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Rockford City Manager Michael Young dies at 48

Michael Young

Michael Young

The City of Rockford was stunned last week when City manager Michael Young, 48, passed away Thursday, January 27, two days after suffering a stroke. His funeral was Monday, February 1.

Young, who was well-liked and loved by the community, recently celebrated 20 years of service to the City of Rockford. What follows is portions of a story that ran in our sister paper, the Rockford Squire, celebrating that anniversary, just a few weeks before his death.

Rockford celebrates 20th year under leadership of city manager

Michael Young hired in 1995

By Beth Altena

In the last regular meeting of 2015, Rockford City Council celebrated twenty years under the leadership of City Manager Michael Young, highlighting milestones in City history that have taken place under his tenure and vision. Young was hired in December,1995, and a look around the City today proves his work here is an ongoing success.

Former long-time Rockford City Council member Mary Eadie was on the search committee for a new city manager more than two decades ago, along with Neil Blakeslee, also former mayor of Rockford and long-term council member. Both remember well the decision to bring Young on board as leader of the City of Rockford.

Blakeslee said he was on council under then City Manager Daryl Delabbio, who left Rockford’s helm to lead the commissioners of Kent County as County Administrator, where he still serves today. Blakeslee said nearly 80 applications came in to fill the position, which Blakeslee said shows what a desirable town Rockford is to work and live in. He said Michael’s qualifications (he already had experience as Assistant City Manager in Greenville), and his values and personality, made him a forerunner in the search for a successor to Delabbio.

Eadie said she liked Michael for the job from the first meeting. “Everything about him, from who he was to what he’d done. He would have been my first choice from the start.”

“My judgement was right on, it turns out,” she said. She retired from city council in 2012 with an amazing 32 years on council here in Rockford. “I loved every minute of those 32 years,” she said, and she worked with Michael 17 of those years. “We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, there is never perfection in anything. I would say the greatest leadership of the City was under Michael and Daryl. All of the improvements, everything that has come about has put Rockford on the map.”

She said anywhere you go and anyone you talk to loves Rockford and loves to come here and spend time in the city. She appreciates the strong relationship between the city and the school district and the business community. All this comes from leadership and a local government that is run with a steady hand and a continuous eye toward improvement.

Blakeslee said Michael is a very creative, very focused person. Blakeslee said every project Michael undertakes, after careful consideration, gets done, and then Michael focuses on the next most important project for the city. He has accomplished a wide variety of improvements with no tax increases under his watch and one tax decrease—no mean feat.

“We lost a lot of tax revenue when those tannery buildings came down,” Blakeslee noted. One “secret weapon” Young brought to Rockford was the talent, willingness and know-how to seek and write grants to fund projects. In his capacity at Rockford, Young has brought in over $4 million in funds to accomplish projects. Many have been city improvement such as a current assessment of water and sewer lines, one of those many projects in infrastructure visitors and residents would never notice, but can be so vital to providing services.

More visible are Rockford’s parks and natural features. Rockford has received multiple grants for these projects and in 2005 Rockford was recognized as the municipality with more parkland per capita than any city in the United States.

A presentation created by City Clerk Chris Bedford highlighted many of the projects and improvements the City of Rockford has enjoyed under Young’s leadership. They include the creation of the industrial park north of the city, developments such as Rockford Estates, Rockford Highlands, Creekview Estates, Heritage Park, the Blakeslee Creek and Maple Shade condominiums, and the annexation of 237.14 acres of property into the City of Rockford. Those projects, and others, have not easily been implemented, but have been well-thought out growth to the City of Rockford.

Shortly after being hired, Young, in 1997, held a community meeting for feedback in how residents would like to see the city improved. In 1998 the first streetscape was done, giving the town the friendly, walkable sidewalks. According to a past interview with Barb Stein, cleaning up city streets raised the bar and encouraged property owners to up their game in appearance—a trend still encouraged today.

Improvements did not come without challenges, and natural disasters numbered among them. In 1997 a freak snowstorm caused massive damage and took months to clean up. In 1998 straight-line winds also challenged city crews to restore the downtown.

In 2000 the City of Rockford switched from using Rogue River water to a new treatment plant and major discussions considered what to do with riverfront property housing the old plant. Again with lots of community input, the current Promenade complex was approved. In 2002, the Michigan State Police discontinued their D.A.R.E. program, and Rockford took the reins and responsibility for this program. Also in 2002, Rockford started their super-popular farm market, which is wildly successful and was voted America’s Favorite Farm Market.

