First Public Meeting of Schoolcraft Elected Officials

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Schoolcraft Township elected officials were well represented at the July gathering of locally elected officials. From left to right: Supervisor Don Ulsh; Treasurer Teresa Scott; Trustee John Stodola of the Schoolcraft Village Council; Trustee Greg Feldmeier of the Schoolcraft Township board.

By Sue Moore

The 22 local elected officials and administrators, meeting for the first time as a group, agreed that Schoolcraft’s future growth is predicated upon obtaining sewer connections, at least down U.S. 131 for businesses. What they also agreed in unison, is they like the small-town atmosphere and didn’t want that feeling to change if it meant too much growth.

Representatives from the school, the village, Schoolcraft and Prairie Ronde townships were asked to meet together by Superintendent Rusty Stitt, to consider the future for each entity and how they could work together to solve problems for the community.

“The most important take away from the meeting was that building trails and a sewer system would be the key to attracting new residents,” said Kathy Mastenbrook, representing the village and the school board.

Each representative of their unit of government, reviewed what they were doing to plan for growth and yet, keep it in check. Don Ulsh and Barry Visel, Schoolcraft Township supervisor and planning commission member respectively, noted that the township was the second fastest growing entity in Kalamazoo County after Texas township. The planning commission’s land use plan seeks to control where the growth will occur by limiting businesses to the U.S. 131 corridor and making sure that the rural agricultural low density on the land will stay in tact. It does envision higher housing density on the borders of the village. “We don’t see a lot of big developments on the horizon, Visel said.

The village of Schoolcraft is land-locked with only small parcels to build upon, Cheri Lutz, village manager, noted. The recent visioning plan that will reflect the village’s core values will be finalized in July has lofty goals and some that are very doable as it looks 20 years out, she said.

“Downtown property values are receding because there are no sewers for the businesses,” Greg Feldmeier, said. As a township trustee, he sat through several hearings on whether sewers should be built around the lakes and in the village. Village Trustee John Stodola cautioned, “we are talking about a lot of investment here. The council is trying to protect the poorest segment of the population.”

School board Trustee, Jennifer Gottschalk challenged the township and village officials to just go ahead and approve the sewer construction. She was quickly answered by Trustee Mike Rochholz. “We can’t dictate but we do need to educate and have an understanding of how this would help.”

Jason Walther, school board trustee, offered that lots of people are turned off by the word growth. “In my mind it’s about sustainability. Our school enrollment is tied to having sewers. I didn’t realize that until this discussion.”

As an example, Teresa Scott, Schoolcraft township treasurer said she and her husband had to build a house in Vicksburg because there was no land available in the village suitable for them to build upon.

Trails are the number one issue for people moving into the community, Ulsh said. We are talking with Three Rivers and Portage about a trail going north and south to connect these two entities.

Other ideas for better communications between the four groups represented at the meeting, included a central hub for finding volunteers to act as a clearing house. Stitt volunteered to look into this possibility as a school sponsored initiative and to initiate quarterly meetings with the four units of government. Stoboda, commented on the “great base of talent here, especially the library volunteers who have rallied around a cause. They are the most active volunteer group in the community.”

Library Partners to Create Community Literacy Center

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

By Eric Hansen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Literacy is Not a Given for Everyone

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

By Sue Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Animal History Unleashed in New Exhibition

By April Bryan,
Curator, Vicksburg Historical Society

Animals play a significant role in Vicksburg’s history.

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Society Shifts Gears with its Speaker Series

elliott richardsonBy Sue Moore

The August 15 speaker for the Vicksburg Historical Society focuses on a more modern historical luminary: former U.S. Atty. General Elliott Richardson and his role in the 1973 Watergate crisis.

Tom Vance, marketing and communications officer for the Kalamazoo Foundation, wrote a biography of Richardson. He will talk about the research he conducted as part of his master’s degree work at Western Michigan University. The book was originally available in 2000 as an online publication by the Council for Excellence in Government. Vance’s master’s degree from WMU is in U.S. History with a concentration in biography. He is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.

Richardson, who died in 1999, holds two records in American history. As a lawyer, he was the only person to serve as a U.S. attorney, a state attorney general, and U.S. attorney general. As a politician, he headed four federal cabinet-level posts: secretaries of the former Health, Education and Welfare; Defense; Justice; and Commerce departments. His legacy as a brilliant and versatile public servant is equaled by only a handful of Americans. Richardson believed that “politics is the most difficult of the arts and the noblest of professions,” notes Vance.

