Bicycle Week Coming to Vicksburg in September

By Sue Moore

Paul Selden has hit Vicksburg in a whirlwind of activity, planning a Fall Bicycle Celebration the weekend of September 20-22, Friday through Sunday. The Portage resident wants more people to discover the charms of the small town of Vicksburg. He is doing so by promoting the area to cyclists like nobody else has ever done.

He is deeply committed to bicycle safety. With a committee of leaders of civic and bicycling groups, Selden is organizing the event to promote that cause. He is confident of the many attributes Vicksburg has to offer. He has combined them with plans for the three-day event which he hopes will attract anywhere from 15, 50 or 150. “If we offer whoever signs up a great experience, next year it will be more and even more after that.  Our goal is to grow the Fall Bike Celebration into a ride event that attracts thousands of riders,” Selden said.

The Historic Village, the Farmers’ Market, Mill tours and the Quilt Trail are a big part of the activities on Friday, Sept. 20, ending with registration packet pickup at Apple Knockers that encourages people to stay for dinner and enjoy live music. A Bike Art Prize is being planned on Sunday for art works with bike-related themes. An awards and recognition dinner is being planned for Saturday, Sept. 21 at The Fountains Center in Parchment.

There are five bike trails of various lengths for the Saturday ride. All routes start and finish at Vicksburg Middle School. Registration opens at 7 a.m. and closes at noon. Routes with approximate distances are: Shipshewana, 75 miles; Climax, 38 miles; Scotts Mill, 24 miles; Vicksburg Quilt Trail with north and south loops, 16 miles each; family trail, five miles; and bike parade at noon at the Middle School. The Fall Bike Celebration ride registration includes a Friday evening Ice Cream Social and Saturday’s ride with water, food, snacks and treats at key locations. Route maps and roving support will be provided.

The goals of Selden’s community-oriented project are to increase support for bicycling, reduce divisive encounters with motorists and teach proper road etiquette. All of this planning is accomplished through Bike Friendly Kalamazoo (BKI) which was founded in 2011 and is now a 501c3 organization.

A life-long business owner, Selden started Performance Management, Inc. in 1978. PMI provides user support for large-scale corporate computer systems. He sold it in 2016 to his key employees.

Proceeds from the ride will be shared with local agencies such as Generous Hands, Inc., South County Community Services, charitable groups and bike-related causes such as maintaining the Chain Gang Memorial, the League of Michigan Bicyclists and to support bike safety and education. The website is

The Word for This Is Jamila

By Leeanne Seaver

In spite of the fact that I would forget – even 30 seconds after being told – how to say “Welcome to my home” in Arabic, I asked, and kept asking. “What do you like to eat?” “Do you have swans like these in Iraq?” “What do you mean ‘American food is so bland’?” The myriad of responses sounded musical when Jamila Al-Helfi, a lovely and patient 16-year-old from Baghdad, would say them. I’d ask questions just to hear her melodic answers. After a couple weeks as her host-mom this summer, I was sure of only two words in her native language: Avocado is just “avocado,” and “Jamila” means “beautiful.”

The story of how this Iraqi teen came to Vicksburg started about five months ago at D.H.S. Al-Mansour, a secondary school in Baghdad where Jamila is in the 11th grade. She heard about an opportunity to visit America from her bestie at school, and both applied. From 2,000 applicants across Iraq, Jamila and her friend were two of 200 who made the cut. She arrived in the U.S. in early July. Michigan was the second stop between stays in Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Colleagues International

For my part, it was an inspiring fundraiser for the Kalamazoo-based nonprofit “Colleagues International” (KCI) that drew me. My hand went up when the call for volunteers rang out, and the next thing I knew, I was part of this cool community of host families that had been opening their homes for years around the ‘Zoo. Stories abounded of the sheik who came to breakfast in full regalia and the Japanese girls who didn’t know what an oven was for, and the blind person from Uzbekistan who couldn’t believe there were Braille instructions in an elevator. The common thread in all of these host families was a genuine desire to experience people and their cultures in a wider world while respecting the things that made us feel closer and connected within it.

Jamila’s parents would have been so relieved to know that. Afaf and Adnan Al-Helfi, along with younger daughter Shams, were excited and supportive, but understandably anxious. Relations between the U.S. and Iraq have not been chummy, to put it mildly. As I write, there is a security alert on the US Embassy website forbidding all travel to Iraq due to risks of terrorism, kidnapping, and violence. But it’s a situation the U.S. is trying to improve.

The Iraqi Youth Leadership Exchange Program (IYLEP) is part of the solution. Ammar Aqlan, program officer for Washington D.C.-based World Learning, the organization that implements this exchange on behalf of the State Department, told me via email, “The program certainly builds bridges of mutual understanding between both countries. It both deepens and broadens participant understanding of U.S. culture while putting their home country in a new light.

