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Year in Review 2018


Community spirit: top story for 2018

Signs in support of former superintendent. Post photo by J. Reed

By Judy Reed

There were a lot of stories in 2018 that we could select as the top story of the year. However, after going through them, there was a particular thread running through them all: community spirit. When this community pulls together to help each other, support each other, and cheer each other on, there is nothing that can’t be accomplished.

Many of those demanding the resignation of the former superintendent marched to Cedar Springs High School from the Hilltop building Monday, March 27. Photo by Aleshia Smith.

One of the biggest examples occurred in March. After three years of complaints from teachers and community members against former Cedar Springs Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn, the Cedar Springs Board of Education voted in March to accept her resignation. But it only came after a diverse group of community members, who wanted to support the district’s teachers and administrators and who felt like their voices were being ignored by the Board of Education, took action. They created an online petition listing what they felt the superintendent had done, and demanded her resignation, and the movement snowballed from there. The next Board of Ed meeting was standing room only, with speakers asking for the superintendent’s resignation. The group held a community forum that same week, with many teachers finally coming forward to air their stories, and over 500 people attended. The teacher’s union gave the superintendent a vote of no confidence the following week. 

Then on Monday, March 27, a sea of red shirts filled the Cedar Springs High School auditorium for the next board meeting, with many signs saying #Resign VanDuyn. The group, made up of parents, teachers, and other community members, had come to demand that either the board put the Superintendent on immediate leave pending an investigation, or that they negotiate with her to resign. They also had petitions for the recall of three board members.

The board came out of closed session and made a motion to accept the resignation of Laura VanDuyn. Cheers filled the auditorium as the motion was announced. 

Signs in support of former superintendent. Post photo by J. Reed.
The whole ordeal leading up to that moment had divided the community. But the Cedar Springs Strong group, as they called themselves, wanted unity again. The resignation of the superintendent made that possible. Residents then came together to work with the Board of Ed, who chose a new superintendent, Scott Smith, formerly an assistant superintendent at Hudsonville. Both school staff and residents were happy with the selection, and by all accounts, things are running much smoother.

Another example of community spirit was the response to a fire. The Weber family, of Courtland Township, lost their home in a fire in July. Six fire departments battled the blaze, but to no avail. They lost almost everything. The Post became a drop off point for clothing and other household goods, and the response was phenomenal. The Webers were touched by the community’s generosity—most from people they didn’t know.

The Weber family home burned in July. They are in the process of rebuilding. Post photo by J. Reed.

A third example was community support for the Ricker family. Brison Ricker, who would’ve been a senior this year, died of DIPG—a pediatric brain tumor—in December 2017 after a two-year battle with the disease. The community had rallied to help support the family during that time, and continued to do so in 2018, after his death. The family also set up a chapter of The Cure Starts now in Brison’s memory. In November, they held a special fundraiser on Giving Tuesday, and raised $1,200. 

Brison Ricker. The community is still helping to support the Ricker family and the charity set up in his honor. 

Community support for Red Hawk sports programs was also big this fall. Both the Cross Country team and the Football team won the OK White conference. When the football team entered the playoffs, they took a multitude of buses, and the bleachers were filled with parents, students, and community members. The community showed their pride, spirit, and support throughout the fall season, and it was a fantastic thing to be a part of.

Community spirit ran high in support of our sports teams this fall. Pictured is the football team (above) and the cross country team (below), both who won their first ever OK-White championships.

There are more stories we could list. A lot of things happened this year, both good and bad. And as we head into 2019, let our community spirit shine again this year—through thick and thin.

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Year in Review: Former refugee becomes RF Queen


Red Flannel Queen Mumina Ciise (left) is shown here on Red Flannel Day with Grand Marshal and Library Director Donna Clark, and court members Kaley Louck and Madison Case. Photo courtesy of the Red Flannel Festival.

Red Flannel Queen Mumina Ciise (left) is shown here on Red Flannel Day with Grand Marshal and Library Director Donna Clark, and court members Kaley Louck and Madison Case. Photo courtesy of the Red Flannel Festival.

By Judy Reed

For Mumina Ciise, being chosen as the 2016 Red Flannel Queen is a dream come true. And not all that long ago, this special event would never have seemed possible for Mumina or her family—a family that was just struggling to stay safe in war torn Somalia.

Mumina’s parents, Max and Maryan, fled Somalia with their seven children, due to civil war, when Mumina was only three-years-old. They arrived in Cedar Springs in 2010, and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. The community welcomed them, and helped them realize the dream of owning their home, through the Inner City Christian Federation. Mumina was thankful to be chosen to represent the Red Flannel Festival as queen. She hopes to one day become a teacher and teach at Cedar Springs High School.