He is primarily remembered for his courageous actions as U.S. Attorney General during the 1973 Watergate investigation. Although he served in this post for only five months, his tenure at the Justice Department has no precedent. While widely known for his resignation over Watergate, less well-known is that he was responsible for the simultaneous investigations of both Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and President Richard M. Nixon. Richardson succeeded in persuading the Vice President to resign, clearing the way for the appointment of Gerald R. Ford as vice president before President Nixon became the first president to resign from office.

“Nixon assured Richardson that he had nothing to do with Watergate, so he took the job and just seven months later resigned because he wouldn’t tell Archibald Cox to stop investigating Watergate. There are some parallels to our current situation in Washington,” Vance told WMUK in a radio interview last month.

Vance conducted a one-hour interview with Richardson shortly before he passed away in 1999. He will be speaking at the Vicksburg Community Center at 7 p.m. on August 15. The public is encouraged to attend.

Eimo Video Airs on Fox Business Network

By Sue Moore

Manufacturing Marvels, a show on Fox Business News Network, featured Eimo Technologies in July in a video segment that focused on “world class decorative injection molding” production in its three Vicksburg manufacturing plants.

The two-minute video showed the production facilities in Vicksburg, the quality of its product, the employees and some of the interior areas as different products were manufactured. It emphasized the superior look and texture that clients demand in the molding products and demonstrated the quality that Eimo produces.

The company produces decorative molding for the automotive, consumer and medical industries and is one of the largest employers in Vicksburg.

“The producers contacted us only four weeks ago,” said Gary Hallam, operations manager at Eimo. “They have a very streamlined process. The timeline is actually quite amazing in retrospect.” Here’s how it came about:

Hallam received a call from Bob May, the producer of Manufacturing Marvels on June 27. He is located in Dallas. He stated they were going to do a segment on decorative injection molders and Eimo was a candidate. Eimo signed the contract the next day and the first draft of the script was submitted: A two-minute video with a script of 257 words maximum. A final revision of the script was approved by Eimo on June 29. Filming at Eimo with a professional photographer from Detroit took place on July 12. The first draft of the video was received by Eimo six days later. Final revisions were approved by Eimo on July 20. The video then aired on Fox Business Network on Tuesday, July 25.

The video is posted on Eimo is a Nissha company.

SCCS Honors Staff and Volunteer Leaders

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Peg Crissman, Nancy Rafferty and Jan McNally received the Partners award from South County Community Services for their years of service with the Schoolcraft Food Pantry.

By Brian Freiberger

South County Community Services (SCCS) at its annual meeting in July extolled the virtues of staff, board members and volunteers who make things happen every day in the community. “Our goal is to have each person leave the agency having been heard and helped in some way,” said SCCS Board President Jackie Skinner.

SCCS serves approximately 25,000 residents in the lower half of Kalamazoo County with food, financial, emergency and family support services. About a third of the residents in South County live below the poverty line or are families lacking basic needs such as food, utilities, transportation and health care, according to SCCS.

Volunteers served over 2,500 hours assisting with veteran services, collecting and delivering food, organizing the food pantry and answering phone calls in 2016, according to Executive Director Danna Downing. “We have very dedicated people and without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” said Downing.

Other donations from the community include 15,000 pounds of food, 1,300 pounds of household items, $11,000 Meijer food cards and $2,200 in Family Fare support.

Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Robert Barton provides help to military veterans. His commitment “makes him a four-star general in our eyes,” according to Downing. “He is one of a kind.” Appointments with veterans through SCCS have increased 44 percent, from 129 in 2015 to 186 in 2016, according to SCCS. “When you wear the green for so long, we have a saying, ‘leave no man behind’ even when we are home,” said Barton.

Transportation Coordinator Patty Brown and her dedicated drivers were able to increase community service van trips by 48 percent in 2016. The volunteer leaders work with the SCCS emergency assistance team to meet client needs.

Jackie and Dave Sirotti organize and maintain the Vicksburg food pantry with their son Michael and others in the Pantry Team. Together, in 2016, the team completed 799 pantry visits. “They are so kind and welcoming to the people who shop. This is food for your body and soul,” said Downing.

Each year at the annual meeting, the agency recognizes a Partner of the Year. This year the nod went to the Schoolcraft Food Pantry, led by Jan McNally, Nancy Rafferty and Peg Crissman. These ladies work with John and Nancy Bambacht to make about 660 food deliveries possible over a year’s time to families in the Schoolcraft area. “They are truly amazing,“ exclaimed Downing.

SCCS is located at 105 S Kalamazoo Ave. in Vicksburg.