“Participants and alumni find this experience as a way to discover about the U.S. as well as the beauty of their own country. We hear many participants and alumni saying that the program changed their view of the U.S., especially around friendliness, diversity, and the lifestyle of American people as they live and interact with American families and people. The program does foster people-to-people interactions that correct misconceived perceptions about each other. Participants find that the many realities in the U.S. are similar to other countries, unlike how it’s generally presented in the media. One participant shared with me yesterday that he thought Americans were arrogant but when he got to know them, they were very friendly and kind.”

Since 2007, many Iraqi students who’ve been involved in this exchange have gone onto careers in diplomacy, civic leadership or other areas that draw on learning experiences through IYLEP. There are alumni who have gone to occupy governmental positions, including Ministry of Exterior, according to one of the Iraqi staff. The head of the Iraqi Youth Parliament is indeed an IYLEP Adult Mentor, Laith Raji, who was hosted in Jacksonville, Fla. last year.

Being Part of a Family

While here, Iraqi students are taking classes on leadership, problem-solving, and team-building. I wondered why they couldn’t do those kinds of things back home. “Why come to the States for that?” I asked Jamila.

“It’s good practice to figure out how to do things with unfamiliar people. In Iraq, the goal would be to win – just to win. But here, the leadership training is about working as a team, and being creative in solving challenges together,” she answered. “We have dialogue sessions. We can talk about the problems we’re having in Iraq and discuss solutions. We realize we can’t go back and change our world because we are young, but we have this opportunity to learn these skills.”

In the process, they’re improving their English fluency, meeting local groups and entrepreneurs, going to concerts, visiting museums. I was especially pleased that they toured the Ladies Library Association downtown—the first building in the United States built by women independently. And in Michigan exclusively—they’re staying in the homes of host-families.

“We’re very proud of our unique brand of hospitality,” said Jodi Hope Michaels, executive director of Kalamazoo’s Colleagues International (KCI). “Most of our visitors stay at hotels and only have time for a meal in a home. We love it when our visitors are able to stay with a family host—experiencing day-to-day life with Americans, as is the case with IYLEP.”

Since 1971, KCI has hosted thousands of international visitors from all over the world. Professional exchanges for emerging and established leaders, internships, job-shadowing, youth leadership programs, and seminars are tailored to the specific interests and needs of both the exchange visitor and KCI. KCI is proud to be the only city in the U.S. to host IYLEP-Arabic since its inception three years ago. It is wonderful to have Iraqi youth join the people from more than 100 countries whose representatives have tasted perch and toasted marshmallows with their local West Michigan “family” over the years.

The Vicksburg Connection

For Jamila—and five of her friends who visited her here—that experience has centered on fun things Vicksburg had to offer. I’ve taken Jamila for ice cream at Apple Knockers, fishing at Klines Resort. We’ve taken walks around town (she finds our gardens and yards beautiful) and wandered through the shops and eateries. We visited the Farmers Market and enjoyed the July 15 village celebration at the Vicksburg Pavilion. We (tried to) catch frogs and paddle-boated on Sunset Lake. We also went to the community theater at the Comstock Auditorium, and had the most exhilarating speedboat ride at South Haven on Lake Michigan.

Everywhere we’ve gone, Jamila has been touched again and again by the hospitality she’s experienced. “American people are not like what we see on TV. They are kind and nice. They respect our differences.” Although Jamila herself doesn’t, some of the IYLEP girls cover with the hijab, a veil that many Muslim women wear over their head and shoulders. Jamila was worried that this could single them out, but “no one has treated us badly,” Jamila reported.

To reassure her mom and dad, “We communicate daily using WhatsApp, and I tell them about my day.” They love seeing her iPhone videos. “I already knew it was beautiful here because of the internet pictures, but the people are incredibly nice and that has been wonderful. The only hard part of the trip so far is homesickness,” Jamila admitted.

Summer camp homesickness is surely a universal condition, and I wondered what other things Iraqi and U.S. teens might have in common. She surprised me by pointing out “Iraqi and American youth are quite different. Especially in education, Iraq doesn’t focus on our specific talents and thoughts—American kids seem to do that easily.”

So what advice would you give a 16-year-old American girl, I asked her. “Americans have everything we don’t have. For example, freedom and wearing what you want or saying what you want. I think she should appreciate the freedom she’s got,” Jamila advised. Then she added, “Socially, we have some similarities. I go to the mall to hang out with my friends, but only in Baghdad because it’s more modern.”