Grand Marshal

Longtime resident and Library Director Donna Clark was chosen as Grand Marshal for the 2016 Red Flannel Festival. The Festival chose Donna due to her many years of selfless service and outstanding dedication to the community through both the library and several service organizations. “The Red Flannel Town is truly a better place because of her exceptional community involvement and extraordinary volunteerism!” said former RFF president Michele Tracy.

RFF President

In other Red Flannel news, Michele Tracy stepped down as President after 15 years, and assumed the role of president emeritus, a non-voting member of the board. Tracy moved to Hershey, Pennysylvania this year to work for Penn State University’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Taking over as president of the RFF was Randy VanDuyn, husband of Cedar Springs Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn.

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Year in Review: City to soon have new library


The groundbreaking of the new Cedar Springs Library took place Saturday, July 9 at the corner of Main Street and W. Maple. Photo by J. Reed.

The groundbreaking of the new Cedar Springs Library took place Saturday, July 9 at the corner of Main Street and W. Maple. Photo by J. Reed.

By Judy Reed

It’s been an exciting year for those helping to bring a new library to the Cedar Springs area. The CS Library board, Community  Building Development Team, the City of Cedar Springs, Solon Township, Friends of the Library, and community members have all worked together the last few years to get the project off the ground, and they finally realized their dream on January 9 with a celebratory groundbreaking at the corner of Main and Maple Streets.

“I’m only one, standing on the foundation prepared from the 1800s to this present day by a long line of educators, professionals, town folk, volunteers – enthusiastic people of vision and hope,” remarked Librarian Donna Clark.

“Our goal is to make the Library a central hub, providing an open environment to enhance access to the world of knowledge through mentoring, networking and collaboration, and to provide quality resources for personal growth and lifelong learning,” she added.

After the speeches, several people from area boards moved dirt with the golden shovels provided by Nugent Builders, the builder on the project. The project is expected to be done late spring.

A unique metal sculpture, made by artist Steve Anderson, of Anderson’s Metal Sculpture, was installed on the property behind where the new library is being built. The sculpture is a stainless steel, artistic representation of cattails among dragonflies.

“This sculpture, donated by the Community Building Development Team, will add the cultural touch that enhances the educational nature of all the projects planned for this ten-acre site,” said Library Director Donna Clark. “It will add culture and beauty within the areas of the rain gardens and near the planned library building.”

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Year in Review: Cedar Springs community is #rickerstrong


Ricker Family: L to R Preston, Brian, Brison, and Kim.

Ricker Family: L to R Preston, Brian, Brison, and Kim.

By Judy Reed

Another amazing story in 2016 is the way that the Cedar Springs community has embraced a local family and supported them in their fight against a rare brain tumor. Before symptoms began last fall, Brison Ricker was a happy, well-liked and athletic teen, who loved riding dirt bikes with his younger brother Preston, and playing soccer. In January 2016, Brison was diagnosed with a rare and deadly childhood brain tumor called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine glioma (DIPG), which is nearly always fatal and lacks an effective treatment, according to Stanford University. The tumor is inoperable because it grows through the brain stem, and half of patients die within 9 months. A gofundme page was set up to help the Rickers with expenses, and groups began holding fundraisers—and praying. Then, in the late spring, Brison’s family was told to take Brison home and call in hospice because he didn’t have long to live.

But Brison’s parents, Brian and Kim Ricker, are strong in their faith in God, and believed there was another way to beat it. They sought alternative treatment at the Burzynski clinic in Texas—a treatment that had reportedly had some good results in other patients, but was not covered by insurance—and would run $17,000 a month for the treatments alone, not including loss of income from the parents staying home to take care of Brison. The community has continued with fundraising drives to help the family meet the costs, and continued to pray, and though Brison has gone through some tough stretches, his MRI shows he is making progress. Unfortunately, on the same day last week that they received the good news on Brison’s progress, they were hit with the news that Brison’s younger brother Preston, has thyroid cancer. He is due to be operated on next month. If you would like to help this family, you can donate through their gofundme page at https://www.gofundme.com/rickerstrong.

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Year in Review: Cedar Springs gets new City Manager


City Manager Mike Womack

City Manager Mike Womack

It took nine months, but the City of Cedar Springs finally has a new full time City Manager overseeing operations at City Hall. Mike Womack, 34, started in his new position August 1. He filled the spot vacated by Thad Taylor, who left the post for a position in Manistee.

