased over the years by utilizing bigger and more efficient copiers.

Over 150 presentation systems.

18 servers on the network.

Countless software platforms.

Google for education has been used over the last six years because it is free. It was a hodgepodge all over the district. Now each building has wireless coverage.

Plans for the future include rolling out new teacher computers, updating and replacing Chromebook laptop computers which are nearly eight years old. Replacing the network infrastructure will be the big expense, he said.

Dawn Simpson, math teacher in the Middle School, demonstrated the use of Chromebook software that allows her to see what every student in her classroom is doing on their device.

Matt VanDussen, Middle School principal, spoke to the board about data on student performance. Math compares well to other schools in the area, he said. It points to a lot of things the teachers and staff have been working on the past few years.

While social studies scores were lower than expected, teachers have worked hard to transition to the new social studies standards, which haven’t been tested by the MSTEP yet.  Students showed a very high level of achievement in English Language Arts, according to the PSAT, with 83 percent of 8th grade students demonstrating college readiness.

He described Walkin’ the Dawgs as the one and only fundraiser the Middle School now uses. “This means that parents only have a one-time donation to make rather than all the little requests for dollars that typically came home with students. They raised $17,000 the first year they tried this approach and $19,000 in 2019. The money supports band, social studies program, teachers’ supplies, Civil War Days for the 8th grade, student council, athletics, fall musical, podcast equipment purchase, anti-bullying presentation, student incentives, respect rewards and principal’s awards to students.