This is no small thing. Jamila can leave her home without a male escort or head-covering because she comes from a progressive family. In fact, she plans to become a heart surgeon one day, a goal her parents support enthusiastically. Yes, her husband will be picked for her, and she cannot even kiss him before they’re married. Yes, she can say no to the match (whew). Yes, it is scary to live in a place that is so volatile, but things are so much better in Baghdad than they once were. Yes, she’ll leave the States soon, and perhaps never come back, but it has been the experience of a lifetime for her.

What will she take with her when she goes? “I liked perch, but I miss Dolma, which is stuffed grape leaves. In Iraq, we make ours with rice, beef, lemons, and spices—cumin, coriander. When I get home, that’s the first thing I’m going to eat!”

Food aside, “I can tell people what Americans are really like. We can understand each other if we get to know each other,” she said, adding, “So Leeanne must come visit me someday! Of course she will!!!”

Of course, I will, beautiful girl. In English, the word for that is YES.

Area Racer in Amateur National Motocross Championship

motoAn area 16-year-old is taking his motocross talents to an event in Tennesee.

Stephen Persing Jr. of the Mendon area is to compete in the 38th annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at the historic Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills.

More than 22,000 competed for a chance to qualify for the event; Persing was one of 1,446 that made the cut. Persing is a junior at Mendon High School. He has been racing since the age of 7. He started out on a bicycle that looked like a dirt bike with shocks, then went to a battery-powered Hot Wheels. His mom Kim, who works at PNC Bank in Vicksburg, then gave him with a real dirt bike and he was off to the races.

“The Amateur National at Loretta Lynn’s is the best of the best motocrossers in America and around the world” said Tim Cotter, director of MX Sports which produces the event. “’Just being there makes you an elite racer and a top athlete. “A solid finish at Loretta’s would give you instant national recognition and a possible professional career,” he said.

Persing has had help from sponsors, including G. Persing Plumbing and Heating, Lang Tuning, SC4 Racing, 100% Goggles, Slick Products; Acerbis, R Moto Perfected, Vortex Racing O’Neal, Mustang Sally’s, Raise the Bar Performance Horses, Blue Ray Beach Tanning, Beck’s Hybrids, John and Jenni Hayward and Wilss Barber Shop.

Persing will be racing in the Schoolboy 2 class (12-17). He is an alternate in two other classes. The race action will be broadcast live daily at, through August 4 for a total of 40 hours of live coverage. In addition, two highlight shows featuring the event will air on NBC Sports Network in the fall.

Big Read Machine is on the Road

Sunset First Stop (17)
Marci Bailey, a trustee with the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation checks out books for kids visiting the Big Read Machine parked in front of Sunset Lake Elementary school.

By Sue Moore

The Big Read Machine has been on the road for two weeks, sponsored by the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation. The librarians who accompany the bus are volunteers from the Foundation and have checked out 328 books to 101 kids so far. Following is the schedule for early August:

MONDAY:  August 5

Sunset Lake Elementary School

Wakeshma Township Hall (Fulton)

Indian Lake Elementary School


Tobey Elementary School

Lakeland Reformed Church


Vicksburg Lions Club Installs New Officers

Lions officers
2019-2021 officers of the Vicksburg Lions Club from left: Dr. Dennis Cobler, past director of Lions International; Eric Stafinski, president; Deb Bright, Lion tamer; Doug Stafinski; Steve Brundige, past president; Lauren Ritter, secretary; Dan Melnik, treasurer; Mike Branch, tail twister. Not pictured: Katie Grossman, vice president; Carl Keller, second vice president.

By Sue Moore

Eric Stafinski, a third-generation Vicksburg Lions Club member, was installed as president for 2019-2021 on June 24 at the club’s annual induction dinner.

He carries on a family legacy: His grandfather, Frank Stafinsky and his father, Doug, served as club officers. Doug took two turns as president over the years. Frank was treasurer years ago and his brother, Joe, was the service club’s first president when it was formed in 1953.

Doug has spent every summer as the chair of the Lions Summer Festival, the B & B, for the last 13 years. It is the club’s main fundraiser and involves the whole community.

Club members welcomed Dr. Dennis Cobler as the guest of honor at their induction dinner. Dr. Cobler is a long-time member of the North Muskegon Lions and a director of Lions Club International from 1998-2000.  He is also a past club president, district governor and zone chairman.  He is a Melvin Jones Fellow.

Paul Schutter Honored by Vicksburg Lions Club

Paul Schutter
President Steve Brundige on the left and Dr. Dennis Cobler from North Muskegon Lions on the right, present Paul Schutter with the Melvin Jones Fellow award, the highest attainable in the Lions Club International.