Womack was an executive intern for the Village of Lake Orion, Michigan, which is located on the east side of the state. He was also a Graduate Assistant in the City Manager’s office in the City of Eastpointe, Michigan, and an Attorney at Womack & Womack P.C., in Shelby Township.

Longtime City Clerk Linda Christiansen (formerly Branyan) was interim City Manager until June, when the City Council appointed former Wyoming City Manager Barb VanDuren to be interim City Manager.

Christiansen gave her notice at the same meeting at which VanDuren was appointed, and retired July 1 after 22 years. She was replaced in the interim by Christine Witt, and then permanently by Rebecca Newland.

Treasurer Deb Brunett left for another position and was replaced by Darla Falcon. The city is also currently looking for a deputy treasurer.

CBDT donates property to city

In other city news, the city now owns all of the land in the Heart of Cedar Springs project after it was officially donated to them by the Community Building Development Team and CS Manufacturing.

Over the past three years, the CBDT, comprised of two dozen organizations and businesses in Cedar Springs, along with dozens of individual volunteers, has acquired six parcels equaling approximately 7.5 acres of land through a donation from CS Manufacturing, and from land that was bought at a substantially reduced price from Rob and Jodi Coxon. The donated land connects to the City-owned property on the northwest corner of Maple and Main Streets where the library is being constructed.

The entire area will be part of the ongoing development that will be known as the “Heart of Cedar Springs.”

For many years the plan has included a boardwalk/walking trail along Cedar Creek and bridges over the creek. Other features of the Recreation Plan include an amphitheater, which is the CBDT’s next project, as well as a Community Center and Recreation Facility.

Donating the land to the City not only benefits the community, but it also opens many new avenues for grant-funded projects.

“The City is grateful for all the hard work already put in by the CBDT on the Heart of Cedar Springs project and we look forward to working together to make downtown a better experience for everyone,” commented City Manager MikeWomack.

The CBDT has met monthly over the last three years and continues to meet on the 3rd Tuesday of each month (except December) in the board room of Hilltop School at 6 p.m.

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Year in Review: Veteran’s memorial stolen and then recovered


The Kent County  Sheriff Department found the stolen monument and arrested suspects in the crime within days of its disappearance. Photo courtesy of the Kent County Sheriff Department.

The Kent County Sheriff Department found the stolen monument and arrested suspects in the crime within days of its disappearance. Photo courtesy of the Kent County Sheriff Department.

By Judy Reed

The monument dedicated to the memory of fallen hero SPC. Timothy Brown was stolen in October from Veterans Park, and suspects in the case were arrested within days by the Kent County Sheriff Department.

The Brown family discovered the monument was missing Saturday, October 22, and called police. Thieves broke the statue, taking the helmet, rifle, and dog tags. Only the boots were left on the memorial stone. The family appealed to the public to have the suspects return the statue, no questions asked, but it did not appear.

The monument dedicated to SPC. Timothy Brown has been repaired and restored to its rightful place in Veterans Park. Post photo by J. Reed.

The monument dedicated to SPC. Timothy Brown has been repaired and restored to its rightful place in Veterans Park. Post photo by J. Reed.

Police suspected the same culprits took the statue as broke into concessions at Skinner Field just a day prior. They posted surveillance footage of the break-in, featuring three young males, and asked media to share the photos. Within days, suspects in the thefts were arrested.

Police found the statue in a shed on the property of Tracy Lyn Coleman, 45, in the 100 block of E. Muskegon, along with several items in the home from the Skinner Field break-in.

Police arrested David Edgar Sommerville, 17, Austin Lee Coleman, 20, and Justin Lynn Rossman, 27, all of Cedar Springs, on Thursday, October 27. All three were charged in the Skinner Field break-in, and Sommerville and Rossman were charged with the monument theft. The older Coleman was arrested the next day on receiving and concealing stolen property. He reportedly admitted to police that he knew the rifle and helmet were stored in his shed, and that he had told one of the defendants to get it out of there. Rossman reportedly told police that Sommerville stole the rifle and helmet and hid them in the storage shed.

“We are proud of the work of our investigators as they worked tirelessly to bring SPC Brown’s Monument back into safe hands,” said the Kent County Sheriff Department in an announcement on their Facebook page.

Once the statue was recovered, DPW Director Tom Stressman had it repaired by a business in Minnesota that specializes in bronze monuments and memorials honoring law enforcement, fire/rescue, and the military.

City Manager Mike Womack said it would cost the city about $500 to have the $10,000 monument repaired, and they would probably seek to recover that cost as part of restitution on the part of the suspects.

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Year in Review: Fires destroy homes


The fire spread from the pole barn to an adjacent RV. Photo by J. Reed.

