A senior moment: Time to create a new map of life?

By Danna Downing

Last month, I had the privilege of “zooming” out to Stanford University in California for the 2021 Century Summit. At this meeting, the Stanford Center for Longevity research team reported on a project that began in 2018, called the New Map of Life.

By the middle of this century demographers predict that as many as half of today’s five-year-olds can expect to live to the age of 100. This once unattainable milestone would be the endcap of a trend that has seen human life expectancies double between 1900 and 2000.

Longevity is one of the greatest achievements in human history. Fueled by reductions in infant mortality, improvements in sanitation and medicine, increases in public education and rising standards of living, this accomplishment has been too rapid to be adequately understood and accommodated by public institutions, economic policies and social norms that must change for those who can expect to live such long lives. The goal of the Center for Longevity is not to increase the length of our lives. Rather, it is to identify ways to enhance the quality of century-long living so that people experience a sense of belonging, purpose and worth at all stages of life.

The current crisis mindset about the aging of society distorts our perspectives about longevity and keeps us from unique opportunities to redesign institutions, practices, and norms so that they align with today’s reality of a more age-diversified society. The Stanford researchers have found powerful evidence that increased longevity holds enormous potential for society if the challenges of that growth are addressed now, laying the groundwork for a society that is healthier, more equitable, and prepared to thrive.

We who are parents, grandparents, older adults, community leaders, and employers all have a role to play as ten million people turn sixty-five every day. People of all ages need to continually increase their knowledge about aging. We need to begin to prepare our children for longer living. We need to invest in the centenarians of the twenty-second century.

Embedded in these objectives are key ideas about lifelong learning and the inclusion of much more social and emotional engagement in that lifelong learning. We must also embrace the complementary skills that older adults have earned in their earlier years (knowledge, stability, and the need to give to others) and work harder to match them with the energy and curiosity of our youth. We can all testify to the power of the presence of an adult who is willing to invest in a child. We could benefit mightily if we created scenarios where older workers could be integrated into the workforce as mentors, part-time employees, or even as entrepreneurs. It is time to re-evaluate things such as retirement at 65 as a meaningful life marker and be more innovative about how we prepare for our older years so as to support life to the fullest to the very end of life.

It feels like a daunting task for someone my age, but we can only start where we are and then take one step at a time. Let’s stop thinking about the irony of calling later life the “golden years“ and put energy into feeding the underdeveloped potential of older adults to contribute and support themselves and younger generations.

Many readers of this column have reached out with support, shared concerns, and ideas about what it means to become an older adult. This inspires me to invite interested older adults in South County to join their peers for a South County “summit” to think better together about how we can better meet the challenges of living longer. The idea may sound a little lofty and academic, but the intention is simply to put our heads together and focus on the ways we might age with more grace, dignity and satisfaction from knowing we have lived to our full potential. In my mind, this is a true adventure. Plans may emerge, but if not, that is OK. Who knows what might happen when a few well-seasoned souls gather together?

The staff at South County Community Services and Generous Hands has generously invited us to do this “summit “ at their offices located at 606 N Spruce Street where we can keep socially distant and safe. Masks are respectfully required, and hopefully attendees will have been vaccinated and boosted. If you are unable to attend in person, please let us know. We will make every effort to keep you informed and engaged.

The date for this event is on Sunday, February 6, from 2-4 pm. To reserve your place, please contact Danna Downing with an email to dannadowning@gmail.com. Or, you may also call 269-779-5453. Space is limited, in interest of health and safety. If warranted, another session may be offered.

Cliffhouse restaurant’s bread pudding

South County resident Wolfgang Lugauer contributed this month’s recipe for bread pudding. He discovered the recipe years ago while reading a ski magazine at a dental office. He called the Cliffhouse Restaurant in Buttermilk Mountain, Colorado in 2010, and the chef clarified the instructions. Lugauer modified the recipe by adding peaches, but he says you could substitute nearly any fruit.

Makes 12 servings. Takes 30 minutes.