By Sue Moore

“Paul Schutter has been a standard bearer of service for the Vicksburg Lions Club,” said former club president Brett Grossman. Schutter was honored with the Melvin Jones Fellow award, the highest the Lions give. Schutter hasn’t missed many meetings, having had perfect attendance for many years.

The honor, named for the service club’s founder, represents humanitarian qualities such as generosity, compassion and concern for the less fortunate. The Club last awarded a Melvin Jones Fellow to Mike Frederick for his contributions to the community in 2015.

A member of the Vicksburg club for 49 years, Schutter came to Vicksburg in 1959 to coach and teach math in the high school. Then-Superintendent Ken Otis recommended that Paul and his wife Marilyn should live in the village; that’s how they came to love this community, his wife said.

“I coached every sport there was but started with wrestling and golf,” Schutter said. “Then it was football for 17 years and assistant in track for another 15 years after that.” He is from Muskegon, where he played football and left to attend Kalamazoo College and then the Army. Upon his return, he enrolled at Western Michigan University where he played football and track, throwing the shot and discus. Marilyn worked as a secretary in the chemistry department. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WMU.

Schutter has accepted most every job in the Lions Club: president, vice president and treasurer, all the time helping with the Summer Festival better known as the B & B. “This is a great group of guys and now gals,” Schutter said. “Every Sunday morning after our big fundraiser we would be there to help clean up. We just did everything to help.”

Schutter played every sport he could think of but loves to play golf the most. He has been in a league at States for many years and won a couple of championships. He retired from teaching in 1992. The couple has three children, all married and living in Michigan. They boast nine grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren with two more on the way. A grandson is in the Navy and based in Bahrain. They are anxious to have him back home, Marilyn said.

Prairie Ronde Artist Residency Chooses Vicksburg Native

Marie Bergstedt holds a picture she made in the 1970s. She donated several photographs that she took and colored from her childhood memories of attending school in Vicksburg. They hang in the hallway at the Administration building on Kalamazoo Ave next to Beth O’Roark’s office.

By Sue Moore

Marie Hoppe Bergstedt has come back to Vicksburg to visit her friends many times over the years since graduating from Vicksburg High School in 1962. This time is special: She has been selected as the Artist Resident for the Prairie Ronde program, sponsored by the Mill.

She has won many awards for her work in mixed fiber media using lots of buttons plus her vivid imagination. “In my work I try to make positive statements that show a different side to problems in society or news,” Bergstedt said. “I specialize in fabric and buttons, mostly plain buttons that tell plain stories. I buy buttons by the scoopful at a store near my home in San Francisco.”

Her work has been accepted for the Bienal Madrid 2019 for world textile art and is being shown in Birmingham, England. She has been to China twice, in an exhibit by a Ph.D. candidate who liked her work, then as a special guest of Prof. Lin LeCheng. In the 1980s she returned to Vicksburg to record school memories in photography that she enlarged and hand colored. Some of those photographs have been housed in the school administration building on Kalamazoo Avenue.

The road to recognition took lots of different turns for Bergstedt. None of her family even graduated from high school before Marie accomplished that while working after school and summers at the Vicksburg Commercial. She graduated from Vicksburg with a wonderful gift of a full tuition, room, board, books scholarship that could be used at any accredited college or university. The scholarship was from Continental Can Company. In her final semester at Wheaton College in Illinois she took a required art class. The teacher recognized something special in her work and told her she had missed her calling by majoring in education.

Nevertheless, she headed to California, raised a daughter and took a job as development director for the school her daughter was attending. That turned into 25 years of nonprofit fund raising for this rather shy lady who measures about five feet tall. “I wasn’t asking big donors for money for myself so it was easier. More importantly, I got to know the donors personally and the things they love the most. That translated into jobs in New Mexico, the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif., and another school in Santa Barbara.

“You can’t get ahead in art unless you know business,” Bergstedt exclaimed. In 2006 she had saved enough money to go out on her own to do art full time but still worked part-time until 2011.

Her work as Artist in Residence will revolve around the history of the people who worked at the Mill while weaving it into an art piece.

Most of Bergstedt’s first eight years were spent on a farm located near Harper School on 31st Street. She lived with Chester and Clara Miltibarger who had the care of a number of foster children through the court and also two of their nieces and Marie (Marie was not a ward of the court). They had a dairy farm and Chester drove a Vicksburg School Bus for extra income.

Some things Marie loved about Vicksburg:

School – teachers were always a real support when life was hard.

Working at the Commercial – the keypunch to linotype job, photographing weddings, smell of ink and sound of type coming through the linotype.

The lasting friendships through all the years even though living far away. She can always pick up like there was no time in between, she said.