The fire spread from the pole barn to an adjacent RV. Photo by J. Reed.

By Judy Reed

Numerous homes were damaged or destroyed by fire this year in the greater Cedar Springs area. In the photo above, lightning started a fire at the Lake Side Camp Park on White Creek Avenue, south of 17 Mile, on July 11, shortly after 1 p.m. Cedar Springs Fire, Algoma Fire, and Kent City Fire provided mutual aid to Solon Fire at the scene.

Fire investigators found evidence that lightning had struck an electrical panel near the pole barn where the fire started. The fire destroyed the pole barn, burned an RV, damaged a utility truck, and melted siding on park owner Rich Lupico’s home.

This is just one example of many fires that occurred this year.

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Year in Review: Fatal crashes


The fire spread from the pole barn to an adjacent RV. Photo by J. Reed.

The fire spread from the pole barn to an adjacent RV. Photo by J. Reed.

The Post ran stories on 17 different fatal crashes or accidents that occurred in the greater Cedar Springs area this year, including the one in the photo left, that occurred on Northland Drive at 15 Mile Road, on Tuesday, March 1. According to the Kent County Sheriff Department, a 1963 Ford Fairlane was headed north on Northland Drive about 4:12 p.m. Tuesday, when it crossed the centerline just north of 15 Mile Road, and was struck by a southbound Ford F150 truck.

The driver of the Ford Fairlane, Duane Schwartz, 68, of Sand Lake, and his passenger, Cathy Sutton, 57, of Gaines Township, were both ejected from the car and died of their injuries at the scene. The Ford Fairlane was not equipped with seatbelts. The driver of the truck, a Kentwood woman, was not injured. Slippery roads may have played a part in the crash.

This is just an example of one of the crashes that occurred this year. Please drive safely out there!

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Year in Review: Cedar Springs Schools adopt OK2Say program


 

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Public Schools district accomplished a lot of good things in 2016, one of them being the adoption of the statewide OK2Say program, a student safety initiative that enables students to confidentially report criminal activities or potential harm directed at students, school employees, and schools. Attorney General Bill Schuette was on hand for the kick off of the program last spring.

Schuette told the students and The Post that it is about changing the culture from “don’t be a snitch” to “it’s ok to communicate to save a life.”

“OK2SAY has made a difference. We are stopping violence in its tracks and making school a safer place for our kids,” said Schuette. “Credit for the program’s success is directly attributable to the thousands of student ‘heroes in the hallway’ who stepped up and took ownership of their roles in keeping their schools and classmates safe.”

Students can confidentially submit tips anytime by using the OK2SAY mobile app, online, email, texting, or by calling trained program technicians. Upon receipt of a tip, specially trained OK2SAY technicians address the immediate need and forward the information to the appropriate responding law enforcement agency or organization. Tips go to schools, local law enforcement agencies, community mental health agencies or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The state program, which started in fall 2014, just happened to be inspired by our current Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, before she came to Cedar Springs. Schuette honored Spry during the program with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Spry did not know that was going to happen.

“It’s truly a passion of mine to make sure students in all of our schools are safe,” said Spry. “OK2SAY is a wonderful program, and I will be eternally grateful to the legislators, community groups and the attorney general that stepped up to see it through.”

School resource officer

In order to beef up security for the 2016-17 school year, the Cedar Springs Public School district partnered with the Kent County Sheriff Department to bring a school resource officer to the school campus. Deputy Tom McCutcheon, who began his career with the KCSD in 1993, was chosen to fill that role. He spent many years as a D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Instructor, speaking in many different school districts, including Cedar Springs.

The Post asked him why he wanted the SRO position in Cedar Springs. “I hope to be a positive influence to the young people there,” he explained. “A lot of people think of security, and students feeling safe. But it’s more. I want to be a part of the school. It’s like what being a community policing officer is; you try to be proactive. If there is criminal activity going on, and people look up to you and trust you, you can help reduce a lot of that.”

The position will be jointly funded by the school and the county. The Kent County Sheriff Department offered to fund 30 percent of the program. The outstanding cost to the district would be approximately $76,000, after the Sheriff Department’s contribution. The cost would cover wages and benefits for 40 hours per week for the deputy; all standard issued deputy equipment; a Kent County Sheriff car, fully equipped, fueled and maintained; and all police training and supervision.

Accreditation

Cedar Springs announced in May that they had earned their North Central Accreditation through AdvanceEd, a global leader in providing continuous improvement and accreditation to over 32,000 institutions worldwide.

The district went through a rigorous and detailed review last school year that culminated with an external review team conducting a 3-day on site, after which they awarded the district the distinction of this national accreditation.