In 2005, the City approved the creation of the PARCCside Clean Water Plant. Again, residents of the five participating jurisdictions, the townships of Alpine, Cannon, Courtland Plainfield, and the City of Rockford, would have no idea the vision that it took for this plant to reach fruition. Young was the impetus behind this project, which he took on with the vision of saving residents here from projected cost increases that would not benefit their own service.

Young also leads the Downtown Development Authority, which captures tax dollars earmarked for the improvement of downtown Rockford. It has identified and implemented road, sidewalk and other improvements over the years. Rockford’s downtown tree plantings are paid for with DDA funds and other necessary projects. Most recently a new camera system was approved, paid for in part with DDA money. In many other capacities Young has overseen Rockford’s well-being over two decades.

Blakeslee said Young’s ability to accomplish so many projects for the city has been because of his talent and his personality. “He has always been so temperate and patient. You want a steady hand and he has always had a steady hand. He is always interested in seeing that everything is thought out.” Blakeslee said Rockford is a town of enthusiastic, talented people who see to the welfare of the town, but their energy doesn’t just happen. “It has to be directed and organized. Michael does that.”

Blakeslee said Young’s talent and leadership is also evidenced by the high-quality of staff among city employees, who tend to stay here, as does Michael. “There isn’t a lot of turnover, and that’s important in a well-run organization.” Young encourages staff and other city leaders to improve their own processes and make changes for the better.

An example of improvements is the consolidation of Police and Fire into the Department of Public Safety. Not a painless process, Young told the Squire once that the decision was the result of exhaustive research and consideration. “You don’t do something just because you can do it,” he said at the time. The result is cross-trained employees who can provide the services of two prior departments without a loss of quality of service. Rather, services for fire, medical and law enforcement are provided more quickly and with an increase in efficiency while saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. It is just one contribution among hundreds of ways Young has affected Rockford in his tenure.

Blakeslee, a former councilmember that has seen first-hand how important good leadership is to a well-run town, knows. “That one of the things people don’t understand, is you can’t separate the city from the government,” noted Blakeslee. “You can’t say you love the city without loving city hall. The city is what it is because of how city hall functions,” he stated. “I’ve been a Michael supporter since the day we hired him. The best evidence to Michael’s talent is that he is still here. He loves Rockford and he enjoys this community so much. He is truly a resident of Rockford.”

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Stanton man sentenced in murder


Alan Lee Morse

Alan Lee Morse

Alan Morse shot and killed Alan Nelson last March

The man who broke into a Sidney Township man’s home last spring and then shot the 80-year-old man in his bed, was sentenced this week.

Alan Nelson

Alan Nelson

The crime occurred on March 29, 2015, when Alan Lee Morse, 49, broke into the home of Alan Dale Nelson, 80, on Nevins Lake, about four miles west of Stanton. Evidence at the scene showed that his home and several other homes nearby had been broken into. The victim had been shot in the head and chest, apparently with a .22 caliber rifle stolen from another home that night.

Morse, of Stanton, was arrested in July, and admitted to Michigan State Police that he committed the crime, but a judge later threw out the confession, saying it was obtained illegally. He later pled guilty as part of a plea agreement.

Morse was originally charged with felony murder, several home invasion counts and weapons charges. Those charges were dropped in exchange for a plea to second degree murder.

Last Thursday, Januay 28, Morse was sentenced to between 26 and 75 years in prison, and ordered to pay $24,782 in restitution.

Morse was previously convicted on several home invasion and breaking and entering charges, and had been discharged from prison in August 2014, just seven months before the murder.

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Best Lips contest cancelled


Lynn Marion's, of Cedar Springs, winning lips from the Best Lips Contest 2015.

Lynn Marion’s, of Cedar Springs, winning lips from the Best Lips Contest 2015.

We will all be left in suspense this year on who has the best lips in Cedar Springs. That’s because after 22 years of showcasing lips of all shapes and sizes, the Post is calling it quits on the “Best Lips” contest.

It wasn’t really our decision. You—the readers—made the decision for us. We are cancelling the contest because of lack of participation.

It’s been a fun 22 years, though. Publisher Lois Allen talked about the days when she used to go out and solicit people to enter—even men. And she would tell them that “so and so said they would do it if you would” and so they would do it. And then she’d get the other person to do it by telling them the same thing, too!

And who could forget the year we had the impostor lips? We published what we thought was then Cedar Springs Public School’s Finance Director Frank Verhoven’s lips—only to find out the next week when he called that he didn’t send any in—someone was impersonating him! So we did a follow up story letting people know we were taking DNA from the lips sample and sending it to the FBI. A lot of people got a laugh out of it, though I’m not sure Frank did.