3 15-oz cans sliced peaches, drained
5 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
¼ pound butter melted
1 loaf (1 lb.) French bread
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups whole milk (also works well with 1/2%)

Cut bread loaf open and let dry out for a day, covered with a cloth. Tear bread into bite-size pieces. Grease a 2x9x13 aluminum pan. Place 1/3 of bread evenly in pan so bottom is covered, spread peaches evenly over bread, and then place rest of bread over peaches. Mix together and beat eggs, melted butter, sugar, vanilla and milk. Pour mixture evenly over the bread. Milk mixture should cover the bread when bread is gently pushed down. (If bread doesn’t submerge then add an additional ½ cup of milk, egg, sugar and butter mixture.) Optional: Refrigerate for 1 hour (overnight works OK). Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar over top of pudding. Cover pan with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour. Remove foil and bake until golden brown (another 25-35 minutes).

Serve warm.

Note: Aluminum pan works best; when using glass pans, pudding will brown more around edges (crusty). The pudding should be custardy (moist). If you remember the Sveden House restaurants, this recipe is very similar to what they had on the menu.

Schoolcraft eyes uses for pandemic relief funds

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft School District expects to receive more than $1.3 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. How to use the pandemic-related relief funds isn’t a simple matter, the board was told.

Finance Director Kendra Drewyor and Elementary Principal Matt Webster gave short presentations on the district’s allocation of three segments of the funds.

The funds are being distributed through three formulas, with Schoolcraft already receiving ESSER II formula funds of nearly $200,000. The district has used some of this money to hire a new guidance counselor for the high school.

Schoolcraft will also receive ESSER funds in excess of $444,000, and ESSER III equalization formula funds in excess of $700,000. Drewyor said compared to COVID-19 relief funds given last year, these new funds come with strict rules on how they can be spent. All use of them must be thoroughly documented, trustees were told.

“There’s a lot of red tape that comes with that one,” Drewyor said of the ESSER III funds. “We can only spend that on a very small subset group of students.”

More specifically, it means they can only spend that money on low-income students, students learning English, racial or ethic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, or students in foster youth care. Within those groups, only small amounts can be spent on summer school and after school programs. Drewyor said she’s been consulting with other districts which received similar ESSER III payments to gather ideas on how to use the funds.

Webster described results of a survey of parents and staff members on other possible uses of the funds. Most of the responses were from parents. Webster said most indicated they would like to see additional staff hired to help accelerate learning. With teachers, the top opinion for using the money was for increasing services for students with risk factors.

“They’re the closest people to those students who have those risk factors, they aware of what those factors are, they know who those kids are, and that was their number one,” Webster said of the teachers.

Improving indoor air quality and air conditioning and providing additional learning time were also popular as people’s second and third choices for how best to use the funds.

In other news, Superintendent Rick Frens noted the district is closely monitoring a staffing shortage. It has had many staff absent recently due to COVID concerns and already planned medical procedures. It is not a huge problem yet, but administrators are keeping an eye on it.

Frens also said the district did a review of safety procedures in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting north of Detroit. He noted administrators are looking at ways to improve internal communications. Frens suggested the possibility of a radio system and possibly the addition of security cameras. He noted some of the ESSER funds might be used for these purposes.

While the district hasn’t had any threats against any building, Frens said the staff would treat any as a real threat. He encouraged parents to closely monitor what their children are doing and saying. Frens said “just joking” would not be acceptable as an excuse.

“We will take those threats seriously,” Frens said.

Vicksburg school board meets new staff

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Board of Education members were introduced to the district’s newest employees who attended the Dec. 13 board meeting. There are 24 new employees in all.

From Indian Lake Elementary, new staff includes Natalie Wagaman, first grade; Amy McLiechey, Begindergarten; Tessa Rewa, special education; and Tatum O’Dell, who also works at Tobey Elementary.
Principal Sarah Bacalia said she was fortunate to partner with so many administrators to assist her with the hiring process.