“We are thrilled, of course,” said Cedar Springs Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn. “We have such a great district. The process really goes on all year. But this visit is where the rubber meets the road. It’s when they see the things that they’ve heard about all year long.”

“It is so evident that you really care about your students and should be proud of your district, from the top all the way down,” said presenter Vicki DeMao, of AdvanceEd.

The five-person team from AdvanceEd interviewed 120 stakeholders in the district, consisting of the superintendent, board members, administrators, teachers, support staff, parents/community members, and students. They also visited 32 classrooms in all seven buildings and observed students.

The report showed what powerful practices (or strengths) that the district had in various areas, and what ways they could improve.

The school district must go through this process every five years. They were last accredited in 2011, and it was good through June 2016.

Cherry Health Center

If a student gets sick at Cedar Springs Public Schools, they don’t have to wait to be picked up by a parent and then wait for an appointment with the family doctor. Instead, with a parent’s permission, they can be seen right on campus the same day at the newly renovated Cherry Health Center.

The Cherry Health Center, located at Red Hawk Elementary, celebrated their grand reopening on Tuesday, October 18, with a ribbon cutting, speakers, tours and refreshments.

“Cherry Health first opened in 2015 with a limited amount of medical and behavioral health services in a temporarily constructed space at the school, while campaign funds were raised to build out a fully functional health center,” explained Tiffany Aldrich, Director of Communications for Cherry Health. “The ribbon cutting and open house was to share the fully constructed health center with the community, which now also includes dental services.”

Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn said that Cedar Springs Schools serves a population of 48 percent low socio-economic students. “To have this is important. We now have dental, medical, and behavioral health, with DHS right next door.”

Services are provided regardless of ability to pay, but insurance may be billed when possible. Students must have parental consent on file to be treated.

“Any student ages 3-21 can be seen in the health center, regardless of whether or not they attend CSPS,” said Aldrich. “Therefore, if a student attends CSPS, a charter or private school, or is homeschooled, they can come to the health center.” Those younger than three must be a sibling of a student using the health center.

The health center offers on-site Medicaid enrollment assistance, well- child checks, immunizations, same day appointments for acute issues, referrals for more serious illness/injuries, hearing and vision screenings and more.

The health center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information or to make an appointment call (616) 696-3470.

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Year in Review: School board takes heat


Heidi Reed is one of two new faces on the Cedar Springs Board of Education this year.

Heidi Reed is one of two new faces on the Cedar Springs Board of Education this year.

Ted Sabinas is one of two new faces on the Cedar Springs Board of Education this year.

Ted Sabinas is one of two new faces on the Cedar Springs Board of Education this year.

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education was under fire this year as many school staff members and residents took to the podium at school board meetings and wrote letters to the Post asking why four administrators had left since Supt. VanDuyn took over and expressing displeasure at the way certain matters were being handled by the board and administration. Many other residents and school staff took the opposite view, and said that they were supportive of the changes happening in the district.

Overflowing attendance at board meetings became the norm, as people on both sides of the issue yearned to have their voice heard.

The administrators in question had all resigned. Then two more administrators—elementary principals Andy Secor and Ken See—left last summer.

Later in the summer, the board released the Rehmann Report, a forensic audit that appeared to be targeted mainly at the athletic department. The forensic audit into record keeping in the athletic department at Cedar Springs Public Schools did not show any intentional misuse of funds or fraud, but did show that the district needs to have stricter policies and procedures on procurement cards and ensuring employees have the guidelines on how to use them. The report stated that they did not note any purchases under former Athletic Director Autumn Mattson that were inherently inappropriate.

“The investigation was a reflection of concerns brought to us about athletic accounts,” explained Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent at Cedar Springs Public Schools. “When several concerns mounted, the board decided to go ahead with the investigation. We are accountable to the community, staff, and parents. We are stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Things got even more heated as the school board election campaign got underway. Incumbent Jeff Gust decided not to run again. Challengers Ted Sabinas (a former teacher and track coach) and Mistie Bowser campaigned together for two seats, and while challenger Heidi Reed and incumbent Joe Marckini campaigned separately, they were often promoted together by those writing letters to the editor. So it appeared there were two camps—Sabinas and Bowser (who questioned changes), and Reed and Marckini (who supported current administration). (A fifth candidate, Rita Reimbold, dropped out, saying she didn’t want to run against Marckini.) The election results showed, however, that it wasn’t quite so simple. Sabinas won his seat with 3,789 votes, and Reed won the second seat, with 3,602 votes. Bowser came in third with 2,789, and Marckini fourth, with 2,366.

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