It’s been a good ride, and we thank all of you who entered over the years, and those who helped us choose the best lips these last few years by voting for your favorites. Now use those lips to go give someone a great big kiss!

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Solon reaches into history to name new park


The new Solon Township Park, which will be built on the acreage surrounding the township hall on Algoma south of 19 Mile, will take the name that the area used to be known as—Velzy.

According to the Solon Township Park Committee, the name of Velzy Park was chosen for its historical significance to the area, dating back to late 1800s. It is situated near the center of the township, west of Solon Township Hall on Algoma Avenue. The plans include walking trails, restroom facilities, playground area, farmer’s market and picnic pavilions, and sports fields. The three old barns currently on the property will be restored and moved to areas where they can be used for public performances and other purposes. The acreage at the far west border is planned for native prairie restoration. The appearance and atmosphere of Velzy Park will retain the rural nature of the township.

A federal grant awarded in 2014 allowed the committee to hire Viridis Design Group to assist in creating a Park Master Plan and 5-year Recreation Plan. Goals for the park were established, with a good deal of public input, to provide a safe and welcoming park that will offer recreational opportunities and strengthen the bonds of the community.

The committee intends to build the park with donations, grant awards and fund-raising projects. It is in the process of applying for a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, which requires matching funds. The park will be developed in phases to give the park committee time to raise funds.

The first fund raising event is February 12 at 6:00 p.m., when they will serve a Spaghetti dinner catered by Kelly’s Restaurant.  A dessert auction and 50/50 raffle will be handled by Emcee and Auctioneer Reese Rickards. Tickets are $9.95/person or $18/couple and can be purchased at the Solon Township Hall or Cedar Springs Library. They plan to share park plans at this event.

The Park Committee said that volunteer hours are an important part of successful grant applications and donations from area businesses will also be of tremendous importance.  The park committee will be pleased to have you join them in this ambitious endeavor that will be an asset to the community. Contact them at:  616-696-1718, clerk@solontwp.org; www.solontwp.org; and https://www.facebook.com/SolonPark.

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Cash reward up to $5,000 

Hit and run victim Ryan Tsatsos.

Hit and run victim Ryan Tsatsos.

Crimestoppers has upped the reward for information regarding the hit and run death of college student Ryan Tsatsos.

Just after midnight on Sunday morning, November 1, 2015, Ryan Tsatsos was hit while walking to his Central Michigan University residence hall in Mount Pleasant, MI.

The incident occurred on Crawford Road between Billabrail Street and Concourse Drive, south of the main campus.

Color of hit and run vehicle. * This is not necessarly the make/model of the vehicle.

Color of hit and run vehicle. * This is not necessarly the make/model of the vehicle.

Police believe the vehicle is a dark metallic blue color. The vehicle could likely have front passenger side damage and potentially fender, windshield and hood damage.

To submit an ANONYMOUS tip:

Call: 1-800-SPEAKUP (1-800-773-2587)

Online: www.1800speakup.org

Text: CSM and your tip to CRIMES (274637)

Consider criminals armed and dangerous! DO NOT try to apprehend criminals. A cash reward will be paid for information received through the 1-800-Speak-Up anonymous tip hotline that leads to the felony arrest of the person(s) responsible for the crime. In case of emergency, call 911 or your local law enforcement agency.

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Friends of Library to hold quilt show

All proceeds go toward the new library fund

This quilt, shown by Barb Grutter, will be raffled off at the Cedar Springs Friends of the Library quilt show on March 19. Get your tickets at the library.

This quilt, shown by Barb Grutter, will be raffled off at the Cedar Springs Friends of the Library quilt show on March 19. Get your tickets at the library.

At the January 26th meeting of the CS Friends of the Library, Friend’s member Barb Grutter, of Garden Path Quilts, unveiled the gorgeous quilt that will be raffled off for the upcoming Friends Annual Quilt Show fundraiser on Saturday, March 19, 10am-4pm.

According to Friends President Louise King, the pieced blocks were made by several women throughout the community and Barb Grutter appliqued  the center design by hand. Louise put together the border applique by machine.

If anyone would like to display their quilts at the quilt show, they can get a form from the Cedar Springs Public Library, Luv2Quilt on 14 mile Road or from Barb Grutter, email (barb@gardenpathquilts.com). There is a registration fee of $10 for the first quilt and $5 for each additional up to 3 quilts. They are also accepting quilts for a separate antique quilts category. There will be prizes awarded for first, second and third place Viewers Choice, and first place Viewers Choice for the antique quilts. Quilt owners should not submit quilts that have been in the show previously.