From Tobey Elementary: Sarah Wasson, first grade; Chelsea Flickinger, second grade; and Brianna Hall, third grade.

Principal Mike Barwegen thanked the board and district officials for their commitment to keeping the number of students per classroom at a reasonable number.

From Sunset Lake Elementary: Amanda Halpin, third grade; Michael Schimp, fourth grade; Paul Block, fifth grade; Emma Kinn, fifth grade; Jenny Johnson, Begindergarten; and Shayna Brooks, counselor.

Principal Amie McCaw said she was fortunate to find a group of such talented teachers.

From Vicksburg Middle School: Cory Hinga, behavior specialist; Sarah Geist, English; Melissa Sparks, English and building interventionist; Sharon Vallier, fine arts; Jennifer Koning, math; Ashley Mann, math and building interventionalist; Elizabeth Pierce, science; and Cheyenne Payne, special education.

Principal Matt VanDussen said his summer was the busiest he had ever experienced as an administrator. “It was a lot of committees, a lot of interviews, I think I was dreaming about interview questions and what I was going to say,” he said. “And I really feel fortunate because we all hear … just how difficult it is to find teachers right now.”

From Vicksburg High School: Les Latham, physics; Rejean Kangas, science; and Shannon Howard, Spanish.

Principal Adam Brush said the district is fortunate to have such a strong addition to its high school.

Board president Skip Knowles welcomed the new staff members and said he enjoyed conversations he has shared with many in the group. “Some of you I’ve known, and known your family over the years,” he said. “I think this is a great school system, I think this is a great community and you’re all going to be an absolute great asset to us. You already are … you’ve been here from the beginning part of the year. I want to thank you for choosing Vicksburg.”

Schoolcraft boys dominant against Vicksburg

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft boys’ varsity basketball team opened the season with a one-sided 68-26 win over the Vicksburg Bulldogs.

The Eagles scored their first points less than 10 seconds into the game, and never relinquished the lead after that thanks to excellent passing, blocking and shooting. For Head Coach Randy Small, it was a relief to see after a bevy of preseason issues.

“Our biggest struggle for the last couple weeks is having 10 guys in practice. We’ve had injuries and illness,” Small said. “Last night was the first time we were able to go five on five, so that’s a good sign.”
No less than four Schoolcraft players – Tyler DeGroote, Eli DeVisser, Ty Rykse, and Shane Ryske – had at least 10 points on the night. DeGroote led the way with 18. After the first period it was 21-9 in Schoolcraft’s favor. Nolan Strake, Asher Puhalski, and Tucker Walther also played a key role in the scoring for the Eagles.

On the Vicksburg side, Dylan Zemitans and Carter Brown led the scoring with eight points each. Grant Anderson, Garrett Schramer, and RJ Vallier also got on the board. The Bulldogs had opportunities but saw many of their shot attempts blocked by Eagles defenders. That aggressive defense helped the Eagles to shut down the Bulldogs completely in the second as the Eagles went up 38-9.

“I think the first game is kind of like a scrimmage, everyone is a little bit fast, everyone gets playing a little too fast,” Small said. ”So sometimes it’s good to have a little bit of cushion to work with before you have an opportunity to make some mistakes and have it not be so glaring. Overall, I thought we did a good job getting a lot of deflections.”

The Bulldogs got back on the scoreboard in the third, but at the end of that period the gap had widened to 58-18, virtually eliminating all chances of a comeback. The Eagles slowed down the attack and defense in the fourth, but the Bulldogs only managed to put eight more points on the board.

The Eagles and Bulldogs both dropped their next matchups of the season. Vicksburg lost to Sturgis 46-28. Schoolcraft lost to Parchment 55-49 the following week, although Small feels the Eagles have a good chance to go deep in the playoffs if they perform at home.

“If we win here that will give us an opportunity to be in contention in the league,” Small said. “From there, it’s preparing for tournament. Every year we hope we can make a deep run, but districts is the hardest part of the tournament to get out of, and we’re in a tough one.”