The event also hosts a silent auction, vendors with craft-related merchandise, prizes, a quilting garage sale, and a raffle for a chance to win the donated quilt. Raffle tickets (1 ticket for $1 or 6 for $5) are on sale now at the Cedar Springs Library. There is a $2 admission fee to the show.

All proceeds from the show will go toward the new library fund.

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National birdfeeding month: Great Backyard Bird Count


It’s time again for the Great Backyard Bird Count. This photo of a male northern cardinal was taken in 2013 by Michele Black of Ohio.

It’s time again for the Great Backyard Bird Count. This photo of a male northern cardinal was taken in 2013 by Michele Black of Ohio.

Look for El Niño surprises during the Great Backyard Bird Count 

With the El Niño weather phenomenon warming Pacific waters to temperatures matching the highest ever recorded, participants in the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), may be in for a few surprises. The 19th annual GBBC is taking place worldwide February 12 through 15. Information gathered and reported online at birdcount.org will help scientists track changes in bird distribution, some of which may be traced to El Niño storms and unusual weather patterns.

“The most recent big El Niño took place during the winter of 1997-98,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program, which collects worldwide bird counts year-round and also provides the backbone for the GBBC. “The GBBC was launched in February 1998 and was pretty small at first. This will be the first time we’ll have tens of thousands of people doing the count during a whopper El Niño.”

“We’ve seen huge storms in western North America plus an unusually mild and snow-free winter in much of the Northeast,” notes Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. “And we’re seeing birds showing up in unusual places, such as a Great Kiskadee in South Dakota, as well as unseasonal records like Orchard Oriole and Chestnut-sided Warbler in the Northeast. We’re curious to see what other odd sightings might be recorded by volunteers during this year’s count.”

Though rarities and out-of-range species are exciting, it’s important to keep track of more common birds, too. Many species around the world are in steep decline and tracking changes in distribution and numbers over time is vital to determine if conservation measures are needed. Everyone can play a role.

“Citizen-science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count are springing up all over the world,” says Jon McCracken, national program manager at Bird Studies Canada. “More and more, scientists are relying on observations from the public to help them gather data at a scale they could never achieve before. The GBBC is a great way to get your feet wet: you can count birds for as little as 15 minutes on one day or watch for many hours each day at multiple locations—you choose your level of involvement.”

Learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count at birdcount.org. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

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Heart Month


The number one killer can strike anyone of any age

By Mary Kuhlman, Michigan News Connection

February is American Heart Month. Many women will wear red to work on Friday, February 5, to call attention to women’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

February is American Heart Month. Many women will wear red to work on Friday, February 5, to call attention to women’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

Michiganders are reminded to keep hearts on their minds as February begins, and not just the Valentine kind. It’s American Heart Month, an annual observance to bring awareness to cardiovascular disease, the nation’s number one killer.

Anna Pitt of Hemlock says she’s lucky to be alive after suffering what’s known as a “widow maker” heart attack, which comes on suddenly. She was getting her son on the school bus when she collapsed.

“They told me at that time I had no pulse,” says Pitt. “They used the defibrillator on me in the driveway, and also three times on the way to the hospital. Now, they said if my son hadn’t done CPR I wouldn’t be here.”

Pitt explains that she had had no symptoms, and with good cholesterol and blood pressure would have never imagined she would be the victim of a heart attack. And because it can save a life, her advice for Michiganders during American Heart Month is to get certified in CPR.

According to the American Heart Association, one-in-three women will die of heart disease, about 46 women in Michigan each day.

Stacy Sawyer, senior director of communications with the American Heart Association in Michigan, says while family history can play a large role in a person’s chance of developing heart disease, there are other risk factors that can be controlled such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity and smoking. But she adds heart disease can affect anyone of any age.

“Even newborns who are born with congenital heart defects to the elderly,” says Sawyer. “We have survivors who are just in their 20s. So heart disease is something that everyone of every age needs to be aware of and be proactive against it.”

Sawyer recommends everyone knows their numbers, their weight, cholesterol and blood pressure, and speak to their doctor about ways to reduce their risk of heart disease.

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Winter Comes to Michigan

Rediscovered film a blast from the past

Scenes of winter fun from the “Winter Comes to Michigan” film. Elaborate toboggan runs and outdoor public skating rinks were popular winter pastimes once reliable winter travel made it possible for Michiganders to get out and enjoy them. (MDOT photos)

Scenes of winter fun from the “Winter Comes to Michigan” film. Elaborate toboggan runs and outdoor public skating rinks were popular winter pastimes once reliable winter travel made it possible for Michiganders to get out and enjoy them. (MDOT photos)

toboggan run

toboggan run

from MDOT

After spending decades in a basement in the eastern Upper Peninsula, a 1930s-era newsreel from the Michigan State Highway Department has resurfaced to remind us of the challenges—and the fun—of winters past.

The film, “Winter Comes to Michigan,” created by the precursor agency to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), gives us a black-and-white window to the era when Murray Van Wagoner, a future Michigan governor, ran the department from 1933-1940.

A scene from Suicide Hill ski jump in Ishpeming from the “Winter Comes to Michigan” film. (MDOT photos)

A scene from Suicide Hill ski jump in Ishpeming from the “Winter Comes to Michigan” film. (MDOT photos)

The film was one of several reels found by sisters Nancy and Barbara Sleeper of Newberry. They discovered them in their mother’s basement and wanted to preserve them as part of their family heritage.

“Our grandfather, Sanborn Sleeper, was the superintendent of the Luce County Road Commission from 1928 until sometime around World War II,” Nancy Sleeper said. She believes he acquired the films during that period.

Sanborn Sleeper was instrumental in bringing the Snogo, an early snow blower, to Michigan, Nancy said. Some of the reels featured film of the Snogo equipment being tested near Newberry.

“We saw the ‘Winter Comes to Michigan’ film and thought, gee, this is some great footage of those old-time busy highways,” Nancy said. “They were so interesting, we couldn’t see just holding onto them.”

So the Sleeper family donated the original reels to MDOT. They’ve now been digitized, restored and uploaded to the department’s YouTube channel at  https://youtu.be/NH20lpFu_3Q

The film’s “man against nature” theme focuses on the challenge—as real today as it was then—of keeping roads open during Michigan’s harsh winters.

“Winter maintenance is a gigantic task for heroic men and efficient machines,” says the film’s foreword. “It is a public service fraught with grave responsibilities. OUR HIGHWAYS MUST BE KEPT OPEN!”

Winter travel before modern highways was not an easy ride. The season was something to be survived, not enjoyed.

“Yes, winter is a season of unusual beauty,” intones the narrator. “Only a brief score of years ago, however, the idyll of winter brought only the sad realization of a long season of isolation.”

Modern highways and winter snow removal equipment changed all that. With the advent of reliable winter maintenance, the film suggests, the state’s growing highway system opened up winter as a playground for sports, recreation and tourism.

The film shows residents enjoying outdoor winter fun at locations such as Ishpeming’s Suicide Hill ski jump, fledgling downhill ski areas, outdoor public ice skating rinks and an elaborate toboggan run. Filmmaker and author Bill Jamerson, whose documentaries have explored winter sports and other aspects of state history for Michigan Public Television, said many of the film locations were probably in the U.P., while the toboggan run scene was probably filmed at a winter sports park in Grayling.

Most of these winter parks started in the late 1920s, Jamerson said. His “Winter Wonderland” documentary looked at the golden age of winter recreation from the 1930s through the 1960s, made possible via better automobiles and snow removal equipment.

“Winter driving was hazardous, so this film goes a long way in showing that progress had been made,” Jamerson said. “Remember, up until WWII, snow trains brought people up to the Grayling winter sports park from Detroit. So, rail was considered the safe option for most people. Trains were also bringing people from Chicago and Milwaukee up into Iron Mountain.”

Transportation, even in this period before the Mackinac Bridge, helped boost the state’s winter tourism by allowing safe and reliable winter travel. It also may have helped end this golden age. When air travel became routine, more and more Midwesterners headed to the higher slopes and newer resorts in the west.

“I think an important thing these films do is remind us who we are,” Jamerson said. “For example, there once was a day when skating rinks were overflowing with families. It could happen again!”

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Sheriff’s office warns of extortion attempts


The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office has seen a new and creative way for criminals to extort money from unsuspecting victims and the frequency seems to be increasing. Extortion has been occurring for many years, but as times and technology change, so do the efforts of those who wish to take advantage of others. Recently, the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office has seen a new trend in these cases in our area. Deputies have received reports of attempted extortion via social media.

A typical social media extortion case begins with an individual accepting a Facebook friend request from a stranger. Through that exchange, the suspect begins to learn personal information about the victim. Victims are tricked into divulging compromising information, pictures, or video. The threat typically includes posting the compromising items on the victim’s Facebook timeline or the victim’s friend’s timeline unless money is paid. It is often difficult to determine the true identity of the suspect, which makes these cases difficult to pursue and prosecute.

The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office encourages everyone to be cautious when accepting social media friend requests. We recommend only accepting requests from people you personally know. Having frank discussions with children in one’s home over safe use of the Internet is also strongly suggested.

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